Photo Tips For Motorcyclists
Motorcycling vacations are
the greatest—but then again, those of us who tour by motorcycle may be
just a bit biased. The real challenge is trying to convey all the
excitement and adventure of the trip in pictures to your buddies,
especially if they don't ride themselves.
So, we take a camera on our trips, shoot dozens of pictures, but
alas, when we get home, everything looks somewhat flat and uninspiring.
That big, impressive canyon winds up looking like a backyard mud hole.
And it only gets worse as you try to explain how great it was in real
it doesn't take a huge expenditure on equipment or years of training to
improve your vacation photos. Following a few general guidelines will
make a big difference for most amateur photographers.
These tips are techniques many photographers employ just about any
time they pick up a camera. Remember, though, these aren't ironclad
rules. They're more like guidelines that will help you master the
Once you have the basic skills in hand, you have full permission to bend or even disregard the rules in the name of creativity.
1. Your photo gear
Good photos can be made with equipment as cheap as a typical throw-away
type camera found at most convenience stores. For many of these tips,
it really doesn't matter what you're shooting with. But if you have the
means to purchase good equipment, it'll make photography that much more
enjoyable. That means you're likely to take more pictures, thereby
giving you a better variety to share.
Obviously, you really don't want to take a lot of bulky camera gear
on a motorcycle, so consider a camera that has a zoom feature instead
of a fixed focal length. Having a lens that ranges from a wide angle to
a telephoto will make composing your photos easier and it'll give your
images more variety. We'll talk later about some of the cool effects
you can do with these lenses.
digital is another great space-saving idea. You can get hundreds of
images on a small wafer-sized disk, compared to the dozens of rolls of
film you would need—and the final quality is just as good, if not
You also get the instant gratification of knowing you got the shot,
and you have the ability to delete the ones that didn't work out. This
saves money on printing costs. Some really good digital cameras are
small enough, even with a zoom function, to fit in a shirt pocket.
How's that for space savings?
2. Where's the camera?
Keep your camera accessible, like in a tank bag. If it's sitting in the
bottom of a saddlebag, buried under a ton of dirty laundry, you're more
likely to just leave it there. If you can get to it easily enough,
you're likely to use it more often, resulting in better images.
Be mindful, though, that some digital cameras, and medium they
record on, react quite badly to magnets—as in the anchors found on some
tank bags. Cameras that take a 3.5-inch floppy disc are definitely
susceptible. Check your camera's owner's manual to be sure.
3. Where's your subject?
Most folks plop their subject dead center in the viewfinder and shoot
away. It doesn't help that most auto-focus cameras use that very same
spot to determine focus. This generally results in a very static image
and will bore your audience to tears.
To create a more interesting shot, most photographers generally
employ something called "the rule of thirds." Imagine a tic-tac-toe
board in the viewfinder. Try to put your subject anywhere on one of
Let's say your bike is parked in front of a bridge. Try positioning
your subject—which may be a straight-on view of your motorcycle—on one
of those imaginary vertical lines, and then place the bridge on one of
the imaginary horizontal lines. Most auto-focus cameras have a feature
allowing you to pre-focus on your subject, and then recompose your
image. That'll produce a far more pleasing image.
on the subject of lines, avoid putting the horizon straight across the
middle. Again, think of the rule of thirds and try the upper or lower
horizontal lines. Usually something in the sky, or on the ground,
caught your eye to start with. Just make that your focal point.
Also, as you take more and more images with your bike, consider not
putting the entire machine, wheel-to-wheel, in the shot. OK, it's a
beautiful bike, but we really don't need to see both fenders in every
shot. Consider putting just the tank, or the headlight, or any piece of
the bike that works in the composition. That's usually enough to create
some visual perspective.
4. Seeing the light
In most cases, you'll want to make sure the sun, or your light source, is
behind you. This way you avoid the dreaded black hole where Cousin
Eddie used to be standing. If it looks like Eddie is just going to have
to be in the shadow, consider turning on your flash—this fills in the
Also, think about having the light source slightly off to one side
of your subject. By avoiding blasting your subject head-on, you'll see
the light fade off, giving your subject dimension and shape.
Photographers often talk about "good light" or "pleasant lighting."
What they're referring to is that nice warm glow the sunlight has in
the early morning or late afternoon. Avoid shooting at high noon.
Lighting-wise, it's the ugliest time of day.
5. Through the glass
and telephoto lenses can be extremely helpful for variety, and for
situations where logistics hamper getting the shot you want. Most of
the smaller cameras today include a small zoom that goes from a slight
wide-angle to a mild telephoto.
The wide angle, just by the way it works, gives you a greater depth
of field—meaning that objects near and far will be in focus—and it's
also a great way to get many elements into one shot. That's why they're
some of the more popular lenses in a photographer's camera bag. The
downside is that far-off objects will appear to be even further away,
or may disappear entirely into the background.
telephoto has a tendency to compress the apparent distance between
objects that are near and far, so things way off in the background will
appear to be closer. Let's say you're photographing Mount Rushmore. You
can't get your bike any nearer to the presidents' heads, so you zoom in
with the old telephoto. Now, place your bike somewhere in the
viewfinder and folks will think you rode up the hill.
Also, the telephoto can help isolate a subject because its depth of
field is typically very shallow. More on selective focus next.
6. Focus on the action
your camera has the ability to focus, you can create images that
isolate your subject by making everything else blurry. This is called
"selective focus," and it works best with a telephoto lens.
To make this work, you need a camera that allows you to control your
shutter speed or aperture. Shutter speed is merely the amount of time
the shutter clicks open, such as 1/250 of a second. Aperture is the
size of the opening. A smaller aperture gives you greater depth of
field and a wider aperture reduces the area that's in sharp focus.
Here's how it works to create selective focus. Let's say there's a
long line of bikes and you want your audience to quickly spot yours.
Increase your shutter speed so that you'll obtain the widest possible
aperture, pre-focus on your bike, and then recompose the shot. Your
bike will be sharply in focus and the others will be more blurry.
7. Capturing action
With some auto-focus cameras, there is a delay between pressing the
shutter button and the camera actually taking the picture. This makes
action photos especially difficult. The trick here is to predict where
your subject will be, pre-focus on that spot, and then press the
shutter the rest of the way as your subject moves into that spot.
Many pros use this method when covering everything from motorsports
to the president walking through the White House—especially if the
pre-focused spot carries some interest and you want the two elements in
the same frame.
Now that we're taking well composed, sharply focused shots, let's
get a little creative.
If you have control over the shutter speed, experiment with slowing
it down to get some blur. The appearance of motion can be created by
either letting an object blur while everything else in the image is
sharp, or by panning, which is following the subject and allowing the
background to blur.
9. How tall are you?
photos are shot from about 5 foot 6 inches—or the average height of
most people's eyes. To get more variety, experiment with kneeling while
shooting, or put the camera on the ground to give the image an
Also, don't be afraid to flip the camera on its side for a vertical
shot. Though we see the world as a panoramic picture, sometimes your
subject is vertical.
10. Look at the background
there's usually something behind your friend or bike when you take a
picture. It's easy to focus your eye on your subject and not see other
distracting elements until you're back home, when it's too late.
Try to avoid having any strange outcroppings or trees growing out of
peoples' heads—unless, of course, that palm tree makes George look like
he's wearing a Carmen Miranda hat and that's the effect you're going
11. Finally, on the road
OK, you've left the office and you're finally on vacation. Now's the
time to start telling a story with pictures. Does your bike look really
loaded down? Look for some special feature early on in your trip that
says, "Adios to home, and hello to the open road."
about the important moments of the trip that you'll want to remember
later, and training your eyes to look for photo opportunities, instead
of just letting the scenery pass you by, will help you get the shots
that will add up to a story of your trip once you're home.
12. I'm home. Is it show time yet?
It's been a great trip, and you can't wait to share it, but
try to resist that temptation. There's one more essential task to take care of—it's time to edit.
While some amateurs want to show every single image they shot, a
real pro knows the maximum impact comes from picking out only the
strongest images that tell the story.
through a few rounds to weed out the bad images. Start with the ones
that are just out of focus or the wrong exposure. Next, look at the
multiple shots of the same subject and leave in only the best.
Lastly—and this sometimes takes another set of eyes to help—take a hard
look at what's left and see if the story can be told with less
By showing only your best photos, each image will have more impact.
And your viewers won't miss a really great photo because their eyes
glazed over from the 21 repetitive shots of the Grand Canyon they've
It's an old cliche, but the saying "a photo is worth a thousand
words" is what this whole exercise is about. Let a series of good
images tell the story of your trip, and some of your non-riding friends
might begin to see what they're missing. At the very least, they might
actually want to stick around and see your photos—and you won't even
have to bribe them.