Alison McGregor : You've been riding with the Chainsmith Team a while now and the bunch are accustomed to you having a camera in hand. But your talent for capturing moments on the saddle is being noticed beyond the Chainsmith crew. The instagram account Leo_l is really wonderful. In fact, it's not just the cycling genre that builds your audience; inspiring images of seascapes, things terrestrial and landscapes are developing momentum. And while you don't claim to be professional, your images are worthy of making home in the most luxurious of Eastern Sydney residencies.
As talented as you are, your role behind the camera isn't your full time occupation. Can you let our readers know: Who are you and what motivates you both on the bike and behind the camera?
Leo Lopez : I’m Leo, a Sydney local and exactly 10 years ago I purchased my first road bike to get a bit more cardio in the routine and every-since I’ve loved everything that has come with being a cyclist. From being part of a community, the social interaction you get when riding on group rides, doing a big solo day on the bike and more importantly making new friends along the way.
"deep down I’m definitely one of those cyclists that enjoy the suffering"
I’ve always been interested in keeping fit so I enjoyed the training aspect of cycling and continuously pushing myself to improve as a rider. I might complain during a ride but deep down I’m definitely one of those cyclists that enjoy the suffering, there’s nothing better than that feeling you get after a ride when you know you’ve chewed off more than you can handle and survived.
Leo Lopez: Self Portrait
Leo: From a career perspective, I work in financial services in the change management field. My role gives me the opportunity to work on interesting projects for different financial firms. I’m currently working for one of the banks and have been slowly doing the rounds between the big 4.
Ali: I imagine your career pursuits vary from your interest in photography. Where do your creative interests come from?
Leo: I did Art as a subject all through high school which had a small photography component but I wasn’t interested enough then to pick it up. Although I’ve always loved being outdoors, hiking, travelling or going on weekend adventures, I would always be taking the usual happy snaps or documenting on a point and shoot camera. But several years ago I was looking for a creative outlet, something that I wasn’t getting from working in the finance industry or from my other sporting and fitness hobbies. So I ended up borrowing my sister's DSLR camera which I actually never gave back. Since then I started to take it a bit more seriously and continue to practice and improve my photography skills.
Leo Lopez: Canberra, Off the Beaten Path
Leo: I’ve found that photography has definitely complimented my interest of cycling and being outdoors in nature, and has taken me to many interesting places I wouldn’t have normally never visited if I wasn’t into photography.
Ali: What particular subjects do you take pleasure in, and why?
Leo: At this stage I enjoy landscape photography, it forces me to get outside and the process of having to work for that single image really appeals to me. Everyone will usually see that final image and some might even think “right place at the right time” but there’s usually a process involved. I’ll usually have to plan for the location and composition, either have to wake up before sunrise to shoot during golden hour, drive or hike to a location, be out in less favourable weather conditions and wait for hours just to get the right conditions and get that one shot.
Leo Lopez: From local shop rides, magazine photoshoots, sportifs and social rides, cycling photography takes many forms.
Ali: Nowadays with smartphone technology you regularly see people taking images on the bike. But few really master the art. What do you think makes the difference between a good photo, and a fantastic photo when it comes to bike related photography?
Leo: Smartphones have definitely come a long way, and I’m amazed by what a smartphone camera can do these days. Especially now that everyone uploads their photos on social media apps where the image size is usually compressed and everyone consumes content on a smartphone size screen. Then most won’t even notice the difference in photos taken from a smartphone camera to a mirrorless or DSLR camera. But if you’re doing professional work where you need the higher resolution images to use on a website, magazine or print then image quality is very important.
It’s all relative but for me I think the difference between a good and fantastic photo is when the image subject is sharp and clear, has a great composition or lighting and more importantly it tells a story, makes you stop and triggers an emotion, imagine the mood or atmosphere of being there.
Leo: With that said I am biased and enjoy all cycling related photography, from something simple as product images, a photo of your bike leaning against something interesting, I’m definitely guilty of this, to a selfie of you having fun on the bike, a view from a ride, or that action shot of you being rad.
Leo Lopez: Sometimes a great photo can be of your bike leaning on something interesting
Ali: Has the lens from the bike made you look differently in any way?
Leo: Yes it definitely has and like most people who’s interested in photography. I’m always scanning the scene for interesting composition, lighting or imagining how a location could make a good image. Sometimes it is hard to find that balance between taking photos or doing your efforts during a ride as I like doing both.
Ali: What advice would you give riders when it comes to cycling photography?
Leo: First and foremost safety first. When it comes to taking photos on the bike, definitely make sure it’s safe to do so. No photo is worth a fall and injuring yourself and breaking your precious bike.
“the best camera is the one that’s with you”
With equipment you don’t need a big or expensive camera, as I mentioned your smartphone is more than capable, a camera is just a tool and is an extension of your creative pursuit. As the saying goes “the best camera is the one that’s with you” and 99% of the time you will always have a smartphone with you.
On the bike I personally just use a small point and shoot camera. A Richoh GRiii to be more specific, whilst it’s definitely not an action camera, it is a perfect pocket size camera that fits in your jersey pocket and it produces great image quality.
When I do want to bring a mirrorless camera, I use a Fujifilm XT3 coupled with a mid range zoom lens and I have a camera strap with a stabiliser strap attached to it, the stabaliser helps the camera stay in place on your back whilst riding.
Leo Lopez photoshoot with Nadine Reynolds, Hays Rd Blue Mnts
On the bike I tend to just shoot on shutter speed priority, I usually stay around 1/250 of a second which is enough to freeze the subject for that action shot. But most camera’s are pretty smart these days so the auto mode works just fine.
Leo's Top Photography Tips
When it comes to making your photos standout, there are a few simple tweaks you can do and all done on your smartphone. Your smartphone photo or social media app will have an edit function.
1. Use the crop tool to fill the frame to focus on your subject (people, scenery or bike) and crop out any unnecessary dead space
2. Use the rule of third grid lines to compose and align your subject and straighten your horizon
3. Simple tonal contrast edits can make a big difference, but if editing your photos sounds to overwhelming then the auto edit feature will do the trick.
Thanks to Leo Lopez for his words and incredible photography. Heads up: Keep an eye out for next Bicycling Australia Magazine edition. You may recognise a few local riders in images taken by Leo,