Great Bike Portraits in Five Steps

Great Bike Portraits in Five Steps

You know you've met a fellow rider when they take out their phone to show you a picture of their ride. Most have a snapshot after a wash or while on a trip. But if you want to be the person with the awesome photo of your bike that makes other riders go "wow!" then read on. Whether you're using a smartphone or a fancy-pants DSLR, these tips will help you take a great photo. While this article describes one way to take a beauty shot of your bike, it is by no means the only way.

Step 1: Clean the Bike

Unless you've just finished the Paris-Dakar and want one of those iconic pictures where the bike is all covered in mud. In that case, add more mud.

Many products are available to help get the right shine.

Step 2: Look for the Right Light

When pro photographers take photos of motorcycles in their studio, they often accentuate the curves and shapes of the machine with "soft," flattering light projected by giant light banks. Soft light casts shadows with soft edges. The opposite is "hard light," which casts strong, hard-edged shadows, like a flashlight or the sun on a clear day. For this shot you want soft light, and you can either build a giant light box or just wait for a cloudy day. An overcast sky diffuses the hard light of the sun into the soft light that we want. You can take a photo on a sunny day but you might have strong shadows and reflections.

Step 3: Pick the Best Location

The motorcycle is the hero of this shot, so you want to reduce distractions. Pick a location that isn't too visually busy and has room to work with. Office parking lots on the weekend work. If you have a brightly colored bike, a dark, distant background, like a stand of evergreens, will help the colors of your ride stand out. Or if you like an industrial look, an old factory or brick wall might work, too.

Step 4: Positions!

The key is to position the bike, the light, the background, and the camera just right. You want the sun (or the light part of a cloudy sky) at your back, and the background to be farther away from the bike than the camera. For example, if you need to be 10 feet away from the bike to fit it in the photo, then you want the background to be 30 feet or more away—the farther the better. If the background is far enough away, it will be a little blurry in the photo and help the bike "pop." This is hard to achieve with a smartphone but possible with other cameras. If you have a camera with a zoom lens (don't zoom with a phone; it's rarely good), start with something in the middle of the zoom range. You'll have to move farther away from the motorcycle to fit it all in, which means that your background will have to be farther away too.

Start with a profile (side) shot and position the bike so that the side you are shooting is not in shadow; the shadow of the bike should be behind the bike. If you have a short side stand, bring something to prop up the bike or use the centerstand if you have one. Once you have the light, the bike, the background, and the camera positioned properly, fire away! But don't shoot at eye level. Shoot from the hip and even lower down at axle level for a more dramatic picture. Fill the frame with the motorcycle but make sure not to cut anything off. If you have a zoom lens, experiment with zooming in from farther away. And experiment with repositioning the bike—a straight-on view, 1/4 view (midway between straight-on and profile), etc. Take more photos than you think you need. Take some nice detail shots of parts that are particularly cool, too, so that you have photos that tell the "story" of the bike. If you have a tripod, turn on the camera timer and take a selfie of you with your ride.

Step 5: Edit

Pick four or five images that you like and do some simple editing. Adding a bit of contrast, saturation, and sharpness helps a bike jump off the screen.

With luck and patience, you'll end up with that "wow" shot. If it doesn't happen right away, hang in there and keep on trying.