A camera is a tool and a powerful one at that. But taking excellent 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 images from any journey you take.
Here are a few tips for using your phone camera (or a simple point-and-shoot) to improve your picture taking and capture your next ride.
As the sun rises in the morning, travels overhead, begins to fade, and slowly turns to night, the quality and feeling of light changes. Our eyes adjust to the changes quickly. The camera can record the changes and colors in ways our eyes may miss. Try making photographs first thing in the morning, at midday, twilight, and evening. Practice taking pictures after dark; the results will amaze you.
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 look at the screen on your phone carefully. 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.
Try moving the phone and reframing the composition to include more foreground or sky to find the best picture.
The distance of objects from your camera and 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.
One reason landscape photographs may not turn out as expected is that they lack scale. To create scale, use familiar objects in your photographs. Small objects make the landscape appear wide and big. Large objects in the foreground make it look smaller.
As you frame your next landscape picture, try adding a familiar object – maybe your bike or a fellow rider.
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 your photograph's quality.
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 the 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 take some pictures. A zipper-lock bag with a small hole cut for the lens makes an inexpensive waterproof case for your phone.
Telling your 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.
At your next motorcycle event, Sturgis perhaps, consider pictures that include people, places, and things to tell your 'story.'
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 H.O.G.® 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: Mobile 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!
If the intent is to showcase your bike, make sure you stand behind it.
Keep your camera or smartphone on the highest resolution setting. Many smartphones automatically compress an image before e-mailing or (especially) texting it.
Keep your back to the sun as much as possible (over your shoulder works best). Or shoot on an overcast day to avoid harsh shadows.
Keep the focus on the subject by avoiding background clutter such as cars, houses, or trees that stick out of your subject's head.
Finally, pick your best shots and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today's digital technology makes it easier than ever to take a great photo of you and your bike. But some of the basics never change. And, who knows. A few of these tips could help you increase the odds of seeing your photo in H.O.G.® magazine!
A version of this post appeared in H.O.G.® magazine.