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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. 

Bonus

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 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

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.

Why I Hate Digital Photography

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the end of Polaroid film called, Time Zero | The Last Year of Polaroid Film. It was an insightful and emotional documentary. The end of Polaroid film was the end of an era in photography, and everyone over the age of 20 has had some experience with it.

The documentary got me thinking about how digital cameras have changed photography. Today, just about everyone has a camera in their pocket. This allows people to take snapshots all day without thinking about composition, lighting, or whether they will become a cherished relic.

Photographs Without Intent

With easy access to the camera in their pocket people take too many pictures that are quickly forgotten. Film cameras required you to think about every shot because every shot had a cost of, let's say, 50 cents.

With digital that's not the case. Because every digital picture is free people take less care when composing, when thinking about the settings, the lighting, or any of it. Today, you take a shot, look at it, make adjustments, take another, wash, rinse, repeat. 

Then there is the guy who motor drives every picture. I cringe when I hear machine gun fire coming from someone's camera when there's no action. You can't possibly frame the shot with proper focus when rattling off 10 frames every time you press the shutter.

Film forced you to slow down and think about what you were doing. You couldn't afford to miss the shot because you only had 36 frames per roll, plus the monetary cost.

You can miss shot after shot with digital and it doesn't matter. Just take another one. The only problem is that you leave with too many pictures and only a few keepers. Whereas, if you just slow down and shoot with intent you walk away with fewer bad images, which leads to the next reason why I hate digital photography.

Sorting Through the Junk

After you snap a thousand photos from the day's shoot it's time to sift through everything looking for the keepers. All these pictures require a computer, hard drives, multiple storage points, multiple copies of your library, photo editing software, time to organize, tag, and name your photos, time to edit your pictures, and so on.

After a few years you will have terabytes with tens of thousands of images that you need to make searchable otherwise you may never find them again. As your library grows your computer's hard drive rapidly fills. When it does, you need to move your photo library to an external hard drive. Then over time that one will fill, and when it does you need to buy a larger hard drive, a NAS, or whatever it takes to store what are mostly mediocre snapshots. 

To battle this problem you need a detailed workflow to quickly clear the clutter so you can find the good shots, edit your images, and share to social media.

After every thing is imported and sorted through you are faced with the decision of how you should organize it all. Do you rename every photo? If so, do you rename them so you know which camera you used? What naming scheme should you use so you can easily search for the images? Should you organize by event, chronologically, or just leave the image name that the camera assigns? Does it even matter?

All of this presents yet another problem - sitting in front of your computer for hours. You sit in front of one at work, you sit writing emails, you sit when you video call with the grandparents, when trolling Facebook, reading this article, and everything else you do on your computer. With thousands of photos it's just more seat time.

Sharing Your Images

How often have you seen someone's Flickr, Instagram, or Facebook page filled with hundreds of pictures taken of the same event. People don't discriminate the good from the bad. They believe that every picture of their kid is a masterpiece, so they share everything they take. 

If I can impart one thing it is this, select only the best image(s) and share those. If you think that 50 of the 1000 you took are amazing then choose the best 5 of those 50 to share. Most often, one or two good images a day are enough. When you flood people with everything the good one's get lost in the clutter.

Backing Up

Backing up all of your data is another inherent problem of digital. You don't want to lose those irreplaceable pictures of grandma blowing out 100 candles to a dead hard drive or accidental deletion. To avoid these problems you need multiple backups of everything with at least one off site. All of these hard drives and backups come at both a monetary and time cost.

Then over the years you purchase new cameras with larger file sizes. This requires more computing power, more RAM, and more hard drive space. Again, all of this comes at both a financial and time cost.

Digital is Not Tangible

Digital images, whether on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV are sterile with little thought put toward presentation. When you show people images that are mounted in a photo album you write little blurbs, you make them into a collage, group like images with like images, place them in a timeline to represent one's life, scrapbook, and so much more.

Much of this can be done with a computer, but it takes time and skill, and the end product is less than personal. There is nothing to hold, nothing to embrace, nothing to cherish. 30 years later there is nothing to discover hidden away in the back of a closet to stir old memories, to have and to hold. The life of a photo on the Internet is only a few seconds, if that.

Yes, old prints fade and slides become oxidized, but that adds to the treasure. When photos are taken with intent the memory is seared into your brain. You remember the smells, the time of day, the feeling of your new sweater against your skin. Those images take you back to the moment they were taken. In your mind you are a kid again playing with your favorite doll, or train set.

Those grainy, and slightly out of focus images are endearing. It's all you have of those moments gone by. They are something to be cherished. Compare that with digital. You take thousands of snapshots because the cost is nothing. Then they hide on your hard drive where only you know they exist.

Too Complicated

The Camera itself presents another problem. Your digital camera is a small computer, and overtime it will become obsolete like any other computer. In a few short years you will need to buy a new one. 

Then there are all the different formats. Should you shoot RAW, JPEG, TIFF, or something else? Which color space should you use? What about white balance? You need to have a working knowledge of computers, digital imaging, proprietary software, and it all needs to be up to date.

A film camera, on the other hand, is just a light box that exposes film. Yes, there have been updates to film cameras, but you can still take great photographs with an old one. Whereas, an old digital camera will leave your images as less desired.

Are you a good photographer or a good image editor?

This brings me to the final point. Are the digital images you see actually what was captured by the photographer? Or are good photographers merely good image editors?

A photographer may take a mediocre picture that is poorly framed under exposed with a distracting background, but after hours of manipulation he creates a nice picture. The problem however, is that the photo you see is not what was captured.

And don't get me started on High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. On the surface they look cool, but there are no shadows, no emotion, no grit. All those things that create a compelling photo are missing. Yes, HDR can make for some amazing pieces of art, but they are completely manipulated.

Conclusion

I shoot digital like everyone else, but there are so many headaches attached to it that it makes me a conservative photographer. With digital I still think about my shots, the framing, and the settings. If I can't get the image properly framed, or it doesn't appear how I imagine it to be I won't push the shutter button. Why waste the shot?

Who wants to sift through hundreds of shitty photos just to find one gem that you captured by accident? I don't, and you shouldn't either. Take pride in the images you create. Cover the screen on the back of the camera, anticipate the shot, and photograph quality.

Film was certainly a simpler time, especially Polaroid film. And though I hate digital, I also love it. I know that sounds odd, but we all have personal conflicts.

My Favorite Photography Podcasts (Part 2)

I listen to a lot of podcasts about all sorts of topics, and last week I reviewed three of my favorite photography podcasts. Today, in no particular order, I will round out my list.

The Candid Frame

The Candid Frame is by far the most sophisticated photography podcast I listen to. It is hosted by Ibarionex Perello, and he has the calm soothing voice of an NPR host. Ibarionex is a Los Angeles based photographer who interviews some of the world's most influential photographers at the top of their game. 

He has a YouTube channel by the same name where he humbly critiques photographs with a keen eye imparting his knowledge and experience onto the viewer. He discusses angles, lines, framing, emotion and the details that you don't initially see until he points them out. His reviews are insightful, and when you are finished watching a critique, or listening to an interview you are amped and motivated to go out and shoot.

His interviews will make you rethink your life with how you got to where you are. So many of the photographers he interviews have inspiring stories. Each week I live vicariously though them and dream about exotic expeditions working for Nat Geo, photographing portraits of world leaders, or whatever makes for an amazing photography career.

How these people became who they are seems so simple... in hindsight. But what you need to really think about are the sacrifices many of them made early on, and continue to make, that allowed them to get to where they are now.  I'm not so sure I have, or ever had, their tenacity to stick with something so difficult as to make it as one of the world's most influential photographers, but I do enjoy listening to Ibarionex's soft spoken perspective on photography.

Fro Knows Photo

I check Jared Polin's site once in a while to hear good info about the business of photography, and I do enjoy watching how he works through a photo shoot. Though he has good information, I am not a fan of his personality. He's a bit loud and obnoxious. Plus, that hair (his fro) is brutal, and his I Shoot RAW shirts are ridiculous.

This podcast is actually a YouTube channel that he links to from his website. Fro puts out random videos all the time and his weekly podcast, Raw Talk, is released every Monday. The podcast is decent. He and his cronies talk about the week's photo news, and he'll answer listener questions about anything photography related. He sometimes conducts interviews with other photographers and entrepreneurs, and then he does some gameshow stuff which is the point I turn it off.  

Jared covers a variety of topics, which is what keeps me coming back. You never know what he will talk about from week to week. He critiques listener photos and photography websites, he reviews gear, and there's his Raw Talk podcast, to name a few.

Along with discussions about the business side of photography, Fro also has a mountain of beginner information. If you are new to photography his site is a great place to start, but the more advanced enthusiast photographer is often ignored. I would guess that for every photographer making money there are thousands who don't and just shoot as a hobby, and it's these photographers who don't get much attention.

This is most notable when Jared does website reviews.  He tends to focus on the pro photographer with how their site is set up for clients and business, and on rare occasions he will he critique a hobbyist's website. 

He also (mostly) ignores the mirrorless side of photography. It's all DSLR all the time. Fro states that he will review Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, etc. when they send him gear. Geez man, rent a camera with lenses, review it, then send it all back. The world is moving in the direction of light mirrorless cameras, and I would argue a large number of photographers use mirrorless cameras.

Overall, Fro has good info about the pro and beginner sides of photography, but misses the middle, which is where most photographers reside. Regardless, I'll still tune in to watch the topic du jour.

Of the many podcasts I listen to these two photography podcasts, along with the previous three, are among my favorites. After reading this list which one's did I miss? Let me know, as I'm always open for a fresh perspectives.