Mastering the art of motorcycle photography means taking a lot of crappy motorcycle photos.
You can only learn how to take awesome pictures once you start noticing your mistakes. Everyone’s gonna take a detail shot of their polished chrome and catch themselves hunched over with a camera in the reflection. Unflattering shadows from the noon sun. Backlighting. Blinding glare. You name it.
To help you skip a few of these rookie mistakes, check out this simple breakdown that’ll have you snapping cool motorcycle pictures in no time.
Can a smartphone take a quality motorcycle photo? Sure, just buy a better camera app, like Camera+, and spend a little extra time editing.
But to really capture the beautiful chrome finish on those apes you just installed, try to get your hands on a DSLR. As long as you have control over the camera’s depth of field and shutter speed, you’ll get some magazine quality shots.
This feature changes the amount of light coming into the lens. Setting the aperture low (f1.8 or less) dilates the lens and blurs the background. This creates a very small depth of field.
A low aperture in motorcycle photography allows the bike to stand out from its surroundings. If you want to show off your bike’s cherry red exterior, try lowering the aperture to make it really pop.
Higher aperture brings the setting of the photo into the story. Include the pier and seascape, the wide-open field, or mountain range. A motorcycle can take you anywhere, so why not include that in the photo?
This feature helps when you want to take action shots of the bike in motion. Motorcycle photos with a blurred background or a snapshot of the rider perfectly frozen in time were taken with a fast-closing shutter.
That quick capture sound means the shutter lets in a fraction of a second’s worth of light before processing the picture. The higher the shutter speed, the more light is needed for the picture to come out.
If you snap a fast shutter picture in low light, the image will come out too dark. Slower shutter speeds allow in more light, which is useful for evening photos.
To create a blurred background effect:
- Set shutter speed at 1/500 or 1/1000
- Open aperture to around f1.4
- Track moving bike through the viewfinder in a high-light situation
- Snap photo
For a freeze-frame, keep the camera still when you snap the photo. Play around with distance and have the rider drive at different speeds to capture your ideal blur.
Use shutter speed to create some mind-blowingly cool motorcycle pictures. Set up a tripod in the desert at night and let the light of the Milky Way absorb through the lens with slow shutter speed. The lights of the galaxy behind your Harley-Davidson will redefine the word ‘cool’ forever.
Smartphone Motorcycle Photography
Smartphones with ‘portrait mode,’ like the iPhone 7, allow users to tap to focus and creative depth of field. This quality camera won’t get you a professional quality motorcycle photo without some serious effort.
But don’t knock this viable tool without trying it. One day, you’ll drive by the perfect complement to your motorcycle’s color pallet and have nothing but your phone to capture the moment.
Familiarize yourself with the settings on your phone and practice framing a composition anytime you go for a ride.
What’s in the Background?
Even the most spectacular motorcycle can get lost in a boring background. Start jotting down eye-catching locations to revisit with your camera equipment.
Cool motorcycle picture backgrounds include:
- Empty roads
- Iconic signs/street corners
- Mountains in the distance
- Open fields
- Brick/concrete wall
- Metal shipping container
- Empty warehouse
- Solid color paper backdrop
If the idea is to create a portrait for the rider and their bike, think of locations they love driving to. For a stand-alone motorcycle photo, pair the colors or build of the bike with a fitting background to create a story or convey a tone.
Oh, and make sure to crop out any unwanted signs and trash cans before you take the picture. A little bit of forethought goes a long way.
Don’t miss out on the perfect lighting for a detail shot of the engine decal by taking full-body profile shots the whole time. The whole bike is beautiful. Take care and capture some of the finer details.
Experiment with different angles and close-ups. Make sure you clean the bike before shooting, though. Remove any mud or bugs from traveling and give the metal a nice smooth shine.
If your subject includes people, take extra care with the lighting to avoid unflattering shadows on their face. Flash can be used to fill in these shadows and even out their tone. Play around with the camera position to achieve optimal results.
Ideally, you want a cloudy or overcast day for soft lighting. This also eliminates the need for your subjects to squint in harsh sunlight.
You might also want to capture the rider in different poses. It might seem more comfortable for them to just stand beside the bike at first. But changing to a more casual pose engaging with the bike could create some cool motorcycle pictures that go viral on social media.
The main thing to remember while experimenting with motorcycle photograph is that the best photos happen by coincidence. Take as many different kinds of pictures as you can think of to maximize your chance of snapping something really good.
General Motorcycle Photography Tips
Aside from the previous preparations, you’ll need to consider a few more things when it comes time to snap the photo. Remember: light, perspective, framing.
1. Give it the time of day
For really cool motorcycle pictures, you need more than just planning and the latest DSLR. You need patience.
The difference between an over-exposed nightmare and an amber glow highlighting your honey-bee-yellow motorcycle is a few hours of waiting.
The ‘golden hours’ of sunset offer (free) natural lighting you couldn’t pay a professional to do better. Morning light has a similar effect if you’re willing to wake up early for it.
Shooting in the middle of the day requires more effort. The effect of shadows is more dramatic, the light is harsher and easily reflects off metal, and the over-exposed background looks flat.
Remedy some of these midday blues with a diffuser to soften harsh sunlight, or an upwards-facing flash to contrast the equally harsh shadows.
Evening and night shoots can create a moody tone for your image. Park your Yoshimura under a streetlamp for a picture good enough to be a street racing movie poster. Put the camera on a tripod with slow shutter speed and capture all the blurring street lights in the distance down an empty city street.
You may have to wait as long as 1-2 minutes for enough light to be absorbed.
Whether you’re waiting for the sun to reach critical glow or the shutter to finally close, your patience will be rewarded with the perfectly lit picture.
2. Pick an angle, any angle
A rule of thumb: stay at a 3/4 angle from your subject while shooting. This gives a more dynamic look without the flatness of a straight profile.
While a profile shot shows off the body, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of creativity.
The 3/4 angle rule reduces glare from sunlight and awkward shadows, and can help keep the photographer’s reflection off the chrome. It lets you crop the final picture closely to bring more focus to the bike.
Use this rule at any distance. When you want a close-up shot of your tire’s reflection in a rain puddle. To give depth of field to a story shot with the bike blurred in the background and the rider closer and in focus.
Walk around the bike to see it from a new angle with your camera. But remember to keep your light source in mind. Backlighting will usually ruin your photo.
Take a new angle all together by climbing on top of the nearest ladder or getting down on the ground. These changes in perspectives can contribute to the image’s tone while making it look more professional.
3. Don’t be afraid of negative space
Just because it’s a motorcycle photo doesn’t mean the only thing in the picture has to be the motorcycle. You really limit yourself by letting the bike take up the entire space of the photo every time.
Keep the surroundings in mind when finding new angles to shoot. A shot from far away provides the implications of where the bike can take you. A shot where the bike is slightly off-center calls equal attention to the location and the subject.
Share Your Cool Motorcycle Pictures With Us
With all this information, the only thing left to do is get out and start snapping photos. Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram with all your cool motorcycle pictures.
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