How to Photograph a Motorcycle

So how many of you out there are keen motorbike clickers? It’s an art really which requires equal passion for the machine, its beauty and capturing it frame after frame. You can shoot it while it’s riding, racing, wrenching or posing nonchalantly against a kickstand at a show.

The main aspect of an ideal shot lies in the lighting, the sparkle factor (cleanliness!) of the vehicle and of course getting either the best focused view of the entire beast or the specific feature that you are highlighting.

For those with the penchant and talent for motorcycle photography, shooting one comes easy and naturally. But for those of you unsure about how to even begin, here are some guidelines to point your cam in the right direction:

The Gear

You needn’t worry about which camera to get as it doesn’t matter if it is a $300 bargain from eBay, the highly favored $3,900 Canon EOS 5D Mark III . If you’re shooting at a track, get the biggest zoom you can manage. What you need though is the right setup. Starting out with a DSLR with a lens of 50mm makes it much easier to blur out the background than a compact camera. If you’re deciding to go a bit shutter-crazy, ensure you have enough storage space – a 400x card with 16 to 32 GB.

The Moment

First things first, you need to decide what time of the day you plan to conduct your photography session. For outdoor shoots, you are better off shooting when the sun is lower and less harsh, which means early morning or late evening. This really helps as the top of the tank and polished metal parts don’t blind the viewer when the sun isn’t overhead. If you must shoot when the sun is high, find an open shade.

The Background

While positioning the bike, it is very important to know what’s behind it and figure out if that will work with the lines and colors of the bike. You can really make your bike stand out by finding something that contrasts slightly with the colors on your bike. Try and avoid backgrounds with heavy or strange lines or even telephone poles and trees, which may appear to be growing out from the bike! We recommend industrial garage doors or perhaps plain brick walls. If that’s not possible, nothing beats an open field, the beach and sea or any other wonder of nature.

The Light

We have mentioned earlier the need for even light but here’s a trick that can help you boost it even further. Ensuring that light falls in the right places is one of the most important aspects of motorcycle photography as the tank tends to throw the top of the motor into shade on most bikes. You can avoid this by getting a large white board and position it so that the light is redirected into areas where you need it. Its a much cheaper alternative to pro lighting rigs, and you’ll pick up the difference immediately on your viewfinder.

The Angle

You should have a checklist prepared before you start your shoot. Make sure you get the basics like Left, Right, Front, and Back followed by details like the major components namely the bars, the motor, the seat, the tank and the pipes. Make sure that you are aware of what is ‘in shot’ and in focus in your close-up shots at all times. As most people own digital cameras nowadays, you may already have your prime equipment sorted. So spend the rest of your time exploring the bike and experimenting with unusual angles. Most people uploading shots on Flickr, Instagram, or Facebook shoot the bike in a standing position which is great as a record but you want to make the bike look good. So, get down on your knees and get a shot with your eyes and camera at the level of the tank or headlight. This is one trick which will make any bike look better.

The Final Touch

Now that you have the shots you need, let’s refine them like the professionals. Lightroom is really the only software you need but you can also pair it with Photoshop. Once you have loaded the image, you need to look for areas which may be darker and lighten them up. Make sure that the bike and horizon are level. Slightly crooked photos will always give the feeling that something’s not right. Last but not least, don’t crop the shot too tightly around the bike. Leave some wiggle room around it, especially if you plan to add text or other photos on the same page.

The Momentum

Once you have finished clicking your own motorbike, ask a friend to allow you to shoot theirs.  Try out different locations and examine your results. You will soon get an idea of what works and what does not and have a whole lot of fun doing it! And the best part of photographing motorcycles is that you get to meet new people who won’t mind spending hours discussing about the ‘good old days’ when they were ‘wild’ and ‘young’ on their bikes!

So go out there and start shooting. Remember, these are only guidelines and not rules as the most important thing is to enjoy your photography. Make sure that you share your classic shots so that other GoBikerz can ooooh! and aaaah! over those shots too!

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