Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Studio photography of motorcycles is complex and time consuming. That’s why so many photographers would rather go on location outside and use natural light—I know I prefer that alternative! But, on occasion, I really like getting in the studio to do this kind of very technical, often problem solving, photography. I think the reason many of today’s photographers do much of their photography outside is that they don’t want to invest in a studio lighting kit, backgrounds, and all the many studio support tools needed to build a studio.  Of course, then, they have to learn how to use all this equipment! That’s probably the biggest sticking point today.

What I’m going to share in this blog is how I did motorcycle studio photography back before digital (on film! ) and on a budget before I had the multiple sets of studio lights I have today.

So, flashing back to 1994….

f11.0 @ 1/250sec., ISO 100; lens: 65mm
This image was taken with my Mama RB-67 Pro-S on Kodak LPP, Lumiere 100, slide film in the 6x7cm format.  The low budget part was lighting my set with just Two Flash Heads on a Norman 500 w/s pack and just using reflectors as fill. That’s it, I didn’t own any more studio gear back then!  And, because of the then high tech., not so instant, image preview method, called Polaroid, I can show you my studio set up…

The Polaroid back on my RB-67 is what made studio photography possible before digital. 

Note:  This only applied to Technical studio work. We never “pulled Polaroids” when doing studio portraits of people—2-minutes was way too long to wait for the Polaroid to develop!

As you can see I used two relatively small soft boxes, at the ceiling, mounted on either side of the garrage door opener (I had a garage studio back then too…) That ruled-out using one large soft box, as is customary today, which was fine since I didn’t own anything else!

Now, the key to make this lighting set-up work was pointing both my main lights not directly at the motorcycle—but at my reflectors. I have the lights just skimming the top edges of the bike. Usually this meant my lights were angled at about 45 degrees towards the camera.  This meant I needed to flag my lens to prevent flare from my lights.

The only change I made from the Polaroid in my studio set-up was replacing the white drapes, on either side of the set, with black drapes to control bounce.  This next image was of MY baby…

 f11.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 100
This image of my favorite all time bike the Kawasaki Ninja 900 (1984) was done on Kodak, EPZ, Ektachrome, 100X Pro using my Mama, 645 format, camera.  The studio lighting was the same in this image. The most critical part here was getting my reflectors angled to reflect the lighting onto the front surface (the wheels, disk brakes and engine) of the bike.  Hooray for Polaroids! The only thing that would have improved this image would have been edging the tires with talcum powder to create separation highlights, but I didn’t learn that trick until many years later.  Another little trick I have learned along the way doing commercial photography is to dull shiny surfaces with hair spray.

So, that’s how we did it on a budget and before digital…

’Til next week…have questions don’t hesitate to ask.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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