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Photography while Bicycle Touring

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Selecting a camera for a bicycle touring adventure

A favourite river view from the last day of my Round Lake Huron tour.

I began the search for a more permanent camera that would be used for bicycle touring and other similar activities (like riding through the woods or icebiking in the winter) once I realized how often I was looking back at my Round Lake Erie tour pictures.

I came up with the following “wish list”.

1) Small size

Important because I wanted something that I could easily carry with me on a regular basis. I felt that the larger cameras that required bulkier carrying cases would be more likely to not be with me when I found the picture I wanted to take.

Of course from a touring perspective a smaller camera is significantly easier to pack and smaller size often translates to lighter weight as well.

2) Rugged/Difficult to damage

This one comes down to feeling comfortable taking the camera with me on the bike as well as with me when I persue some of my other leisure-time activities like landkiting and dirt surfing.

3) Digital

To me one of the best things about going digital is that you can take lots of pictures and then just choose the ones that you like later without incurring a huge photo processing cost.

Tawas Point Lighthouse in Michigan.

4) Expandable external memory

The last thing I wanted was to be on tour and have no way to take additional pictures because the memory in the camera was full. For me the solution was to have a camera with swappable memory so that I could just insert another memory chip when one gets filled up.

5) Water resistant or water proof

I knew from my Round Lake Erie trip that at least a couple times each week I would ride through heavy rainfall. I wanted a camera that could handle some water so that I wouldn’t be worried about the camera during a downpour.

6) Standard batteries (AA/AAA)

Power is another problem that needs to be considered in the touring context. There are some touring areas where it will be inconvenient to have to stop to recharge camera batteries.

I believed that a better solution was to use a camera that allowed normal AA or AAA batteries as well as rechargeables.

7) Software/Hardware for transferring photos

Once the pictures made it to the camera I wanted a simple way to put them on my computer so that I could edit them or copy them to a recordable compact disk.

Peaceful and calm water developing to a raging torrent.

8) Mechanical zoom

On tour I would rarely see animals up close long enough to take out my camera and snap a picture. I wanted a camera with some sort of mechanical zoom so that I could attempt to bring them closer.

Many cameras also feature a digital zoom. This was not of interest to me since most photo editing software can apparently do a better job of digitally zooming the picture anyway.

9) Tripod compatible

Seldom am I visible in my tour pictures. The only time I am visible during my Lake Erie trip happened when someone else was kind enough to take the picture for me.

I believed that a tripod setup of some kind would allow me to be in more of the pictures.

Ocassionally I like to attempt to take low-light shots. For these to be successful it is important to have a very steady hand OR to use a tripod to get rid of the shakes.

10) Built-in flash

I didn’t want to have to carry any extra accessories if I could help it.

What did I purchase?

The camera that worked for me is the Pentax Optio 33WR. This camera is water resistant, takes standard and rechargeable AA batteries, and uses a standard USB connection to transfer photos to the computer.

Additionally it uses external SD memory, is smaller then a CD, contains a 3X mechanical zoom , has an attachment for a tripod and comes with some photo editing software.

All of my Round Lake Huron tour pictures were taken using this camera so you can judge the picture quality by looking over the pictures from that tour yourself.

Trying out a kayak during a bicycle touring adventure around Lake Huron.

I’ve taken more then 8500 pictures since purchasing it just under a year ago! I wouldn’t have been able to do this or learned as much about photography using a film camera without incurring a much greater expense.

As time has passed I have also discovered that I like doing the processing of my own pictures rather then have someone else do it. While the original ACD software is quite good there were extra features in Jasc PaintShop Pro that moved me towards a software purchase.

Surprisingly the water resistant feature has paid off in unanticipated ways. While going around Lake Huron I discovered a kayak rental operation in Sauble Falls. Since the camera has water resistant properties I didn’t hesitate to take the camera with me on the kayaking side trip. I captured a number of interesting pictures due to the flexibility.

I also like to ride my bike along technical single track trails that wind through the woods near my home. These paths tend to closely hug the river. On one occassion I took an unanticipated swim with the camera and the bike. Everything came out wet but fine!

One of the best features of the camera is it’s small size. This translates into me having the camera with me and being able to capture unexpected photos without problem. If I had to lug a huge camera around with me I would likely not have the pictures!

On tour I average around 30 pictures a day while on the road. I now have four 256 MB SD cards for my current camera giving me the ability to take hundreds of pictures at full resolution. I like having multiple chips since it gives me some protection against the number of pictures I would lose should a chip go missing or bad.

I rarely use the flash feature. I take over 99 percent of my pictures using whatever natural light is available. This extends the battery life and seems to work fine in most cases.

Trying out a kayak during a bicycle touring adventure around Lake Huron.

I also haven’t used the tripod feature as much as I would like. Apparently I am still somewhat camera shy while on tour since I only have three or four pictures with me in them during my Round Lake Huron trip and most of those were taken by others holding my camera. I do have a device called an ClamperPodII that makes almost anything into a tripod.

I discovered a few unexpected side effects of taking a camera along with me too.

It was nice to be able to show a couple of pictures to other people at camp sometimes when trying to describe the things you had seen or accomplished. This was especially true for those people who had no comprehension of what touring was all about.

Occassionally it was nice to look over the daily pictures especially after a day filled with headwinds. It gave a different perspective to the day through enjoyment of the pictures.

For me every tour from now on will contain a camera. The photos are a joy to look over again and again.

Any wishes for a future camera?

I like everything about my current camera. If I could have more without loses any features I would go for the following extras:

1) Longer zoom

Instead of a 3X zoom I would love to have a 10X zoom.

2) Ability to set shutter speed

This is something I only want for night pictures when I am trying to capture the look of the moon or stars in the sky. My camera has many ways to customize the view including some easy to use wizards but it doesn’t allow for direct control of how long the shutter should stay open.

3) More megapixels

The camera I have now takes great pictures at 3.2 megapixels. This allows me to capture photos sized 2048 X 1536. For all of my current needs this is more then enough!

Although I haven’t done this, I often think about blowing up some of my favourite pictures into posters. In this case having more megapixels would be an advantage.

Ironically Pentax now makes my camera with a higher 4 MB megapixel ability.

That’s it for the wish list!

Oh yes, it’s time to give the necessary warnings. For me a camera has gone from being the least important accessory on a tour to one of the most important. When I worry about theft the camera is high on the list of things I am concerned about.

The funny thing is that as much as I like the camera it’s not the camera that I am worried about losing since it’s replaceable.

I worry far more about losing the actual pictures since to me they represent tour memories and our priceless at that point!

Any special tips to consider?

The Clamperpod tripod with the optional ball head.

I filled my memory cards twice during my Round Lake Huron tour. This has prompted me to put an item on the purchase list to obtain a couple more memory chips before my next long tour. Even so I will likely fill the cards on that tour too!

What I did during my Round Lake Huron tour was try to find a camera shop as I was starting on my last memory chip. At the camera shop I had the pictures copied to cd twice (meaning two cd’s). After testing the cd’s using the shop computer or picture kiosk I sent one cd back home via postal mail and carried the other cd with me on the bike.

The cost of doing this worked out to be quite inexpensive but you have to be careful! The camera shop I used charged me $17.00 CDN total while a Walmart wanted to charge me around $70 per cd.

Apparently some Internet Cafe’s have the capability to transfer pictures too so they are also worth considering.

An alternative trick that some people use is to take several memory cards with them and as they fill up mails them individually back to a supporter back home who transfers the pictures off the card. Once the images are transferred then the card is mailed back to the tourists at a post office ahead of their current location.

By the way, all of the scenery pictures shown on this page were taken using my Pentax Option 33WR. The camera pictures were actually taken with someone else’s camera.

Additional Questions from other cyclists

Do you edit your pictures every night or after you put them on to a cd?

I actually edit my pictures when the tour is finished. So what I do is take the picture and then copy it in it’s unaltered form from the camera to the cd when I reach a camera store and the cards are almost full. I actually have a small 16MB card that came with the camera. It can only hold 7 full size pictures but if I reduce the camera resolution to the lowest setting I can capture at least 30 pictures as an emergency, need to find a camera place now, idea.

This has several advantages for me:

a) Conserves battery power since I do all my editing using computer software (currently Jasc PaintShop Pro 8). The camera battery power is used strictly for taking pictures.

b) Computer photo editing software can usually do many more things then can be done natively on most cameras (see my article called “The Tour is over. Should I edit my photos”).

c) Photo editing can take some time depending on the number of days of pictures you have to go through. In my case it took me about a week of effort to photo edit my Lake Huron pictures. It’s nice for that time to be relatively free and unencumbered with no huge sleep requirement like you have on tour.

How much storage space do you have and do the memory cards use up power to preserve the pictures?

The actual memory cards do not need power to keep the pictures onboard.

I currently own four 256 MB SD memory cards. Each card can hold over 150 pictures at my camera’s highest resolution setting (2048 X 1536 or 3.2 Megapixels). If I drop to my lowest resolution then I can hold more then 1000 pictures per memory card.

The resolution makes the biggest difference if you plan to print them later or do a lot of cropping of the pictures effectively performing a zoom operation on parts of the picture.

How do you deal with the issue of battery life?

I took four sets of rechargeable batteries with me on tour. After 21 days on the road and 30 pictures per day I was on my last set of batteries when I returned home. I could have easily used normal, store-bought batteries instead.

There are several tricks that you can perform to keep your battery consumption down.

a) Set the auto-focus etc to off and do the focusing manually. This is usually easy since it comes down to “Are you within four feet of the subject or more then four feet away?”.

b) Turn the flash off and only use it when absolutely necessary. On those occassions when it is needed turn it on manually.

c) Turn off your LCD display. Although my camera supports this ability I did not do this. The LCD is apparently one of the largest users of energy in the camera.

I carried enough batteries with me that I didn’t need to recharge so I didn’t bother bringing a charger. However there are a few strategies that I’ve heard others use.

a) Bring a charger with you into a restaurant and ask to plug in the charger while you eat. This may extend the battery life somewhat.

b) Choose a camera that can use normal batteries. This gives you lots of options for replenishment.

c) Consider recharging your batteries using a solar cell on the back rack of one of the bikes. Check out the battery charger section on this website in the Other chargers section for a few examples ( )


Getting better photos

First off, I’m not going to get involved in film versus digital or even in what quality of camera one needs. A shot made by a $2000 super-everything camera can be just as disappointing as one from a point and shoot throw-away camera. What I’m going to try to accomplish is to get you to visualize what the photo is going to look like after it’s shot and take steps to improve it before you press the shutter.

Many people shoot a hundred or so photos on vacation but when they get home and look at the prints, the only good one is of them standing in front of their car. For some reason, the scenery just never looks as good in the print as it did when they were looking at it. The difference is they were there when the took the photo and have no reference when they look at the print.

A perfect example of a picture that screams bicycle touring.

This photo by Dick Verschuur is a perfect example of a picture that screams bicycle touring. Dick and Els are currently on a 457+ day bicycle tour.

The best photo is one that tells a story and needs no caption. The one that was shot by Dick Verschuur is a perfect example. It absolutely screams bicycle touring and the life that goes with it. Cover the rider and bike with your finger and the photo becomes just another dull and uninteresting shot.

I grabbed it to go with a poem by Patrick O’Leary written for a Chevy Tahoe advertisment narrated by James Garner.


There’s a place that I travel, When I want to roam And nobody knows it but me.

The roads don’t go there, And the signs stay home And nobody knows it but me.

It’s far, far away and way, way afar, It’s over the moon and the sea, And wherever you are going, That’s wherever you are And nobody knows it but me.

Patrick O’Leary

Frame your photos

A picture showing framing technique.
A picture showing framing technique.

Everyone knows that a frame improves the quality of a photo.

It doesn’t have to be all the way around, just enough to give the photo depth.

Most anything in the foreground can form a frame and give a location from which it was shot.

Combine the frame with something carrying the eye to the main part of the photo and it works even better. If there is movement, all the better.

Put a bike in the picture

Jim Foreman Military Road
Jim Foreman Lake St Vincent
Jim Foreman Desert cyclists
JimForeman Custer Desert

It’s a bike tour so put a bike in the picture!

It gives scale as well as showing why you were there and what you were doing when you took the photo.

Take the bike out of any of these pictures and they become just a photo of something.

The bikes with the desert background make the photo. Without them it’s just a hazy jumble of wires, windmills and mountains but people can look at it and say, “Wow, look where those bicyclists were riding.” The shots I took on my Custer March Route tour would be rather bland but the bicycle brings the dirt roads into meaning and shows the loneliness of the area.

Turn dull into interesting

Jim Foreman Mountain One
JimForeman Mountain Two

These two photos are almost identical shots of the same scenery except one is interesting and the other rather dull.

They were shot from two different locations, only a few hundred feet apart.

The difference is the road which carries the eye to the mountain and gives it depth and prespective. Find something that will point to what you are shooting.

###Pictures of people

Jim Foreman Portrait

In most pictures of people, they are about an inch high on the print with lots of ground, sky and clutter all around them.

If you are going to take a photo of someone, take of their most important feature, their face.

The basic rule when setting up to photograph someone is to move half way to them, then move closer again. With most cameras having basically a wide angle lens on them, you should be able to just about reach out and touch their nose in order to get the best photo. Then you get a photo that looks like a mug shot without the ruler beside them to show how tall they are.

Think portrait when you are shooting a pix of a person. You gotta pose them. I’ve shot wedding photos for years and believe me, few people getting their photos taken are more up tight and stressed than at a wedding.

Here are a few tips on how to relax them.

First, have them turn to their left just slightly, about 10 degrees is all, then turn their head back toward you. Have them lean back enough to put all of their weight on their left leg and then tell them to unlock their right knee.

If they have a problem with that, lay a film can or something like that on the floor and have them put their foot up on it. You need only an inch or so.

Tell them to look into the lens, lower their chin just slightly then look at the left edge of the lens. Then say, “OK, Let me see that beautiful smile” (works a lot better with women :-) and you have about two seconds to get your shot.

If you want a shot with their hands in the photo, it works a lot better if you hand them something to hold, I like to use a cap off a 25mm film can. It makes their hands look natural. Above all, never let a guy stick his hands in his pockets. Since it’s a bicycle ride, you can include just enough of the bike in the frame to show what it is and a water bottle makes a great prop to keep the hands busy.

Jim Foreman Bridge
Jim Foreman

Finally, if you are shooting in bright light and have the ability to over ride the auto flash, make it fire when you take the photo to fill in the shadows. One trick is to find the little opening through which the flash reads the light and put your finger over it. Bright sunlight is always more light than the flash puts out. Flash fill gets rid of the shadows under the chin, nose and eyebrows.

Finally, use some imagination. Have them doing something or at least with an interesting background. In setting up the shot, look at the background to be sure there isn’t a telephone pole sticking out of the top of their head or a wire that looks like it’s going into their ear.

The Tour is over! Should I edit my pictures?

To edit or not to edit? What should it be? So you’ve just returned from a nice, long and very beautiful tour. Now that you are back the memories are strong and reinforced with what you hope are some great pictures of the things you saw during your journey.

This article discusses different ways that you can edit your photos electronically to attempt to capture the essence of your pictures.

In this case a picture is truly worth a thousand words. In most of the sections that follow there are two photos in each picture.

The photo on the left is the original photo. The only editing completed on that photo was to resize it to fit the combo-picture.

The photo on the right is the picture following photo editing. I will try to explain what I changed and why in the caption area of each picture.

You are likely interested in knowing my background so here it is.

Last year I took a disposable camera with me on my Round Lake Erie tour only at the strong recommendation of my friends.

In the year following that tour I reviewed those pictures so many times that I picked up my first digital camera, a Pentax Optio 33WR. It’s a waterproof camera meaning that I could take it everywhere with me and I did!

Between the Round Lake Erie and Round Lake Huron tours I took over 5600 pictures. Each one of these pictures taught me something and hopefully the contrast in pictures between my Lake Erie and Lake Huron tours reflects this.

Today I consider myself a beginner photographer. I’ve learned much in the last year but there is still much more to learn. I guess the solution will be some more tours eh? (grin)

Most of my pictures came from my Round Lake Erie and Round Lake Huron tours. Both tours can be found at the following link:

Great Lakes Circle Tour/Tour de Jamie

Most of the pictures in this article have been modified in one of the following ways:

Cropping of the picture Picture resizing Zooming in on a specific section of a picture Saturation adjustment Brightness adjustment Sharpness adjustment Contrast adjustment Unfortunately the pictures that were poor shots to begin with can seldom be salvaged and although they are kept, they rarely go into my photo journal.

“TAKE the time needed to make SURE that you have a good picture. Don’t rush it since you will likely regret it later”!

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