There was a day, a little more than a year after getting back from my first trip, when I became achingly aware of my own shortcomings as a photographer.
Out of say a thousand possible pictures, I couldn’t find ten that I was fully happy to submit alongside my written competition entry. You’d be forgiven for assuming I’d been on a three month cruise, not a solo motorcycling expedition. Statues, buildings, nice floral arrangements, artfully tiled mosaic roofs or the occasional hooded crow – I’d spammed my SD card with things even I didn’t really care about.
Overall, I’d created one abysmal collection of photographs.
That was day one of my photography journey and I’d pretty much started on the bottom rung. Since then, I’ve been doing my homework on both the art and the science behind great photographs and upgrading my gear to something slightly less shit than before.
Even still, I’m no less than an enthusiastic novice – and enthusiasm can only carry you so far. Fortunately for me, Thorsten Henn, a veteran adventure photographer who’s gallery and blog are the source envy and inspiration in equal measures, has kindly offered me some advice on getting better at photographing bikes and landscapes:
N.B. I haven’t included any photos from Thorsten in this post – if you want to see some great examples of his techniques (and just admire some wonderful photos), head on over to www.henn-photography.com.
1. “It is a pain in the backside to shoot motorbike shots when travelling alone”
It goes a long way to explaining why the majority of my shots were just classic tourist pictures while out on foot-patrol. Armed with only a compact, no tripod and with no company it was basically impossible to get any shots of the actual riding. Thorsten recommended a couple of options, both tactics he’s employed throughout his South America trip:
- Use a remote trigger: This is very time-intensive, they don’t come cheap and you need to place your camera on a tripod. As you drive towards the camera you just keep on snapping away on your remote. To get shots that are in focus you need to shoot on a fairly closed lens so f11 or f16 at least.
- Buddy up: When traveling for such a long time you will always find people to join you for some part of the trip, be it fellow rider, pillion or traveler. Be sure – everybody wants a good action shot of themselves so they will be happy to ride the same turn 3 times for the perfect shot. Once you’ve got the shot, ask for a shot in return. If they’re not photographers you can adjust the shutter-speed, aperture and even the flash for them, just leave them to point and click. They may not come out perfect but at least you get some shots.
- Forget the self timer: Using the self timer is a complete nuisance – especially for riding shots. You might be able to pose next to the bike but that is as good as it gets. (Tom: Vouched for!)
2. “To the technical side…” (the science behind the art)
This could be one of the most daunting elements to improving your photography. The cost of kit starts soaring through the roof and, for a novice, all the advice you can get is in numbers and hieroglyphics. The principles of are simple once you’ve done your homework, the clever part is in combining your shutter-speed, ISO and aperture to give you the effect you wanted.
If you’re just starting out, here’s a couple of guides I plucked from google to illustrate the fundamentals:
If you’re already reasonably versed, then these tips from Thorsten will help you achieve the shot your after:
- Focusing on the bike action: A long lens (in my case it is a 70-200mm f 2.8 lens) is your best friend. If you can carry something even longer – like 300 mm, even better. The closer you can get the better and a wide angle is pretty useless for that. Keep the aperture on f5,6 since bikes are moving pretty fast and you want the depth of field, there is nothing worse than when the rider is out of focus and the luggage behind is in focus. Saying that – F22 is not good either – you are loosing too much on the shutter speed (again – you are trying to capture a fast moving object and the time shouldn’t be much less then 1/250 sec). You’ll also miss out on the focus being just around the bike with a blurred background.
- Scenic Shots: Use a medium wide angle and f11 to capture the background as well as the bike. Following the 1/4 rule, place the bike with the rider in either quarter of the frame – preferably in the lower quarter’s so that the top can be used for text. Also if you place the bike / rider in the right hand bottom corner it works good for openings in magazines.
- Close ups: Super wide angles are good when taking close up of the bike with road in the shot. I think I have a couple of shots like this in my blog. To add drama to the shot place the camera on the ground. Now you can use the self-timer and be yourself in the shot like walking away from the bike or getting ready to get on the bike.
- Learn how to flash: You would need a remote control for the flash (like a pro photo radio remote). The bike will pop better out of the frame and you can even shoot against the sun and still have some detail. Good example for this kind of shoot is the front page of my website.
It’s clear that photography is an investment in time, effort and money – but in the end you’ll have that instantaneous wow factor that writing or Youtube vids simply can’t deliver. For me, that’s worth working towards.
Even though I’m operating in an entirely different ballpark (possibly even a different game) to Thorsten, the tips above have inspired me to take my kit out for some practice laps ahead of India, and to be prepared and equipped (tripod!) to imagine and compose those shots that take your breath away.
Thanks again to Thorsten Henn – please do check out his website and blog if you haven’t already!