Bikes, cameras, elbows, tea and cakes

Bikemagic Bikemagic
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If you were riding on Somerset’s rather splendid Quantock Hills one weekend in October, you may have encountered a slightly curious sight. To wit, a spindly bloke on a funny-looking bike riding the same stream crossing/corner/climb over and over again while half a dozen people pointed cameras at him. Well, that was us, that was. More specifically, the attendees of the inaugural Seb Rogers/Bikemagic photo weekend.

The idea was a simple one. Take six people keen to take better pictures of bikes (not hard to find those, the mountain biking/photography crossover is a burgeoning one). Get Bikemagic editor Mike (famous for pointy elbows and referring to himself in the third person) to ride for the cameras. Get leading MTB photographer Seb Rogers to educate the group in how best to wield said cameras. And park the whole lot in some picturesque hills in great weather. Yes, we’d thought of everything.

Starting on the Friday afternoon, we quickly settled into a routine – ride, take pics, ride, take pics, sneak in a quick cream tea, more riding and pics, back to base to clean up and then review the day’s shoots over copious quantities of tea and cake before decamping to the pub for an agreeable dinner, a couple of cheeky halves and the putting right of the world.

But enough background, how did it all go? We asked the attendees for their post-weekend thoughts (and their favourite pics)…

Kate

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What an awesome weekend, far exceeding my expectations.

Having seen Seb’s work and actually been to one of the venues in Spain that he’d covered, the prospect of a whole weekend of almost private tuition was too good to miss. Couple that with three days of riding in an area I hadn’t previously explored and I couldn’t sign up fast enough.

My photography is mediocre at best and I had never explored anything beyond the compact ‘point and shoot, do all the thinking for you’ cameras. I had hoped that I would pick up some positioning tips. I never imagined that by the end of the course I would have such a clear understanding of how to squeeze every drop of performance from a dSLR on manual. This is due mainly to Seb’s incredible patience and clarity of teaching, both in the theory classes and outside on the hills. However, credit has to be given to the amazing quality and quantity of brain food (cake) provided by our hosts for the weekend and to Mike’s endless circuits up and down the trails in full gurn.

Overall, a quality weekend that has inspired me to buy a ‘proper’ camera to practice everything I learnt.

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Alex

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Internet photo sharing sites have provided a great platform to showcase two complementary hobbies – mountain biking and photography. But for every inspiring photo, there are thousands of duds; uninteresting compositions, blurry subjects and technical failures. I should know, I’ve taken a lot of them.

So to bridge the gap between “h’mm, nearly” and “oh f*ck YES!”, I signed up with Seb Rogers for a weekend photography course tailored for digital cameras and mountain bikes. Seb divides his tuition between the science (tracking, shutter speeds, exposure and timing) and the art (composition, angles and mood) of capturing the perfect image.

He encourages you first to think of what you want and then teaches repeatable technique on how to get it – and more importantly get it sharp and perfectly exposed. Some of it may seem obvious – how to best hold the camera for example – but much of it is not. With Seb’s subtle prodding you begin to understand the difference between good and great.

Switching to manual, experimenting with composition and – most importantly of all- practising until it becomes natural. We all made huge improvements over the weekend but it’s merely a platform from which to progress.

So all I need to do is convince my friends to session the same trail section twenty times every ride and hopefully I’ll be chirping “oh f*ck YES” a little more often.

Digital cameras, like bikes, are expensive, complex and less intuitive that you may think. This course was the short cut to understanding why.

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Christian

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I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend (as many of the pics show). I signed up partly because Kate invited me and partly because I’ve been toying with the idea of some semi-formal photography tuition for a while. Combining it with the bike seemed like a fine way to spend a long weekend.

What did I expect? Pretty much what I found, actually – some sofa-based technique and theory chat followed by sensible riding with really good opportunities to practise the techniques that Seb had shown us (aided by a willing model!). The evening reviews were also spot on, helped by the tea-related catering arrangements…

What I’ve learnt is harder to summarise, given that it’s quite broad. But I now know more about handling a camera (particularly for panning shots), setting it up to capture the widest range of digital data available, and how to better manipulate those data back at base. The one thing that’s made a real difference is getting my head around the histogram, and appreciating how the camera captures and processes the digital data, thereby opening up a whole world of adjustments. Great stuff.

All in all, a cracking three days (helped by fine weather) which ticked every box. Nice one!

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Niels

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I thought that the course was a rare opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade from a seasoned pro. I also quite liked the combination of riding and photography and, in my case, travel – I came over from the Netherlands for the weekend.

If I had to summarise what I learnt in one sentence, it would be “to take control of my shots”. Thinking ahead, planning the shot, setting up the camera, and afterwards being able to tell why a shot works or not. I think everyone became more confident and consistent over the weekend.

All together it was a great weekend, Seb’s teaching and Mike’s modelling were ace, and I think everyone had a good time. Also for me as a Dutchman the cultural experience was most interesting (cooked breakfast, tea stop halfway through the ride)…

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Gary

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As a keen MTBer and photographer, the weekend seemed like just the thing I was looking for. Riding somewhere I hadn’t before whilst receiving tuition from one of the top MTB photographers around. Obviously, the key aspect of the weekend was the photography, and I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive on the way down to the Quantocks. Would I remember how to work everything on the camera? Would I understand what Seb was talking about?

Thankfully I could remember what all the twiddly bits did on the camera and Seb explained things in a straightforward way that even I could follow when discussions veered off into physical aperture sizes related to f-stops! My main goal for the weekend was to come away having learnt what a pro does to maximise their chances of getting a great shot, and I really do think that Seb achieved this.

I now approach photography in a different way, adopting a triple S approach; Scout, Set-up, Shoot. The scouting is having a good look round at the subject and the area around it. What does it look like from up that tree or in that hollow? The set-up is something I’ve never really done before as I relied on the camera to make decisions for me and, well, if I take enough shots, one of them is bound to be OK. Now it’s a case of take a test shot, review the histogram (now that I feel like I really know what it’s showing me), adjust, repeat until happy. Then it’s take the shot. Before it was usually a machine gun approach with lots of autofocus, but now it’s a much more considered, planned shot and definitely a much better hit rate.

The results? Well, I’m no Seb Rogers yet, but I can definitely see a vast improvement in pictures and I can usually get the shot I foresaw in my head. Seb also gave just enough tips to convince me that shooting raw is the way to go and that just a few subtle tweaks with curves can produce stunning true to life images. I’m a happy bunny!

Oh, and I’ll never be able to look at another MTB publication without scanning for “pro elbows”!

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That was great, can you do it again?

So the first Seb/Bikemagic photo weekend can, we think, be justifiably be described as a success. Which means that we’re going to do it all again in 2008 – same format, same location, one weekend in May (which is already fully booked from people who didn’t get on to the October 2007 one…) and another in October. Full details at sebrogers.typepad.com.

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