Hands up – who likes to take the odd photo of their motorcycle? I know I do for sure.

Being a pro-photographer and bike instructor gives me a bunch of good excuses to photograph my 2016 Triumph Tiger Explorer XrX Low.

Here are my thoughts about getting the most of whatever camera you are using a camera phone, DSLR, or mirrorless camera.

Before we do start though, we should have a quick talk about cameras and which ones to use and when.

learn how to take propoer photos of motorcycles
Me riding my Triumph – seeming out of a lake. The things we do for motorcycle photos. The image was taken by Stephie Rebello using Fujifilm GFX 50s

Camera Options for Motorcyclists

Sigma FP (Full Frame)

There are many reasons I love this little powerhouse of a camera – mostly due to its size. It’s the smallest full-frame camera that offers a class-leading capability of video and stills. It suits my needs across the board. From photographing things for articles just like this one to filming shows.

As all riders know, space is very limited on a motorcycle, so, the Sigma FP makes an amazing addition to my kit. The image below features the Sigma FP camera paired up with a pair of ND Grad filters (will talk about filters in a forthcoming blog) and a matte box to increase contrast.

A good tripod is always valuable, I have been using the awesome Three Legged Thing Tripods for years. They can take the abuse that “bike life” can have one kit.

The camera is full-frame, which gives me a wide range of pro-level glass, but also works with a more compact kit when I need to. it should be noted that, as this is a full-frame (35mm) camera, some of the lenses can still be pretty large.

Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 // The Sigma FP with a 3 Legged Thing tripod.
Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the Sigma FP with a 3 Legged Thing tripod.

Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2. On stage filming for Punk Rock Legends - Bowling for Soup - Birmingham 2020
Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2. On stage filming for Punk Rock Legends – Bowling for Soup – Birmingham 2020

Fujifilm X-Pro2 (APS-C Sensor – Half Frame)

Fujifilm is a company I know very well. Over the last decade, as a former ambassador for them, I have predominantly only using Fujifilm kit. Cameras used ranged from the huge GFX cameras to the iconic X-Pro series.

These days, the X-Pro2 is the only Fujifilm camera I have left and it lives in my pannier as a day to day camera. The Pro2 is extremely well built and hardwearing – an essential element in a camera for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Video specs are lacking compared to the Sigma, but the X-Pro2 does work better when using flash, so, work is balanced out depending on the needs of the shoot.

The Fujifilm is an APS-C sensor system, meaning the senor in the camera (the bit that collects the data) is about half the size of the sensor in the Sigma camera. This is not to say that the quality of the final image is worse, it’s just captured on a smaller sensor.

Taken using a Fuijfilm X-Pro2. With thanks to the owner - Image by www.davepiper.com
Taken using a Fuijfilm X-Pro2. With thanks to the owner – Image by www.davepiper.com

They say the best camera is the one you want to carry with you, which has some truth to it, but kinda not that true either. Mobile phones are great for capturing the moment and sharing memories with family and friends.

In my view, mobile phones are great at being reactive to the environment but can restrict us when we want to pro-active about building or capturing a story or moment. It all comes down to the level of control that the camera will give you. Let me explain.

Mobile Phones:

  • Are designed to be simple
  • Performs all exposure adjustments
  • Automatically adjust colors

They do those and other adjustments that save you the hassle later. The problem is, sometimes we want the full manual control that a mobile phone can restrict.

We must also remember that not all phones are created equal. The new phones that range into the $1000s might just give you all the access to the same controls, but then you find yourself limited by the optics (lens) that it has.

Lens choice is maybe the single biggest restriction that mobile phones will always have over dedicated cameras.

Whereas sensor technology might get better (meaning things like dynamic range and image quality might get better, an interchangeable lens system (like a DLSR or Mirrorless camera), there is never a way around using the right lens for the right job.

Mobile phones are what a photographer would call, a fixed lens system, whereas camera like the Sigma is interchangeable. I can switch out the lenses as and when I need them, great, but, on a bike where do I store all these lenses. Good question, so, what’s best?

Image was taken using an iPAD. Shooting some side-by-side comparisons.
Image was taken using an iPAD. Shooting some side-by-side comparisons.

Cameras Vs Phones

I guess the idea that I am trying to get at is that all of the options have plus sides and downsides.

Phones are getting more and more powerful, they have some great editing apps and even ways to get different focal lengths via clip-on lenses. Phones are easy to keep charged and always to hand.

Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 // Cosyspeed advert – image taken by Me (www.davepiper.com)

Mobile devices – the easiest way to take photos.

Positives:

  • Size & Weight / Portability
  • Always have them about
  • Easy to share & store images 
  • Same device to edit with
  • Digital effects (portrait mode etc..)
  • Instagram & facebook – direct upload
  • Selfies!
  • GPS tagging
  • USB charging
  • Cost
  • Single-click operation
  • Apple (the new iPhone Max is insanely good)

Negatives:

  • Lower dynamic range
  • Smaller sensor
  • Small file size
  • No flash sync
  • No Manual controls
  • Fixed focal length 

Dedicated camera – best in terms of control & quality

Positives:

  • Dedicated device
  • Full control over all settings
  • Low Noise/grain
  • Raw & Jepg file formats
  • Easy to build a system (tripods, flash, ND, grads etc…)
  • Low Light capability
  • Bigger Sensor
  • Dynamic Range
  • Replaceable battery
  • Changeable lenses

Negatives:

  • Set-up time
  • Post Processing time
  • Large files 
  • Storage
  • Cost
  • Bulk & size
  • Not all charge via USB
  • No or little GPS tagging systems

Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 for motorcycling
Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2. An image I did for Cosyspeed back in March 2020

What’s the Best Camera for Me?

I guess it comes down to the user to what that is trying to achieve and why. If the past is anything to go on, the future shows that mobile devices are getting better and better where are the camera market is getting less and less R&D in comparison.

The problem is that we have pretty much hit a limit to what a normal CMOS sensor can do. Leaving all the future step forward being with the software giants.

Many mobile phones happily shoot RAW files at near comparable quality to lower-end cameras. There is a crossover point that makes getting a dedicated camera system pointless, and I get that for sure.

I would think that many ADV riders want a dedicated camera system as documenting the journey are an important aspect (we will talk about action cameras another day), thus they might want to opt for the large outlay and get the reward of a higher level of control over the image they are bringing home.

ADV or touring bikes have the larger weight and storage options too. If you are just rocking it out on the weekend, maybe just a phone in the tank bag will be just fine.

The convenience and simplicity mixed with the rather incredible quality from today’s mobile devices make me think that most people reading this, will be using a phone. But, this should not change some aspects of knowing how to get a good photograph of your bike or your mate’s bike for that matter.

Let’s get into it, let’s talk about getting better photos.

Getting a good angle

Taken on a Sigma FP. Get low and elevate the bike in the image, here we used a natural hill to get lower than the bike.
Taken on a Sigma FP. Get low and elevate the bike in the image, here we used a natural hill to get lower than the bike.

Bikes can be tricky as they sometimes can have unflattering or bad angles. This is sometimes the case with larger bikes or bikes with boxy shaped panniers.

Photographing them from the front, leaning away with the front wheel leaning away helps slim down the rear end and put the large shapes away from being near the dominant area of focus (within the image). The image below (taken with a cell phone) is a good example of getting this wrong, and getting the cropping wrong too.

Taken on a Fujifilm X-Pro 2 - Unedited. Panniers can be tough to work with, find a good angle.
Taken on a Fujifilm X-Pro 2 – Unedited. Panniers can be tough to work with, find a good angle.

Another common trap that is easy to fall into is getting the height wrong, Especially with camera phones. We take them out and grab quick images from the perspective of our eyes. This creates an image that is quite normal at best and common at worst.

Try and get lower to elevate the bike in its surroundings to get a more dramatic look. Let’s compare the images below

Taken on a Huawei P30 Lite. Avoid shooting from eye-level. It just looks dull
Taken on a Huawei P30 Lite. Avoid shooting from eye-level. It just looks dull.

Above- Shooting down can catch the light awkwardly & produce unflattering large shadows.

Below- Getting low elevates your subjects into the background. The above and below images were taken at the same moment. One with a phone and one with the Sigma FP camera.

Get low and find a great angle when shooting motorcycles.
Get low and find a great angle.

Editing

Regardless of how your image was taken, most images these days go through a filter. Photographers know this stage as post-processing, but it’s all editing, even if it’s done using an Instagram app or Photoshop.

The key elements are to draw attention parts of the image we wish to be the center focus, tidy up any messy parts, and generally make it look neat and tidy.

We have all seen images like this (below). This is not what we are looking for, most of the time anyway.

Taken using the Huawei P30 Lite. Warning - don't overdo the editing. Good editing is about being subtle.
Taken using the Huawei P30 Lite. Warning – don’t overdo the editing. Good editing is about being subtle.

The result shown above is normal what happens when we apply the settings to harshly. Editing tools can be quite powerful. Use them with a light touch.

Taken using the Sigma FP. Lifting the blues of the bike and dropping the blues in the sky let the bike 'pop'.
Taken using the Sigma FP. Lifting the blues of the bike and dropping the blues in the sky let the bike ‘pop’.

Editing techniques can take years to learn if you are looking to use tools such as Photoshop. The images at the bottom of this post are edited using Lightroom, then Photoshop using a color toning tool called Infinite color Panel. Each image took between 5 to 10 mins each.

Editing can be subjective. Some people want color images with lots of color saturation to show of paintwork and some people want muted tones to create a mood or vibe. Just have a play around with what you like.

There are loads of editing apps & tools to work with, so, here are my top few editing apps.

(read the full apps blog here)

Turn the lights on

This one seems simple but rather overlooked. Just the simple act of turning the lights on can move a bike from a stationary object into something more.

You don’t have to go all the way to digital enhancing them, but, next time you are taking a snap of your bike, try leaving the lights running.

Personally, I like the bottom image as a wider crop with enhanced lighting. The super moody skies go well with the concept of the tiger being out in the wild.

Taken on a Sigma FP. No lights.
Taken on a Sigma FP. No lights.

Taken on a Sigma FP. Main lights DLR lights on.

Taken on a Sigma FP // Digitally enhanced lighting
Taken on a Sigma FP. Digitally enhanced lighting.

Depth of Field

DOP, or depth of field is the term or measurement photographers use to work out what is likely to be in focus when it comes to the distance from the subject to the camera.

Taken on a Fujifilm X-Pro2. A Tiger having a shower.
Taken on a Fujifilm X-Pro2. A Tiger having a shower.

The above image of my bike getting soaked during a heavy downpour would be an image that has a shallow depth of field. This is due to the area that is IN focus being a shallow slice of the image. This image was shot with a Fujifilm X-Pro 2 at 35mm with an aperture of f1.4.

The image below of the Honda is a good example of an image with a wide depth of field. This means that everything in the foreground all the way to the background is in focus.

Taken on a Pentax 645D - Honda CBF 125cc
Taken on a Pentax 645D. Honda CBF 125cc

The image below is a good example of what can happen when trying to shoot low depth on a phone without full or precise controls. See how the logo is in focus, but the dominant area of the image is not in focus. We would call this a back-focused image.

Taken on a Hawaii P30 Lite - Back focused example
Taken on a Hawaii P30 Lite. Back focused example.

Framing is important

Different bikes will work differently when it comes to framing but, there are some guidelines to get you started.

Try and keep your horizon lines low and away from the parts of the bike that you are trying to stand out. Getting low and shooting up should let the bike rest against the sky – giving a clear routine.

Taken using the Sigma FP. Find awesome crops by getting low and using the sky as a backdrop for that hero look.
Taken using the Sigma FP. Find awesome crops by getting low and using the sky as a backdrop for that hero look.

Getting too close with a phone can get you into some trouble, as shown in this rather messy image below. Due to the way the lenses work on phones, you get this barrel type distortion that can make the bikes look odd.

The other problem for using phones for this type of image is that it can be hard or impossible to control the depth of field need to pull off this sort of image.

Taken on a Hawaii P30 Lite. Avoid images with no clear center.
Taken on a Hawaii P30 Lite. Avoid images with no clear center.

Some more Edited images of my Triumph Explorer XRX – taken on a range of cameras. If you want to check out more of my work – click any of the images below or check this link  – https://www.davekaipiper.com/Bikes.

Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 // Triumph Tiger - www.davepiper.com
Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 // Triumph Tiger – www.davepiper.com

Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 // Triumph Tiger
Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2 // Triumph Tiger – www.davepiper.com

Taken using the Sigma FP // Triumph Tiger - www.davepiper.com
Taken using the Sigma FP. Triumph Tiger – www.davepiper.com

Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2. Triumph Tiger - www.davepiper.com
Taken using the Fujifilm X-Pro2. Triumph Tiger – www.davepiper.com

Taken using the Sigma FP. Triumph Tiger - www.davepiper.com
Taken using the Sigma FP. Triumph Tiger – www.davepiper.com