Motorcycle Photography | Shooting the Fast Ones

By Uncle Frank, Photography by Unknown

Take for example the average folding camera. Its lens is mounted in a between-the-lens shutter which is quite different in design from the aforementioned focal-plane shutter. Because of its different design, it is incapable of producing shutter speeds faster than 1/500th of a second at best, indeed, most such shutters go no higher than 1/300th of a second. On the cheaper cameras the shutters go only as high as 1/100th of a second, some not more than 1/75th of a second. It is therefore obvious that wherever possible, it is easier, and increases the chances of success, to use a camera which is able to cope with the situation of speed by being equipped with a speedy shutter.

As to a few principles, regardless of what kind of camera is used, let us first realize that the distance between the camera and the speeding object has a great deal to do with the sharpness of the resultant picture-image. In speaking of sharpness relative to speeding objects I refer of course, to the absence of blur, not out of focus results due to faulty focusing of the lens. We assume in all cases in this article that the lens is sharply adjusted as to accurate focus.

If the camera should be positioned so as to record the object going away from, or towards it, not only is a better picture secured, but the blur can be minimized owing to the fact that the speed of the object is relatively slower. You see we again come across the problems of relativity, which are in fact the basis of our considerations. Also, where the fastest possible shutter speed may not satisfactorily “freeze” the object when photographed broadside, a relatively slow shutter speed will be found adequate for angle shots, such as just suggested. This means that owners of cameras equipped with slow shutters can manage, by selecting proper angles to get clear-cut, sharp pictures of their subjects. A shutter speed of 1/100th of a second may suffice in most cases involving motorcycle races and hillclimbs, although this figure should not be taken too seriously and held as a rule, because some objects may require a faster shutter speed, while others may not need more than 1/75th of a second. So you “gas-twisters” who also click shutters on motorcycle sports, aim your cameras at such an angle so as to catch the object heading towards, or going away from you. You can of course try your luck at shooting broadside, but if the speed is anything to speak of, you will get only a blurred streak running straight across your film unless you happen to be extremely fortunate.

One more hint-if you insist on photographing a speeding motorcycle broadside or nearly so, move the camera along with the object and click the shutter at the most favorable instant. This is done best with a view-finder on the camera which permits the latter to be held at eye-level. Most up-to-date cameras are equipped with these direct-vision view-finders, but if yours is an old model with the glass, reflecting type of view-finder, you can easily gauge the range of the camera lens by bending a piece of wire into the approximate shape of the negative area of your film and attaching it to the camera in the most convenient position. This wire frame will serve as a good guide to indicate the general coverage of the lens.

The trick of moving the camera along with the object is one well-known to all news and sports photographers. Simply keep the object to be photographed in the range of the view-finder of the camera and swing the latter along so as to keep the object in the center of the field. When the favorable moment presents itself as to angle, light, etc., the shutter is released-while the camera is kept moving on the object. Don’t fail to do this, or else you will be surprised to find the motorcycle completely out of the picture. Keep the camera moving before, during, and a little after the shutter has made the exposure.

The photography of speeding motorcycles is at once a tricky and highly profitable pastime. After the elementals as outlined have been mastered, attention can be turned towards pictorial and dramatic effects. For instance, powerful, dramatic photographs of motorcycles can be produced by placing the camera at a low position. In some cases, the camera can be placed directly on the ground, lens pointing upward, showing the machine coming head-on. The effect is considerably heightened if the sky, which forms the background of such pictures, is studded with fleecy-white clouds. The sky can be considerably darkened and the clouds made prominent, by the proper use of a filter over the lens. For effects such as this, a panchromatic film and a yellow filter are recommended. For strong sky contrasts, a deeper filter, such as an orange-red, or even light red filter, will work wonders. Such filters to fit your camera lens may be obtained in any photographic store.

By Uncle Frank
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