Individual, recreational sports offer distraction from day to day stress and provide unlimited shooting opportunities. Engaging images of healthy activities and individuals competing with themselves to improve their skills and prowess are effective for a wide range of users of photography and illustration. A focused swimmer, bicyclist or climber evokes the notions of determination, success, failure, striving, achievement and health. Each of these words often accompanies a graphic in promotions, reviews and corporate communications.
It is clearly more challenging to capture the quintessential ACTION image than to get a model carefully lit in the studio with their sporting gear. However, with the static, studio shot, you’ll lose the opportunity for the many more downloads that the action image will produce. Photographing a fully tricked out bicyclist with his/her gear in a stationary situation in the studio is good for projects that require a spokesperson or to be dropped into background scenes. Nevertheless, getting the model in motion in a typical external environment increases the possibilities for downloads.
A. RESEARCH. Go to your files of print ads and articles (you should keep a file of tear sheets from magazines). If you don’t, visit the newsstand to pick up a few magazines dedicated to the sport. Check out the images in the ads and articles. While you’re there also look at magazines related to health and general sports to get additional themes and ideas. Search on bicycling on websites such as www.bicycling.com. Look up the sites of bicycle manufacturers and dealers. Take note of social issues that relate to the activity: such as bicycle commuting
B. SCOUT prospective locations. Most towns and cities have maps of bike paths. Visit your local bike shop; ask for information about favorite biking roads and trails for the kind of shot you want. If you are shooting mountain biking, you’ll choose a different terrain than for road biking. Go to the sites and anticipate where the light will be and take note of any distracting backgrounds that could interfere with your shots.
C. CASTING. Unless you want to invest huge amounts of money in props, you’ll need to find a serious rider. You can advertise on local sites such as Craig's List or Model Mayhem. While you are chatting up the workers in the local bike shop about locations also ask if they have names of customers that might want to participate in a shoot.
D. WARDROBE. Be certain to meet with your model and check out their gear in advance. If you are using a stylist, ensure that the wardrobe color palette is compatible with the shots you have in mind. A lot of speciality, cycling clothing is covered with logos, as the local riders around here at least seem to want to look like Lance Armstrong at the finish line. Minimize the logo issue by finding shirts that are plain or count on spending extra time in post to remove brands.
Trade out the upscale biking shorts/shirt for casual wear to indicate an occasional bike rider. Then put a backpack on the model and dress them in work casual to get across the idea of the biking commuter. In all shots have helmets on the models. Think back to your location-scouting trip. What are the dominant colors in the scene? Ask for contrasting wardrobe colors so that your model isn’t visually lost in the image unless that is the point such as an image of a hunter in camouflage.
F. SEASONALITY. This may seem like a strange concern for a recreational sport shoot but consider this: in order to make images seem timely sports are often shown in seasonal environments. If you visit the newsstand in October for a look-see at bike mags, you'll find at least a few images of riders in the countryside against a background of trees with yellow and orange leaves. Look back at the issues from last spring and you’ll find riders along a path with blooming flowers. Always keep seasonality in mind and repeat exterior shoots during different seasons. (I'd skip winter for the bike riders although around Puget Sound here, they seem to ride in all weather...I call them environmentally sound and mentally unstable!)
On the day of the shoot remember:
A. Shoot both horizontal and vertical with some shots composed so that you can crop or extend to square.
B. Close ups and long shots but not so long that you can't tell if the sport enthusiast is a fly spec on the computer screen or really a person.
C. Get emotional. Go to the concept words above and think of how you can picture those emotions and ideas. Bring along a spray bottle of water/glycerin for artificial sweat. See what to do here Show exhilaration and/or exhaustion in the model’s face and body language. Since you may plan on dropping studio shots into exterior scenes, have the model assume typical riding poses. You can put the bike on a stand so that the rider can pedal the bike while keeping it stationary.
D. Outside get the bike and rider in motion. Change your perspective: get down on the ground and shoot up as the bike passes. Shoot from above if the trail allows you to climb above the biker.
E. Don't forget scenes after the ride: taking a break along the trail.
F. Get the bike being loaded on to a carrack.
Add to this the ideas that you thought of while doing your research.
Most of the planning above can be applied to any individual sport.
A list of a few individual sports:
Rock climbing, snowmobiling, jet skiing, skiing, surfing, kayaking, hiking, power walking, archery. See for more ideas
Keyword errors and tips:
For "skiing" I found an image of a suburban house in the snow. No sign of skis anywhere in the shot.
Close-up of a fir branch covered in snow had the keyword "skiing" attached. Nothing is more discouraging that plowing through pages of irrelevant images of snowy branches and fields while looking for ski images.
Be reasonable when using concept keywords for sports. Skiing might be challenging but a photo of a skier standing by their car isn't. Concept words should be limited to only obvious clues in the image.
A couple of images I wished for but didn't find while searching for this blog
A man or woman standing beside a huge swordfish or marlin hanging from a high hook.
Inline skaters (recreational)
For a preview of a book of a photographer’s “Personal Best” from his older images:
Elliot Erwitt here