Motorcycles are the epitome of cool, rugged, and edgy. From the beautiful paint jobs to the unique construction.
Bikes grant photographers the opportunity for awesome one-of-a-kind imagery with a cool aesthetic.
Here is our guide on how to bring out the best in your motorcycle photography!
Equipment for Motorcycle Photos
What Kind of Camera Do You Need
The camera you’re going to want for this is fast, has a reliable focus, and a decent number of megapixels. For action photography, a camera with a fast FPS (frames-per-second) is key. The Canon 7D Mark II body or the Sony Alpha 7R III models are great examples.
If you’re going to be doing some indoor work, look for camera models that have less noise at higher ISO levels. Also keep an eye out for sensitive sensors that do well in difficult lighting situations.
Compare low light abilities of several models before settling on one. Use a website like DxOMark.
A higher megapixel count will pick up much more detail than lower megapixel counts. This detail can make a difference when you look at the finished images. But the higher the megapixel count, the larger the file size.
It is good to look at large SD or compact flash cards. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are popular choices for motorcycle photography.
For more commercial motorcycle work, the Canon 5D and 1Dx series are optimal choices.
Which Lens Will Give You the Best Motorcycle Shots
A lot of the quality and final image look is based on the type of lens used. Look for lenses with a maximum f/stop of 2.8. Lower is even better.
It is better to have the option of narrowing the aperture if you feel it is too wide. You don’t want to be stuck with a lens with a narrow aperture you cannot make wider. The wider the aperture, the more light that enters the camera.
I’ve worked with a lens that was an f/4 for many years. But the difference between the f/4 and f/2.8 was very significant. The f/4 was much harder to use for low light and the depth of field was not as creamy.
As well as this, the wider the aperture setting, the shallower the depth of field. Shallow depth of field is great because the subject can be nicely isolated. This means you don’t have to worry about a cluttered composition.
Only having one subject in focus with the rest blending into a creamy bokeh makes for a much more visually pleasing and simplified image.
Luxury glass, prime, ART, and such higher end lenses are sharper and clearer. These lenses are also faster and more reliable. As a general rule, fixed millimetre lenses tend to be sharper than lenses with a range. The downside to fixed is you having to physically move yourself in order to adjust the composition.
When looking at lenses, or a selection of lenses, consider your shooting distance as well.
The most commonly used lenses for motorcycle photography are standard lenses or telephoto lenses. Wide angles are not preferred because of the perspective distortion.
Also known as normal lenses, standard lenses are ones which produce an image that roughly matches what the human eye sees. The image looks natural to the viewer. Standard lenses have an angle of view of around 50 to 55 degrees diagonally.
They are some of the easiest lenses to use, because you do not have to factor in any form of distortion. When you can take a picture of something exactly as your eye sees it, composition becomes easier as well.
Standard lenses also tend to have wide open apertures, making them great for low light and shallow depth of field. An awesome standard lens focal length is the 50mm.
With telephoto lenses, or long lenses, you can photograph distant subjects easily. This is due to how long their focal length is. Even when zoomed entirely in, the subject is not distorted. This is great for racing shots!
Telephoto lenses can range from a fixed to a zoom focal length, with the fixed generally being sharper than the zoom. An absolute favourite among photographers is the 70 – 200mm.
What Lens Accessories Do You Need
Lenses also have their share of accessories that you can buy, the best of which are filters. Filters are extra panes of glass that you screw or attach on to the front of your lens.
The most common way to use a filter is to protect the glass of the lens. I’d much rather crack my $10 filter than a $1,000 lens!
Polarising filters are especially good for outdoor motorcycle photography. These filters are made to specifically reduce glare from reflected surfaces.
They’re made up of specially adapted glass. When turned at an angle to a light source, they will reduce glare.
This is very useful when you’re working with many reflective surfaces or when the sun is low in the sky.
Shooting Motorcycles in a Studio Setting
Photographing motorcycles in a studio or controlled environment means just that. You have control over lighting and no time constraints.
You should use continuous lighting and soft boxes. This is due to the chrome and reflective surfaces of a motorcycle.
You can use any shape soft box for your arrangements. My preferences have always been mid-sized octagonal or rectangular lights. But soft boxes come in all shapes and sizes.
My suggestion would be a three to five light setup. You can get away with using one studio light though!
These are the two arrangements I use the most for studio motorcycle photography. You can adjust these for your own use.
The one light that is unanimous with both of the below setups is the overhead light. Quite a few soft boxes come with an adjustable head that allows you to tilt the light downwards.
Pair that with a tall tripod and you have an overhead lighting arrangement.
- The three light setup: Position one softbox overhead and two softboxes on either side of the bike. You may place the two side softboxes at either a three quarter position or directly to the side of the bike. It depends on the look you are going for.
- The five light set up: This is exactly like the three light setup. Add an additional two lights to the sides behind the bike to add a nice rim light. And that’s it!
Be mindful of the reflections in the shiny surfaces. The key is to try to limit the amount of overexposed hot spots due to the reflections. Sometimes, the solution is to just move yourself or the light a couple of inches!
You can adjust as necessary. This is because you can see in real life how the lighting looks due to the bulbs being continuous.
If you’re using a flash or a strobe instead of a softbox, try to aim it at the ceiling rather than directly at your subject. This will limit shine.
For extra cool-factor, try gelling your lights! Color gels are filters that go on your light to change the output colour.
You can also make your own gel using cellophane and tape. Grab some very saturated cellophane from a local party or art store. Wrap it around your softbox or LED light and fasten with tape.
Make sure to check that your LED runs cold and won’t melt the plastic paper.
Photographing Motorcycles in an Outdoor or Organic Setting
Photographing outdoors provides you with an endless array of unique backgrounds. As well, outdoor photography includes motorcycle racing and in-action shots. But you have to contend with the sun and weather.
For staged outdoor photography, the first thing to figure out is what time of day you’re going to shoot. When shooting outdoors on sunny days, you’re usually better off shooting when the sun is lower and less harsh. The most ideal sunlit lighting is during the golden hour.
The golden hours include the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. Make sure you have enough time to accomplish your shot list.
If you must shoot with a high sun, try using a reflector or an umbrella, find shade, or snap on a nice ND filter.
Photographers use reflectors to fill shadows. This is why you often see them used in outdoor settings where you cannot control the light. Being at the mercy of the sun, you add a level of control to your situation with the use of a reflector.
If you don’t have a reflector, there are ways to take advantage of your situation without one. Try positioning the bike under a tree, in the shadow of a building, or simply positioning yourself so that the sun hides behind a mountain.
The background might be overexposed if you are simply using a small patch of shadow. Try to change your perspective to make the most of the situation.
If this isn’t an option, use an umbrella. Position that over your subject, or to block out the sun in your frame. You can use a vehicle windshield cover or shade to do the same.
An ND filter, or neutral density filter, essentially filters the amount of light that enters your camera. This allows you to shoot at your desired aperture or high sun without worrying about it being too bright outside!
As for the background, when you’re deciding where to position the bike, try to find a location that contrasts in color with the bike, which will help your subject stand out. Avoid cluttered backgrounds that feature heavy or strange lines.
Be wary of telephone poles and trees, which may appear to be growing out from the bike.
You can also use a lens with a very wide open aperture to give the motorcycle some separation from the background.
6 Tips for Motorcycle Photography
Here are some useful tips and tricks to keep in mind when doing motorcycle photography.
5. Use a Shot List
In layman’s terms, a shot list is a checklist of the images you want to capture during a shoot. A shot list comes in many shapes and forms, and no one method works for all.
You should use a shot list all the time. It makes things so much easier, even if it’s only a mental map.
Make sure that your list includes all of the basics: Left, Right, Front, Back. Then start going for the details, often times it is great to ask the bike owner or builder for specific detail shot requests.
Shoot the major components: the bars, the motor, the seat, close-up of the tank and the pipes.
5. Composition and Perspective
What separates a professional photographer from a hobbyist is their knowledge and grasp on composition and perspective. As if you were photographing portraits or pets, your objective is to make the bike look good.
Break out those knee pads and get down low to the ground! This often means squatting down or sinking to your knees to get a great shot of your bike. Lower your eyes and camera to the level of the tank or headlight and give your best shot.
It’s a general rule of thumb that makes any bike look much better.
4. Matte Bikes
Much like matte cars and matte surfaces, matte bikes are tricky to photograph, This is because the texture tends to diffuse in direct sunlight, making post-production really hard to do. This is especially true for matte bikes that are black.
Your brights are bright, and your darks are way too dark. The bike may also fade into the background and not stand out as much.
The trick here is to really play with contrast, and ensure that your bike stands out from the background. Use reflectors or diffusers to bounce the light how you want to highlight the surface as best you can!
3. Express the Bike’s Personality
It is important to remember that each and every motorcycle is unique. Motorcycles do have personalities, and are uniquely representative of the person who built them. As a result, each model has its own aesthetic that appeals to a certain demographic- a type of rider.
Depending on what the audience base for the bike is, you can figure out what to focus on when capturing bike shots. If the motorcycle has any custom parts, that’s a huge key to focus on.
That being said, don’t forget that some motorcycle enthusiasts are not riders themselves. 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.
2. Shoot in an Appropriate Background
Every motorcycle is different and is intended for a different purpose. It is your prerogative as a photographer to know who the key audience is for each bike, whether it be through research or just talking to the motorcycle owner.
As a low down, there are various styles of motorcycles. Common bikes include touring, cruiser, sport, sport touring, dual-sport and roadsters.
If you are unfamiliar with motorcycles or of Ducati and Harley-Davidson sound unfamiliar, a great way to get the answers you seek is to have a conversation with the owner. Ask the owner where the bike performs best or is intended to be used, such as street, off-road, or in a specific kind of terrain.
The reason for this key conversation is because you don’t want to misrepresent your subject. A sports bike doesn’t belong off-road in the mountains and an off-road bike doesn’t look right in an urban setting.
Learning about the type of motorcycle you will be photographing will help you to determine the location of the photo shoot.
1. High Speed Action Shots
High speed racing photography is an exciting part of photographing motorcycles. You need to shoot with a very fast shutter speed to freeze the action (1/1000th at a minimum but I personally like to shoot at 1/3000th and faster).
There are a few other things you can do to get sharp images as well.
First, change your focus mode to Continuous Focus Mode (AI Servo for Canon users or AF-C for Nikon users). This mode allows your camera to lock onto your subject and follow the bike around as it moves, preventing you from constantly needing to refocus.
Next, take advantage of the frames-per-second your camera offers by using burst mode (high-speed drive mode).
You can ensure that you get the right shot by setting your camera to burst mode. This is where you take multiple photographs in a row while pressing down on the shutter.
Shoot with a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. The only way to get cool sequences is by shooting in burst mode!
Motorcycles are a whole lot of fun to photograph! Take these tips with you to your next bike shoot and make some chrome magic happen.
Special note: All of the motorcycles featured are from El Diablo Moto Shop in Eagle Rock, California.