Have you ever found yourself in a position where you asked someone a question and then instantly regretted it?
You asked what you thought was a fleeting question. And you expected an answer that would be just as fleeting in return.
Half an hour later, you’re approaching the point of dying from boredom. So you casually glance down at your watch, politely make your excuses, and quickly leave.
Shutting the door behind you, you half laugh, half roll your eyes. And you thank God you made it out of there with at least some of your sanity intact.
Now, if you’ve ever asked a photographer how they took a photograph, you might very well find yourself in the above position.
You just wanted a shortcut to the result, right? We live in a fast-paced world. We don’t have time to learn – we just want the hacks to reach the end result.
And I feel you! Because I do the same. I wish I had the time to sit down and learn everything step-by-step. But sometimes, I just want the answer. Now.
Don’t Ask A Photographer For Simple Motorcycle Photography Tips!
If you ask a photographer how they took a photograph (so you can copy it), they’ll bore you with technical talk for hours. They’ll try to make you understand the exposure triangle, dynamic range, and the intricacies of focus.
Their eyes will light up as they have a one-person discussion on whether prime lenses are better than zoom lenses. They’ll tell you to get one that’s ‘fast’ – and you’ll wonder what the hell they’re talking about.
Your eyes will glaze over as they dive into histograms. “A hista-who?” you’ll think.
And you’ll try your best to understand the technical reasons behind the need to expose to the left or right in light or dark situations.
“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! I JUST WANT TO TAKE A NICE PHOTO OF MY BIKE ON HOLIDAY!”
Well, I have good news for you. Because today, I’ll go through some simple motorcycle photography tips for stunning photos on your next tour.
No technical jargon. No fancy equipment. And all of it is in plain English.
How This Works
One way photographers over-complicate everything is by trying to accommodate everyone.
They’ll tell you to do A, B, and C if you have a smartphone. But if you have a point-and-shoot camera, you’ll need to do X, Y, and Z.
Oh, you have a full-frame or a mirrorless camera? In that case, you’ll need to do Y, A, W, and N.
But you’ll be pleased to know I decided to forego all that in this post! If you have a ‘proper’ camera setup, chances are you know how to take a photo of your bike anyway.
So in this post, I’ve stripped everything down to the bare basics. These tips will work for pro photographers with pro setups. And they’ll work for you with your battered and bruised, five-year-old iPhone, too.
So enough chatter. Get your camera (or your phone), and let’s shoot.
Motorcycle Photography Tips: The Setting
Woahhhh, hang on a sec. Why are we talking about the setting? Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because nobody actually cares about your bike.
If you ride a BMW GS, a Honda Africa Twin, a Ducati Multistrada, or any other mainstream bike, we’ve all seen it. A million times before. On a million Instagram posts.
And besides, if you’re touring, your bike doesn’t matter. You won’t look back on your trip in twenty years and reminisce about the bike. You’ll reminisce about the experience, the people, the scenery, and how it made you feel.
The bike will very quickly fall to the wayside.
But the backdrop sets the scene. It tells the story of where you are. And it shows you (and your bike) in this awesome place you want to capture as a memory.
Take advantage of features. For example, if you’re in the Alps, ensure you get the mountains in the background.
If you’re in a city, take advantage of architecture or monuments. And if you find yourself in the fog, capture the mood of the surroundings rather than simply photographing the bike.
You’ll venture upon snow in the mountains (or in places such as Norway.) And that’s cool! So whilst you want your bike in the shot, ensure it’s playing the supporting role to the snow and the setting you’re in.
How Composition Affects Motorcycle Photography
When touring on a motorcycle, you don’t always have time to wait for the optimum shooting conditions.
Sure, the scene in front of you could be breathtaking at sunset. But if it’s getting dark and you still have 100 miles to go to your hotel, you haven’t got time to wait. You need to shoot what’s in front of you. Now.
Removing the element of time restricts you because you can’t rely on the light to make your shot look spectacular.
So in this situation, composition is really the only thing you have left.
Use The Light You Have
Okay, I’ve just said that light isn’t important when you need to take a photo immediately. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take it into account at any given moment.
For example, don’t shoot into the light if you can avoid it. You’ll end up with a silhouette and a big, burning ball of fire taking up the frame.
Take a second to assess what you want to shoot (the backdrop) and how your bike will enhance it.
Now, look at the light. If the light is behind you, it should emphasise your bike quite nicely. But it may cause haziness on your scene – not to mention unsightly reflections off the exhaust or other shiny surfaces.
Ideally, side-light would be preferable. Not only is it less harsh than direct light, but it gives a nice diffused lighting to your shot.
If you’re shooting on a smartphone (or don’t have the tools/knowledge to enhance images), I recommend not shooting in low-light conditions, such as early sunrise or late sunset.
And finally, don’t dismiss grey or overcast conditions. At the outset, they might look dull and lacklustre. But overcast conditions give you a flat base from which you can better edit your photographs. More on that later.
Motorcycle Photography Tips: Frame Your Shot
Simply put, this is where you line up your shot. Most people point their camera at their subject (their bike) and press the shutter button.
But if you want to take your images up a level, consider where your bike sits in the frame and how it compliments the setting.
Naturally, you’ll put the bike in the centre of the frame. But what if it looks better off to the left or right?
Once your bike is in position, move around it with your camera and see where the bike fits best in the scene.
When you find a composition that looks good, you might decide to move your bike so you can shoot the scene you like but with your bike at a pleasing angle.
Check Your Angles
Scenes look different from different angles. But the natural thing to do is shoot at eye level.
I can tell you that this rarely produces the best shot, and a simple deviation in angle can make your image stand out.
For example, try getting high and shooting down on your bike. This is so different to what we usually see that it makes your image pop.
Shooting from above also works well when trying to capture negative space (see below.)
More often than not, getting low to the ground and shooting slightly upwards works well.
But when we talk about angles, we also have to look at the angle of the bike. If you shoot with a wide-angle lens (or with a smartphone), this ‘fish eye’ distortion tends to warp straight lines. And this can make your shot look unnatural.
And to make it worse, your bike leans when you put it on the side stand. When composing your shot, see if the bike looks better when leaning towards you or away from you.
If you have a centre stand, use it – it usually improves your shots.
Sometimes, the vastness of a place is what you want to capture. But how do you photograph the concept of somewhere being ‘big?’
In this situation, you should move away from the bike to make it small in your frame. This is what photographers mean when we refer to ‘negative space.’
Making your bike small in the frame emphasises space and emptiness. It illustrates the power and might of your surroundings.
When used correctly, negative space can be an awesome tool.
Motorcycle Photography Tips: Avoid Clutter & Distractions
One thing that ALL photographers do is avoid clutter. And that’s why their images always look better than yours!
Before you take the shot, see if there are any distractions. Is your background littered with messy tree branches, people, park benches, or vehicles?
Are there power cables, rubbish bins, or anything else unsightly in the shot?
The best images eliminate everything other than what’s integral to the frame. And that includes distractions which take attention away from the subject.
The more ruthless you are with cutting out clutter/distractions, the better your shot will be.
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Where To Focus For Motorcycle Photography
Most people hold up their smartphones to a scene and click the shutter button – leaving the focus square in the middle of the frame.
And that’s great. The reason it’s there is because your camera will get almost everything in focus when in its default position.
But shifting focus can emphasise subjects – and remove emphasis from others.
For example, if you compose your shot with your bike in the foreground and some mountains in the background, tap the bike on your smartphone.
This will tell the phone that you want to focus on the bike as a priority. When you look back at the shot afterwards, you’ll see that the mountains in the background have been thrown slightly out of focus, emphasising the bike.
Similarly, it can look cool if you go the other way. Focusing on the mountains will throw your bike out of focus. This will show the viewer that whilst the bike is present, the focus of the image is the mountains.
Is editing essential? I’m sorry to say it, but it kind of is. And that’s a shame – because it’s generally the least enjoyable part of the process.
Not many photographers (including professionals) enjoy editing. But it’s a necessary evil if you want your images to shine.
Think of it this way.
When you take a shot, you’re not taking a picture. What you’re recording is data – data you can then manipulate in post-production to get it looking how you want.
To do this, you’ll need some form of software to edit your images. Most professionals use Lightroom – but other platforms are becoming increasingly popular, such as Capture One, Luminar, and a whole host of others.
But they’re overkill if your not a pro. And they’re time-consuming and tedious to learn!
Fortunately, you don’t need to use professional software. There are plenty of free (and freemium) apps out there you can use, such as Snapseed and Polar.
Editing Tips For Motorcycle Photography
First and foremost, don’t overdo it! Although that’s easier said than done.
Most of us (at some point) have fallen into the trap of over-editing an image. You start off with a tweak here and a tweak there. And before you know it, you’ve completely transformed your image.
At the time, it looks great. But when you return to it in the morning, you realise it looks unnatural and need to either undo it all or start again.
Cropping is very powerful. You can use it to tweak compositions or even cut out unsightly distractions (like tree branches creeping in from the side of the frame or a messy foreground.)
Used conscientiously, you can transform an image entirely by being clever with the crop.
Don’t overuse it, though. Cropping is essentially zooming in after the fact. But doing so will decrease your resolution, and you could end up with a soft image.
Exposure Tools For Motorcycle Photography:
Exposure tools allow you to brighten up dark images and darken down over-exposed photos.
Usually, exposure tools apply global adjustments – meaning the changes are applied throughout the entire image.
So if you brighten up an image, it will also brighten up spots that are already too bright – resulting in overexposed sections of the shot.
Shadows & Highlights:
Boosting shadows can be great for scenes that were shot in low light. And the ability to reduce highlights can prevent parts of the image from being too bright.
When used together, manipulating shadows and highlights can lead to a well-balanced image. But if over-done, it can look fake and unpleasing to the eye.
Saturation & Vibrancy In Motorcycle Photography:
The saturation slider is the one that most newbies overuse. It has the powerful ability to make colours pop – but it can look incredibly unnatural. Use it, but use it with care!
Without going too technical, the vibrancy slider affects the contrast of colours – rather than the saturation.
Vibrancy is more subtle than saturation but often gives more pleasing (and subdued) results.
This is another slider that newbies tend to abuse. Adding clarity to your images helps to make them a little crisper.
But use too much of it, and your image goes from pleasantly crispy to painfully crunchy!
If you’re using a newer iPhone, the phone will automatically add clarity to your shots on playback. I tend to reduce the clarity of shots taken on my iPhone in post-production because I feel it adds too much.
Simple Motorcycle Photography Tips For Stunning Photos On Tour: Conclusion
So there we have it – some simple tips for achieving shots you are proud of.
But it’s not really about that, is it?
Taking photos is the art of capturing a moment in time. But there will come a point when the tour you are planning now will be 20 years in the past.
You can stumble across images in later life and wish you’d done a better job. Or you can do a better job now and then enjoy the results for a lifetime.
You can create memories worth keeping with a little time, effort, and creativity. And despite the technical talk, it’s actually a pretty fun hobby in and of itself!
So get out there, practice these motorcycle photography tips, and make memories to be proud of.
Top image: Bhupendra Singh