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ANTHONY KERR

INTRODUCTION
The foundation
Our motorcycles give us a unique ability to have real adventure and
authentic explorations. These agile vehicles allow us to get far out
into the world. We’ll see the sun crest a ridge in the morning, we’ll
ride hundreds of miles over challenging and varied landscapes,
discover a new town, meet interesting people, then watch the sun
drop into the ocean in the evening.

We take pictures of our rides to remember the incredible time


we’ve had and to share stories with our friends. But often we get
back home, disappointed to find that the photos just aren’t as good
as when we were there. How often have we heard “Sorry for the
bad photo.” “It’s steeper than it looks.” or “The photo doesn’t do
the place justice.”

This book is not about equipment. This book is about taking better
photos with the camera you have now.The basic techniques covered
here will improve your photos whether you are using a $5000
digital SLR or the camera of your mobile phone. Knowing how
to choose a subject and compose an image will have the greatest
impact on the success of your photography. This first book builds
a foundation for the advanced techniques of the digital darkroom
and for the equipment discussion to come in later volumes.

In both motorcycling and photography, many people get hung-up


on equipment and accessories. We’ve all fallen prey to gear lust.

An analogy: I’m a new rider. The KLR 650 is my first motorcycle.


Even if I were given the keys to a Dakar-ready KTM rally bike,
I wouldn’t be able to make my way down that steep, sandy Baja
trail any faster than I could on my KLR 650 - because my ability
isn’t there yet. It’s all about you. Not the bike. Not the camera.

Learning these skills and techniques with the camera you have
now will put you further ahead than the purchase of any lens or
camera. Let’s find out how to do those fantastic rides justice. Route 66, Nevada
Keep it Simple
Rule of Thirds
Get Close
Background
Layered Landscape
People
the edit
Conclusion
Cheat-Sheet
Photography,writing & design © 2010 Anthony Kerr
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Keep it Simple
The first thing we can do to improve our photos is to simplify.

What was it that first caught your eye? Was it the vintage
Yamaha? The rooster strutting around like it owned the
place? The bright colours of the maritime fishing floats?

Strip it down, cut out everything but the subject. If it’s not
contributing to the photo, it’s making it worse. The idea
is to make it very clear what the subject of your photo
is. Distracting background elements could be pedestrians
walking or cars parked next to the motorcycle. Maybe
it’s the pile of garbage bags off to the left of the rooster.
Official signs and other junk next to the fishing floats don’t
need to be in the photo.

Take your camera and walk around the subject until all
those distracting elements are out of the frame. Move up
and down, side to side till it’s just right. Snap, you’re there!

Taquillo,El Salvador
Antigua, Guatemala
New Brunswick, Canada
Old fashioned transportation always gets my attention. From Manitoba to
Nicaragua, animals are still used for work. Moving cargo by horse and cart is
an everyday occurrence in Granada, Nicaragua.
Other than the fact that the horse is facing forward, the main thing that makes
the large photo better is that the background is completely clear of clutter.
The cars are out of the way, the telephone pole is gone. It’s very clear that the
subject is the horse and cart.

To simplify your photo, you may


have to move a bit to either
side. Try holding your camera
higher or lower to clear a sign
or telephone line out of the
frame. Sometimes you can
walk across the street for a
better background, other times
you’ll just have to wait for your
subject to move to a better
spot. By changing the position
of your camera, you have a
lot of control over the relative
positions of the objects in your
photo. Keep it simple.

Granada, Nicaragua
While exploring those lonely back roads
and dirt paths, we often find ourselves
riding through areas where time seems
to have ground to a halt many years ago.
It’s a fun exercise to emphasize this by
cutting out any clues as to what year the
photograph was taken.
By eliminating modern elements from
Saskatchewan, Canada
the frame we can give our images a
timeless quality, a direct look to the past.

San Francisco, California

Saskatchewan, Canada
Rule of Thirds
Art, not science.
This one’s a classic. It will make a big improvement
when you are starting out. Having your subject smack
in the middle of the photo is - generally speaking - dull as
ditch water. There are no crosshairs on a camera, we’re
not hunting moose here. Let’s try something different.

Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over the frame.


Try placing the horizon on the upper or lower horizontal
line. Move yourself and your camera around till your
subjects are near the intersections.

This technique is about art, not science. Things don’t


need to be exactly on the lines. The idea is just to move
beyond boring, dead-center target shooting.

California, USA Dog Lake, Ontario


The rule of thirds can be used to give a still photograph a feeling of movement.
When you are shooting an object in motion, give it somewhere to go!
In the example on the left, we cannot see where the three-wheeled taxi is going.
The example below works much better because we can see the road ahead, we
know what’s going to happen next.

Saquixpec, Guatemala
Tucson, Arizona
Panama, Central America

Here are two more good examples of using the


rule of thirds to give the impression of motion in
a still image. The dirt and pavement horizons sit
near the lower lines of the grid. Both bikes are
moving from the edge of the frame toward the
center, they’ve been given somewhere to go!
The KTM 640 above is in the perfect spot, right
on an intersection.

Shooting objects in motion ain’t easy!


This will take a lot of practice to get right.

Desert Lake, Ontario


Port au Port Peninsula, Newfoundland Baja Norte, Mexico
Get Close
Another effective way to simplify our photographs is to get so close to
our subject that it takes up a significant portion of the frame.
You don’t have to show the whole thing!

With all the distracting elements eliminated we see familiar objects in a


new way.The curve of a gas tank, the finish of a cylinder head, the depth
of the paint. A lot of the beauty of a motorcycle - or any everyday object
for that matter - lives in the details.

Walk right up close, get in tight and give that subject a fresh perspective.

San Francisco, California Tucson, Arizona


Lac Beauregarde, Quebec
Several things caught my attention about this building. First the deep red colour, then how unusual the individually made iron gates for the
apartment buzzers were. Finally, the completely haphazard numbering made me laugh.This detail of a single building sums up how the entire
city felt to me. I got close and aimed my camera straight at the wall. Then I moved around till it was framed just right. Snap, that’s it.

Antigua, Guatemala
I was leaving El Salvador for Honduras, my friend Mario escorting me out of town. I noticed that my bike was mirrored in the chrome of the
BMW R60/5 gas tank.“Don’t move!” I said, pulling a camera from my pocket. Leaning way back on my seat and zooming-in so nothing was
in the frame but the gas tank, I maneuvered the camera until my front wheel and fender lined-up perfectly in the reflection.

El Salvador, Central America


You’ve got to love the vintage signage on Route 66. I snapped the first photo to capture the whole sign, but
there was so much other stuff going on in the background that it doesn’t show what I like most about the
sign. By moving right up close, the sky blue paint and white neon are emphasized, by tilting the camera at
an angle, the depth of the metal letters and flaking paint are revealed. I chose to frame the RESTA letters.
Those letters show just enough to let you know what the sign is about. Your brain fills in the blanks. I have
another version with URANT framed, that one just doesn’t work...

Route 66, Nevada


Markets, motorcycle shops and storefronts; motorcycle
travellers have to stock-up on supplies. Don’t miss these
opportunities to tell the story, they’re full of great visuals.
Get close. Push that camera right in there. Capture details!

San Francisco, California

San Cristobal, Mexico Montreal, Quebec


Background
Find a good background, and
wait for things to happen!
The light was cutting through the late afternoon
haze in Antigua, Guatemala. Across the street
from this great golden canvas of a wall, I sat on
the curb for twenty minutes to watch the world go
by. Just wait for the right moments and... Snap!

Antigua, Guatemala
Finding a good background and waiting is
exactly what you’ve got to do to get the best
shots of your friends riding. I stopped at the
twistiest looking section of California road and
crouched low to exaggerate the sinuous curves.
I had Greg ride past several times till we got
some good shots. Spend an afternoon doing this
and you’ll develop a whole new appreciation for
what Claudio Von Planta had to go through...

West of Fairfax, California


I was sitting in a juice bar across
the street from a bus stop, not
really looking to take a photo
at all. But I knew it was a great
background, so I got my camera
ready and placed it on the bar.
When the colourful kids came
along, I knew I couldn’t pass it up.
I love how the adult can’t reach
the ground either.
La Paz, Baja, Mexico
I couldn’t ignore this powerful mural in Leon, Nicaragua. It depicts the 1979 revolution in which the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown.
I loved the contrast between the painted soldiers of the dictatorship in the background and the present-day school kids playing soccer. A direct
line through history. I shot this while sitting on my motorcycle, parked across the street. Waiting for the ball to be in the picture, I framed the
photo to show only the mural and players. This flattens the image and makes it hard to tell where the mural ends and where reality begins.

Leon, Nicaragua
Layered Landscape
Make it feel like it was when you were there
The motorcycles we ride give us access to some of the most spectacular
vistas imaginable. Deep canyons, crashing waves, imposing mountain
peaks. We’re overcome by the grandeur when we are there in person, but
somehow the photos never do the place justice. What happened?

These landscapes awe us while we are there, because we see in three


dimensions. A camera sees with only one eye and flattens the depth and
distance.

What we need is a trick to let our brains know how far things really are.

Costa del Balsamo, El Salvador


The trick is to give the photograph layers.
Put something interesting in the foreground. We
Background know roughly how big a tree branch, rock or bush
is, so given that clue, our brain can fill in the blanks.

Think about the rule of thirds, try to put the


horizon near one of those lines. If the sky is a
boring solid blue or grey, show more of the land.
If you’ve got a dramatic sky - fluffy backlit clouds
or an imposing thunderstorm - point the camera
upwards to move the horizon low on the frame.
The sky can be as interesting a subject as the
landscape itself.

The first photo is not terrible, I like the way the


road twists along in a diagonal line across the
Background
frame. But everything is more or less the same
Middle ground distance away and it’s all the same brown. This
makes the image look flat and dull.

I took only a few steps back for the second photo,


Foreground
but this time I zoomed out, and crouched low
to include a sagebrush in the left corner. Then I
shuffled around in the dirt until I could see the
curve of the river. I lifted the camera a touch higher
so the diagonal line of the road was visible over
the sagebrush. The photo now has distinct layers.
there’s a clear foreground, and background. Each
layer gets slightly hazier as it gets further from
Duffy Lake Road, British Columbia the camera. Depth in two dimensions.
The sweeping line of the shore leads your eye from the
rocks underfoot to the mountain range in the background.
Abraham Lake, Alberta
Background

Middle ground

Foreground

Here’s a simple example of distinct


layers in a landscape photo.The berries
in the front add some colour and act as
a foreground, the nearby hill has a two-
lane road to give us a sense of scale
the remaining hills layer behind that,
Sequoia National Forest, California
naturally fading away into the clouds.
A foreground element can double as something to set the scene. This
sinister looking tree hangs over the garbage dump in Guatemala City,
while the vultures watch the basureros eke out a living below

Zona 3, Guatemala City


I count about eight layers fading
into the distance here. You don’t
have to be anywhere exotic to
Big Muddy Valley, Saskatchewan capture beautiful landscapes. Cap Saint George, Newfoundland
People
Wait! Don’t pick-up the bike!
I moved in close, shuffled around until
the trees were not growing out of the
top of his helmet and took the picture.
The people we meet on our rides are a huge part of In this situation a posed photo worked.
the experience. But photographing people is one of After a wipeout like that Marc was
proud to have his photo taken!
the most difficult, yet rewarding aspects of the art.
It seems to cause more anxiety to the photographer
than the subject! This subject could be expanded into
an entire book, but I want to give you some quick tips
that you can work with right away. Let’s take a look at
the basics here.

Several of the techniques we’ve just covered apply


here. Get close to your subject, keep the photo simple,
look for a good background and arrange the photo
with the rule of thirds in mind.
Continued...

Señor Benjamin, chatting with the ladies.


He wasn’t paying much attention to me!
Antigua, Guatemala

Le Pit, Quebec
Posing people in front of the camera is the easy way
out, but it doesn’t always capture the personality of
our subjects. You know how you stiffen-up when the
camera is pointed at you. Say cheese!
You will find that people are most comfortable and
“themselves” when they are involved in some sort
of activity. Get them talking and laughing, have them
explain what they are doing or where they are going.
Don’t make a big deal of having your camera out.
Just play it cool and take your shots.

Like many things you’ve just got to get out there and
practice. You will feel more comfortable with each
press of the shutter. But the excitement never really
goes away. This is a good thing.

Give your subject a space to look into,


just like we did with objects in motion
in the rule of thirds chapter
Coco’s Corner, Baja Mexico
If you feel uncomfortable photographing people, an
excellent place to practice is at working museums or
historical reenactments. These people are quite used to
having their photograph taken, and will happily go about
their business as you snap away. You do have to break
away from the group of standing tourists though. I found
the best results were obtained by chatting one-on-one
with the museum interpreters after the tour group had
moved on.

Viking settlement,
L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland
Two relaxed, candid photos here.
They are just doin’ their thing and the personalities shine through
Coco’s Corner, Baja Mexico
Tequila bar, Baja Mexico
Sometimes a posed photo will turn out great There’s no reason you can’t try both!
Los hermanos Juarez, beaming with pride in their ironworks
Antigua, Guatemala
The Edit
San Salvador, El Salvador

Take many, show few


Good images don’t come easily.The first shot rarely nails
what you saw in your mind. You’ve got to take a lot duds
before you hit on one that has the right ingredients to
make a good photo.

I encourage you to take many photos, but don’t snap away


wildly. Take your time. Make a deliberate effort to put
together good compositions and to try new things.This is
where we apply the techniques we’ve just covered. Get
close, simplify. Try different perspectives. Move around
the subject. Crouch low on the ground, stand up high on
a rock. Arrange the objects in the frame according to the
rule of thirds. Think about the layers in your landscapes.

When you get home, review the photos. Delete the duds
and compare the winners. Than choose one of each
subject to present. Be brutal! If two photos of the same I chose this photo of the gravestone
thing are good, scrap one of them. A big part of being a in San Salvador because it had all
the ingredients to tell the story and
good photographer is showing only your best work. nothing more. The first two photos
show the graveyard setting, but the
angel in the background distracted
attention from the motorcycle.
The close-up detail photos looked
great, but there was nothing to
show that it was a gravestone.
The winner had a deep blue sky,
showed the fatefully twisted wheel,
and the cross carved in stone let
you know how it all ended.
Palenque ruins, Mexico

It was worthwhile to experiment with all kinds of crazy angles, but I decided to keep the straight close-up. Sometimes, simple is best.
We specifically drove out to find a good background for the VW surf bus. It was just a matter of trying every possible angle and distance I could think of.
I’m sure I shot more than sixty frames but this one was my favorite. I was lying on my back in the middle of the road to get some of these shots!
Tucson, Arizona
The same technique used for layering your landscapes can work well with architecture too.
I knew I wanted to have the pyramid looming high in the back and the sacrificial skulls in the
foreground. The snakes in the middle ground were a nice touch But it took more tries than
I’m presenting here to get it right.

Horizontal shots made the pyramid look too small, a vertical frame worked better in this
instance. I didn’t like that tree in the way of the lower left shot, so walking several steps
to the right moved it out of the frame. Finally, walking way back and zooming in with the
camera made the pyramid look properly massive and imposing. The gruesome skulls are
more apparent as well.

But the main reason I shot the pyramid from this odd viewpoint?
The wall hides the teeming multitudes of tourists standing at the base of the pyramid!

Chichen Itza, Mexico


PanAmerican highway, Honduras

Five trailers-long, the sugarcane train rambles along. Don’t settle for one shot when you see something interesting! I saw the trailers in the distance and blasted ahead to park at the
side of the road. Sitting astride my bike I gave the driver a big wave and started snapping. I chose the last photo in the sequence because the trailers looked largest at that point. I
would have preferred the number two shot, with the cab of the truck in front, but from that angle - shooting into the sun - the sky washed out to nothing and the colours were dull.
It’s all about the expression and pose when you are taking
photos of people. This works best while they are involved
in an activity, not paying much attention to the camera.
You’ve got to be quick on the shutter in situations like this.
There will always be a frame with just the right look on
their face.

, El Salvador
Finca Lecha
Conclusion keep an eye on
www.motojournalism.com
for upcoming e-books!
Think of the techniques we have just covered as
Equipment
a basic toolkit to work with. Each tool is going •SLR, Compact or both?
to have it’s time and place to be used. Use these •What to take on a trip
tools to build a foundation of photographic skill •Packing gear on your motorcycle
and experience. The more you use them the •Lens choice, filters and accessories
better you will get! •Camera settings for different situations
•Low light and action photography
•ISO, aperture and shutter speed
The best thing about this toolkit is that it’s •Backup and post-processing on the road
independent of what camera gear you have. You
can use these tools right away, with whatever
Post-processing
camera you have now. These skills will transfer •Exposure
to another camera once you start hitting your •Effective cropping
current cameras’s limitations and you’re ready •Black & White
to upgrade. •Curves & histograms
•Achieving a film look
•When to use HDR
Get out and practice each technique as you would
•RAW vs. JPG
riding your motorcycle in sand, full-lock turns in
the dirt, or clipping the apex on your favorite Advanced composition
backroad. Apply the technique over and over till •Photo sequences for effective storytelling
it becomes as natural as knowing what gear to •Visual Balance
shift into! •Light and colour
•Conceptual and thematic contrast
•Leading lines
See you on the road!
•Advanced people photography
•Street photography
Photography, writing & design ©2010 Anthony Kerr
•Cityscapes
www.motojournalism.com •Food photography
•Breaking the rules
Print out this cheat-sheet (page 41) and
keep it in your tank bag for reference!

Keep it Simple
•Choose one subject
•Eliminate distracting elements by moving yourself and your camera

Rule of Thirds
•Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over the frame
•Put the horizon near the upper or lower line
•Put your subject near a vertical line, or on an intersection
•Give objects in motion a place to go

Get Close
•Let a portion of the subject fill the entire frame
•Find what you like about a subject and show only that part

Background
•Find a good background and wait for things to happen
•Set up shots of your friends on the best looking stretches of road

Layered Landscape
•Frame a foreground, midground, background
•Put something of interest in the foreground to show scale and depth

People
•Get close, Keep it simple, try the rule of thirds
•Get your subject talking or keep them involved in activity
•Frame the shot so that people are looking into the middle of the photo

the edit
•Take many different photos of one subject now, pick the best one later

Photography,writing & design © 2010 Anthony Kerr


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