Guides

How to photograph like a pro

Under the guidance of a professional snapper learn the dark art of taking a really good picture...

Want to know how to take a magazine-quality picture of your mate or yourself looking good on a bike rather than a shambling, blurry mess?

According to Oli Tennent, who takes loads of the photographs that appear in motorcycle magazines, modern digital cameras are more than up to the job of taking decent pictures, “Taking a good photo is 80% the person behind the camera, 20% the actual kit.”

Here is a breakdown of five types of common shots. One fast cornering, one kneedown, one fast panning, a static picture and a wheelie. The kind of pictures that you see in magazines and on this website all the time would be great to show off to your mates with.

Fast cornering

Fast cornering

You are never going to get a sharp picture of a bike at speed on a compact camera unless you pan with it. Pick the spot on the road you want to photograph the bike and pre-focus the camera on it. Half press down the shutter button and you will hear the camera beep. It is now focused on this point. While keeping the button half-pressed look through the viewfinder and track the approaching bike.

When it reaches the point you want press the button fully. By pre-focusing the camera you take out the delay that happens when the camera tries to focus. Look for a clean and plain background, a hedge is ideal, and try a few test runs with passing cars to get a feel for when to take the shot. Cars are much bigger than bikes and are perfect test subjects. And once you have taken the photo don’t stop panning, follow through after the shot, it will make you smoother.

When taking the picture don’t judge the image using the LCD screen on the back of the camera, use the viewfinder. When you are photographing fast moving vehicles, use the camera’s Tv function by selecting it from the rotating dial. Tv means you can adjust the shutter speed. To shoot fast bikes I would recommend a shutter speed of 1/500. The faster the shutter the sharper the image, but go too far and it will lead to a static picture.

TOP TIP

Stand at the side of a road and practice shooting cars. When you can get them sharp try picking a spot, such as a wing mirror, to perfect your focusing on a bike...

Kneedown cornering

Kneedown cornering

When taking kneedown shots you ideally need to have a helper to spot for cars because you may need to stand close to the road. While you can zoom using the camera, the best zoom is your legs! Things often look really close in the camera’s lens, but they aren’t. 

Pick a target on the side of the road like a rock and wait until the bike passes that before you press the shutter. Again, use the Tv function and remember to pre-focus. And finally remember to look at what else is in the frame. Cars in the background ruin the picture.

TOP TIP

A great photo corner is hard to find. Just because you can get your kneedown going around it doesn’t mean it will work in a picture. Ideally you want a well-surfaced bend with a constant radius. A grass bank on one side provides a clean background while a verge on the other gives somewhere safe for the photographer to stand. The sun should be on the snapper’s back, lighting up the side of the bike.

The static shot

The static shot

The absolute classic mistake that everyone makes when taking a picture of their bike is to shoot it exactly where they park it. Another innate problem is photographing from the side-stand side; it is almost always in the shadow, and having the bike leaning towards you can lead to unflattering shapes.

Many bikes are far prettier on their exhaust side, and having them lean away from the camera helps pick up the light. Think about the bigger picture, a fence running through the shot can distract the viewer's eye and don't have the bike dominate the picture all by itself.

Straight side-on is generally not a great angle, so get creative! Try to use a quirky angle, getting arty is always worth it.

TOP TIP

When taking a static position the bike, then walk further away from it than you might think and zoom in. By using the zoom it lifts the bike off the background and makes the image more defined. Also don’t be afraid of shooting a static into the light. Use a bit of flash to light up the part of the bike in shadow.

Side-on pan

Side-on pan

To get a good panning shot slow the shutter speed down to 1/200th and by using the Tv mode the bike is still sharp but the slower speed makes the background blur, making the picture far better.

The best technique for panning is to keep the camera still is by tucking your elbows in tight to your body and actually hold your breath. With your arms locked into your body you form a kind of human tripod and can rotate you top half smoothly. It’s not a hard shot but looks very fast.

TOP TIP

How to look fast... Looking fast and going slow is easy, it’s all in the body position. Tuck into the bike, get your head really low behind the screen and you will look fast. It will feel ridiculous but the pictures will be far more dramatic. Trust us, we’ve been doing it for years...

Wheelie shot

Wheelie shot

Wheelies go fast very quickly, making them difficult to shoot. For a higher success rate, front three-quarters is much easier to get sharp for the less experienced snapper.

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