I’m really not a selfie kind of guy, far from it – I actually cringe as seeing myself in pictures, and always have done. Yet, since the early 1990’s I’ve made my humble and lack-lucrative way in life as a cycling and adventure travel writer and photographer, learning this near undefined and fringe art by trial error and little else.
Back in those blurry old days, there was no internet or digital anything (beyond watches and calculators), and until 10-years or so ago all of my images were shot on good old film.
I chose to focus my efforts on what I wanted to do, extreme adventure bike travels, seemingly before it was invented.
There were very few (photographers) people who could, or even would accompany me on these missions. So, I learned to become a self-sufficient entity.
All of my early self-photography was done on Canon film cameras, and mostly by using the built in 10-second self-timer. This was often a tricky, and expensive game. I could be on the road for weeks, even months without actually seeing what I was capturing in those little green canisters, which was always stressful.
Thankfully, through a great deal of trial and error, I figured out what did and didn’t work, although today I could not imagine ever stepping back to film.
There were a few remote gadgets available, but they were way too bulky and complicated for my liking, and would often ruin a good shot by photo bombing it.
Pinning those 10-seconds down was always a lot of work, and could take five, even 10 blind frames to nail. I had to be on the bike in a good clean, appropriate action pose, not simply rolling along or grinning for the camera.
Fast forward to today. Whizzing through my Canon digital transformation and now 90 per cent of my work is now shot on a mirrorless system, which is half the weight and bulk of my old full Canon kit. Many photographers baulk at the notion – but I can say that in my case the results have proven themselves.
Doing it this way means that I can be where I want at the drop of a pedal, and I can be wearing whatever suits the shoot. Plus, after half a lifetime of being in front of cameras, I know how to make things look as they should do – which is a huge part of the process.
I use really basic remote triggers, which may not be as hotly featured as some others, but they are small, fairly reliable and easy to find.
Although I have, and occasionally do use still use a Gorillapod, I much prefer to have a “real” tripod along. Gorillapod’s do have their place, but that place is either too close to the ground or requires trees or other fixtures to be readily available which do not fit with the open scenery I like to capture.
If and when I can get partners to shoot I will do that; it does make things so much easier, and the results are also a whole lot different too, and if they don’t work as planned I can always turn the camera on myself.
With shooting solo there are several limitations on what I can and cannot do; I cannot pan, move the camera, use continual focus or change focal lengths from a distant rooftop.
My shoots are rarely standard single day jobs; they’re more likely to be multi-day travel based stories – even if the riding is sometimes shot in one go. These things take as long as they take, or as long as I have.
Getting the correct ISO and aperture is crucial, I usually go up 1-2 stops if I want to move fast, otherwise, motion blur is likely. Aperture really comes down to what I want to achieve. Shutter speed, I usually leave this to the camera when shooting this way, and I swap metering modes depending on what the light.
Manual focus with the aid of focus peaking helps, but is still not perfect, especially when it’s hot (the sweat gets over the viewfinder).
Set the drive to either slow or fast continuous and away you go. Follow this up with a zoomed in check and move on, or reshoot if things are not to taste.
Working this way doesn’t always give me the super fast action shots I may want, but it does allow me to be when and where I want, and without the ties. It makes the once impossible feasible, and borderline becomes doable. In other words, this system has given me the liberation and self-reliant assurance to keep on doing what I want to do.