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We all love looking at photos of beautiful bikes — after all, ogling a stunning frame is the next best thing to actually being out riding. But here at CyclingTips we come across far too many bike photos that have been spoiled by poor background choice, incorrect bike setup and even basic things like improper valve stem placement.
While anyone can prop a bike up against a brick wall and take a quick snap with their smartphone, there’s a real art to capturing a drool-worthy shot of your prized steed. With that in mind, here are our tips on how to take the best bike-related photos you possibly can.
Follow our advice and you’ll be Insta-famous in no time.
Preparing the bike
To capture your bike at its very best you’ll need to invest a bit of time pre-ride, setting up your steed in the most photogenic manner possible:
Tyre logos and tube valves must be aligned: Whenever you’re putting a new set of tyres on your bike, ensure that the hole for the tube valve is lined up with the middle of any tyre logos. This will ensure a symmetrical alignment between tyre and tube and should also bring tyre and rim logos into line.
Gum sidewalls look best: Go for gum-walled tyres whenever possible. They’re what the pros use and that’s all you need to know.
Keep your saddle flat: If you post a photo of your bike with the saddle tilted at some ridiculous angle — or any angle beyond flat, really — it’s going to distract your audience. The beauty of the bike will be lost as people try to work out how you manage to sit on the bike without doing lasting damage to your undercarriage (tilted up) or how you manage to even stay on the saddle (tilted down). Keep your saddle flat!
Slam that stem: If you’ve got more than 10mm worth of spacers underneath your stem, you’re doing it wrong. Slam that stem! And don’t forget to cut the steerer tube to ensure you don’t have an ugly (and potentially dangerous) chimney stack protruding from your stem. You’ll reduce your chances of selling the bike by 90% but it’ll totally be worth it.
No ‘stiffies’: Speaking of unsightly protrusions, your stem should not extend from your steerer tube at an angle of any more than 1°. A flat stem is pro; one with a negative drop is even more so. Anything else will be referred to by your giggling mates as a ‘happy stem’ … behind your back.
Clean the bike: You can’t expect anyone to drool over your beautiful ride if it’s covered in dust from last weekend’s gravel ride, if there’s an unsightly build-up of grease and other gunk in the cassette or if your bartape has unwrapped itself from your bars. Take some pride in your bike — give it a good clean before presenting it to the world and pay particular attention to the chain!
Location, location, location
Now that your bike is up to scratch, it’s time to find somewhere to shoot. Sure, you could take the photo anywhere but if you’re looking for something aesthetically satisfying and Insta-worthy here’s our advice:
Pick the right wall for your #BAAW: Your standard bikeporn shot features a bike leaning against some inanimate object, usually a wall, hence the rise of the increasingly popular Instagram hashtag #BAAW (“bike against a wall”). While it might seem easy, there’s a real art to picking the right wall to shoot your bike in front of.
Make sure the wall and the ground in front of it is clean. No one wants to see your bike sitting in a pile of broken grass, just like they don’t want to be distracted by a dirty wall with weeds growing out of the cracks between bricks. Pick something nice and clean.
While the wall should be clean, it also shouldn’t be dull. Pick something with a bit of colour or an interesting design element — graffiti is always a good bet, so long as it’s the street art variety rather than the I’m-going-to-tag-every-surface-in-this-city variety.
Don’t let the wall overpower your bike: You want to shoot your bike in front of an interesting background but not one that’s too interesting. You don’t want people to ignore your bike completely and start talking about how great the street art is … unless of course you have an ugly bike. If that’s the case, find the most amazing piece of street art you can.
No #BAAW, no worries: If you’re suddenly struck by the urge to take a photo of your bike but there’s no Banksy-adorned brick wall to prop it up against, fear not. A fence post may be used in a rural setting, for instance, so long as the backdrop is suitably impressive. A photo of your bike parked in front of a sprawling landscape of rolling green hills is fine; that same bike propped against a lamp post in front of a dirty great big gravel carpark: not so much.
You’ve got your backdrop sorted and now it’s time to get your bike into the right spot, ready to shoot.
Don’t prop your bike up with just anything: Sometimes you want to take photos of your bike in an open area to take advantage of an interesting background element. This will mean there’s no wall or post to lean your bike against, in which case you’ll need to be creative with how you set up the bike.
Your best option is to get a friend to help you. While you get ready to take the shot, get your friend to hold the bike in position and then pull their hands away as you fire off a couple of quick shots. This is known as “ghosty-ing” and will make it look like the bike is free-standing. (Pro tip: make sure your friend catches the bike before it hits the ground.)
Here’s how it’s done:
If you’re on your own, use a clear perspex rod jammed between the non-drive-side crankbolt and the ground at enough of an angle to hold the bike upright. A stick can also be used as a last resort, as too can a small bike stand (as in the feature image) or a bidon.
If you’re using an SLR camera (as opposed to your smartphone) and you want to blur out the background, be sure to use a shallow depth of field (a low f-stop number).
Remove anything that breaks the nice clean lines of the bike: Before you take your photo be sure to remove your saddlebag, lights, bell, track pump, bidons (unless they’re part of the bike’s retro theme, say) and anything else that distracts from the bike’s natural beauty. That includes those horrible plastic discs that ship with new bikes.
Put it in the big ring: This is arguably the golden rule of taking bike photos. Always put it in the big ring. You don’t want people to think you’ve been rolling around in the small chainring, do you?
Put it in the smallest cog: Nobody is going to be impressed if your bike is in the big ring and the 28T at the back. Ensure the chain is on the smallest cog at the back. There is one exception to this — mechanics often leave the pros’ bikes in the 53×15 after cleaning them so this setup is fine for you to use as well.
Drive-side out: Don’t make the rookie mistake of having the non-drive-side facing the camera — we should be able to see the large chainring (with chain attached) in all its glory, not obscured by the frame.
Put your cranks in the proper position: You have exactly two options when it comes to crank position: the drive-side crank at 3 o’clock (horizontally to the right from the bottom bracket) or closer to 4 o’clock, ensuring that the crank continues the line traced by the drive-side chainstay.
Line up your valve stems properly: As with cranks, there are two acceptable options when it comes to positioning your valve stems: a) rotate both wheels so each valve stem is at exactly 6 o’clock (sticking straight up), or b) hide the front valve stem behind the fork and the the back valve stem behind the seatstay. Nothing says “bike photo rookie” like valve stems left in random and unmatched positions … except for valve stems left in random and unmatched positions with valve caps still attached …
Tuck your skewers out of the way: You don’t want to come this far and then make a mess of your photo thanks to sloppy skewer placement. Make sure your front skewer is either parallel to the front fork, or tucked just in behind it. Your rear skewer needs to either be parallel to the chainstay or positioned halfway between the chainstay and the seatstay.
With all of that done, you’re ready to go ahead and shoot. Be sure to take dozens of photos of your bike and spend the next coffee stop ignoring all attempts at conversation from your mates as you upload every single image to Instagram.