Bike Packing Baja w/ My Favorite Camera Filters | Photo Essay

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I have always been passionate about documenting my bike trips. My first excursion was recorded with a small Canon point-and-shoot camera equipped with a makeshift windshield and a dusty lens. Despite this, I still loved the footage it produced.

Bike trips make for some great stories, and any camera should be able to capture them. But if you're like me, you want to do everything within your budget to ensure your footage looks precisely as you wish. This could be done by improving your eye for good composition, investing in a course to teach you how to edit photos or videos, or supplementing your camera and lens with tools to enhance the output.

My answer to this simple enhancement: lens filters. A quality filter gives a creative angle that's otherwise difficult to obtain from a camera.

Moment sent me 4 different filters to test out for my latest bike-packing trip across Baja California: the signature 2-5 stop VND, Gold CineStreak, Cross-Polarization (CPL), and the 10% CineBloom Diffusion.

Although I was excited to use each of these, traveling by bike is very demanding, let alone a journey through one of the driest places I've ever been. Hence, I quickly discovered that I preferred to stick to my two favorites and focused on swapping those around whenever I could.

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The Ride

The Baja Divide is a long and treacherous bike-packing route throughout the Mexican peninsula of Baja California, full of spiky cacti of all kinds, desert scenery, and ample sunshine throughout each day.

Belén and I invited two friends to join us on a cycling journey from late January to mid-March. We welcomed the chilly, crisp nights and warm, dry mornings as the sun's rays peeked through. We pedaled along the Pacific coast, mesmerized by the crashing waves and salty ocean spray. Our journey was dusty, and although I caught a nasty stomach bug along the way, we embraced the packed beans and tortilla diet and fell in love with the unique flora and fauna.

Documenting my bike ride was challenging, but I was determined to make it work. I upgraded to Sony's A7IV late last year, hoping the camera's handy switch would let me capture both moving and still images. Even though my passion is landscape photography, I also branched out into other genres, such as commercial photography, portrait, food, and the occasional shot of a bike-packing mess. My trip to Baja was particularly challenging, as I had little time to find compositions, switch out filters, and take a breather to let my creative eye flourish. I chose the two most valuable filters to make the capturing process as efficient as possible.

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Variable ND Filters

The Variable ND filter is my go-to of the four lens filters I've worked with. Its clicky stops make it incredibly sturdy and hard to break, despite the scratches from my lens cap, twists from over-tightening, and the dust, salty vapor, and oily fingerprints it's exposed to. I've seen a dramatic improvement in photos and videos when I use the right VND filter—colors are punchier, the shutter speed aligns with the frame rate, and it helps with transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces while protecting my lens. In short, it's my favorite, and I rarely take it off my lens at night.

The midday sun can be challenging for photographers, but the Variable Neutral Density filter I use acts like a great pair of sunglasses. It deepens the blues in the sky, adds contrast, and contributes to a slightly under-exposed image. In Baja, this filter gave me the confidence to shoot in the peak of daylight, knowing that the worst I'd have to do is delete a few shots. With the VND, I could capture vivid colors, darker shadows, and softer highlights, even in the middle of a sunny day. I really enjoy using this filter and the style it offers.

Remember that when comparing photos with and without this filter, there may be a slight green haze which can be fixed with some tint adjustment. Also, due to the added darkness of the filter, capturing photos of moving objects can be difficult - even with the brightest setting. You'll need to decide whether you prioritize video or pictures, and you may need to compromise a bit. Ultimately, as long as it's sturdy enough to handle the daily wear and tear of bike-packing, it's a keeper in my book!

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Gold CineFlare Streak Filers

My other favorite filter is the gold CineStreak. It's so thin and has a gorgeous red rim, coating glass with gold-like filaments, making it look genuinely futuristic. It's in a class of its own. I've only used it a handful of times, depending on the environment and style I'm going for. I usually shoot photos and videos in daylight, so I've missed some streaking opportunities. Natural light is too soft and spread out for the filter to catch, but I can use headlamps or controlled flames for a streak effect. I found the perfect place to experiment with different light sources and intensities - Mulegé in Baja California Sur. It's a hub for traveling cyclists, so Belén and I got to meet up with other riders and take fantastic photos with the filter. It made the whole experience so much more special.

The CineStreak will undoubtedly impress your photographer and videographer friends. It allows you to capture a unique feeling in light that would otherwise never be seen. On one of our hikes to a popular viewpoint, where we could admire the palm jungle and the nearby mountains in a soft sunset glow, I snapped a picture of two couples standing in silhouette. The light streaking across their shadows created a stark contrast, making it look like the sunlight was wrapping around them. On another occasion, we camped with some riding buddies and built a little campfire in the dense cactus scenery. When the flames caught my eye, I experimented with a few timed shots of us four. The result was a strange, fading light across the bottom of the image, filling the darkness with—I'm sure you'll forgive me for the sentiment—magical particles.

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This ride has been something exceptional. I never dreamed I'd be cycling through a desert paradise, with cacti of all shapes and sizes reaching higher than ten meters! I was enchanted by the palm trees down south and the tranquil evening light. I was met with vibrant murals, tantalizing food, and joyful music everywhere. But the days were too short and the ride too fast. I wish I'd gotten to know my camera better, to take my time exploring the different cacti and experimenting with the filters. I'm not done biking yet so those chances will come again.

Until then, my memories of this journey can help guide your decision!