Behind the Shot: Jonas Kullman, Road Riding Mallorca
Words: Pete Harrington
Photos: Jonas Kullman
We’re all riders and photographers now. At least, no ride is complete without several snaps (and Instagram uploads) of the what, where and who of the thing. And where there’s photography, just like cycling, there’s the thought of improving.
Whether you’re the friend who lays in the dirt, patiently waiting to take a photo of the bunch coming round the bend, or simply a keen saddle-snapper, in this new mini-series, we’re going to be chatting with professional photographer-cyclists about their favorite shot, the story behind it, along with tips and technical details to help take your photography to the next level.
Up first is Jonas Kullman, a Swedish photographer and Scandinavian 7mesh partner, referenced by Peloton magazine as one of the 10 most talented photographers in cycling.
Where did you take the shot?
It’s from Mallorca in Spain from the road out to a lighthouse, Cap de Formentor, which is about a 20-kilometre ride from Port de Pollenca. The road goes up to a viewpoint and then down to the ocean again and then slowly climbs all the way out to the lighthouse, which is a spectacular view once you get out there.
Had you ridden the road before?
Yeah, I’d been here two years earlier. The road wasn’t paved all the way out back then, just pretty shitty tarmac, which was pretty bad. On this trip, I’d probably ridden it a couple of times already. And I think it was earlier the same day as we were coming back, that I saw the shot.
And the light was good?
No, actually the light wasn’t good at all at that time because it was probably lunchtime or late morning. But I took an iPhone snap to get a good reference photo. Then we came back later, either the same day or the day after to get the proper shot. We were a bit early, so we just hung around for a while to wait for the light to get even better.
Did you have to scramble for a bit to find this particular angle, or was this the view you saw from the road?
It’s just a few short steps through the bushes. But yeah, I had to move a bit out of away from the road to get a better angle, just to get the foliage you see on the left in the foreground.
And why this view?
I guess what caught my eye was the cliff, and sort of how it builds, with the mountain layering in the background. I don’t know the best word for that. But you see what I mean, I guess.
Who is the rider in the photo?
That’s my friend Teodor. He had to ride it a few times. This is one of those shots that I frame it like, “I want this exact shot. I really want it to look like this”.
Did you see that through the viewfinder?
Yeah, I usually look through the viewfinder to frame the shot, pretty much always trying to give directions to the rider to be in exact position, which is tricky, but with road biking, it’s a bit easier because you have the road, the lines, and you can do it ten times. But when you’re skiing, you can do it only once, and then you have to move because there are tracks in the snow.
I usually do follow focus, tracking the rider with the focus. But this is more of a landscape shot, with a cyclist in it, right? I chose the focus point first and then waited for the rider to arrive at that point. Quite often though, I activate follow focus because once the rider comes closer, you see another image. So, I find that sometimes, at least, I get a better photo than I thought I was going to get.
You still allow yourself the possibility of surprise and spontaneity?
That’s why I like to use the follow focus because I can improvise and I’m pretty fast. I know my camera very well, and quite often, yeah, I find good photos from reacting to the scene.
What sort of settings did you use to get the shot?
Generally, I would use quite a large aperture, which gives me a shorter depth of focus but, with this one I’m pretty sure I’m on a 24–70 zoom lens. I took the shot at around 35 or 30 mm, with a 1/500th shutter speed. The basic rule, if you shoot something that’s moving, is you kind of want to be at 1/500th of a second or faster.
If you don’t want blur?
Exactly, if you don’t want the motion blur. In some photos, when the rider is far from the camera you can get away with some motion blur. But, you know, 1/500th, if I’m shooting something closer, I want it to be 1,000 or faster.
And, if you were giving some tips to someone who was trying to get their own shots like this one, would you say that if they had a decent DSLR or something, they should probably go in shutter priority mode?
I actually pretty much always shoot in Aperture priority and let the camera choose the speed. Then I tweak the ISO to get a short enough shutter speed. I might even do a shot in automatic mode, just to see what the camera thinks of the scene. Then I’ll flick to manual and set my camera to more or less those auto settings as a start, or tweak it, because sometimes when you move the camera, it’ll change – maybe there’s now more sky in the photo which is very light. That’s another thing, when you move the camera, you don’t want to change too much, right? The setting is for your main object in the photo.
So if you don’t have much time and need to get orientated quickly, you could see what the camera thinks of the scene in auto, and go from there?
Yes, although for some light conditions, you just know, or you will know, after a while with experience, what to use. Like shooting snow – the camera reads that wrong every time. So, you need to overexpose that, at least, one full step. With enough shots under your belt, you can look at the scene and kind of know what’s going to happen and what the camera’s going to do. You pick up your camera, and you know that you’re going to have to overexpose this two steps.
A new photographer could learn a few tips to orientate themselves, but repeated practising in certain environments is going to give them more confidence?
Yep. And also, practising with the camera, practise to be fast and know all the settings and don’t use too many.
A lot of cameras have focus options of centre, wide and zone. Do you have any advice on which ones might be more effective?
Well, I always use spot focus – the small focus dot – and I always choose wherever I want my focus to be. I never use it just in the middle. There are a lot of different cameras that have a lot of different options. Some are supposed to follow automatically, but I don’t think that works. I mean, of course, it probably works great in a lot of situations but, you don’t really know unless you try. So, I always choose the focus point myself. And, I quite often move it, too – if I’m using my zoom lens, and I have a rider coming towards me, I’ll move the focus point. And, that’s also where you need to be fast – to find new shots within the shot.
If someone wanted to take their photography up a notch, and they want to start riding with a camera, do you have any recommendations on what, maybe, someone should be looking at?
Many cameras are small enough to fit in a jersey pocket but, for me, because I’ve been going back and forth trying out a lot of different things, I have found that I need to have something like the XT–2 from Fuji. Anything smaller, and I find I’m always missing something. But, there are so many good cameras in that size, as well and there are so many cameras that will fit into a jersey pocket.
But in the end, don’t worry too much about the camera or quality. If this photo had been taken on an iPhone, of course, it would not have been as nice but, it would still have been a great photo.
Do you have a favorite place to go riding and for taking shots?
I was in Gran Canaria this fall, and although I didn’t have anyone to photograph, it was a beautiful place for riding. But every place has its characteristics – it’s very much down to light. Take a mountain road in Sweden – when it’s grey, it might look great on a day that’s not so bright and nice because it seems so much more dramatic.
And finally, what’s your go-to piece of 7mesh gear, and why?
I’ve got to say the Highline jersey. It’s performed well on nearly every ride. I think that I’ve used it mostly when it’s been really hot, like in Gran Canaria, for example, and I also used it in Sweden over summer. You just feel nice and never too sweaty. In Gran Canaria, I climbed up some road for over an hour-and-a-half, pouring with sweat, and it was getting a bit chilly. And sometimes, if you’re in regular club kit, you kind of get cold on the way down. But, with the Highline, you still feel nice and dry and protected. Yeah, so, for road riding, that’s a good one.