Motorcycle Photography | Shooting the Fast Ones

By Uncle Frank, Photography by Unknown

In a previous article in The Motorcyclist (see the July issue), I pointed out the marvelous opportunities which lay in store for the motorcyclist who is handy with a camera. This time I wish to go a bit more into detail about certain important phases of picture making, feeling that if these suggestions are carried out, your photographic results will be a thousand-fold improved.

The motorcycle is a vehicle of fleeting action and speed. It presents, therefore, problems to the cameraist which are not easily solved without giving them some thought and consideration. You have undoubtedly snapped pictures of your friends while they were riding their mounts. Possibly you were surprised to find, on getting the prints back from the photo-finisher, that everything turned out fine-except that your friends and their motorcycles were more or less blurred. This may have puzzled you, or then again, maybe you realized then that your camera was not “fast” enough to catch the action you attempted to record on the film. You can imagine what the result would be if you were to attempt to photograph a motorcycle race, a hillclimb, or similar activity which abounds in swift action. And then, don’t forget that unless a picture is satisfactory from a technical and pictorial standpoint, it may just as well have never been made in the first place. In brief, why waste film by taking chances, when it is easy enough to assure successful pictures by observing a few elementary photographic, or in this case, I should say physical and optical, principles?

First of all, we must never forget that any object which moves makes a certain impression upon our eyes. We know that if the speed of a n object is increased beyond certain limits, we can no longer see the object plainly and distinctly. We see it only as a blur. The fact that we know what the object is before hand creates in our minds a mental picture of the object, hence we are not often aware of the fact that we cannot clearly see it as it whizzes past us. Just try this out for yourself sometime-watch a horse’s hoofs as he gallops past, or better still, notice closely as a motorcycle zips past you at relatively close distance. You will see what I mean.

This is a law of optics which must be understood before we can apply It to photography. The eye, as everyone who has studied even the elements of physics knows, can see clearly only objects which are stationary, or at best, moving slowly. This peculiarity of the eye is known as the “persistency of vision,” and incidentally, is the basis of the motion picture. Motion pictures do not really move; the pictures are merely a series of tiny “still” pictures, exposed in rapid succession on a strip of film. These tiny pictures are exposed and later projected upon the screen at a rate of from sixteen to twenty-four per second-too fast for the eye to catch the shift from one to the other, hence we have what we call “moving pictures.” Only because the eye cannot catch the substitution of one picture to the other, are motion pictures possible to us. This is a good example in point-that rapidly moving objects cannot be clearly seen.

Now then, as our eyes cannot catch rapid action with any degree of clarity, how can we expect an immobile piece of glass, the camera lens, to record and register this action on our film in the camera? Our eyes are far superior to the camera lens in that they are, after all, flexible and adaptable to various conditions-this cannot be said of the camera lens. We must understand, therefore, that the camera offers certain strict limitations.

It is true that excellent pictures in clear and sharp detail can be made with even the less expensive cameras, although sports photographers use cameras which are more or less designed for speed work. These cameras are equipped with focal-plane shutters which are capable of snapping off the exposures at 1/1000th of a second. This is of tremendous importance to the photographer of speeding objects, for it is actually the key which makes successful speed pictures possible. A camera with a high speed shutter is unquestionably vastly superior to one which does not boast of such speeds, nevertheless, with a little care, satisfactory results can be obtained with inexpensive cameras equipped with much slower shutters.

By Uncle Frank
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