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BAAW like a BAAWler: How to photograph your bike

Want to get a photo of the best BAAW? We have tips from John Watson of The Radavist to give Instagram the beautiful bike pix it needs.

Written by: Janeen McCrae

Published on:

Posted in:Fun

Bikes are beautiful. They take us places, plus a baller photo of a bike can inspire wanderlust and envy. The hashtag #BAAW (Bike Against a Wall) is one of the most popular ways to share your steed stoke — but how to take that perfect BAAW? How can you elevate your own BAAW? As someone who takes bike profile shots both professionally and casually, The Radavist’s John Watson knows a thing or two about making bike photos spark joy. He shares some secret sauce here.
Bike against a wall BAAW
A classic Eddy Merckx from TPC's museum, against a wall, as you do. Photo: John Watson | The Radavist

Step 1: Pick your location

As an ex-architect, specific things catch John’s eye as he rides around his home of Santa Fe, New Mexico. From colonnades and vigas, to interesting lines, arresting colors, or unusual geometries — he’s always taking mental notes of interesting locations. The key takeaway here is to always be on the lookout for potential places to shoot a killer shot of your rig. It could be a wall, a vintage sign, a barn — anything. The W part of “Bike Against a…” is often played quite loosely.

“Find a location that resonates with you for some reason, whether it's a really pretty colored wall, or a nice mural, or maybe there's just a good patina or texture.”

Step 2: Position your steed

Ronnie Romance getting his bike just perfect
Whatever your bike, it's worth taking a minute to get all the details right. Photo: John Watson | The Radavist

There are two directions you can take here, with the differences being the degree of “positioning polish” you apply to the bike.

“The difficulty with photographing really nice bikes, or even just well put-together, affordable bikes,” says John, “Is when everything's perfect […] it kind of elevates them to this unobtainable object. It sometimes helps showing a bike in situ in the middle of a ride covered in sweat, or mud, or dust. It just shows people that like, yes, these things are presented in a very beautiful and precious way, but they're also just basically tools to do a job.”

The Basic BAAW

Your basic BAAW
Bike + wall = BAAW. Simple. Photo: Janeen McCrae

Roll your bike up to your chosen wall and just put your bike in situ, like you normally would, and shoot it “fast and easy.” Drive-side or non-drive side doesn’t matter to John for shots like this. “I think that's the secret,” he says, “You’re Just trying to capture a moment — a point in a ride.

The Bike Check BAAW

Setup takes a little more time, but the goal is to help people see details of the bike — everything from gearing to the tires they’re running. For Radavist shots, John will:

  • Shoot drive side
  • Position valve (top or bottom), for tire label readability
  • Turn crank arms level with chain stay (to provide a sense of geometry and toe overlap)
  • Position the handlebars so the back of the drop ‘disappears’ behind the front. Note: If you’re shooting with an iPhone, this is impossible, but if you’re shooting with a 200mm lens on digital camera, you can.

Key takeaway: Think about the goal of your BAAW and choose your direction accordingly.

Step 3: Shoot it, shutterbug

A bike and some signs
Did you get the framing right before you "clicked" the shutter? Photo: Janeen McCrae

Before you hit that button, consider framing, and at the shot’s edges. How far back are you standing?

“I always try to crop with the lens, so I shoot the frame I want,” says John. “I don’t ever shoot wider and crop in.”

Next, what’s the light like? Harsh, direct sun will make a hard shadow on the wall, and sunset isn’t always the best time to shoot. “Sometimes a cloudy day is great,” John says. “Sometimes, if the wall is backlit, it makes it easier to just get a clear silhouette of the bike and a clear picture of the wall.”

As for your camera? On professional shoots, John takes his Sony digital camera, but on more casual rides he just uses his iPhone. Small digital point-and-shoot camera are also an option—it all depends on what you feel comfortable carrying around.

Step 4: Apply edits

While John does most of his editing on his computer, he recognizes most people won’t be doing that with their #BAAW shots. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tidy your photo up photo before posting it.

“There's tons of YouTube tutorials about how to do a very simple photo processing,” he says. “If that’s too much, Instagram filters work great at doing stuff like that. Most phones have like a built-in enhance button […] add more light or white color to the photos without like making them too contrasty or too saturated.”

Where John might use the clone stamp in Photoshop, apps like Snapseed use a healing brush to remove things. If you used a stick to prop up your bike for example, it can make it disappear.

Step 5: Post and tag

Use the hashtag #BAAW and be sure to share the local talent and artists in your city by tagging mural and graffiti artist of your wall in the post, where appropriate. Then sit back and enjoy the Likes.

“People just love seeing bikes. If they're against a wall or leaning against a tree or like a signpost or even on the ground, people just like seeing bikes.”

Pro tip: The invisible bike stand

Beautiful bike photo
How does he make a bike stand by itself ... It's magic! Photo: John Watson | The Radavist

Ever see a shot of a bike standing up by itself? The Invisible Bike Stand is achieved by propping one end of a stick into the bottom bracket and the other into the ground. John also has a homemade steel dowel (16 – 18 inches long) with a sharpened end for his more professional shoots.

“You can use a helmet or a water bottle under the pedal,” he says. “I've seen people use coke bottles and I've seen people do it with 24-ounce tallboys, too.”