Like tea, bicycles are a photography subject you can find around the world. From major cities to isolated rural areas, bicycles are everywhere. When you photograph a bicycle, then, you’re photographing a subject that a lot of people will recognize and relate to, even if they live in a country very different from yours.
In this way, bicycles are a kind of gateway into a culture. They create a sense of familiarity, even when the culture or environment is unfamiliar to your viewers.
That isn’t to say that bicycles are easy to photograph. In fact, their size and complex shape make them harder to photograph than a cup of tea, for example. To get a nice shot, here are some ideas to try out.
Ideas and Inspiration for Bicycle Pictures
All of the following photos come from our community of amateur and professional photographers, both on Flickr and via our newsletter. We had a photography challenge asking for bicycle images, and many of these pictures are from that challenge. Thanks to all the photographers who submitted their images!
Use a nice wall or building as the background.
One of the simplest ways to shoot a bicycle is by setting it against a beautiful or eye-catching wall. This composition works well because the two subjects complement each other. The wall helps ensure that your photo isn’t crowded with unnecessary details, while the bicycle acts as a visual anchor, giving your viewers a specific subject to focus on.
Shoot the bicycle against a landscape or seascape.
Bicycles have such a distinct shape that they’re easy to recognize, even when they’re a tiny part of a grand landscape photo. Regardless of their size in the photo, they can draw viewers into a landscape and create a story, making an empty scene look more interesting.
Compose your photo with lines or patterns.
Though bicycles naturally draw attention, you can further emphasize them in a photo by using lines or patterns. When you place the bicycle on a strong line, the viewer’s gaze will automatically go to the bicycle, even if the photo is crowded. Likewise, if a bicycle interrupts a strong pattern, it’ll instantly become the focus of the image.
Work with silhouettes, shadows, and/or reflections.
The familiar, unusual shape of bicycles is also great for shooting silhouettes, shadows, or reflections –subjects that work best when viewers can recognize what they are. These subjects also allow you to work with techniques like symmetry and minimalism, which can make your image more compelling.
Photograph the bicycle from above.
If you’re having a hard time photographing a bicycle’s shadow, try shooting it from above. Besides revealing the bike’s shadow, this perspective can make composing with lines or patterns easier, as they’re often clearer from above than from the side.
Play with depth of field.
When a scene or background is crowded and distracting, you can always blur it out by using a shallow depth of field. You can use this technique not only to create a lovely bokeh background, but also to blur the foreground while focusing on the background. Either way, experimenting with depth of field gives you more creative control, so you can get a powerful image regardless of the surrounding distractions.
Experiment with motion blur.
Motion blur creates a sense of speed and energy. It captures movement while still freezing action, giving you the feel of a video, but in a photo. It’s a great technique to use when photographing cyclists. Just remember to leave more space in front of the cyclist than behind. Called Lead Room, this space shows viewers where the cyclist is heading, something they will automatically (albeit unconsciously) want to see.
Melih Ozturk – Wien
Create a sense of depth.
Capturing the three-dimensional feel of a place or subject can be hard in a two-dimensional picture. If your images are looking “flat,” try composing your image with a strong foreground, middle ground, and background, or else use leading lines to draw viewers into your image. Both options are typically doable with bicycles, especially if you’re photographing them on a long street or sidewalk.
Look for unique bicycles or interesting details.
Sometimes, all you need to create an interesting photo is a unique subject that demands attention, like a bizarre bicycle or a beautiful detail. Of course, even with striking subjects, good composition and technique are still important. Though a unique bicycle can draw looks, the quality of your photo is what will ultimately keep your viewers’ attention.
Get a great candid shot.
Bicycles are worthwhile subjects on their own, but they’re also great secondary subjects in portraits, particularly candid street shots. They give your photo an extra dimension, revealing more of the situation for your viewers to connect with. Even if they’re only a side detail, they can help create more of a visual narrative.