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.

Why Every Camera Bag Needs A Fisheye Lens

It's all about perspective

It's all about perspective

One of the things I enjoy about looking at someone's photos is when they have a unique perspective that shows a well known landmark in a way you've never seen. Or they create a unique perspective that can't be explained, but you know it's different. Maybe it's the angle they chose, or the lighting, or some combination of settings.

When my wife and I were researching places to visit in Europe we saw a lot of photographs of the Eiffel tower, but they were all similar. Many were beautiful images with the city in the foreground or from the park, but there was nothing extraordinary about them. While looking at these pictures I was curious how the curved support structure would look with a wide angle lens from underneath. It is a picture I wasn't seeing anywhere.

I knew that fisheye lenses distort straight lines into curves, so I wondered how it would show the tower's support structure when it is already curved. To put my curiosity to the test I bought a Rokinon fisheye lens. It is a fully manual 7.5mm f/3.5 lens that cost about $245 new on the micro 4:3 system.

There are fully auto fisheye lenses that both Olympus and Panasonic have available, but you'll spend about $800 for one. They may be a little sharper and they have auto focus functions, but for the price difference I'm not certain they would produce a better image than the Rokinon lens.

I was also curious whether the the curves of the tower would hide the fisheye's distortion. After capturing this shot I looked at the back screen on my camera to see if it looked how I imagined and was happy to see that it did, and was pleasantly surprised that you only see a small bit of distortion at the bottom of the frame.

This unique perspective is why every photographer should carry a fisheye lens in their camera bag.

As a fully manual lens it's easy to nail focus, especially when you use an electronic view finder with focus peaking. The lens is sharp, but if you crop you will notice some chromatic aberration at the edge of lines.

Though fisheye's capture everything in a 180 degree angle, and create an interesting and unique perspective, you need to be careful to not over do it. When you first get one you're amazed at how much it "sees", and you think it's great to get everything in the frame. It's tempting to use all the time, but don't. It's like that ace up your sleeve in a card game. You only play it when you need it, so leave it in your bag 99% of the time.

I bought the lens about 6 months before leaving on our trip so I could get some practice using it. I took a number of different images over that time to learn it's limitations so I would be able to capture the image that I envisioned of the Eiffel Tower. 

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Backyard Oak Tree

Backyard Oak Tree

The other thing I love about shooting with a fisheye is lens correcting software. There are times when I want to shoot ultra wide, but I don't want the curved distorted look. Lightroom can correct for this by removing most of the distortion along with chromatic aberration. With it, you can capture an ultra wide image that looks as though it were taken with a rectilinear lens.

Fisheye lenses are another way to think outside of the box, and you need to think in terms of a wide frame when using one. They can make for a great image with a unique perspective, but as I stated above, leave it in your bag 99% of the time. Though cool, you can over do it.

What's In My Bag?

My daily camera kit

My daily camera kit

Every now and then I get asked what camera I use for my travel photos, what camera I take with when on vacation, when shooting street photography, or whatever. In last week's edition I wrote that I carry my camera everywhere, so here is the kit I take with me. The key is to carry only what you need, and remember, there is creative power in limitations. So don't take every bit of camera gear you own. You'll regret it.

The reason I bring my camera everywhere is that you never know when a picture will happen, so I want to be ready to capture it when I see it. Plus, it doubles as a "man bag". I get tired of filling my pockets with junk, and this bag is perfect for carrying my camera and all the other things I need to have with me.

So what's in my bag? Well, I'm glad you asked.

The bag itself is a Domke F-5XB Rugged Wear Bag. It's a small weather proof canvas bag that is solidly constructed in the USA with lots of room and comfortable for all day use. It's balanced, and holds weight well. I carried it everyday for more than two weeks on our European trip this past summer. 

Next is the most important item in the bag... the camera. I shoot with a Lumix GX8 using an Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens. I moved away from carrying my Nikon DSLR, and started shooting with a micro 4:3 system for its smaller form and less weight. My whole bag, when combat ready, is lighter than my Nikon D7200 with the Sigma 17-50mm F/2.8.

The downside of small mirrorless cameras is they're power hunger. I can only get about 350 shots from one battery compared to roughly 1100 from my DSLR, so as a result, I carry three extra batteries with the charger.

The rest of my photo gear takes on a supporting role. Along with the batteries and charger, I have an extra 64GB SanDisk SD card, and a basic cleaning kit. The cleaning kit is a Rocket Air to blow dust, a Nikon Lens Pen/Brush, and a lens cloth. 

One thing to note about lens cloths, never use it for anything other than wiping your camera lens. If you wipe your eyeglasses, for example, you will transfer oils from the glasses to your lens smearing it all around. I use old lens cloths for my glasses or to wipe the back screen only after they get a bit funky. Lens cloths are cheap, and you can get them a lot of places for free.

Last on the list are my personal artifacts. I carry my cell (Nexus 5), wallet, car keys with bottle opener, Visine, Tums, facial tissue, an ink pen, and yes, an old cloth for my eyeglasses.

One thing I plan to get are personal 'business' cards to hand to people when shooting on the street. I love street photography, but sometimes I feel uncomfortable photographing people even when I ask permission because I have nothing to offer them.

But if I have a business card to offer then I can snap a photo and hand them a card with my email address offering to send them the picture when they email me. I enjoy meeting and talking with new people, and this is a great way to market your photography.

Finally, I do have other micro 4:3 lenses, but lately I've been leaving them at home. I want to get proficient with seeing photographs through one focal length, and right now that is the 17mm, which is a 34mm full frame equivalent. The human eye is roughly a 50mm focal length, so a 34mm is a little wider, yet still considered a "normal" lens. 

As I said earlier, there's creative power in limitations, and using only one focal length sets limits on what I can capture. As a result, I need to think creatively to make the pictures I see even if the lens isn't wide or long enough. It forces me to move and not be lazy.

Since I started carrying this kit my DSLR has seen the outside of the house once. Just remember, the best camera is the one you have with you.