Timothy Armes' blog

Life as I experience it…


Anatomy of a shoot: the invisible bike

This unusual shot idea popped into my head recently, and I thought it would make an interesting portfolio piece. It’s a conceptual shot and I can imagine such an image being used for things like:

  • A bike company selling the idea of a frame that’s so light you won’t feel its weight
  • A company specialising in sports health food and drink who wish to emphasize that it’s the athlete who succeeds, not the equipment.

Technically it wasn’t easy to produce so it’s a perfect subject for one of my anatomies.

The Cyclist

The shot of the cyclist was taken in a studio environment against a white backdrop. I used white rather than a green to eliminate any colour spill onto the subject. She was shot on a real cycle (secured on a home bicycle trainer) so as to ensure that she was in the correct anatomical position, and I shot her from lots of different angles to give me greater flexibility when creating the composite.

Examples of the studio shots

The problem with this approach is that the cycle covers up various parts of her body, so I then had her cycle her legs in the air and hold invisible handles so that I’d have the body parts that I would need to create the final image. These extra images were taken from the same position as when she was on the bike to ensure that the lighting was the identical.

The extracted cyclist. The bike covers up lots of the body.

Body parts

Shots taken without the bike so that I've have body parts available during retouching

I don’t think the model really understood what my final aim was, so she may have felt a little silly complying with my bizarre requests!

For the lighting I relied upon my faithful ProFoto AcuteB strobes for the key light, and an SB900 for the rim light. The two were set off together using the new Nikon version of the PocketWizard FlexTL radio triggers.

Note that the decision to use a rim light was chosen to give greater three dimensional modeling to the image. This was done at the expense of a more flawless composition since there wouldn’t really be both a main light and a rim light in a natural environment (there’s only one Sun). In my image of the tennis player I was very careful about using one light since I wanted to create the most convincing image possible. In contrast, this image of an invisible bike is clearly impossible to start with and so I allowed myself a little more creative license. Nevertheless, to the untrained eye the rim light isn’t a noticeable giveaway…

The road

With the cyclist images in the bag I then hunted down roads that would be suitable. I knew what sort of thing I was looking for so used a number of scouting methods to find it: Google Earthing the local area, asking my entourage and just generally keeping an eye out when out and about. Eventually this road appealed to me.

As with the cyclist image I took the road from various angles so that I’d have an image that matched up with the angle of the cyclist image that I’d ultimately choose.

The backdrop

The backdrop of the road image lacked impact, so I decided to replace it. I tried quite a few candidates, from hills to mountains, but the green hills you see in the final result look best. It’s actually a snapshot that I took way back in 2004 while on holiday in Cyprus, just as I was getting involved in digital photography! The position of the sun produces a convincing look (to the untrained eye) whilst still adding some nice drama.

Putting it all together

Creating the composition took about a day and a half. The cyclist photo had to be chosen, extracted and then composited with various body parts to remove the bike. I originally had a false start in that the image I’d chosen looked great with the cyclist on the bike, however it looked very strange with the bike removed.

Once a better image had been chosen a suitable road image was used to match the angle of the cyclist, and she was blended into the image. The backdrop complete the composition, and the color toning finished off the image.

10 Responses to “Anatomy of a shoot: the invisible bike”

  1. [...] particularly when the results are this exciting. Timothy Armes has reached out and pointed us to a blog post with full details of how he achieved the below [...]

  2. James says:

    Great job, nice blog post, bravo!

  3. Shawn says:

    Might have been easier to have her on a stool, with tall white blocks up to pedal height for her feet, then bend forward to grasp pretend handlebars. :D

  4. Tim says:

    Love this shot. Sent here by The Strobist! I think the shot might be a little more effective if you had the shadow of the bike on the ground to emphasize that the bike is not the main ingredient here, but is a tool.

    • Hi Tim,

      Yes, this was an idea that I considered. If the concept were definitively ‘lightweight bike’ then the shadow would really make sense, but I decided to leave the image open to more interpretations.

  5. Terry Clark says:

    Super image…. I like not having the bike’s shadow, but just the shadow of the rider. Thanks for posting this with the explanation…. got me inspired!

  6. Mike Yip says:

    nicely done.
    n good description on the process.
    looking forward to more creative work from you.

  7. amilyshurtz says:

    I’ve read some article says that there are a number of picture styles which can be used when shooting in modes such as manual, aperture and shutter priority. The creative control modes can only be used as their own independent modes, but you can increase or decrease the level of their affect.

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