Introduction to Motorcycle Photography

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  By Jonathan Ma
Introduction to Motorcycle Photography

Motorcycle photography is a great niche for professional photographers to get into. Most motorcycle photographers are actually motorcyclists who later became photography enthusiasts or vice versa. Motorcycle photography is a mix of still photography, portrait photography, and action photography. It can be tough to get started in this field of photography. Motorcycles and motorcycle riders can be hard to come by, depending on where you live. Let’s discuss some basic tips to familiarize yourself with motorcycle photography.

Personality is Everything

When it comes to photographing motorcycles, it is important to remember that each and every motorcycle is unique. Each model has its own “look” that appeals to a certain type of rider. As a photographer, your job is to figure out what makes the motorcycle special to the rider. This information will help you to know what to focus on when photographing the bike.  Is it the frame that stands out? Or are the dials and handlebars vintage and unique? Does the bike have any custom parts like a carbon fiber exhaust system? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then that part of the bike is what you should be highlighting in your shots. Try to be creative and look to capture the motorcycle from different perspectives. For example, non-motorcyclists have likely never seen the view of a motorcycle from on top of one.

Choose an Appropriate Background

Not all motorcycles are built for the same purpose or for the same roads. There are various styles of motorcycles, such as: touring, cruiser, sport, sport touring, dual-sport and roadsters/naked bikes. Find out from the owner of the bike what type of bike they have. Ask them where the bike performs best – on the street, off-road, or in the mountains on the canyons. A sports bike doesn’t belong off-road on a dirt trail and a cruiser doesn’t look right riding on a windy canyon road. On the other hand, naked bikes look great in urban environments. Sports bikes are made for going fast and taking steep curves such as those found in the mountains. And cruisers generally belong on the straight, open road. Learning about the type of motorcycle you will be photographing will help you to determine the location of the motorcycle photography shoot.

Taking High-Speed Shots

In order to take high-speed shots, you’ll need the proper equipment. I highly recommend an SLR with a large aperture telephoto lens. An example of a good setup for action shots is the Canon EOS 7D Mark II along with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens. The guideline is to bring an SLR with a high burst fps along with good tracking capabilities. The lens should be long enough to so that you can capture the rider from a safe distance and it needs to be fast enough for you to achieve a high shutter speed. You’ll need to work with the rider to let them know where you’ll be shooting from. As the motorcyclist rides past you, you’ll need to track them by panning the camera. Breathe out slowly as you do this to stabilize yourself and the camera. It is much easier to pan along turns or corners because they will be going slower. They will also be riding in the prime depth of field for a longer period of time, resulting in a better chance of capturing a clear shot.

For a Different Perspective, Zoom Out

Motorcycle photography isn’t just about the bike and the rider. It’s about capturing the essence of motorcycling. The feeling of the air rushing past as you ride on the open spacious roads (for cruisers), the windy mountain passes (for sports bikes), or the rugged off-road terrain (for dirt bikes) is all part of the experience. As a photographer, your goal is to capture that feeling on a 2D surface. One tip is to zoom out – and by a zoom out, I mean back up far enough from the motorcyclist to be able to get a good view of the landscape surrounding the roads. When you are able to include the background context into the frame, it adds a lot of depth to the photo. For example, in the photo above we can see a motorcyclist on the bottom of the frame, driving down the mountain pass. We can sense the peaceful, refreshing, and relaxing ride on the empty road surrounded by fresh greenery.

Happy shooting!


Rating: 3.00 based on 2 Ratings
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Jonathan Ma

Jonathan Ma is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States. The natural beauty that surrounds this area has helped him to learn to appreciate art and photography. Jonathan's favorite styles of photography are nature and sports photography. He enjoys learning and teaching others what he knows.

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