As featured in H.O.G.® Magazine Issue 031
Several years ago while on a commercial photo assignment, I was asked a question that stuck with me ever since: “What’s in your toolkit?” In other words, what do you need to get the job done?
It really got me thinking. A camera is a tool and a powerful one at that. But taking good pictures is not so much about the camera as it is about how it’s used. Good photographs require the photographer to slow down, to see and personally express the world in front of them. This is true no matter what type of camera you’re using.
How do you do this traveling on a motorcycle? The answer, as it so often is on two wheels, is to keep it simple and travel light. It’s just like with the toolkit you probably keep on your motorcycle for emergency repairs. A basic set can meet most of the challenges you encounter on the road.
It’s the same with your camera. These days, chances are the smartphone you carry comes with a pretty good camera. And if you use it well, that can be all you need to capture memorable photos of your ride.
There’s an old saying in photography: The photographer is responsible for what goes in the frame. Before you take a picture, take a moment to carefully look at the screen on your phone. Is there anything in the picture you don’t want? Sometimes moving your phone less than an inch can make the difference between a good picture and a great one. Move the phone around to see how your composition within the frame will change. Try not to cut your frame in half with the horizon line. Move it up or down a little for better results. Once you have the framing, a simple tap on the screen will set the focus and exposure.
The distance of objects from your camera and from each other affects perspective. The closer your subject is to the camera, the larger it will appear. Color can affect perspective too. Warm colors (reds and oranges) often appear to come forward, while cool colors (blues and greens) appear to recede. In addition, light-toned objects often appear to be closer than dark ones.
Your point of view or vantage point can also have a strong influence on perspective. Looking up at a building can increase the feeling of height. When you approach a scene to photograph it, try not to always shoot at eye level. Look at the subject of your photograph standing at your normal height, cut the height in half, then in half again. Look for angles and elements that can add interest.
Last year while riding to Sturgis my route led me directly through acres and acres of sunflowers. The view from the road at 65 mph was a blur of yellow and green. Then I stopped, turned around, and parked by the field. I realized it was all about slowing down, seeing, framing, and getting close. The closer I got, the more I saw. Try using your phone camera close up. It’s better not to zoom in with the camera, as it may degrade the quality of your photograph. Simply walk closer to the subject you’re photographing.
If you’re like me, you sure are happy when the sun is out and the road ahead is dry. But the weather will change – always. And weather, rain or shine, can help create interesting photographs. When you stop to put on the rain gear, remember to pull out your phone and make some pictures. A zipper-lock bag with a small hole cut for the lens makes an inexpensive waterproof case for your phone.
Telling a story with pictures is like writing with words. Do you remember hearing that “a picture (or photograph) is worth a thousand words”? On your next ride, use the techniques discussed here to make compelling photographs. Then select four or five of your favorites to tell your story, and share with family and friends.
Fact: Your phone camera creates pictures in jpeg format.
Act: For emailing, small jpegs are fine. If you want to make a print or submit your pictures to HOG® magazine, be sure to use large jpegs.
Fact: Pictures take up memory space on your phone.
Act: Download pictures to your computer to free up memory space before leaving on a trip.
Fact: Apps extend the photographic capabilities of your phone camera. They range from emulating old and different types of traditional film to changing edges and borders.
Act: Explore, experiment, and have fun!
Photographs for this article were made with an iPhone using the Hipstamatic app.