So, the word on the street is that you want to take some sweet, sweet photos of your precious wheels. Think you’re a bloody professional photographer or something, do you? You don’t? Well, I do. And as one, I’m here to tell you a few little secrets about where to shoot your precious noise-maker so that the results look a little more ‘rad’ and a little less ‘sad’.
So join me as we rummage through my database of cool locations and listen while I tell you what makes them so damn good. Also, keep your eyes peeled for bonus ‘hot tips’ that will make you photos suck even less. No, no. It’s OK. You can thank me later.
Location 1: Nowhere
The biggest mistake I see with most moto photos is overly interesting locations. Think about it like this; when you take a photo of an amazing motorcycle, do you want viewers to be looking at the random thing just behind the bike, or the bike itself?
If you’re new to all this stuff and you want the bike to look its best, just find a big, open, empty piece of nothing to shoot. That way, you’ll be sure that people are looking at what they should be, and not what they shouldn’t.
Hot Tip: See those little numbers on the camera that say things like ‘f2.8’, ‘f8’, and ‘f16’. Set them at as low as possible. This reduces your depth of field and makes everything in front and behind the bike go blurry. This is a good thing. If your camera doesn’t do this, get one that does.
Location 2: A Quiet Country Lane
No buildings. No onlookers asking lame technical questions about the bike or the camera. No cars passing by. That’s right, the countryside is your best friend when it comes to bike photos. Again, it’s usually open, empty and neutral, too. Maybe try a spot with some hills in the distance. Long grass, or a line of trees. They can add a little interest without overwhelming things.
And if there are some nice clouds around, get them in the shot too. Now that you know about depth of field, they’ll be all out of focus and soft. But if there are cows about, definitely do not include them. Cows are weird and funny.
Hot Tip: Shoot at golden hour. It’s that time in the hour after sunrise or before sunset where the light is low, yellow golden, and bloody beautiful. If the sun is in your shot washing everything out, just hold your hand or finger in the top of the shot to block or control the glare; you can always remove it in post.
Location 3: The Beach
The best thing the beach has going for it – apart from the space – is that amazing horizon line that will cut like a knife right through the back of all your photos. In photos, lines are good. They give your eye something to follow and they’re fun to play with when you’re composing shots.
Also, off road bikes can be shot on the sand but note that the footprints you make while positioning the bike can look weird, so be prepared for some Photoshopping.
Hot Tip: Get down low. Shooting at eye level makes for boring photos because that’s the same angle you always see bikes from. Try shooting from the same height as the bike’s tank. The angle is much cooler and the bike will look clean and balanced.
Location 4: Underground Car Parks
They are dark, minimal and they look cinematic. Shooting bikes here is one of the easiest ways to get cool shots fast. Some of my first decent bike shots were done like this. Try and keep the space behind clear of cars and use the traffic markings to your advantage, as above.
Another benefit is that you can shoot at any time, day or night. Golden hour is cool, but sometimes you just can’t wait or the weather may be rubbish. In these instances, a garage is like a personal studio. You can set it up however you like without conditions changing.
Hot Tip: If the garage has fluorescent lights, you can twist them off by turning the strip tubes slightly – even the caged ones. But keep one on directly above the bike. This way you get a pool of light that the bike will sit in and the rest of the garage will be all cool and dark. Use a tripod if the shutter speed gets below 1/30th of a second to avoid shake.
Location 5: Rooftop Car Parks
Detecting a theme? Once again. It’s about open space and just the right amount of nothing but something backgrounds. Some rooftops might have sky behind them. Some might even have cool city views. These are all fine; just find out when they are empty. Even better; try airport car parks during a global pandemic…
After dark, you can also experiment with pole lights and dark backgrounds. Just be aware that some of this lighting can create weird colours in photos. Set your white balance to ‘auto’ in these cases.
Hot Tip: Wet the surface under the bike for that always cool Blade Runner look. Or see if you can shoot at sunset just after some rain. It’s a big ask from Mother Nature, but you’ll get silly cool shots.
Location 6: Industrial Areas
The great thing about bikes and locations is that you can mix and match them. Got a 1950s British bike? Shoot it at an old factory with chimneys and arches to give it that ‘Industrial Age’ feel. Or mix it up and shoot a brand new V4 Ducati there. Contrast can make for great shots, too.
But always be wary of my number one pet hate: bikes photographed in front of graffiti. Brightly-coloured walls full of eye-catching shapes and wacky words are the exact opposite of what you’re after. Show me a bike that can outshine 10 foot high psychedelic artwork and I’ll eat my hat.
Hot Tip: Always grade your shots after shooting. None of the shots you see here are straight from the camera; all of them have been adjusted to look more awesome. Check out Adobe’s Lightroom app on your phone – it’s free and it comes with filters.
Location 7: Anywhere in the Desert
There’s a reason why so many cool auto and moto photographers come from L.A. and that’s because L.A. is basically half desert and half ocean. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Close your eyes, spin in a circle and press the camera’s shutter release; you’ll probably capture an incredible image here. Bonus points if you also get a movie star in it.
Deserts also have truckloads of dust and haze, making the atmosphere really heavy and the sunlight incredibly vivid. Position the bike directly between the camera and the setting sun. Wait until the sun is just below the horizon and go nuts.
Hot Tip: Off road bike? Sunset? Heaps of dust? Get someone on that damn bike to ride past you and kick up some dust! Or hang out of a car window and get them to ride alongside while you shoot them. Haven’t you heard? Action shots rule.
Location 8: The Ones That Suck
Sometimes you just won’t have the luxury of choosing a killer location at an amazing time to get the best shots possible. Take the above photo. Yes, it was taken at golden hour, but the rest of the scene was completely meh. The bike wasn’t registered, so it couldn’t be ridden anywhere and the builder’s shop was surrounded by fugly industrial units and overflowing dumpsters.
So I grabbed a stepladder and shot the bike at an interesting angle while making sure there was nothing else in view. And for any other shots, I made sure the sun was in the background to overexpose all the ugliness. Why yes, I am pretty resourceful. Thanks for noticing.
Hot Tip: Take time to think about the location. There’s nothing worse than realising after a shoot that all the photos look like ass. If you can make a call and shoot to accommodate the negatives, you’ll always end up with better shots than just ‘spraying and praying’.