If I reduce motorcycle photography to three key ingredients (apart from the bike) I am left with light, location and perspective, respecticely composition. Finding a good location is always the hardest part when preparing a shooting. If your image should stand out, you need a good location. So it is time to discuss exactly this topic.
Let me state the obvious first: The location is the setting you are presenting the motorcycle in. It should be interesting and fit the motorcycle, but also not draw too much attention away from the bike. Picture the most beautiful superbike on a McDonalds parking lot with parking cars next to it and perhaps a dumpster in the background. That would not look good.
But what is a good location and how can you find one? Before I answer that I’d like to classify locations. I found it useful to think in two different categories – locations I call “wide open areas” and “constricted space”.
Let me talk about the easy to find locations first. I call them “constricted space” locations, as only a very small portion of the actual environment is shown on the image. A pretty common example of such a location is a wall. You just need a piece of wall about 4-5 m long and approx 2 m high against which you can put your bike and start shooting. It does not matter if there is garbage lying around directly off frame- you don’t see it, it does not matter.
The example shown above is a fine example. I crossed this railroad bridge on my daily commute to work and never noticed it. It was until I constantly keept an eye open for good locations that I noticed this spot. It just works for a motorcycle shoot.
Such sections of wall are found pretty easily. Keep your eyes open when driving through your city and you will see many opportunities on the sidewalk. As these locations are commonly found in public space, you don’t need a permit to shoot. Just take care you are not hassling anybody with your setup (pedestrians might cross, cars might pass and should not be blinded by the flash).
By the way, I am not joking when saying that the surroundings can be ugly as hell. The image of this Buell 1125 CR below was shot in worn-down open (but roofed) parking lot. The water reeked of urine, bird feathers swam on the surface. But due to the lighting and the reflection in the water the image “works”.
That’s about it for “constricted space” locations. You can find them virtually everywhere and it is a matter of your lighting to make them look good.
More challenging to find are locations I classify as a “wide open area” type. As the name suggests, they show a big portion of the surrounding area. It could be a field, a parking lot, a spot with a huge building in the background. The difficulty here is that the more area you see, the more “unwanted objects” could be in it. By these I mean parking vehicles, a huge billboard or a set of trees which would pop up above the bike when shooting from a low angle.
This mining dump of an abandoned salt mine is a good example of a “wide open area” location. The background is interesting, but does not attract too much attention. The field between the bike and the dump is void of any objects. This was shot on a public road, so also no special permit was required.
Next example: Ducati 748 Biposto. Shot just outside the perimeter of Hanover airport. This is also a public road (short dead-end) with the landing lights. In daylight the location is boring, the trees to the right make the image unbalanced (dark right – bright sky left). But during magic hour the trees “drown” in darkness, the landing lights create lines guiding the eye into the distance.
All locations, wide open areas and constricted space, can either be found in public areas (just go there and start shooting) OR you can find special places that require connections and a special permit.
The really special ones you only get access to when you know somebody (or if you are very lucky). The image below was shot in an abandoned foundry which was being prepared for demolition. That is the stuff every motorcycle photographer is looking for. Industry flair, dirty, worn down, strong contrast to the modern pieces of technological art called motorcycles.
I got this location by good will of a realtor I contacted for exactly this purpose. I wrote to several industry realtors, explained my case and offered to shoot another object for them in case they could tweak a few knobs and get me inside a special place. The realtor was super cooperative, met me for a location scouting, arranged the permit from the lawyer who oversaw the liquidation of the foundry company and talked to the security service guarding the premises. I am very grateful for that opportunity and it was the best location so far I ever shot in.
Second example: this airplane is actually a restaurant called “Restaurant Silvervogel” (silver bird). We shot on the parking lot on a Monday, when the restaurant is closed. My friend Carsten (on the bike) visits the restaurant regularly and therefore knew the owner. He simply asked, the owner agreed and left the gate unlocked when he closed the restaurant on Sunday.
“That’s all nice, but how do I find such places?” is what you might ask now. So here are a few tips and strategies which might help you:
- Keeping an eye open: Put yourself in a constant “watch mode” looking out for locations. You can do that anytime, everywhere. You drive by an interesting spot, make a mental note at least. Or stop briefly to take an image with your smartphone. If you have no time, call your phone at home and leave a message on your voicebox with a note. Don’t just say “oh that would be a good location” – take a note in whatever form.
- Ask around. Let people know you are looking for good locations to shoot in. Specify what you mean by a “good” location (that’s hard to explain to non-photographers by the way!). It could be an underground parking lot, an industrial complex, a warehouse, an empty barn… give people an idea what you are searching for.
- Collect interesting spots: Keep a list of potential spots for photo shootings. Once you are booked again, you can consult this list in case you don’t know where to shoot yet.
- Use Google Maps. No kidding! Even if you live in the area for 10+ years, you will be surprised how many interesting spots you will discover when exploring the immediate surroundings of your home on the satellite images. On the images you can see where an interesting building might be, where a piece of open road is located, from where you might have that industrial plant in the background. Once a few spots are identified you need to make a location scouting tour (visit several places in one go). This is necessary, as sometimes the most promising location is inaccessible by a locked gate you could not see on the satellite image.
- Connections, connections, connections. Maybe the most powerful tool in the arsenal. You know people, you know bikers. Bikers work somewhere, know other people. Chances are good that somebody knows a business owner who happens to have a fitting company building or a warehouse.
This is a brief compilation about how I tackle the complicated topic of finding good locations. It is always the hardest part when planning a shooting.
How do you approach this topic, do you have any tips or tricks? Share them!