Photographing the Motorcycle in The Studio.
“From Lighting to Model Pose: The Intricacies of The Bike Shot”
By Rick Trottier, of RJT Images
Introduction – My greatest Photographic Passion is beach imagery, and since that season is rather short here in New England, I make it a moral imperative to be outside at all costs from June through September, earlier and/or later if possible. That allows me to focus the poor weather months on other loves, one of them being motorcycle photography. Since poor weather in New England forces us indoors, doing the “bike shot” correctly in the studio requires asking all the why, how, what questions.
Step 1 – Purpose
Ask yourself the question, who is this image being created for and/or how will it be used? If your client is going to use it for strictly advertising purposes with a great deal of added graphic design, this means the model and the bike will likely need to be shot on a pure white background. As a result, the attire of the model, her skin tone and hair color and the method of lighting must all be coordinated in such a manner that bike and model can be easily extracted from the background so that graphic manipulation is made simpler. As long as the lighting highlights all the best features of the bike (engine parts, chrome and modifications, paint job and other exciting characteristics) and creates a degree of depth on the model’s face and figure and still leaves crisp lines and clarity, the problem is solved. As long as the lighting is not overexposed or horrifically underexposed and there are no immense differences in balance, intensifying all the best elements of the shot in the editing process is fairly simple.
If the image is being created for the artistic interests of the bike owner, for a model’s portfolio or for commercial purposes that call for a greater degree of creative license, now the questions of how the bike and model should be shot become far more complicated. That is where evaluation, drawing conclusions and executing plans become essential to “getting the shot”.
Step 2 – Composition
The premise seems fairly simple, even obvious, but this isn’t always the case to the initiated. The motorcycle must be pre-eminent in the image. That means that background and model need to be subordinate, even if the image is bound for a model’s portfolio. The shot must still be done right and conform to some of the “rules” of composition. People will say, “why are there such rules?” Maybe there don’t have to be, but the reality of the industry is that photography must combine artistic merit AND commercial potential, otherwise it is “just art” and may not have useful qualities for clients. Returning to compositional thinking, just as earrings are an accessory to a lovely face, the model and the background are accessories to the bike and must enhance its beauty/compelling design and not detract from it. As such, the simpler the starting background, the better. The model can be in front of the bike, astride or on top of it, even lying in front of it, but her presence must complement the vehicle in every way possible.
Step 3 – Background Coordination/Wardrobe
It is my personal belief that the initial background should be black or so dark that details recede from general recognition. The human eye is drawn to anomaly and if there are distracting influences in the background, they will draw the eye away from the bike and the model. Backgrounds like brick, sheet metal, fencing, concrete, or even wood SEEM safe, but repetitive textures can call away the eye with their “movement”, while dull or uninteresting backgrounds hamper the “mood” of your piece. Atmosphere is essential in an artistic bike shot. As such, the black or very dark background is the canvas on which “paint” can be applied. From there I may add fog which will take color accent light very well and augment the background in such a way to draw the eye to exciting points of the bike or highlight the model in some fashion. The black or dark background allows for complementary colors to be introduced which can create accord with the primary paint colors of the bike, producing a harmonious composition between motorcycle and background.
The model must be properly attired, assuming that the image is not a full implied or a nude. It goes without saying that the colors of the attire must balance the hue(s) of the bike. From there, the choice of wardrobe depends on the style of the bike, its age and general design and the figure of the model. A classier and sleeker motorcycle may lend itself to a dress. A more eclectic bike might call for more creative attire like country attire or active wear. Edgier bikes will probably inspire the classic choices of leathers, lingerie or swimwear. Into all of these choices come the nature of the model’s build and what kinds of clothes look best on her. Choosing the right model and the right attire require even more thought than the background. A mistake at this point can be fatal to the happy outcome sought, so careful and honest appraisal of the model’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial.
Step 4 – Primary Lighting
The Bike Must Be Lit Properly. Having made that point clear, if the model is a blob of shadow, you’ve got a debacle of epic proportions on your hands. When planning the bike shot, I tend to reserve my tallest gridded strip box with strobe for the model. Positioned appropriately for angle and distance and powered to the right intensity, it will do the job admirably of lighting the model and the residual illumination from the other lights will produce the desired results. The model light will also create residual light for the bike as well, helping solve more than one problem. I often use a smaller gridded strip box for the front of the bike and a gridded beauty dish for the back of the bike. The small strip box can do some rim lighting on the model and will highlight but not over light the usually more slender design/construction of the front. The beauty dish is focused on the exhaust, engine, back tire and other “heftier” components that only the power of a beauty dish can solve. People often ask “why gridded lights?” The answer is simple, I want to cut down on “spill” and preserve the darkness in the background where my “canvas” needs to be maintained so that it can receive “the paint”.
Step 5 – Accent lighting
As was mentioned earlier, “mood” is an essential element in an artistic motorcycle shot. Bikes conjure up impressions of mystery, strength, danger and excitement in our psyches. Those concepts need to be enhanced by the photographic image and not dispelled by dissolute and mundane depictions. The primary lighting allows us to “see” the bike and the model and thrill to all the mechanical or feminine details. It is the accent lighting that establishes mood. I tend to use two accent lights. The more important of the two lights often serves two purposes. The hair light does just what its name suggests; it highlights the hair of the model and separates it from the background. If I am not using fog in a shot, that gridded conical reflector hair light can also produce enough residual illumination to pick up some details on the bike depending on how and where the model is posed. If I am using fog, the white light of the hair light, bending through the “white” fog will pick up blue tint in that fog that I can manipulate in photoshop to do my bidding to create some dramatic effects. Almost always, blue is a complementary or contrasting color with the primary color of MOST motorcycles, and thankfully blue looks wonderful as a highlight to the hair of a blond or brunette. And since you are not using a gel light (only “white light”), no discoloration of the model or the main frame of the bike will occur.
The second accent light is often a gel light set off to one side of the cycle, most commonly the front of the bike since there is less mass to affect with colored highlights. Some rim lighting of the bike and even the model is likely to occur and this can and often is of benefit. By carefully adjusting the angle, distance and intensity of the gel light, “atmosphere” is introduced but you do not overwhelm the primary and secondary subjects. Playing with what gel color works best is probably the part of this endeavor that can be the most finicky. It should be in accord with the colors of the bike and work with the “blue” you are introducing with the hair light system mentioned before. Keep in mind that the human eye is easily bewildered by a multitude of color and such confusion leads to compositional collapse due to simple “overstimulation”.
Step 6 – Model Pose
All art depends on carefully arranging lines. Structure is the nature of the physical universe and the basis of structure is geometric principles. As a result, the vast majority of model poses, whether they are standing, lying, kneeling, sitting or any variation of the afore-mentioned must create parallel or intersecting lines with your motorcycle. Whether arranged at a slight angle or at broadsides to the camera, a bike will be oriented horizontally. As such, the model’s pose should then either complement the bike’s arrangement with parallel lines, or contrast by creating intersecting lines. The pose can be dynamic, and often times that dynamism will do much to create energetic lines that flow with the design of the bike. At all times, it must be recalled that the model is the accessory to the bike and her pose must not be distracting. Rather, the construction of the bike should lend itself to some very obvious methods of “positioning” or “draping” the model in, around or on the cycle. It might also be a good idea to know whether the bike owner wants the model to touch the bike, how expensive the metals or paint is so that if she does and scratches are left, what the in emotional cost will be.
In conclusion, a bike shoot can be a lot of fun. It can be exciting and exhilarating. Most models LOVE motorcycles, and if you are able to arrange a killer ride for them, you’ve just created a bond that may be life-long. If you bring that “monster shot” to your client, that image will last beyond the margins of your life and will go down as an example of artistry imperishable. That is what I seek each and every time I wheel a beauty into my studio.
I hope this helps!
Our Glamorous cover model is: Chrissy Victoria of Keene, of New Hampshire. To learn more about Chrissy Victoria, please see her featured interview: GlamModel Chrissy Victoria. All photography is supplied by Rick of, RJT Images.
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I’m a Central New England photographer based out of Worcester, MA, just one hour west of Boston. I specialize in fashion and glamor commercial imagery as well portraiture of all types. My style is a blend of commercially viable work melded with artistic innovation, whether on location or in studio. I prize collaboration quite highly and am proud of the fact that most of my work displays the ideas and designs of my models as much as it does my skills, efforts and planning. RJT Images
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