I've been a bit slack keeping up with my published cover shots lately. Which is how I find myself with three consecutive What Mountain Bike covers to share:
Nikon D3, 80-200mm f/2.8, 1/250sec f/6.3 @ ISO200, two radio slaves
Nikon D3, 80-200mm f/2.8, 1/80sec f/6.3 @ ISO800, two radio slaves
Nikon D3, 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/200sec f/7.1 @ ISO640, two radio slaves
There's something these three covers have in common: none of them are shot wide. The shortest focal length in use was 70mm, and the longest 130mm. Why does this matter? Because, as students of any of my courses will know, long lenses take the viewer away from the action and slow things down. Looked at another way, shooting a mountain bike in close with a wide lens is a good way to involve the viewer in the action, adding a dose of drama and movement even in situations where there's not much of either happening. Step back, put a longer lens on, and the viewer involvement decreases.
In other words, the further you are from the action, the more you're relying on visual cues to impart the sense of movement. It's very easy to take a boring shot of mountain biking on a long lens, particularly from head on. There needs to be something going on to grab - and hold - the viewer's attention. Usually, in the absence of obvious movement, it's all about implied movement.
So in the first shot, we've got a climbing rider working the bike hard, out of the saddle and about to put in a power stroke. Timing is critical in an image like this - bike upright and pedals level just won't cut it. The fact that the rider's smiling doesn't imply hard effort (although it works in this context, because publishers like readers to feel that riding a bike is fun), but his body position does. You won't be able to see it here, but there's also enough movement in the front tyre's tread to show that the bike's moving.
The second shot also makes use of the rider's body position and facial expression, but it's helped along by a slow shutter speed and the added interest of plenty of backlit spray. The bike's hauling - and you know it. I actually tried some wide shots of this corner and they didn't work as well...
The final shot is all about the rider's position on the bike - elbows bent, body low and pushing the bike into the corner. The shutter speed's higher than I'd like on this one, but what you can't see is that as soon as i'd taken the shot the rider needed to straighten the bike and push it the other way into a berm. My attempts at slowing things down just resulted in too many shots with blurred handblebars or face. The first isn't ideal; the second is a definite no-on. Details matter, and it's my job to get them right.