3 Reasons Photographers Should Ride A Cargo Bike

There's a revolution taking place, perhaps you've heard.  As more people choose bicycles instead of cars, cargo bikes are becoming the new minivan.  Moms and dads use cargo bikes to take their kids places, for running errands, and so much more.

Out for a ride with the boys

Out for a ride with the boys

I'm a dad who's in the kid haulin' cargo bike category taking my boys to and from daycare every day on my way to work and before heading home.  I love running errands on my bike, and stopping occasionally to take pictures.  I ride it so much so that my family is a one car household.

My steed is an old Specialized Rock Hopper, circa 1990, with a Xtracycle LEAP making it a longtail cargo bike.  With it, I can haul just about anything.  The bike can, supposedly, carry up to 400 pounds.  I once had close to 200 pounds on it, which made it a bit difficult to control.  Just because it can carry a lot of weight doesn't mean I want it to.  At some point it just gets ridiculous. 

But enough about me and my bike.  Let's get to the reasons why every photographer should ride a cargo bike (at least some of the time).

1. It can take you places your car can't

You wake up one day and think, "Hey, I'll go to the mountains and take some landscape pictures, but I don't want the same picture everyone else has from the side of the road.  I know, I'll walk from the trailhead to a quiet overlook."   

You get your gear together and start packing the car when an epiphany strikes, "What the %&#@ am I thinking!  All this gear is heavy."

Cargo bike to the rescue!  Walking takes a long time.  Biking is fast, efficient, and quiet.  Load the bike with your gear, some food, maybe a cooler with a few special beverages, and enjoy the ride.  In a short while you arrive to your spot and do what you came to do, make great photographs of beautiful places.  

2. A cargo bike frees you from making tough choices

Photography is hard because of the tough choices you have to make.  Which lenses should you bring?  Should you carry a tripod?  What about all the other miscellaneous items like extra batteries, lighting, and a laptop?  Studio work is easy.  Everything is there.  While out and about all day, your gear gets heavy. 

Who wants to leave a lens at home just because you don't feel like carrying it, or whether you should take your tripod for that "just in case" moment.  If you can't get your gear there you can't take the shot, so it's time to load the cargo bike and go.

3. It's like walking but better

The beauty of walking when shooting street photography is that you're in the moment and at the ready to take the shot when you see it.  Riding a bike is just as easy.  As you come rolling past and see the picture you've been looking for you stop, pull out your camera, and capture the image.

But why on a cargo bike and not just any ole bike?  Simple, as you are out running errands, taking your kids to school, or commuting to work you can stop when you see something you want to take a picture of and capture it.

Yeah, you can do that while driving, but do you?  I never do.  Driving is such a hassle. 

Picture this (sorry for the pun), you are driving and you see something you want to photograph.  You are in the left lane, so you need to get to the right, find a place a few blocks down to turn, stop and park.

You get out of your car, walk back to where you saw the shot, and when you get there it looks completely different because you were going past at 50 miles per hour.  You shrug your shoulders.  RUMPH!  And walk back. 

That scenario will never happen because you will never stop.  It's too much of a hassle, and when driving you are in a different frame of mind when compared to riding a bike.  While driving you want to make time, you have a point A to point B mentality.  Everything in between be damned.

Now consider the same scenario while riding your cargo bike.   You're riding home with a load of groceries and takeout.  The sunlight falling between two buildings catches your eye and you think, "Someone walking into the light from the shadows would make for a great silhouette.  I think I'll stop!"

And so you do, right where you see it.  The bike takes you on your errands, and provides you with options.  You can easily stop, whip out your camera, and start shooting.  No need to find a place to put your sheet metal bubble.  You are in a different frame of mind.  Rather than raging through town in your car you are aware of your surroundings, and willing to stop and be a member of your greater community. 


Riding cargo bikes is just plain fun.  People far and wide will want to talk with you about it.  I can't tell you how many times someone waved at me and my boys just to say hi.  It's disarming.  In other words, it's more human.

People may be more open to you taking street portraits of them as you now have a relationship instead of cruising past inside of a car aggravated because these squishy obstacles are in your way.

So, there you have it.  A bike, and especially a cargo bike, can make you a better photographer because the biggest challenge to making great photos is gaining access to the people and places where you capture them. 

Start the conversation.  How has a bike gained you access to something that a car couldn't?  Bonus points if you were on a cargo bike.

Photographing Low Angles

Ride 2 Recovery

Ride 2 Recovery

Each year down California's Central Coast is a charity ride for wounded veterans called Ride 2 Recovery, and each year they ride past Vandenberg Middle School down Highway 1 where the kids come out to cheer them.  This year I had the opportunity to witness the event, so I grabbed my camera and got ready. 

I had no idea this guy would ride past cranking a bike with his arms.  When I saw him down the road coming toward me I became as giddy as a school girl knowing that a low angle of him riding past would make for a great photograph.  The kids high fiving him was the icing on the cake.

Why make photographs at low angles?

Great photographs have a different perspective.  Notice how the photographer in the background is shooting from the standing position?  Other than documenting the cyclists riding down the road I doubt her pictures tell much of a story.  We already know what the world looks like from the standing position because we see it from that perspective everyday.  A picture that gets noticed isn't better, it's different. 

If I were standing to take the shot above it would have been just another snapshot.  Instead, I bent my knees and got low showing the world in a way most people don't typically see it.  When you view a photograph with a different perspective it makes you stop and think for a moment.

Whereas, a photograph from the standing position is not too different from any other photo from the standing position regardless of the subject.  I think this is most noticeable when photographing kids.  Get low and on their level.  It not only shows their perspective with how they see the world, but it presents you with a different view of the world, too.

Practice getting low, shooting up, change your perspective, add angles, and find different lines that that lead to your subject. Low angles will make your pictures more interesting. 

Which Focus Point Would You Choose?

My two boys are fortunate to have a pile of toys they love to play with.  Their creative energy is astounding.  I try photographing their play in new and creative ways to document their childhood, and to help me improve my techniques. 

My philosophical approach to photography is that anything can make a nice picture.  You just have to "see" it right. Sometimes I am confronted with a photograph that I see in my head, but I'm not always sure if it will work the way I want.

When I saw this picture I knew how I wanted to make it, but I was torn between two different focus points.  Should I have focussed on the airplane, or did I do it right by focussing on his hand?

Either way, I love the juxtaposition between the blue and yellow within this narrow frame.  The bright colors of the airplane draw your eye to it, whereas the hand is used to grab and play with the plane bringing me back to my original question. Which focus point would you choose?

Why I Love Digital Photography

Going through boxes full of photos has proven to be a daunting task.

I recently discussed why I hate digital photography, but in spite of hating it I also love it, and here's why.

Digital Saves Money

The obvious reason digital saves money is that you no longer need to buy and process film, but you already knew that.

The hidden reason digital photography saves money is the inexpensive cost of high quality gear.  Camera technology has advanced to the point where consumer grade cameras can create pro quality pictures.  Though an inexpensive camera can make a great picture, it is still the photographer who makes the image. It's the quality of the story rather than the quality of the pixels that makes for a compelling photograph.

Superior Image Quality

Digital images are clean with little grain when shooting at low ISO.  Shooting at a high ISO in low will add grain to the image, but not so much as to make the picture unusable.  Just about any camera made within the past three years can produce clean enough images at ISO 6400.

Expanding film speed to those numbers is nearly impossible. If you did shoot high ISO/ASA (fast) film in low light you often had pictures that were too grainy to be considered usable.

Another inherent problem of film is that picture quality degrades over time. Oxidation burns holes in slides, prints fade, and negatives yellow.

There is also the issue with fingerprints, tears, and dust. As a kid I remember my dad's slide shows with dust on the pictures, and he would inevitably place them backward in the carriage.

All of these issues with film were the way things were, so you just lived with them.  Today however, dust, backward pictures, and every other photography faux pas from 30 years ago is unacceptable.


Chimping is what everyone does with their digital camera.  You take a picture, look at it, take another and look, take another, wash, rinse, repeat.  It can be annoying when someone does this after every shot. 

However, when used conservatively chimping has great benefits that you could never get with film.  The screen on the back of your camera gives you the opportunity to check exposure, see whether someone blinked, you can check composition, focus, and so much more.

In the days of film you shot roll after roll then sent them in for processing. You weren't able to see your pictures for a week. If you missed the shot it was too late. That moment in time was gone forever, and you never knew what you did wrong. 

Learning Curve

When you pay attention to the camera settings, and use them as a learning tool you can learn photography at a much faster rate then when you shot with film.  

In the days of film the only way you were able to remember your settings was to write them down for each shot.  Today, the camera tags each image with metadata.  Now you can get instant feedback with each picture and make adjustments on the fly.  What may have taken years to learn can now take weeks.  Instead of wasting time figuring out camera settings you can instead practice framing, composition, and story telling.

A method to help you learn fast is to photograph the same subject over and over by incrementally changing the settings to see how they affect your picture. You get instant feedback, the metadata tells you the camera's settings, and it doesn't cost you anything to practice.

For example, you can change your lens from f/1.8 one f/stop at a time to f/22 to see how it affects the depth of field.  You can speed up or slow down your shutter, change ISO to see how it affects the other settings, and so on. 

Cataloging & Metadata

Metadata is not only useful as a teaching tool, it also helps keep your library organized. Every photograph has a time and date stamp, it tells you the camera and lens, your settings, you can add copyright information, and lots more. 

With so many pictures taken daily, digital photography makes it easy to catalog them. You can quickly sort through your library, delete the bad one's, rename the good one's, tag them, place them into collections, or any other creative way you want to organize you photos.

Whereas, my analog photo collection is a rat's nest of a mess. I don't know the camera's that were used, the type of film, the settings, the film speed, the date and time, or any of it. This makes it hard to organize pictures chronologically, you have no idea what the camera settings were, or any of it.

Without this information it has taken me years to get my analog collection somewhat organized. When I do get the motivation to work on it I quickly lose interest.  It is such a daunting task. 

Even if my analog photo library was well organized it would still be hard to find certain photographs that were taken years ago. Searching analog content is hard. Whereas, digital searches use tags, keywords, and metadata.

Physical Storage

When you shoot digital you don't have boxes of old photographs stored away in a closet deteriorating and taking up space. All of this material has volume and weight that requires you to spend money transporting boxes of pictures from one house to another every time you move.

There is also the issue of fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, or whatever disaster is waiting to destroy your cherished pictures.  The only thing digital images require is that you have a good backup solution with at least three copies with one offsite.  If the house burns down and everything is destroyed you can retrieve your pictures from your offsite backup. 

The final reason I love digital photography brings me back to my first point... it saves money.  You don't need a large house with lots of storage to keep a huge photo collection.  Smaller homes are less expensive to both purchase and own.  When you compound your savings over decades your potential nest egg can grow into the hundreds of thousands of dollars allowing you to retire from work earlier giving you more time to take pictures.