Gravel Culture: Magic bike photography
Gravel Union On
10 February 2021
If you look at pretty much any promotional bike imagery, you will notice the bike appears to be magically standing upright and you may have wondered how it was done. We peer into the murky world of bike photography and give away all the trade secrets.
Image courtesy of @BergamontBikes
Bikes are inherently unstable and gravel bikes are no exception to this. Bikes also look much better (in our view anyway) standing upright in an image, rather than lying on the floor. In the olden days (before you-know-what turned our worlds upside down), bike shoots would generally involve at least two people – a photographer, generally equipped with a super expensive camera fitted with a telephoto lens and an assistant/helper/friend/partner, whose job it was to hold the bike up and get it to balance – then on the command of the photographer, they would release the bike, stand back, the photographer would fire off a burst of images and the assistant would then grab the bike again before it falls over and smashes into a million small pieces.
As long as the photographer uses a sufficiently long lens, sets the depth of field to be as shallow as possible, has a camera capable of shooting a burst of high quality images and most importantly – ensures the shot is cropped in tight onto the bike with limited periphery in view, they should end up with a beautifully crisp image, with the background/foreground artily blurred and the bike super-crisp in the centre of the frame. Something like this:
Image courtesy of @Scottbikes
We know that immediately to the left of this frame (as you normally hold the bike from the back wheel) will be an assistant sweating buckets and hoping that they can grab the bike before it falls face-first onto the road. We also all know of people (which might include us, ahem) who have mistimed the catch and dropped the bike. This is bad enough when it’s a promo bike for a manufacturer, but when it’s your own pride and joy it feels somehow even worse!
In the current world, where many of us are riding solo, getting a decent photo of a bike, without the aid of an assistant has been much harder. Add to that the fact that most of us are now taking images with a smart phone rather than a €million camera and it makes it even more complicated. Until now we’ve had to resort to propping bikes up using a seatpack/water bottle/stick/helmet/rock (or sometimes a combination of all of the above) and it’s not easy – the bike wants to fall over with even the slightest gust of wind and it doesn’t look that great – you pretty much always have the “thing” you’re using to hold up the bike visible in shot.
But now, thanks to the genius of a Hungarian cyclist (who is also an architectural model maker) who was fed up never being able to capture an image of his bike in the way that he wanted, you can buy one of these - https://shadowstand.com It’s essentially a small piece of clear acrylic, with indentations in the bottom to help it grip and a recess cut in the top to help it segue nicely with your pedal axle. It’s small enough to fit in your jersey pocket, is made from 100% recycled acrylic (called Green Cast) and even comes in recycled carboard packaging.
You might wonder why you would pay for a small piece of clear plastic to do such a simple job and our reply would be this photo:
It’s not going to win any awards for photographic merit, but it captures what winter gravel riding is all about and most importantly, makes the bike look decent. The image was shot on a smart phone and the shadowstand nestled snuggly into a jersey pocket on the ride to where the shot was taken. The stand was unobtrusive, lightweight and super simple to use. Even if you zoom into the image and blow it up, you can barely see the stand – to all intents and purposes, it looks as though the bike is hovering.
The stand is so difficult to see that actually capturing photos of it is quite a challenge. This is what it looks like in its packaging:
And this is what it looks like stood in a small pile of snow. The next two images are identical, only in one of them we’ve drawn around the stand in photoshop to make it stand out more.
This wasn’t a ‘test’ in a normal bike media sense of the term – we bought the stand with our own money in fact, but were so impressed with how well it works that we thought we would share it with you!
For anyone sticking rigidly to “the rules” for bike photography and worried about the fact the it’s not possible to position the cranks at the normal 9-15 position, you’ll be pleased to know that Shadowstand have thought of that too and have created a larger stand which fits under the bottom bracket shell. It doesn’t fit in your jersey pocket and it might be slightly more visible due to its greater size, but if you’re sticking rigidly to “the rules” it might be worth considering buying the larger one.
For everyone else, head here, spend a small amount of your hard earned money on a little piece of transparent plastic and be forever happy with your bike balanced neatly in the centre of your images.