Dirty Words: How I got that shot

Words and Photos by Sal Ruibal

I know this will come as a surprise to many of you, but some people think I’m a bit weird. That’s not because I ride a rigid, single-speed steel 29er in all conditions. And it is not because I would rather ride in a pair of German Bundeswehr knickers that I bought at a Darmstadt flea market for two euros than a $125 pair of Rapha gentlemen’s cycling slacks.

Or that I accidently Super-Glued one of the pocket zippers on my rain pants.

It is because I like to take photos of my little biking friends, my Petit Velos. The Petit Velos are not imaginary friends, they are real, often hand-painted, cycling figurines.

Readers of my column have seen many shots that I’ve taken of my little friends in the woods where I ride. Today I am lifting the veil and will let you know how you, too, can create your own world of small cyclists. [Editor's note: WTF?]

You don’t need fancy photo equipment. Many of my best shots have come from an iPhone camera. I even use some old film cameras and have the images digitized at Walgreen’s or a real camera store such as Calumet.

To get realistic shots, however, you need to have a camera with aperture and shutter-speed controls. The key to making your shot realistic is to get down to the little riders’ level, literally on the ground, if necessary. Get a cheap, plastic painter’s drop cloth at a paint store to stay dry.

A close-up macro lens is great if you have one, but you don’t need one if you have a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) viewfinder: The bigger viewfinder the better. Look for sharp focus for the subject of your shot and lesser focus for distracting backgrounds that ruin the fantasy aspect of these little riders.

Finding the riders and their bikes is a function of how realistic you want to get and how much money you want to spend. I got most of my original puny peloton from urbanhunter.biz. Click on the “Hand-painted cycling figurines” link on the site menu.

These guys are metal and somewhat nebulous in appearance, but they’re easy to pose and you can buy specific national champion paintjobs or even some European pro team kit. At $15 each, they seem expensive but they are more durable than the pro rider-specific plastic figurines that you can find at the temporary bike-stuff markets that are always around the start area of European races or on eBay.

The rider-specific route is not as straightforward as the metal figurine market because the market for famous or infamous riders in authentic kit and bike can be vicious. I have my special sources, who do their research and can provide the exact race number the rider wore in a specific race.

Before you go down that road [Editor's note #2: If you do go down that road, get some help. They have hotlines for people in your situation.], get some of the basic metal riders (or even some cheapo plastic army guys) and practice seeing the world from their perspective. People may think you’re weird, but I’ll think you’re cool.

And why stop at cycling?

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