(At least a pro-amateur)
I have always been into photography. Since I was little, I would steal my dad’s Canon and take rolls of photos. I thought all my photos were amazing. Most of them were not, but they triggered memories; which was all I cared about at the time.
As I got older, I started wondering why my photos didn’t look…. good. They reminded me of what I was doing, where I was, who I was with, how much fun I was having, etc, but I didn’t want to show them to anyone. I wanted photos that not only stirred my memories, but would also stir up the memories of anyone who looked at it. To do that, I needed to get better at photography.
I needed to understand photography better. I needed to practice. I needed to take photos. Read most of the threads about welding on this forum, and the common theme is “practice, practice, practice.” Photography is the same way. There are lessons though, that can be applied and bring about better photographs immediately
For me, nothing is worse than the threads that feature a talented builder making an awesome bike, with terrible photos. Let me say this as bluntly as possible: BAD PHOTOS KILL GOOD BIKES! While I was working to convey better emotion in my photos, I also realized I was better showing what I did and saw around me. Suddenly the reason I took a photo was coming across more clearly. This is the reason I wanted to write this article, not to talk about photography, but to help people better show what they did to make their bike, their own awesome beast!
Consider this an open ended checklist to help take better photos.
1. Take photos, lots of photos.
An easy rule to remember is for every one hundred photos taken, twenty look okay, ten look good, five look great, but only one is amazing. Don’t ever feel bad about taking lots of photos; it’s how you get that one great shot. To give an example, I recently completed a project that had eight prints. To get those eight prints, I took almost 350 photographs. Of those eight, only one made people say “wow.”
Taking side on photographs of anything gets boring. Walk around the bike, taking photos as you go. After that, lay down on the ground and take photos. Get up on a ladder and take photos. Get really close to your bike and take photos. Take photos of everything from every direction possible. If I don’t come away from a photo shoot with dirt on my back, knees and stomach, then I wasn’t doing my job.
3. Be Adaptable.
While I was working with Venturi Moto to photograph a few of their bikes; one of the owners said “We’d like to do something industrial, maybe with an old school brick wall behind the bike. Like a factory or something.” There was an older factory across the street, but it didn’t look like what a factory should. It had the wrong color brick, so their minds simply ignored it as an option. I just said “let’s wheel the bike across the street and see what happens.” They loved the photos. Think about what you want from a photo yes, but don’t key in on it too much, look around you and take advantage of the situation.
4. The Rule Of Thirds
Roughly speaking, you can divide a photograph up into thirds from left to right and top to bottom. Place your subject to the left or right of the photo more often than you do in the center. I don’t know why, but it just looks better.
5. Use Your Environment!
Like the story from above, use what’s around you. A stock KZ440 placed into an interesting environment creates an interesting photograph. Likewise, a custom bike placed in a drab/boring environment creates a boring photograph. Pay attention to what’s occurring around the bike. If the bike doesn’t stand out in your eye, it probably won’t stand out in the photograph.
6. Change Your Settings
I will deliberately over or under expose the same photograph three or four times and then look at them to see which photo I liked best. It’s a technique called bracketing. Just because your camera says the shot is properly exposed, doesn’t mean it is. Even the most basic digital camera has different settings. Use them all to take photos of your bike. Use the sport, lowlight, portrait and macro settings to take photos as well.
7. Stability is Good
I remember reading an account from a sniper, to zero in a shot and minimize the gun moving before he fired, he exhaled all the way waited a second and then squeezed the trigger. I do this almost every time I take a photo. I also use a tripod. No tripod? Find a stack of books, a seat, a benchtop, anything stable that you can rest your camera on.
8. It’s In the Details.
Every bike from the ugliest dog to the most expensive trailer queen, is made of little things that make it interesting. Take photos of those! Find what makes the bike unique and start taking photographs of that. Focus on the details around the bike as well. Details, details, details.
9. The Ronin Rule.
In the movie Ronin; De Niro is asked how he knew an ambush was going to happen. He said, “If there’s doubt. There’s no doubt.” If I don’t like a photograph for any reason, it gets deleted. It’s quality I’m after not quantity. If I have to go back out and take a few more photos, I will.
10. Know the rules. Know when to break them.
Rules in photography are like the pirates’ code; they’re more like guidelines. The ten I’ve written above are designed to help take better photographs, but I’m not afraid to ignore them completely if I need to. Some of the most iconic photographs in the world were made by bucking the rules and going with your instincts.
You’ll notice throughout that I’ve included photos I’ve taken. Some were taken with my DSLR, some with a point-and-shoot, and some with my cellphone. The camera itself has almost nothing to do with the quality of the photo, it’s all in the skill of the holder.