“How do you take photos of yourself?” is one of the common questions I get asked. There isn’t much of a secret to it; Simply having the right gear, taking the time to set up, and shooting multiple photos until one looks decent is all the work that is needed. Over time you will get better and the evidence will show in your photos. I am happy to share what I know to help others capture their solo endeavors.
Traveling alone on a motorcycle is an amazing experience. You are constantly challenged without any assistance, you seek out human interaction which leads to meeting more locals, and you can travel anywhere you want without discussion. These moments are amazing, but it can seem difficult for capturing some of your adventure on camera. It is hard, but not impossible. Branch away from taking selfies and images of a riderless motorcycle.
Basic Gear Setup
A good photo can come from any camera. I have taken many great shots with my smartphone, but I have found that using a DSLR expands my capabilities and adds immediate depth to a shot. The following gear is what I use to capture my images:
- Nikon D7200: I only use one lens, 18-140mm. Key functions that I need are wifi connection (smart phone control and photo transfer) and interval timer.
- Camera Holster Case: Protection without compromising space.
- Vortex Backpacking Tripod: Small, lightweight, and extremely durable. Stable shots high or low.
- Smartphone: Any smart device that can run the Nikon application to connect remotely. This allows you to preview the shots, download direct to your phone, and take remote controlled photos.
- Optional Editing Software: While I love using Photoshop and Lightroom to edit my photos, I honestly just use the advanced features in instagram. If you are looking to just share some fun shots on instagram, save your money and play with the advanced settings. To be a bit more advanced, and cheap, use Pixlr.
This is my main method of taking photos. It essentially involves running to and from my bike and deleting multiple photos. Nearly every camera nowadays has a built in interval timer (or time lapse) feature. Identify yours and configure it to the setting that is best for you. For me, I have it set to take 2 photos a second for a total of 100 pictures.
Setup – When selecting your shot angle, you need to determine if you will use the tripod or place the camera on the ground (or on rocks, in a tree, etc.). The latter placement changes the framing of the shot and can add a different level of depth. Also having the camera further away, requiring you to zoom with the lens, will increase depth and add more focus. The best way to setup is by having your motorcycle where you want it, allowing proper framing and focus.
Focus Setting – Depending on what you will be doing in the shot, sometimes it is best to leave the focus on manual so that it doesn’t focus on the wrong subject and keeps you or the background in focus. Auto focus is more for when riding your motorcycle. Additionally, I always try to avoid flash due to lack of a diffuser and the reflective portions of my motorcycle and gear.
Start Timer – With everything set, initiate the timer and rush off to your motorcycle. Depending on the shot you are wanting to capture, try making changes every few seconds. This allows you to learn what it looks like and you can adjust in the next series of photos. If stationary, turn the motorcycle lights on and off to see how they interact in the photo as well. If riding, keep your foot slightly on the rear brake to make the rear light brighter. Repeat until you get the right image you are looking for.
Fortunately technology enables us to now connect the camera to our smartphones. This allows you to remotely view what the camera is about to take a photo of, rather than blindly hitting a remote shutter button. This form of shooting is best for sunset images or anything else that can be difficult to capture without seeing what the camera sees. The only difficulty is hiding the phone from being captured in the photo as well as you need to press the remote shutter button to capture it.
Getting the Best of a Shot
The great thing with a digital camera is that you can take numerous photos and sort through them to find the best one. This helps you capture a more “candid” moment rather than standing stiff. As you start taking photos, do your best to forget that the camera is there. If you are with other people, engage in conversation and laughter not worrying about what the photo will look like. If you are alone, walk around and stand in different places if you are not riding. Odds are you will have one or two great captures in the hundred or so shots.
The easiest tip, and only professional tip I have learned, in taking a photo is called the “Rule of Thirds“. This rule helps give you a well balanced image. Essentially you view the image in thirds, horizontally and vertically. This helps in the placement of a subject to create multiple points of interest. If you were to learn anything about photography, it would be this rule. Give it a Google / YouTube and you will understand why putting the subject in the center of a shot is typically awkward. It will also keep your portfolio from being the exact same pose each time.
No matter your setting or framing, most photos will need slight adjustments to portray the focus or image that you were attempting to capture. This is an area where people can become abusive and alter an image so much that it is no longer realistic. Everyone has seen a blue sky and a beautiful sunset, so do not go too crazy with the saturation or it’ll be quickly noticed. Typically, I only adjust the highlights and shadows, some small amount of HDR / LUX, and a bit of vignetting. Play with the settings available to you, but keep the changes minimal.
I am by no means a photography professional. I am self-taught and continually see my photos improve with time and practice. The best thing to do is look at other images for inspiration. Assuming you are looking to capture some great motorcycle shots, take the time to look at the framing and content within pictures of motorcycle magazines and instagram accounts. These are the photos that typically undergo a team of professionals in order to capture and edit the best shot. While you might not get the same level of quality, you will better understand the types of photos you should aim to capture and what the market is looking for.
It will always be hard to capture action shots alone, but it isn’t impossible. Find a place to setup your camera and have some fun. Even if you don’t capture the perfect shot, you at least have great photos for your own personal memories.