Bikes & Sheds

On August 27, 2012 by Simon Fleming

I was recently asked to photograph some older classic motorcycles, which is not something I have done a lot of (or cars) previously so I was a little unsure as to how to approach things. It was also a good opportunity to perform a self assignment based on some thoughts I have had recently for a few different portrait ideas. One of the main things I wanted to achieve was to use the opportunity to produce something unique, not just a typical ‘nice bike in the driveway’ sort of shot. I had the opportunity to scout the location the bikes lived at a few weeks prior to shooting them which was handy. They resided in a shed at the top of a hill with quite a decent view – now initially the obvious thought went through my head of shooting them late in the day with that view as the backdrop. Yes this would look good but it wasn’t the ‘unique’ I was looking for. After spending about twenty minutes looking at different views and different angles to shoot outside I went into the shed with the owner of the bikes to meet them…  it took about three seconds for the decision to be made – the shed was the perfect location. One of the better ‘blokey’ sheds I have been in recently, it had a good amount of space – enough to set the bikes up in – a fire place, a bar and a juke box (not to mention a healthy smattering of blokey type calendars). There was a ton of biking memorabilia and classic movie posters that involved bikes – The Great Escape, The Fastest Indian etc etc – that really added to the atmosphere of shooting in there. I could have spent a full day shooting in various parts of the shed but due to time constraints, and ease of getting the bikes into position I had to settle on one spot and run with it.

After deciding where the best angle to shoot from would be we moved one of the old Indians into place. I had a temporary stand in model in the form of ‘Bandit’ their 12 year old German Shepherd – beautiful dog. He was more than happy to plonk down in front of the Indian while I setup light stands around him, as long as I gave him an ear rub every few minutes. The test shot below shows my starting exposure, removing as much of the ambient light as possible, and then throwing a big light through a sheet outside the window at the back to cast some light across the shelves and bar area (also had a couple of sheets of CTO gels on this light to give it a warmer end of the day sort of look).

Next up was to throw the main light in to the mix, a small strip box I had which I thought would suit the shape of the bikes a little better than a regular box, as well as control the spill of light a bit more. The image was looking good but still had a few dead spots to sort out in the background. The juke box didn’t have any working lights so I decided to put an SB-900 gelled red inside it. Then I clamped another SB-900 out of shot to camera left throwing some blue gelled light into the image – adding some more colour as well as lighting up a dark spot. Lastly, one more SB-900 was placed on the ground behind the bike to create a bit of separation, and fill in the darkness a little back there too (gelled CTO to blend in with the fire light). Yes, there is definitely some Joe McNally influence rubbing off on me in my approach to lighting & colouring this scene…

I took a number of variations of each bike but these were a couple of my favourites – all using the same lighting with just a little tweak here and there to suit the different bikes. Click on them for a bigger version.



I would love to have got the owner posing with the bikes (which he has restored himself) but he was a little reluctant this time around… I did get an impromptu shot of he and his wife with all three bikes though (used a small 24 inch lastolite ezybox to light them – just out of shot to camera left).

It was a really fun shoot, and also a challenging one in that there were so many ‘black holes’ in the shed to look out for, and plenty of shiny things to bounce light around where you don’t want it. It was also good to be able to mix my lighting gear up – Nikon & Elinchrom – and get everything playing happily together. I would liked to have been able to shoot more people shots but now there is some trust and understanding / comfort established maybe next time… and if there is a next time I may have to make use of that beautiful view now the shed has been explored.

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