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.
Temporarily peripatetic, the last meeting was a photo-shoot at the Clifton Suspension Bridge and a photo-shoot with a twist. And maybe a shout. Allison had arranged a little surprise in the form of the Filton Orphans Scooter Club, the weather co-operated gloriously and Mark S. lost a lens hood. Did anyone happen to pick one up? Well attended (despite the horrors of trying to find a parking space in Clifton of a sunny summer’s evening – two wheels do have their advantages) it looked to be a happy and productive couple of hours. Club thanks to Allison and to everyone who made the event possible. Next Thursday we meet at the Charlotte Street Car Park in BATH; that’s Bath NOT Queen Charlotte Street in Bristol. 7:30, photo-walk. See you there.
So, I got to thinking (dangerous habit, don’t recommend it, certainly not without a crash helmet): as one who needs to improve, how can I take advantage of our temporarily homeless state? We have talked before about the role of structure (on the blog: Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Photography) so maybe time I got my head in gear and choose an element to concentrate on at the Bath photo-walk.
So, no sooner than I decide on this noble quest than I come upon the first dilemma. Where to start? Taking the hobby a little more seriously and applying the ideas of critiquing one’s own work still leaves me with more than a few avenues to explore. Well, start with the glaringly obvious, even if that takes tea amounting to several pints in volume and two similar equipment failures in three days of the glad-I-am-doing-this-as-a-favour-not-as-a-business sort of thing, need to collide first. The equipment failures were both lights, and the second was more serious than the first because that shoot cannot be done again for various reasons.
The first was a simple blown bulb when I was showing a friend of mine – after lugging the table top stuff, camera and tripod on the motorbike a hundred miles to do so with the added bonus of a nail through the virtually new rear tyre and a non repairable puncture – the possibilities of recording the techniques he uses to build models. He might also sell them as they are taking up a fair bit of space. No worries, I packed a spare, like a good boy scout. No, I packed an empty box, like an idiot. Back to a one light strategy and a couple of other adjustments. Got the point across and made the point of taking my trusty compact camera just to prove you don’t need an expensive DSLR to do this. Result is he is now building a combined spray booth and light tent apparatus.
The second was taking some shots of another hobby group at a location I have been to once previously and which has a black floor and a black backdrop. Two (cheap and cheerful) flash guns on simple remote triggers to balance out the over head lights, which make the shadows quite heavy (even with a reflector) under the eyes so two guns make life a lot easier. Relatively straight forward. Eventually get the balance about right when one of the flash guns goes ffft. Change batteries from the third flash gun no result. Change to third flash gun which decides, after several previous occasions of faultless performance, that it doesn’t want to play with the triggers tonight (this was actually at 02:30 am, not my peak time for tolerance of uncooperative mechanicals). Hey ho. One light, get the light closer, reduced power point at the floor seems to do the trick but have to under expose to keep some of the detail (which is actually important detail for these shots). OK switch to RAW (yes I usually shoot JEPG). Check with chap who is doing the post processing which I don’t have time to get involved with. Not sure that his editing programme will handle the Sony version of RAW as it is a tried and trusted copy of a programme (i.e. somewhat old) and that is a problem I have encountered before. JPEG it is then, but contrast, brightness an curves seem to render things OK (I checked on a couple when I eventually got home).
So as a photographer we either point and shoot and get disappointed or we make adjustments more to our tastes (and possibly still remain dissatisfied, though probably less so). There is a lesson here for yours truly to absorb (along with stupendous amounts of tea). The basics are common (come on Ian you are not far off a conclusion here) so, concentrate on the true basics. How do we do that? Well ….. shoot manual? That is how I learned on an Exa Thagee my dad bought very second hand circa 1971 (with a 50mm and 135mm lens) using 80 ASA print and then 25 ASA slide film (ASA = ISO to the uninitiated). You could even do macro on it by loosening the retaining screws on the 135 and sliding the assembly out a little (do not try this on a modern lens or you will likely find yourself with a modern lens kit where your pride and joy used to be).
Manual mode forces the issue. You have to think of the composite elements of your photograph. You can go fully manual and switch the autofocus off, but I am not sure that helps other than in situations where the system is overwhelmed or, more usually, underwhelmed. Either way not whelmed. With manual mode your starting point can be exposing primarily for highlights, or mid-tones or shadows. Doing so is an invitation to think more intently about metering and explore the metering modes. These are the sort of things that mean you can become more consistent in the way you get your results. This then helps with the times when the conditions aren’t ideal or otherwise exceptional. You have a known and measure starting point from which to make your adjustments.
I normally shoot Aperture Priority because of the depth of field control it facilitates with relative little faffing about. I shoot AP almost exclusively, but now out of habit rather than conviction. So changing that is relatively easy, fundamental and a good learning opportunity. It also concentrates attention, if I am not mindful, on the camera body not the image. The image is what I am after, not the camera body, so we are back to square one pretty quickly if an actual picture element isn’t what I am trying to capture in manual mode. That for me is what separates someone on the way to becoming a photographer from someone with all the gear and no idea. You are attempting to achieve a “good” image, not a “good” camera. It’s the fan-boy thing (and let’s face it kit obsession is a very male trait) getting in the way of the job.
Another decision, another prodigious amount of tea, then. Well yes, but only because I like tea. After a couple of minutes going through the options the thing that grabs me strongest, actually the first thing I think of but give the rest a go in order to try and dismiss it, is contrast. Not just the difference of light and dark, but (possibly) of tones, textures, situations. What, exactly, I dare say I shall find out on the photo-walk, next Thursday. Charlotte Street Car Park, Bath. 7:30 pm. See you there.
IN THE NEWS (again)
The world of stock photography takes another turn with the launch of an app by Dreams Time that encourages people to share their “In the moment” images (3mb and above) according to this article in Amateur Photographer. It offers both further opportunity for new and existing entrants to the market but also accelerates the destruction of the existing market. Whether this is an act of “Creative Destruction” remains to be seen but it will almost certainly make getting a foot in the market that much more chaotic if not actually more difficult. Dreams Time claims 8 million users, so the supply side is taken care of but careful curation is still a service to the industry (and a revenue opportunity). Timely then, that the latest Photoshop Express development that brings RAW, among other things to the free version of the photo editing programme and is available for iOS and Android.