Words and Photos (including
the bad ones) by Simon Bradley
a moment in everyone's
life when you just wish you could get a picture of what's
in front of you. And with the advent of smaller and better
digital cameras that possibility has got closer than ever
But sometimes we all
need a little help to get the shot just right. Especially
if the subject matter is a little tricky. And motorbikes,
especially moving ones, are quite difficult to photograph
well. Even stationary bikes pose problems with reflections,
contrasting colours and the fact that so often they look wrong
from certain angles.
While I'm not about
to suggest that you can read this and instantly become a brilliant
photographer, or even that I'm brilliant myself, at least
I can offer you some pointers and make some suggestions.
This week we'll look
at the basics and have a quick glance at the sorts of cameras
here we go.
First of all let's
look at some basic rules of photography.
Exposure. Many digital cameras deal with this automatically. Sometimes
that's a bad thing. Because a camera is never as clever as
your eyes, it is limited to the range of exposures it can
deal with. Your eye, for example, can look at a reflection
and a shadow and a bright outside scene and successfully resolve
everything in the image. A camera can't, and will expose the
picture based on what it 'sees' as the ideal average. You
can often help by knowing which part or parts of the viewfinder
your camera uses to work out exposure and then making sure
that the most extreme part of the picture is near that point.
That will expose for the worst part and you can deal with
the rest afterwards if you have to. If you have the option
to adjust settings yourself then you have more flexibility
but the same basic rules apply.
And if you have to
either over or under expose then you're always better off
under exposing with a digital camera. Software readily available
for both PC and Mac makes it quite easy to bring up under
exposed images but over exposed is almost impossible to fix.
The picture above is an example of this - the mid-tones are
just right but the reflection on the fairing is way over-exposed.
Exposure is made up of two things. Well, three actually, but only two
you can readily change. Shutter speed and aperture. Apertures
are measured in stops and for some reason are referred to
as f-numbers. They are rarely whole numbers but the conventional
stops you'll find on lenses or in the controls of your digital
camera do actually have some logic behind them. Each stop
is allows half (or twice) the light through that its neighbour
does. And the smaller the number, the larger the aperture.
Shutter speeds are measured as fractions of a second and again
are conventionally arranged so that each speed is as near
as makes no difference twice or half as fast as its neighbour.
Obviously a larger aperture will let more light through so
the shot will work with a faster shutter speed. And while
a faster shutter speed reduces the risk of blurring it also
forces the aperture to be wider. And a wider aperture means
that depth of field is reduced. A smaller aperture means that
the range of distances which are still in focus is very large
- at f/16 for example, taking a photograph of a bike 100 feet
away with a 100mm lens will give a depth of field such that
everything from 45 feet away to the horizon will be in focus.
Setting that same lens to f2 would reduce the depth of field
to the extent that only the patch of ground between 85 feet
and 115 feet would be in focus. Longer lenses accentuate that
These two pictures illustrate the point.
Identically composed and exposed except for the top picture
being slower and with a wider aperture. Look how in the first
picture the bike seems to stand out more from the background,
though the contrasting colour makes it less of an issue anyway.
Now you might think at first glance that
you'd want lots of depth of field. And sometimes, of course,
you'd be right. But often you want the depth of field to be
as shallow as possible to emphasise your subject and to pull
it out from the background clutter.
me onto the next bit. Background. Often the biggest
difference between a good photo and an average one is the
background. Not just with bikes but with everything. How often
have you seen or taken a great shot of something or someone
only to discover afterwards that something in the background
spoils the effect completely? Me too - the shot below was
a great idea and I got the exposure bang on (no mean feat
either) but completely forgot about the background. Result?
A bike that gets lost in the clutter. And has a swan's head
on the tank. I got a better one later having reconsidered
the background but then messed up the exposure. One of those
you want a background that is either complimentary to the
subject or is easily able to be ignored. Making the background
out of focus can help a lot, of course, so we're back to depth
of field again.
Actually composing the shot is both the easiest
and hardest thing. Getting everything in is usually quite
straightforward, but getting it to look right is a challenge.
Of course you can do a great deal with digital photos by cropping
and rotating images afterwards, but getting it right in the
first place is always more satisfying. And it saves a shedload
of time, too.
There is an oft-quoted rule called the rule
of thirds. In a nutshell it says that pictures work best if
you divide them up into a grid like a noughts and crosses
table, placing certain key points on or near the intersections
of the grid. Personally, I think that for bike shots at least
it looks best if the bike is slightly off-centre. I'll often
have the centre of the shot somewhere just behind the front
wheel, giving the bike somewhere to ride into in the picture.
Then again, I'll often do something completely different as
an example of one that worked just about right despite not
really obeying the rule of thirds. Note how the depth of field
is shallow enough that both foreground and background are
blurred, though the fact that I was panning to follow the
bike helps a bit. We'll look at panning next time.
Finally for this session, don't let anyone
tell you that you need a hugely expensive or complex camera
to take decent pictures. All you need is an eye for the shot
and the willingness to try something different. A great advantage
of digital cameras is that you can try a shot, instantly see
if it's worked and if not you can delete it and have lost
Here at MBT we use a range of cameras from the lower end up to
professional equipment. Here's a brief rundown on them:
Budget cameras - Fuji A205
and A330. These are 2 million and 3.2 million pixel cameras
respectively. What does that mean? Well, if you set your PC
monitor at 1024x768, as most people do these days, you are
looking at something like three quarters of a million pixels.
So either of these cameras will be easily able to take a picture
bigger than your screen can display, which means that when
you come to resize them for viewing you will have nice sharp
images with all the detail staying in. There are several cameras
like this on the market, all around the £150 mark. They're
tough, easy to use and small enough to slip into a pocket
without trouble. In fact, the only real downside is that you
will often find a slight delay between pressing the button
and the shutter releasing. Which means that although it's
fine for slow or stationary subjects, trying to catch a Superbike
at full chat is a bit of a challenge.
Next step up is the midrange
camera. We use the Fuji S7000 which looks like a full SLR
camera but has an integrated lens instead. At up to 12 million
pixels, the S7000 can take enormous images which are great
for both web and print, and is a fully featured camera that
allows almost as much control over your creativity as an SLR.
There is still a slight delay on the shutter, exacerbated
by the fact that the viewfinder is electronic and freezes
when you try to take the shot. The good news is that this
feature can be turned off, and the result is an extremely
high quality, easy to use camera at a sensible price. The
inbuilt lens is a 35-210mm equivalent which is an excellent
zoom range, and there are extension tubes available as well.
Expect to pay around £400 online or the best part of
Finally we come to our top
camera. Also a Fuji, for our serious stuff we use the S2Pro,
a 12 million pixel digital SLR. Based on a Nikon body, the
S2Pro has all the features you'd normally expect of a professional
SLR plus a few extras. For a start, rather than using expensive
and hard to get batteries, the Fuji uses standard AA cells
for most of the work, relying on industry standard camera
batteries for the rest. Lenses are standard Nikon fit which
means that there is a wide choice of third party lenses as
well as Nikon own brand ones. We use a Sigma 28-200mm for
normal and studio work and a Nikon 80-400VR for track and
other high speed shots. It's a fantastic camera that rewards
effort but it isn't point and shoot and it isn't cheap. The
body alone is around £1200 and the Sigma lens was £400.
But the Nikon lens was another £1200 on top of that,
and that was online too...
Next time we'll look at panning and some other techniques.
But in the meantime, if you have a shot you'd
like to show off then why not send it in? We'll run a selection
of the best over the coming months so don't be shy...