I’ll be the first to admit that photography is not my strong suit, but I’m working on it. I’ve read some books on the subject and always study the photos that other writers submit, but somehow, I just don’t feel I’m getting the killer shots. Part of the reason is that getting good pictures takes time, and my trips usually don’t include much photography buffer space. Nevertheless, I do have a few tips I’d like to pass on.
I got my first GoPro in November 2009 to have a little time to get used to it before my wife and I headed to New Zealand in Feb 2010. I mounted it on my helmet because I didn’t think the rental firm would be too keen on me sticking a mount to their bike. Plus, the camera would follow my head and not just take endless pictures of the road. I also put a mount on Mary’s helmet and she wore the camera a few days, but even though she could swivel her head and take longer to look at things, rather than just the road, it seemed she got endless pictures featuring the back of my helmet.
Our first ride in NZ was a short trip to get comfortable on the left side of the road. But, I hadn’t done the math correctly. I gave Mary the GoPro set to take a picture every second, and headed out. At the end of our 2.5 hr ride there were roughly 8,000 pictures! Ever since then I have it set at 5 second intervals and, with swapping batteries and SD Cards through the day, still end up with thousands of shots. The challenge then was to find the interesting ones and it took me a couple years to develop a plan. Since the camera is on my helmet, which is on my head, when I see something that may have produced an interesting shot I simply raise my left hand, cover the lens, and count to 23. This should result in three or four black pictures which are easy to spot when scrolling through all the images. I know that just before those blacked out images there might be something worthwhile.
When a photo op does arise, make sure you stop and get the shot. You never know when you’ll be back or if the scene will look the same. On this one particular occasion I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t make the decision instantly. I’ve ridden the frantic New Jersey Turnpike, that is as much as 14-lanes wide, only to encounter this CONGESTION sign on an empty little two-lane highway in the middle of nowhere. This sign, on US 95 passing through Rome, Oregon, made me shake my head and smile, but I kept going. It was only a few kilometers after I climbed out of the valley that I felt I should backtrack and get the picture. It didn’t hurt that Highway 95 features some nice 30 MPH corners on the climb east of Rome that I now got to ride twice due to my indecision.
When my wife and I went to Wyoming for the Solar Eclipse in 2017, I wanted some pictures of the event. I didn’t bother with fancy filters, I just took off my cheapo solar eclipse ‘glasses’ and held them in front of my lens, making sure it was fully covered before I looked through it. Again, nice picture. There’s another North American total eclipse coming in 2024. Will you be ready?
If you’ve got binoculars they can create an unmistakable effect for your pictures. Here, the starting material is The Great Sandhills in Saskatchewan. They are spread over quite an area so a binocular boost to your zoom lens is handy.
Camera positioning assistance is also something that is important, especially if you travel alone. Having a tripod and knowing how to use the timer function makes it possible to get group shots. I’ve also mounted my GoPro on the tripod and let it take timed snaps while I rode back and forth in front of it. Riding selfies are different and cool since most shots will be of you and your friends standing by your bikes.
I also sometimes affix a GoPro on the back of my bike which can provide some great action shots in the twisties like this pic from St Joe River Road in Idaho.
And finally, a cool tip I got from Inside Motorcycles Editor Patrick Lambie was to use a bean bag to support your camera. If you don’t have a tripod, or don’t have room to pack one, just pack a bean bag and you can set it just about anywhere to prop your camera. I found this set of bean bags on eBay and put one in a ziplock bag to keep it dry while having it handy in the thigh pocket of my riding pants.
Ride responsibly and get some imaginative pictures.
- From R. Bruce Thomas