SHOOT! Mountain Biking Mtunzini Magic

Words & Photos: Jacques Marais |

Mountain Biking

The MiWay Big 5 MTB Series events boast some superb locations around South Africa. One way to add drama and colour to exciting races such as these is through exploiting as many different angles as possible and here’s how to do it!

Image 1: Bridge Busters


You’re very fortunate if you get to shoot one of the MiWay Big 5 MTB Series, as these events take place at some of the most gorgeous outdoor locations in the country. Superb single-track trails, rugged climbs and super-tube downhills are the order of the day, so it is no wonder that mountain bikers flock from all over to get a taste of the MiWay Big 5 vibe.


The Zini Estate Buffalo Classic, the first race in the series of five mountain bike races throughout the year, could not have wished for a more perfect location than Zini River Estate, near Mtunzini and Empangeni on the KZN North Coast. Stands of indigenous forest, vast fields of sugar cane, side-winding trails through eucalyptus plantations, wooden boardwalk routes through mangroves and raphia palms … biking does not get much better than this.


And neither does photographing mountain biking. The consistent change of scenery allows you to shoot against a constantly varying backdrop, but you obviously have to make sure that you have the ways and means of getting around the course at speed. A quad- or motor bike is great, so try to arrange this up front or plan shooting points easily accessible by vehicle. For more information on the MiWay Big 5 MTB Series events, check out


Image 1: Bridge Busters


The Action: This arguably rates as one of the most dramatic compositions you could get at a mountain bike race. Just on 10 km before the end of the Zini Buffalo MTB Challenge, the racers blast across this arched concrete bridge at warp speed.


The Shot: I looked at the arched columns of the bridge when I got there and thought a shot from the top would be awesome. The only way to get to the top was to do the monkey walk … fortunately my Seismics had great grip!


The Technique: As the riders tend to get lost against the bland concrete, I decided to set up remote flash on Pocket Wizards behind the pillars, to pop them into sharper focus.


The Specifications: 1/400th sec @ 4.5; Nikon D800 + 16mm fish eye lens; ISO 1.0; WB Setting (Auto); AE Setting (-1); off-camera flash on Pocket Wizards; Lightroom filter applied.


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Image 2: Sky Cruising


The Action: Fortunately the riders made two passes across the bridge, allowing me to get down from my high perch for a completely different shot. As they passed at high speed, it was necessary for me to trap-focus a specific spot to ensure I grabbed them at the right moment.


The Technique: The low angle of view pops the rider up against the bridge and a threatening sky, making for an artful composition enhanced with a Lightroom filter. The fill-in flash was triggered wirelessly via 2 x Pocket Wizard transceivers.


The Specifications: 1/800th sec @ 8; Nikon D800 +
16 mm lens; ISO 1.0; WB Setting (Auto); Wireless flash;
AE Setting (-1).


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Image 3: Mangrove Meandering


The Action: My favourite part of the route with sections of wooden boardwalks meandering amidst glorious stands of mangrove forests and raphia palms. It literally seemed as if riders were cranking through a scene from Jurassic Park!


The Shot: This wasn’t really long-lens territory, but I nonetheless thought the increased focal length would make for an interesting composition if I shot through gaps in the forest. Wi-Fi flash popped light onto the distant subject.


The Technique: Because of the limited depth of field, I pre-focused on the exact spot where I wanted to capture the riders and triggered the flash and shutter as soon as they entered that part of the frame.


The Specifications: 1/400th sec @ f5.6; Nikon D600 + 80-400 mm lens; ISO 400; WB Setting (Auto); AE Setting (-1); Wi-Fi Flash on Pocket Wizard transceivers.


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Jacques Marais