Last meeting was convened at the Grand Pier Weston Super Mare for a evening’s photography along the front covering both Weston Bike Night, the beach and the sunset across the Bristol Channel. Have to say that the clouds and the sun didn’t disappoint and the turn out wasn’t at all bad given the weather forecast and people’s work commitments. Certainly the black of the rain bearing clouds in banks and the gold of the setting sun made for interesting vistas out over the Channel to Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Of course there was also the Grand Pier itself, which is not exactly a hidden feature, Brean Down and Knightstone Island.
So this week a little on photographing motorcycles. It goes for cars too but your Blog editor is a motorcyclist, so that’s what we are mainly going with. There are not quite a half dozen of us in the club I know as motorcyclists (there are a few more former motorcyclists) and a couple of us have trekked with our cameras over the years to the National Exhibition Centre for Motorcycle Live and other venues and events. As machinery goes motorcycles are actually quite photogenic, but they are not, necessarily that easy to photograph well. In the street they are either moving among traffic – not the easiest of things to get a clear shot of – or parked on a side stand – occasionally a centre stand. Usually among other motorcycles, which doesn’t always work out favourably for photographers. In more rural settings they are generally a blur of noise and speed, or parked up as per the above.
Certainly shows and sporting events are the best way of getting chances to shoot more memorable images. Also going to and from events like the Weston Bike Nights (Thursday’s over the summer), Poole (Tuesday’s and, possibly, the biggest in the UK) and Paignton (Wednesdays) at a suitable and safe place can be good too. Static displays can be captured at wide angles but the pictures with movement in generally speak to short telephotos. This speaks to both practicality and safety for you and the riders, who, by and large, tend to be quite friendly.
The most important element, as ever, is the photographer, not the equipment, but as we are talking equipment then the statement about lenses made in the paragraph above needs to be qualified. The “best” focal length is probably short telephoto, certainly 50mm and above. The reason for this is that the shorter, wider lenses, add an element of distortion which can exaggerate the length of frames or make wheels look, well, not very round. This is fine if that is the look you are after, but accurate record (side on) shots, regardless of how creative, really need a perspective that 50mm and above create.
Apertures, more often than not, tend to favour the wide. This is because the background easily distracts and it is not unheard of for there to be gaps in the bike frames, especially on classic bikes, where in focus backgrounds can be a little diversionary. In fact one of the best pieces of advice I have been given about taking a photograph I have heard – though it can be a counsel of perfection as with any other – is start with the background first. Keep confusing strong lines and confusing strong colours that clash with the paint scheme of what you are trying to photograph out of the frame as much as possible. Of course, if you are photographing a row of motorcycles then the depth of field might well need to be deeper, but generally a moderate depth of field will allow for some background blur and sufficient depth to allow for the bits that stick out of the frame to be kept reasonably sharp. Remember here we are still talking about taking images of static bikes.
As with most forms of photography a low angle to the sun helps with illuminating the subject, so getting up early in the morning might not be avoidable, though Bike Nights cure this affliction. However, shooting from a low angle is pretty much standard. One other piece of equipment that can prove invaluable is a reflector. You can get a 5 in 1 cheaply enough from eBay (I have seen 60cms reflectors for £5 and 110cms for a shade under £10), and it is a good investment because more often than not there will be areas around the engine that are in shadow and rather than faff around in post light reflected back onto the engine and frame can eliminate the problem at source. Also very useful for other sorts of photography too.
On the move there are a different set of circumstances to be taken into account. Primarily safety. It’s very easy to get lost in that narrow field of view that is the world through a viewfinder but we have to be, legally and morally, aware outside of it. If you want movement shots at the Bike Night or other event get to know the approach roads on a map before you go. Roundabouts tend to be a favourite, the larger ones at times without too much traffic flow are generally good for getting pictures of bikes at an angle of lean. Actually any bend is good that requires more than minimal input from the rider. Lenses will depend on the situation that you are taking the pictures in, but again telephoto makes more sense, especially from the point of view of safety. Of course you won’t be the only one who has thought of that, and some people make money out of doing so – some organised events have cameras at the entrance so you can see yourself arriving – for a price. Whatever the case you are going to have to sort that out according to the location and some common sense.
If you are at a motorsport event then there are a couple of givens. The pro’s have all the best spots. You will be a longish way back from the actual action. That said there are a couple of obvious things you can do about that. Position yourself on a or as close to a bend as you can. Easier photographing a bike doing one mile a minute rather than three miles a minute. Your autofocus will thank you. Actually it will thank you for turning it off and zone focusing (pre-focusing), but more critical is slowing the action down relative to the camera position (usually head on or as close to it as is possible safe and desirable). Motordrive is an option that shouldn’t be over looked but it has to used deliberately. Spray and pray won’t get you a huge amount of useable material. Chimping is a great way to miss the action totally. Panning is an art that requires a lot of practice but if the shutter speed is low enough and the focus on the moving object good it gives a great feeling of speed (which actually can be very low, as per most supercar on road magazine shots). Go out and give it a go its actually rather fun.
N E X T W E E K
Tintern: – which means bridge tolls so lifts etc might be a good idea.
Meet in the Abbey Car Park at 7:30 pm.
Off to Weston we went, aka “Super-Mud”, last meeting and though the skies were lowering the turnout was pretty good and a good time was had by everyone I talked to. What more can you ask for? Well it was Weston Bike Night, organised by the Royal British Legion Riders Branch, and runs every Thursday from May to September. So I hopped on my motorbike and made my quid (£1) donation to the RBL to park on the Marine Parade Lawn and wandered round with my camera, before meeting up with the rest of the club on the beach by the Grand Pier. They had, it turned out, been taking pictures of a convict making his way up the beach, with the express purpose of compositing them into a single photo in post production (Photoshop, Gimp). If you look back through this year’s competition galleries you will get the idea of who and what sort of thing. The sun also made a show right at the end of the day and we were presented with a salmon pink sunset against the grey of the clouds as a finale. Not too shabby.
It is often said, not least by me, that in photography, painting with light, the light is everything. So far so obvious. What we are really saying is that the contrast in any given light situation is everything, as the same subject in different lighting gets a different reaction from its viewer. We are not just talking of low light here, where we have options within the exposure triangle, and in the way the camera works in other ways, but, when the weather is as it was on Weston’s beach and the contrast is low, the temptation is to save it for another day, but we can be missing opportunities. Contrast is what determines how “flat” the light in your image looks. Possibly, most logically, we can see this in monochrome images, but it most definitely applies to colour ones too.
Essentially, contrast comes in two flavours. Thinking of the black and white image and we can imagine the more obvious of these expressed as a tonal range, which we have touched on before. The tonal range is that between (theoretical) absolute black to (theoretical) absolute white which we would affect in post production editing programmes through levels and curves. The second flavour is colour contrast which is about the predominance of a colour in relation to the colours around it.
When we are producing black and white photographs we are really talking producing images constructed of the shades of grey (no tittering at the back). Soft images record little range in those shades, it is all middle and very little of the absolute ends, whereas hard looks stark because we have a band of hard blacks and a band of hard whites and very little in the middle. This is not the same as low key (mostly darker shades of grey surrounded by blacks) and high key images (mostly lighter shades of grey surrounded by whites). The emotional tone that low key images give out tends towards the sombre whereas high keys have a lighter mood, but tonal contrast isn’t just limited to black and white.
Colour, as we have explored before, tends to overwhelm tone when provoking emotion in a viewer, but good tone is a major element in the construction of a colour image too. Because there is more variation in colour, more information to play with, then the possible outcomes are multiplied accordingly. Broadly the more saturated a colour is in relation to the others in the image and relative to its position on the colour wheel. The degree of saturation is also important to colour contrast and that can be affected by exposure (try bracketing a couple of shots by two thirds of a shot and look at them in comparison, warmth, feel/mood can be subtly or not so subtly effected.
Meanwhile, back on the beach at Super-Mud, we are faced with some impressive cloudscapes that are throttling the contrast out of our seascapes, aided and abetted by a distant haze shrouding the South Wales coast. Looking on the (not too) bright side we are not trying to photograph either a black cat in a coal hole or a polar bear in the Arctic). Those both represent zero contrast situations. Give up go home, assuming you survive contact with said cat and/or polar bear. As we are in neither we can do something about our rather dull scene (other than retreat to the pub). All the rules of composition still apply but we are not bereft of options. The exposure triangle was mentioned above and in pushing two of the elements in that, aperture and shutter speed, we could just make a keeper.
Exposure Value Compensation it’s called and it’s that button that allows you to adjust the average that your meter is measuring up or down, usually by up to two or three stops, depending upon what camera you are using. It does not matter whether you are in Shutter or Aperture Priority or shooting in manual (though this is a bit of overkill bearing in mind you already have control of aperture, shutter and ISO in manual mode, but it is possible to employ as another way of under or over exposing from the average). First meter as normal then apply +0.3 ev on the scale. Try again up to a stop, or in the extreme, up to 2 stops or more, basically adding dark. In manual you will possibly be moving in half stop intervals depending on the age of the lens, but most modern ones seem to move in thirds. The same basics apply. Shoot in RAW for the best post production options. What you will do here is affect the colour contrast. Yes the whole image will look progressively darker, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. On the Mini group trip to Weston, where there was a vivid orange sunset, this actually strengthened the composition by allowing the sky and certain reflections to be the focal points against an increasing rich, dark background. Essentially for this technique you are looking to set the narrowest practicable aperture matched with the highest shutter speed you can get a workable image in the light conditions.
Try it next week when we visit Portishead Marina. Dock Gates, 7 pm. See you there.