Riding the landscape

As a photographer, there are many ways to travel in your search for images. A car allows you to cover distance quickly, presenting the maximum number of new opportunities in a limited time. But it somehow separates you from the world. And concentrating on the driving means you often miss things.

Walking immerses you in the environment. You see details you wouldn’t notice when driving. And you can go truly off-road. But I’ve never been much of a hiker, and the slow pace can be frustrating.

For me there is a perfect middle way – cycling.

You still have that direct connection with the environment. You see those details. You can stop frequently, and in an instant, to grab that image you would have missed in a car. At the same time, you can cover significant distances.

I used to cycle a lot, even commuting to work when I lived in London. But I thought those days were long behind me – I’m just too decrepit to grunt my way up a hill on a bicycle now, I figured.

Except it turns out that you don’t have to any more.

What’s changed everything – and got me back out on two wheels again – is the e-bike. It’s a normal bicycle with the addition of an electric motor. Here in France, the motor is limited to 250W and works only when you’re pedalling, which is why this kind of bike is known as a vélo assistance éléctrique (VAE), or electrically assisted bicycle. It pretty much eradicates the effort of cycling uphill while leaving you with all the joy of speeding downhill. And it’s easy to cover 30km without even thinking about it.

With a rear rack and decent-size panniers, the e-bike is the perfect photography vehicle.

It’s no problem to haul around a decent DSLR, such as my Nikon D800, and a selection of lenses. In fact, it’s significantly easier than it would be if you were walking, which means you don’t have that frustrating moment of not having the lens you need because you left it behind to save weight. Carrying a monopod or tripod is also equally effort-free, although I’ve yet to work out the best and safest way to attach them to the rear rack.

That said, often I go out to cycle rather than to photograph. On those days, I don’t necessarily want several kilos worth of photo gear in the panniers. But I always need to have a camera with me – at the very least to grab pictures for our cycling blog, Bocage Biking.

I usually have my smartphone with me. And I often took the Fuji X100 along, because it’s light and compact. But it also has a fixed focal length lens, and that could be frustrating if I saw a shot I thought would be perfect for the photo library or for one of my projects but that demanded, say, a telephoto.

That’s why I bought the Sony RX10 III. It’s smaller and lighter than the Nikon and the focal length range of its zoom (24-600mm equivalent) means I don’t need to haul additional lenses.

An e-bike and a superzoom bridge camera are the perfect combination for photographically exploring the landscape.

There are more images shot while riding my bicycle around the local countryside in the Sketchbooks section »

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