Shooting from the saddle: camera bags for bikes

by Raymond Parker on November 8, 2010

in Cycling, Photography, Technical, Touring

Img description

Photo-shoot on the (old) Cambie Street Bridge, Vancouver, 1983

The continuing miniaturization of digital cameras and storage media has eased the burden of carrying photographic gear by bike. Small point-and-shoots are capable of recording quality images. Infuriating shutter-lag (the time between pressing the shutter and image capture) has been significantly reduced. Still, for the cycling photographer who demands the highest quality, and flexibility, the film or digital single-lens reflex camera is often the system of choice.

Carrying even a compact SLR and accessories, however, demands much more space than a jersey pocket or Bento Box.

Following my two main obsessions—photography and cycling—has taken me from Yukon forests to inner city streets. For the latter projects, I used to buckle my trusty medium format Mamiyaflex into a Carradice saddlebag, strap its supporting Tiltall tripod to my Nishiki Landau, and pedal off to document Vancouver’s nooks and crannies. These days, I’m more inclined to pack a DSLR and zoom lens into a rack-mounted bag, with a monopod strapped alongside.

For long tours, I find the “rack trunk” is a great way to organize and protect my camera gear. There are plenty of models to choose from, but a rectangular, boxy bag will best accommodate a full range of equipment.

The example below easily fits a couple of camera bodies and a selection of lenses (modern, high-quality zoom lenses simplify carrying a wide range of focal lengths). Side-pockets are used for flash, filters, cable-releases, media (or film) and other small tools of the trade. You can see that I commandeer the velcro pump straps on this old Specialized bag to carry a small tripod. A tripod is an invaluable accessory. It can be used to make self-portraits if you are travelling alone (or make sure everyone gets into a group shot) and becomes essential in low-light situations.


(Tip: To stabilize a lightweight tripod, hang a weighted pannier from its centre post.

Most rack-top trunks will require some kind of modifications to double as camera bags. I made extra dividers with closed-cell foam, nylon and velcro. An extra bed of foam in the bottom of the bag further dampens shock. Your gear will thank you for that, especially on washboard road surfaces.

(Tip: Preserve your pristine lens elements. Tape lens filters and shades in place.)

Admittedly, this kind of set-up will not carry the full load of equipment demanded by a professional location shoot—strobes, reflectors, light stands, gobos and diffusers. That’s why cargo bikes were invented.

Bicycle Luggage

{ 2 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Cassi March 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Wow – I really like this idea, and I have an old rear-rack bag (insulated, designed for carry food/lunch I guess?) that would probably make a great conversion. Altho I typically haul my DSLR with an R-Strap (sling strap), with the camera on my back/lens in a jersey pocket, it limits me to one lens – and never a tripod. So I really like this idea. Thank you!


Raymond Parker March 18, 2011 at 6:52 pm

That’s great you have a bag ready to experiment with!

The only downside to this approach, of course, is that your camera is behind you on the bike. A point-and-shoot in a handlebar bag or jersey pocket is good to carry for those grab shots.


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