Bet­ter Rid­ing Through Pic­tures


Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Dean Camp­bell

Four top ath­letes and shoot­ers dis­cuss how cam­eras have be­come part of their sport and how you can use tech­nol­ogy to im­prove as a rider, win at so­cial me­dia or just have more fun

Aaron Chase was tired, hot, and hun­gry, and just wanted to get the ride over with.

“I was in the Smoky Moun­tains in Idaho, rid­ing down this moun­tain. I was to­tally bonk­ing on this 20-mile ride over re­lent­less moun­tains. I didn’t eat enough or drink enough,” said Chase, a pro moun­tain bike rider, photographer and video pro­ducer. “It was sur­vival mode.”

Just then, the en­tire mood of the ride changed. It was late in the day, ap­proach­ing the magic hour of sun­set, and the light in the sky was a warm golden colour. All of a sud­den, Chase re­al­ized he was in the mid­dle of some­thing very spe­cial. “I was rid­ing fast down this whooped-out trail in a field, and it was like big, tall wheat grass, and there were a dozen elk run­ning with me. I had a cam­era mounted on my chest, and one on my hel­met.”

This was ex­actly the kind of mo­ment that makes for in­spir­ing images of moun­tain bik­ing – the stuff that Chase works hard to find and cap­ture on cam­era. The light and land­scape alone were strong, and then to have the elk run­ning along­side Chase took ev­ery­thing about the ex­pe­ri­ence to a whole new level. Or would have, were it not for a fa­tigue-in­duced mis­take. “Nei­ther cam­era was even pow­ered on. I com­pletely missed get­ting any footage of me rid­ing through a pack of these beasts,” said Chase. “I watched the gold nugget slip right be­tween my fin­gers and back into the river.”

From chas­ing podi­ums to pic­tures

Chase has been rid­ing moun­tain bikes for nearly 20 years. His move to in­clude photo and video work started in 2007 when he met Gopro founder Nick Wood­man at Sea Ot­ter. Wood­man had a small 10' x 10' tent, in­con­spic­u­ous among the other ex­hibitors. Wood­man handed Chase a cou­ple of early Gopro cam­eras and sug­gested he start mess­ing around with them. “They weren’t very good, but when they worked, they were fun to use,” re­called Chase. “I liked the fact that they came along with me. I didn’t need any­one to come with me to film me.”

The typ­i­cal work­flow of hav­ing a photographer or video shooter join the rider to cap­ture footage was be­ing turned on its head by the bur­geon­ing ac­tion-cam­era mar­ket. Chase quickly dis­cov­ered that not only could he pro­duce great images as the rider, the tech­nol­ogy also changed the dy­namic of rac­ing. “I would go to an ur­ban DH race, set up three cam­eras on me and do the race. It was then way more about what I did on the course, and how I cap­tured that, than it was my race re­sult. For me, it’s 10 times more en­joy­able,” said Chase. Chase boasts an In­sta­gram fol­low­ing of more than 44,000 (@aaron­chase), where he shares what he refers to as the gold nuggets he col­lects while film­ing his ad­ven­tures.

Video to boost your skills

Ac­tion cam­eras have also rev­o­lu­tion­ized how rid­ers learn new skills on bikes. Norco tri­als rider Ryan Leech runs the Ryan Leech Con­nec­tion, a se­ries of skill and fit­ness cour­ses aimed at help­ing rid­ers im­prove their abil­i­ties. Cy­clists have ac­cess to free cour­ses, paid cour­ses or ev­ery­thing through a monthly mem­ber­ship. Each of the video lessons is con­ceived, shot and edited by Leech, for whom the use of video as a teach­ing tool has come full cir­cle.

“Ini­tially, I got vhs tapes of Euro­pean rid­ers, and, of course, some early Hans Rey videos,” said Leech, who was in his teens when he watched “No Way” Rey per­form­ing his trails moves. “I’d watch them over and over in slow mo­tion. I’d watch a cer­tain spe­cific skill and then go out­side and prac­tise.”

That prac­tice paid off and Leech soon be­came an elite tri­als rider and in-de­mand in­struc­tor, trav­el­ling the world to put on tri­als shows and rep­re­sent Norco. That led to in­volve­ment with the Rideguidetv show, in which Leech hosted a skills seg­ment in each episode.

A lit­tle more than a decade ago, Leech cre­ated a video called “Mas­ter­ing the Art of Tri­als.” Then, with re­li­able and ac­ces­si­ble on­line video plat­forms avail­able, Leech’s skill in­struc­tion re­ally shifted gears. A yoga in­struc­tor, Leech cre­ated videos of the yoga ses­sions he led dur­ing the BC Bike Race, re­leas­ing those for pur­chase on­line. Later, he cre­ated the Con­nec­tion with a wide ar­ray of top­ics that ranged from men­tal fit­ness to learn­ing how to bunny hop. His videos have been ac­cessed by more than 20,000 rid­ers look­ing to up their game. “The 12 Ride Flat Pedal Chal­lenge” alone has been viewed by more than 10,000 peo­ple.

Both through the Con­nec­tion web­site, and com­mu­ni­ties on so­cial me­dia, Leech en­cour­ages clients to sub­mit footage of their at­tempts to mas­ter new skills. Video re­view al­lows for bet­ter coach­ing. With the video ca­pa­bil­i­ties of smart­phones, no spe­cial equip­ment is re­quired. Leech has found there are key tips that help clients get the best re­sults when film­ing for feed­back. “Of­ten, rid­ers will film their tech­nique too close to the ac­tion. I won’t have the full scope of their prepa­ra­tion cy­cle, the move, the exit,” said Leech. “Slow mo­tion can also be re­ally use­ful. Side pro­file shots of the fea­ture are much more help­ful for feed­back. Fi­nally, when that video is posted, shorter clips are bet­ter than long drawn-out ones show­ing a bunch of dif­fer­ent skills. A sin­gle skill can be cap­tured in a 10- to 20-sec­ond clip.”

Shoot­ing images: Part of an ath­lete’s job

The cy­cling in­dus­try has long used images to show­case not just the skill, but the life­style of rid­ing. So­cial me­dia has fur­ther fo­cused the spot­light on ath­letes, pro­vid­ing the chance to look at a cu­rated ver­sion of the day-to-day life of a pro­fes­sional. Emily Batty (@emily­batty1 on I nsta­gram, 151,000 fol­low­ers) races cross coun­try moun­tain bikes for Trek, and has twice rep­re­sented Canada at the Olympics.

Spon­sored by Red Bull, and with a keen sense of how to con­nect with her au­di­ence, Batty runs a feed that is an il­lus­tra­tion of not only her train­ing and race pro­gram, but also her in­ter­est in cars, fash­ion and travel.

While the images are mostly shot and man­aged by Batty’s hus­band and coach, Adam Morka, the two col­lab­o­rate on what sort of images to cre­ate. “We try to hit some key mes­sages: in­spi­ra­tion and in­for­ma­tion, whether it be bike tech or train­ing talk,” said Morka. “Post­ing pho­tos that don’t di­rectly stick on those key top­ics won’t res­onate as well with the au­di­ence.”

The pair don’t typ­i­cally scout lo­ca­tions for pho­tos, but do put more plan­ning into pho­tos that show the life­style off the bike. Morka brings his cam­era on train­ing rides, and the two look for good places to shoot as they ride. “Be­ing aware of your set­ting is im­por­tant in find­ing good places to shoot,” said Morka. “Tak­ing a few pho­tos dur­ing train­ing doesn’t in­ter­fere with per­for­mance, so we will stop when­ever we see some­thing great.” The pair keep their eyes peeled for beau­ti­ful scenery, and try to shoot just af­ter dawn or be­fore sun­set – the magic hours when day­light takes on a spe­cial qual­ity.

Good images alone won’t suf­fice for Morka and Batty. They are also mind­ful of their key mes­sages and con­cepts when they write cap­tions. Overt men­tions of spon­sors can turn off fans, so be­ing cre­ative in plac­ing prod­uct to be less ob­tru­sive can help soften the mes­sag­ing.

Photo and video tips from rid­ers

Morka is a self-taught photographer who started as a hob­by­ist, and still con­sid­ers him­self in that light, though his pho­tos no doubt con­trib­ute to the busi­ness side of the team. “Start with learn­ing some of the ba­sic stuff to do with fram­ing and com­po­si­tion, mak­ing sure your sub­ject is the fo­cal point,” said Morka. “The more you’re shoot­ing, the more you can learn. Tak­ing the step to shoot­ing in man­ual will also help you bal­ance shut­ter speed, aper­ture and iso.”

“Video re­view al­lows for bet­ter coach­ing.”

Post pro­duc­tion edit­ing of pho­tos is also crit­i­cal. Morka has found that spend­ing a few min­utes us­ing Adobe Light­room or iphoto to clean up an im­age and ad­just sat­u­ra­tion, con­trast and ex­po­sure can take a photo from good to great. Once an im­age is ready, Morka and Batty en­sure it is posted be­tween 8 and 9 a.m., a time of day that seems to best en­gage with their au­di­ence.

“We al­ways try to get ahead of our­selves and cat­a­logue a few images,” said Morka, who wants to make sure they have a few ex­tras on hand to share. “You can go back to old images, so long as you cap­tion them ap­pro­pri­ately.”

Morka re­lies on Sony cam­eras and lenses for his pho­tog­ra­phy. Batty de­scribes Morka as a bit of a gear junkie, a ti­tle Morka doesn’t en­tirely agree with, but ad­mits he has a wide se­lec­tion of equip­ment. His most com­mon weapon of choice is a mir­ror­less Sony a7r II cam­era with a 24–70 mm f/2.0 lens. The cam­era con­nects di­rectly to his phone, so there’s no need for a lap­top to down­load, process and post images.

Be­fore Morka, Leech or Chase turn on their cam­eras, they make sure they know the goal of an im­age or video, which is key for suc­cess. “Hav­ing some sort of in­ten­tion be­fore a ride is im­por­tant, and hav­ing that match a rider’s needs on a given day is also im­por­tant,” said Leech. “Though some­times a rider just needs to go and burn off some stress, with­out the dis­trac­tion of tech­nol­ogy.”

Leech has a bag full of ac­tion cam­eras and a wide as­sort­ment of mounts to en­sure he can get an an­gle that best shows a part of a skill he’s try­ing to teach. He does all the shoot­ing and edit­ing him­self be­cause he hasn’t yet found an ed­i­tor he can trust to use the right shot at the right time in the cor­rect way.

Chase echoes the con­cept of pick­ing days to just ride, and of­ten will do a big por­tion of a ride with­out hav­ing cam­eras mounted and run­ning. Chase tends to stop be­fore down­hill sec­tions to set up his cam­eras. If by the bot­tom, he’s found no “nuggets,” the clips get erased.

As with rid­ing skill, in­spi­ra­tion comes through ded­i­cated prac­tice. Batty and Morka will spend down­time look­ing through In­sta­gram ac­counts for ex­am­ples of cool pho­tos. Chase does the same and will screen cap­ture the most com­pelling ex­am­ples. He also has a Pin­ter­est ac­count to which he saves lo­ca­tion images that in­spire him.

“I might see a trail by a wa­ter­fall and think how cool it would be with a bike on that trail,” said Chase, who now has a cat­a­logue of lo­ca­tion ideas he can pull out when meet­ing with spon­sors. That ap­proach has been part of what has led to the devel­op­ment of a new se­ries with Red Bull called Mt­n­mods, which Chase de­scribes as a diy freeride show. Com­plete with the #Mt­n­mods hash­tag, the show is all about find­ing cool ways to de­velop and ride fun fea­tures that view­ers can recre­ate at home.

Just as the vi­su­als in­spire oth­ers to ride, the process of shoot­ing and pro­duc­ing pho­tos and videos is one more rea­son to ride for Morka, Chase and Leech. “I went out for a ride the other day with a buddy. We did a hike-a-bike up to the top of a peak. Typ­i­cally, we want to be turn­ing cranks and not push­ing the bike, but I as­sured him, ‘Once we get up there, it will be su­per cool be­cause it’s like this ex­posed slick­rock on top of a moun­tain in New Hamp­shire,’” said Chase.

“We ended up spend­ing an hour rid­ing around up there, shoot­ing pho­tos, ex­plor­ing, check­ing things out be­fore we ever hopped on a trail to ride down,” said Chase. “My buddy com­mented how cool it is to ride some­thing other than trail, to ride all the rocks up top in­stead of just rid­ing the trail ahead. It brings you back to how you got started in bik­ing re­ally.”

op­po­site left

Aaron Chase en­sures all an­gles are cov­ered op­po­site right Chase’s Gopro kit

right Chase man­ages to get an­gles not pos­si­ble with con­ven­tional gear

be­low Chase gets aquainted with Gopro’s drone

top Leech’s very ex­pen­sive and pro­tec­tive pro­pel­ler beanie

cen­tre Leech’s film­ing kit


Leech per­forms a bunny hop

left Ryan Leech and Thomas Van­der­ham teach rid­ers how to jump

pho­tos Emily Batty top right

Batty in selfie mode with Adam Morka be­hind, and in front of, the lens

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