How To Photograph A Feature Bike

Pro shooters Tom Riles and Brian J. Nelson use high end equipment to get great photos, but you don’t need to. A simple point-and-shoot camera and a few easy techniques are all it takes.

A great photo of your bike serves as a reminder of all those hours spent customizing and personalizing your ride. But maybe your skill set works better with a mechanic’s tool set than an F-Stop. Has the prospect of getting an awesome shot completely eluded you? Are you ready to get down to the business of doing this right? Then grab your camera and let’s go! It’s time to commit random acts of greatness on your next photo outing!

You don’t need the latest in digital technology to capture stunning photos of your bike. A simple point-and-shoot camera and a few easy techniques are all it takes. I’m going to stick with the basics here; you’ll figure out how to expand upon many of these tips yourself. And, just like motorcycling, there’s nothing like practice to hone your photographic skills. All of the bike photos in this article were taken using a small point-and-shoot camera, not pro gear, so these results are in fact attainable by anyone who is willing to try.

What’s Your Angle?
Perhaps the most classic motorcycle shot of all time is the right-front-angle shot.

This particular view graces more magazine covers and manufacturers’ product brochures than any other photographic angle. It’s often seen in touring stories, group shots, and vacation photos

 

So how do you get your bike to look like one of the choice steeds on the cover of a magazine? We’re going to look at some common mistakes people make and offer simple solutions that will have you shooting like a pro in no time. Let’s compare the two photos below and see what made the difference.

What Went Wrong?

Here is a classic example of a bike photo gone horribly wrong. Most people walk up to their bike, point the camera, and just grab the shot without taking even a moment to look and see what’s around them.

Here the owner has parked the bike in the middle of an industrial area with a distracting background. He then used a wide-angle lens setting on his camera, which includes too much background and causes the bike to be dwarfed.

And the fork is turned to the left, which breaks the flowing lines of the bike. Notice the owner’s shadow in the foreground, too. Your bike deserves better than this. So let’s fix it!

It’s important to note that the bike has not been moved for this photo. All I did was straighten the front wheel, step back from the bike, and kneel down for a lower perspective. Then I used the zoom feature on my camera to bring the bike in closer.

 

A cool effect, called compression, occurs when you zoom a camera. Even though the bike hasn’t moved, the compression effect makes it, and the black fuel tanks behind it, appear to be much closer to each other in this photo than in the previous one. What was once distracting clutter is now a high octane background! The bike stands tall and proud.

Keep It Clean
Perhaps the hardest part of motorcycle photography is choosing a good background. The key is to keep it simple. Don’t let the image get cluttered with elements that add nothing useful to the photo. When shooting your motorcycle, make sure that the bike is the star of the show. Spend the time to find a location where the bike is not surrounded by distractions like dumpsters, utility poles, parked cars and other nonessential things. Keep it clean and uncluttered. Your photo will look much better.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen photos of someone’s bike parked at a beautiful scenic overlook where the owner took the photo with a trash can directly behind the seat. Look around! Take notice of your environment. You have the power to overcome these problems by simply moving the bike or moving yourself to one side or the other.

Weak Zoom
Not everyone is going to have a camera with a powerful zoom. Many cameras have a wide field of view for taking family photos and scenic vacation shots and are not ideally suited to shooting your bike. Fear not! You can still get some nice images.

Here we see a bike parked on a sidewalk with the photographer standing very close to his machine and using the maximum wide-angle lens setting. While this photo is awful it is not hopeless!

 

Even with a short lens, you can get great photos if you compose them carefully. Here’s how we go about correcting this shot.

First, we straighten out the front wheel. Never turn the front wheel away from the camera. In the previous photo you can see how this makes the bike look short and stubby. Move to the right side of the bike a bit and squat down even with the engine. Now it looks awesome!

 

 

Including The Environment
Colors and textures can add a lot to a photograph if they’re used carefully.

Here I’ve included water, sandy beach, and a wooden railing. All these elements combine to enhance the photo with soft colors and textures that contrast the bright red and chrome elements of the bike. But something has gone terribly wrong. Let’s make a few simple corrections that will transform this scene into a great photo.

 

First, straighten that front wheel. Then step way back and use your zoom to bring the bike in closer. Next, get down low and hold the camera level. Note that the bike is in the exact same place in both photos. The only difference is that I moved back, away from the bike and then zoomed in on it to recompose the photo.

 

Shed Some Light On It
In the last photo, notice the way the light is coming from the right side and casting soft shadows to the left. It’s late in the day. The sun is low in the sky, and it’s not casting harsh shadows the way it does at high noon.

Remember this simple tip when you’re out shooting: stand so the sun is off to your left or right shoulder and then place the bike in front of you. If the sun is in your face, your bike will look dark. If the sun is at your back, you will most likely get a lot of glare from the chrome, and your shadow will be cast into the photo.

The side lighting approach will produce more vivid colors, reduce glare, and bring out the shape of your bike. When I’m out in the field, I often scout around for a good location ahead of time and then return to that spot when the sun is going down. This might seem like a lot of effort for a simple photo, but it’s time well spent when you see the results.

Take Your Best Shot
Photographing your bike is fun to do. Getting great results will extend that pleasure for many years as you view your photos and enjoy compliments. Remember to try a few different angles and take lots of shots. It will take some practice to get it right, but you just might find that you truly enjoy taking the photos.

 

Submit Your Garage Build

We’re always on the lookout for cool customs. Here’s your chance to have your bike featured.

 

 

There are six basic angles to cover when photographing a feature bike.

  • Full Left broadside.
  • Full Right broadside.
  • Three-Quarter left front shot.
  • Three-Quarter Right front shot.
  • Three-Quarter Left rear shot.
  • Three-Quarter Right rear shot.

It is strongly suggested that these six basic angles be done with a telephoto zoom, not wide angle. With the exception of detail shots, always shoot the entire bike. We’ll need a broadside left and right, a three-quarter front left and right (remember, keep that front wheel pointed straight), and a three-quarter rear left and right.

Detail shots are required for a feature. We suggest the engine, cockpit, and any other interesting details that make the bike special. The cockpit shot should be taken as if you were sitting on the bike looking forward over the handlebar so you can see the dash, handlebar, and tank.

When shooting the left side of the bike in particular, use something to prop up the kickstand where necessary. Many photographers carry small blocks or a hockey puck to correct the lean of the bike.

When looking through the camera, leave extra space around the bike so the art department can crop the image to fit the page layout. No need to crop with the camera.

One ideal location for shooting a bike is a wide-open space with a paved surface where the bike stands.

Bikes should not be shot on grass or dirt. The background should be free of signs, power lines, single trees that might stick out from behind the bike, or other foreign objects that clutter the photo. The area around the bike should be cleared of litter and debris as well. Don’t bury the bike in the environment. Fences and flowerbeds add clutter. We want to see the bike.

Dark bikes should be photographed on lighter backgrounds. Light bikes need to be photographed on neutral or dark backgrounds.

Bikes that are very light or very dark will look best when photographed near sunset or sunrise or in complete overcast conditions. Midday sun can dilute the color of a light bike. It also casts harsh shadows and hot spots that cause the details of a dark bike to get lost.

Be sure to include three exposures of each shot ranging from slightly overexposed to slightly underexposed. If possible, take a shot of the owner crouching next to or riding the bike. All riding shots should have the rider (and passenger) wearing appropriate riding gear and helmet. The riding

shot is to be done in such a way that it shows motion and action. A profile riding shot taken at 1/2000 of a second will freeze the wheels and background, making the bike look like it’s parked. Use slower shutter speeds wherever possible to blur the wheels and express movement, but keep the rider in focus.

Digital images are to be unenhanced and submitted as shot. Don’t try any home Photoshop techniques, we’ll handle that.

Creativity is always encouraged. Once you have pictures as we have described here, please venture off in your own creative direction. As much as standards help us maintain the quality, variety helps keep it interesting, too.

All contact information for the owner should be included.

For a printable version of this story CLICK HERE.

Keep this guide handy on your next shoot. Like you, we look forward to seeing your bike on the pages of American Iron or AI Garage, and these simple steps can make that happen.