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Motorbike Portraits

Motorbike Portraiture - My new passion.

Having only very recently become a member of the biking community this is a new branch of photographic fun for me to explore.  Every bike owner takes photos of their bike.  It's their pride and joy, so wouldn't they.  The problem with bikes is that they tend to be very shiny overly bright in places while other areas are in deep shadow.  Using a flash just makes matters worse so you need to come at the problem from a different angle.

For years photographers have overcome the problem of controlling too wide a range of lights and shades.  This is done using High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.  In HDR you typically shoot three shots of the same scene using different exposures.  One over-exposed to show the shadow areas, one under-exposed to make sure the highlights aren't blown out and one at the exposure the camera believes to be the middle ground.  To obtain a really nice, evenly spread pool of light I use a 60" umbrella.    Smaller lighting arrangements can make even more dramatic shots but don't show off the bike's details quite so well.

Correctly Exposed
Correctly Exposed

These three images are then merged into a single HDR image which takes the best pieces from each shot creating a composite view with nothing lost through being too bright or too dark.  Nothing unusual so far but, as mentioned previously bikes have shiny bits and the studio light reflects off those shiny bits regardless of how light or dark you make the exposure.  The solution is to light the bike from a second position such that the reflected hot-spots are moved to a different location, and a second HDR image is created.

I usually light the bike from the front and the rear which gives a reasonably good chance of getting what you need.

The image below shows the two HDR shots.  You can move the central slide to see how the image changes between the two lighting set-ups.


Now comes the clever part.  The two HDR images are loaded into Photoshop as layers and by using a layer mask on the upper layer you can select those parts of the image below that you want to show through, replacing the parts of the upper layer you don't like.

Once the masking is complete you can flatten the layers into a single image and set about cleaning it up using Photoshop.  This usually involves tweaking the colour and contrast, editing out debris on the floor and background, and removing the block of wood under the kickstand that I use to set the bike in a more upright position.

Once the image has been cleaned up the fun can begin.  I will use a variety of Photoshop techniques to add drama.  Vignettes, textures, desaturating the background and subtle shifts in colour and tone.  Recently I started using Luminar AI as a Photoshop plug-in.  This allows me to add sun-rays, fog, and all sorts of goodies as well as offering a selection of preset cinematic effects.

You can see a selection of different edits with the Kawasaki Vulcan below.  Same image but totally different looks to the finished product.

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