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Portrait of a Cyclist About to Crash

June 9, 2011

This is a bit of a silly diversion and I hope you will forgive its apparent vanity. There’s a curious subculture of recreational cycling that involves cyclists taking pictures of themselves while they ride. It’s typically less narcissistic and more in good fun, but there’s a certain skill involved as evidenced by my feeble efforts below. And it’s not just limited to amateur cyclists. This video is of Canadian professionals Michael Barry and Dominique Rollin filming a descent while training this winter in Spain. I think it’s very cool that pros who do this for a living still see the fun in what they do.

Generally, though, for most cyclists, pictures consist of self-portraits taken awkwardly with cameras or phones, one arm outstretched. There is, however, a subtle variety that is worth examining. Let’s assume for the moment that every photographer manages to accurately point the camera at the intended target, centering the focal point of the shot. But what is the subject? It can be the rider; the kit; the bike; the legs; or some combination of any and all of the above.

There’s also an interesting learning curve going on here. For example, the pic above teaches me that I never want to see another shot of myself from this angle.

Better to shoot from the side if you’re shooting from below. Using the sun in the background provides an artistic/heroic flavor to the shot (or makes it even sillier).

There is a whole other genre, too. That is the obligatory self-portrait while stationary. In this case, the subject is almost secondary to the background. If the foliage in the immediate background could be razed, this pic would provide an impressive view of the Dundas Valley, suggestive of the amount of climbing I have just done (this is a whole different form of narcissism).

Or this:

Missed! The scenic view is to my right (out of the shot). One thing worth noting, however, is that it is generally a good idea to keep your extended arm out of the shot. I’m not sure what the furrowed brow is about either. Pointing and clicking is clearly taxing my manual dexterity.

Similarly, the stationary pic below is designed to impress upon the viewer that I will withstand inhumanly cold weather to ride. This can be almost as impressive as shots from high vantage points as a means of stressing a rider’s passion, dedication, and toughness.

Finally, the last form of the genre is a bit of a diversion, but cyclists like to take an inordinate number of pictures of their bicycles. These can range from the disembodied hand shot to the careful placement of the bike in a less orthodox site (note beginnings of scenic view behind wall—bit of a crime since I can actually frame the pic better than when I’m shooting blind):

More to come. I hope to find time over the summer to write a grant application to research this more thoroughly. Any other angles/themes that require some analysis here?

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