Give POV A Try

Capture the action when the action speeds up

A POV shot brings the viewer into the frame and makes for a dynamic shot.

Just what is POV? The letters stand for "point of view," and it's a cinematic method that incorporates powerful editing and camera angle technique for capturing a character's subjective view within a film sequence. Alfred Hitchcock loved using POV technique to scare us, and it worked. In sports, the POV camera captures a game from the point of view of the player. The view might be over the shoulder or any location near their position, of them or the action. When looking at videos on YouTube or Vimeo, it seems every biking, climbing, kayaking, sky diving and skiing Red Bull athlete-candidate is attaching a small camera like the GoPro to their helmets, bike bars or wings.

Hatcher rigs his bike-mounted DSLR.

The reason POV video shots, even from a simple camera like a GoPro, are popular is because the action from this perspective works. The images are exciting and pull the viewer into the action, and they look great on the web. So can that style of POV cross over into the stills we make with our better quality SLR cameras? Can you get the shots on the go without expensive specialized mounts and the fear of your camera getting smashed in a fall? It's one thing to strap or tape a tiny $300 GoPro to your bike, but what about a pricey and heavy SLR? Recently, I had a chance to rig a mountain bike in several configurations with an SLR for POV still shots I made while shooting an assignment in Australia. Fast and light was the rule for the shoot, and my POV setup worked extremely well.

The assignment in question was an eight-day, 400-kilometer mountain bike adventure on the Munda Biddi Trail in Western Australia for Australian Geographic magazine. For this biking story, the magazine wanted bike action on the trail, but the editor also wanted great landscape, wildlife and camp shots. Given the weather, I figured every clear morning and evening would need to be devoted to shooting photos off the trail and that any action photos would have to be grabbed as I was pedaling my bike down the trail. The bike shots would have to be squeezed into the riding schedule when the getting was good. And that's pretty much how it worked out on the shoot.

It's been said many times that good photography depends on being in the right place at the right time in perfect light. From past experience, I knew that in eight days on the trail I could deliver a few good bike action shots from the assignment. But the trick up my sleeve would be my POV shots. With the POV photos, I knew a bike-mount perspective would nail the rider's action on the trail. Getting the shots in the right light would just be a matter of timing and having a POV rig that was lightning-fast to set up.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Getting the camera out from the bike was tricky, but well worth it.

The POV kit also needed to be light and compact because I was carrying all of my camping gear, food and camera gear during the ride. My Munda Biddi Trail gear fit nicely into my BOB trailer, but I didn't have any additional room for exotic photo-rigging gear or a photo assistant to carry extras. That meant I couldn't bring my custom camera bracket mounting equipment—a complex camera mount that takes 30 minutes to assemble and disassemble from a bike. Additionally, when considering the mount for the POVs on this long trail shoot, the ideal gear would have to work double-duty for other photos on the trail.

A few weeks before the trip, on a nice single-track trail near my house, I worked out several camera angles on the bike frame that would deliver the photos I wanted. For the camera mount, I chose to use my Gitzo carbon-fiber Mountaineer tripod. The tripod was fitted with a medium ballhead. This is the same tripod I would use for my landscape photos as well. Gaffer's tape solved the issue of quickly attaching the tripod to the bike, and a sharp Swiss Army knife was my POV dismounting tool. The camera would be triggered by my wireless PocketWizard transmitters. The PocketWizard was taped to the tripod. On this shoot I used a Nikon D3S, which is about as heavy an SLR camera as you can imagine, but the mount was stable even as the rider was whacking the camera past trailside bushes.

By the time I was out on the Munda Biddi, I had already tested my POV mounting setup several times. To keep the mount simple, I had rehearsed three POV positions for the camera. Position 1 was the bike's top tube in front of the seat. With the center tube of the tripod I could raise and lower the perspective of the camera's POV. That's how I made the shot here of the rider's handlebars and sunset. Positions 2 and 3 involved attaching the tripod to the bike's rear rack (where the panniers are attached). For these positions, I pulled the lower legs of the tripod out and taped them to the rack and frame. This allowed me to extend the legs of the tripod and tighten them once I had my camera in the optimal position. I called these positions 2 and 3 because I had both a high position and a low pedal-level position. Combined with a 16mm fisheye lens, changing the position even a few inches would give dramatically different results. For the rear-rack camera mount, I hung the camera upside down, as the ballhead wouldn't hold the camera upright.

For the published story, the POV action photos I made on the Munda Biddi were the perfect complement to my other photos on the trail. And that really is the intention of the POV style—to bring the viewer into the scene for a moment, but not to end the story there.

Bill Hatcher travels the world in search of adventure and good stories. His images have appeared on the cover of 40 magazines. Visit his website at

Bill Hatcher is a documentary photographer who shoots stories for National Geographic, Smithsonian and many other publications. He believes the best adventure photos are made when you’re an active participant in the story you’re shooting. Bill has been chasing stories about adventure sports,science and conservation around the world for nearly 30 years. His favorite mode of transport is by foot, bike, rope, packraft or skis.


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