Photographer Tom Bing on a beach taking a picture of a surfer holding her board.


From waves to wheels: how to capture action hobbies creatively

Avid surfer and motorcyclist Tom Bing is just as hooked by these high-speed hobbies as the subjects he photographs. He met his wife, Sally, also a keen surfer, at art school, and the couple spent 12 months riding their motorbikes from Santiago to San Francisco with their surfboards. They've now moved to Tynemouth in the North East of England, a surfing hub known for golden beaches and cold seas.

Tom says his late grandfather, who loved sailing and fishing in the sea, also sparked his interest in photography. "My grandad was really into photography and had a darkroom set up at home to develop photos – and I still have a couple of his old cameras," Tom says. "It was because of him that I thought I could document and capture moments for myself and other people."

Now a professional photographer, Tom specialises in surfing and dirt bike racing, and this takes him to his local beach and across the world. His passion has become documenting the communities, freedom and inherent fun at the heart of these hobbies.

Here he shares his approach, techniques and tips for capturing your outdoor pastimes with a creative touch.

Capture both the action and the atmosphere – Tom Bing's tips

1. Adapt your kit to suit the activity

Light, portable and capable: the Canon EOS M6 Mark II was the perfect tool to capture this trail runner with, allowing Tom to keep up with the action.

Tom has been using the Canon EOS 90D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS II USM lens, a setup ideal for capturing fast-moving wildlife and sports, with features ranging from continuous shooting at 10fps to 45 cross-type Autofocus points.

When biking or hiking to difficult-to-reach locations, he also uses the lighter, smaller, mirrorless Canon EOS M6 Mark II with Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM and Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lenses. "Mirrorless means you can pack a lot more into a smaller package," Tom says, which is perfect when you need to travel light.

When you're out in the field, he advises, be realistic about how much you need to carry around. "Maybe you don't need 10 lenses with you, only two that really do what you need them to do," he says.

For very fast action, the optical viewfinder in a DSLR can enable you to keep up without the tiny lag associated with the electronic viewfinder in a mirrorless camera, but in terms of image quality, he adds, "I think mirrorless cameras are just as good."

2. Immerse yourself in the action

Understanding the activity you're photographing helps you to anticipate the action and be ready to capture it. Even something as simple as knowing what line a rider will prefer to take through a muddy patch, which your own experience will teach you, can make the difference between getting the shot and missing it.

"I was always inspired by [photojournalists] James Nachtwey and Don McCullin, and that documentary style of photography. I loved the fact that they would immerse themselves within the stories they were shooting," says Tom, who aims to convey the emotion and excitement of participating in activities, not just what they look like to outside observers.

"Before you've even got the camera out, understand the culture of what you're shooting," he says. "If you know what it feels like to ride a trail bike through a beautiful reserve, then you know what you're trying to capture and which millisecond to press the shutter," he says.

On the purely practical level, if you know from your own experience how to read the surf conditions, for example, you can anticipate where the action is going to happen and be in position, ready to shoot. "When it's on, it's on," Tom says, "and it's a great feeling knowing where to be when."

3. Freeze the action

Understand how to master shutter speed and how this relates to ISO and aperture to capture the action and atmosphere perfectly.

"I shoot in burst mode nearly all the time," says Tom. "For action photography, it's invaluable as facial expressions change really quickly and you can't expect to get it in one shot if someone is passing through a frame. You need around 10."

The Canon EOS M6 Mark II helps with its capacity to shoot at 14fps, with the added benefit of pin-sharp continuous autofocus tracking. Where speed is critical, it can even shoot RAW files at an incredible 30fps, with continuous focusing, in an 18MP cropped RAW burst mode.

Meanwhile, the Canon EOS 90D features a greater shutter speed range – up to 1/8000 sec, or up to 1/16000 sec with electronic shutter, compared to the EOS M6 Mark II's maximum of 1/4000 sec – giving you the best possible chance of freezing fast movement, and its optical viewfinder enables you to keep up with the action without even the tiny lag of the best electronic viewfinders.

4. Get creative

Get creative and explore unusual compositions, such as this one, for more intriguing shots.

Unusual perspectives, panning, silhouettes and toying with depth-of-field are techniques Tom uses to get creative and translate what his subject might be feeling on the track or in the water.

"Context can be everything, and if I can't zoom in on the action but can step back and capture the wider scene, that can sometimes be more powerful," he says. "I shoot toward the sun [too] because I love playing with the inherent flaws that come with it. That's maybe more of what the rider is feeling."

Features that help boost his creativity on the Canon EOS M6 Mark II include the detachable electronic viewfinder and the flip-up touchscreen, both invaluable for those creative compositions and tricky low-angle moments.

5. It's not just about the action

Try different styles of photos, and take the time to explore every aspect of an activity as well as capturing the action.

Like many others in the surf community, Tom's passion is not just about his hobby but also the outdoors, the ocean and the region he lives in. So don't just wait for the moments of action, he advises, but capture the whole scene. Shoot for the entire day, and you'll find you end up with some memorable images of the people and the place as well as some great action shots.

"I try to document things the way I see them," Tom says. "I love to capture places and experiences, the power and variety of the ocean. And as a surfer myself, I love to see surfers respond to the challenge with style."

Written by Lorna Dockerill

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