Photography on a Bicycle

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I have been taking photographs since the age of eleven, when I got my first camera, a Rollei B35.  I grew up watching my father photographing architecture with his Ashi Pentax Spotmatic SLR camera. 

Over the years since, I have used….

  • a trusty Pentax K1000, including a trip to Everest basecamp in 1981 and a wander around India
  • a bomb-proof Nikonmat FT, including cycle touring around the Southern India
  • a pocket Olympus Mju, my last film camera
  • Canon Ixus, my first digital camera
  • Canon G9

I switched from lugging a heavy SLR film camera & lens around to small “pocket” cameras. I did not want to buy a huge digital DSLR camera and all the lenses, my Canon G9 was just about the right size for me.  But when I dropped and broke my Canon G9 (the zoom lens would not extend, making the camera a write-off), I borrowed my eldest son’s Micro Four Thirds Olympus PEN camera for a cycle ride along the Danube with my youngest son.  Suddenly, I remembered the joy of having a decent camera with interchangeable lenses.

Then in February 2012, along came the Olympus OM-D E-M5, a metal bodied, weather sealed compact mirror-less camera with professional features and a range of quality lenses, plus beautiful retro styling, reminding me of my old SLR film cameras.  I bought one & have never looked back.  As time went on, I swapped the zoom lens for a set of prime lenses.  I usually use an Olympus 25mm f1.8 lens (35mm film equivalent 50mm lens). 

In my handle bar bag I have the following…

  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 25mm f1.8 lens (although usually on my shoulder)
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 portrait lens
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm f2.0 wide angle lens
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 30mm f3.5 macro lens
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens (in my saddle bag)
  • PEDCO UltraPod Tripod
  • Anker 10,000mHa power bank
  • Spare Olympus camera battery
  • Spare SD Cards & Lens cloth

My Ortlieb Handle Bar Bag, as my Camera Bag

This is the perfect travel camera, especially for cycle touring, as I am able to put all my camera kit in my Ortlieb handlebar bag.  The prime lenses are superb quality.  Being Micro Four Thirds, everything is small and lightweight.  I could not carry such a wide range of kit in any other interchangeable lens camera format. 

I usually ride with the camera slung over my shoulder, ready to shoot at any time.  Because the OM-D has remarkable 5-axis in-body image stabilisation, I am able to take shots will riding along, without stopping.  I have developed this technique, so that I can ride safely, making sure that I do not try to take photos when descending a mountain pass at speed (slow right down first !!!) or on pot-hole filled roads or in heavy traffic.  If needs be, I stop briefly to compose and shoot my shot, before swinging the camera on my back again and riding away.

Being on a bicycle, one sees the landscape, as one travels across it, from a totally different perspective from being in a car, coach or train.  One is fully immersed in the landscape from sky to earth to horizons.  One sees wildlife and flora, that would be missed in a vehicle.  One meets people, see faces and smiles by the side of the road.  Being on a bicycle, off the beaten tourist track, one sees another world altogether.  Even if one is in a tourist locality, such as Rajasthan (India), 99% of the tourists whizz by on the big roads in air-conditioned vehicles behind tinted glass windows; they do not see the quiet rural back roads and all that lives there.  All of this provides wonderful opportunities for photography.  Having my Olympus OM-D E-M5 slung over my shoulder, I am ready to capture all of this, hence all my photos alongside Alysun’s diary.

A good example of the wonders of cycle touring “street” photography is my Flickr Album of our Rajasthan cycle tour in 2018….

Rajasthan Cycle Tour 2018

Life on the back roads of Rajasthan
Photography in the saddle, as I ride along.

… I could not of have got so many of these photos, particularly the portraits, anywhere else, other than being on a bicycle, with a camera in my hand.

Whenever I take portrait pictures of people that I meet, stopped by the side of the road, I always ask permission first.  Usually because of the mutual excitement of meeting, greeting and talking, the strangers are more than happy to be photographed.  But sometimes in particular cultures/communities, taking photographs is not welcome, so I put my camera down and away. 

I have taken many photos of pedestrians as I cycle along and this is fine except, on one occasion in Iran when some migrant farm workers shouted at me and started throwing tomatoes.  I think that they may have been concerned about been filmed working illegally.

POST SCRIPT… during our ride around Iran in 2019, my Olympus OM-D E-M5 has started to show some signs of wear and tear.  The thumb rest fell off and I had to fix it with superglue.  Sometimes the camera was slow to respond when changing mode.  And the sensor became rather dirty with noticeable spots appearing when shooting lots of blue sky.  I have had the sensor professionally cleaned, but this has made me more aware of the possible issues of changing lenses in windy, dust filled desert landscapes.

I have since upgraded my Olympus camera kit, selling some items on eBay to finance the switch.  Everything still fits my Ortlieb handlebar bag…

  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII with 12-40mm f2.8 PRO zoom lens
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8 lens (my trusty “nifty fifty” street prime lens)
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f2.8 PRO zoom lens
  • Olympus M.Zuiko MC-14 (x1.4) Teleconverter
  • Leofoto Pocket Mini Tripod MT-03 (usually in my in my saddlebag)
  • Anker 10,000mHa power bank
  • Spare Olympus camera battery
  • Spare SD Cards & Lens cloth

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II
My new camera kit still fits in my Ortlieb Handle Bar Bag

I have been learning how to use the new camera on day rides and I am very pleased with the results.  I am looking forward to using in on our six stage of the ride, across Western India.

More information about Olympus OM-D Cameras