Aussie sharpshooter Ben Galli shares with us his top motorcycle photography tips.
Photography is a big part of motorcycling. In fact, this very website would be pretty boring without some of the marvellous imagery we get to publish. While just about every rider photographs motorcycles in some capacity, doing it well is its very own art form.
To find out what it takes to be a pro motorcycle photographer, we recently caught up with one of the best sharpshooters in the game, Ben Galli.
Whether you want to go pro yourself, or would just like to take a nicer shot, Galli’s advice is sure to help increase your skills.
Consider the background
“A motorbike is a practical tool, it is also a thing of beauty, but first and foremost it is a thing that you use,” explains Galli.
“I’ve always believed that a motorcycle should be photographed in context, being very mindful of the environment it is in.
“I see a lot of photos of people’s motorbikes where they’ll just stand up and take a photo at head height, not paying too much attention to what’s in the background, simply because they think they are just taking a photo of their motorbike. But I think that it’s important to see the environment that it’s in.
“A motorbike is quite a complex 3D form, there’s a lot of exposed elements and angles. It’s not like a car which is very smooth. So you don’t want a lot of distracting elements in your background.
“Remember, if you see a lot of power lines or street signs in the background, that’s what your eye is going to be drawn to.”
Tell a story
“Angles can really change the mood of the shot. Typically you want your motorbike to look tough and kind of aggressive, and the best way to achieve that is to get down low. Look up at the bike, or at least level with it. This often has a really positive impact on the shot.
“A good practice is to watch the screen if you’re on your phone, or the viewfinder on the camera, and move your body up, down, left and right until you can see an attractive angle, because what you’re seeing with your eye is going to be different to what the camera sees.”
“It takes a long time to perfect action shots, and if you’re not comfortable with the operation of the camera, it can be a bit hit and miss. But, a really easy way to nail action shots consistently, is to do vehicle-to-vehicle type shots.
“We call those tracking shots, and they have a great effect because the direction of the action is following the camera, so you have a lot of leading lines going towards the viewer.
“Not only that, but you, the cameraman, is moving at speed, so you don’t have to pan and match the speed of the bike, which takes a lot of skill. So you just have to point the camera in the direction of the bike, perhaps from the passenger seat of a car. It’s a really interesting way of getting some action that has a really high success rate.
“Other ways to get some action is to think about having movement in the background, rather than having the subject move.
“Think about positioning the bike in front of moving objects like traffic, maybe a train, things like that. Motion is implied in the background, and its nice and milky and blurred so the focus is kept on the bike.”
How important is editing?
“This part is subjective. There’s a large group of people that think that a photograph has more validity if it’s straight out of the camera, because it requires the skill to think about what you’re shooting, rather than saving it after the fact.
“I’m not one of those people. I think that editing puts the icing on the cake. It can lift the pic, maybe just 10 or 20 per cent, but it can make all the difference.
“The great thing is there is lots of free editing software and editing tutorials out there, many that are specific to motorcycling and car photography.
“If you want to perfect your skills, or at least learn how to take a decent shot, look to learn from other shooters online. You can even watch or read about a technique on your phone while you’re at the shoot.
“My biggest advice for those who want to learn photography is don’t just read manuals and books on how to do it, do it in practice. That’s the best way to have it sink into your head so it becomes second nature.”
Do I need expensive gear?
“A lot of people come to me and say something like “wow, look at all your equipment, you must take a really good photo”, but what I say to them is, ‘would you go to a Michelin star restaurant and say “wow, look at your oven, you must cook really good food”?’.
“You can have the best gear in the world, and it means nothing if you don’t know what you’re pointing it at, how to point it, how to control it, all of these things.
“Every single camera has the capability of taking a shithouse photo, or an incredible photo. The only difference is the person using it.”
Instagram vs conventional media
“I’ve gotten some jobs out of Instagram and social media, and you can be successful through it. However, social media marketing is a whole other skill that not everyone has.
“I think that motorcyclists are ‘people people’, they love engagement, they love talking, and so nothing will replace face-to-face communication.
“People respond to who you are, so even if your work is not completely up to scratch, if you speak on the phone or in person you can show that you’re dedicated and well-spoken, professional and keen to learn – those things go a really long way.
“You’re not gonna see your personality from a collection of images online, so get out there.”
Do I need to go to school?
“After a stint working for a photography studio I ended up studying at RMIT, but whenever someone comes to me who is interested in photography I try to ask them what they are interested in, because really, the piece of paper doesn’t mean much in this business.
“No one is going to give you a job because you have a degree. Skills talk and bullshit walks.”
So how do I get published?
“Volunteering, or ‘assisting’ is a fundamental stepping stone known within photography, it’s what everyone has to do. Over time you get better, and hopefully eventually get paid. It’s kind of a rite of passage.
“But put yourself out there. Speaking to people is the best way to get a job.
“I was nervous about contacting people for work when I was getting started, as most people are, but I quickly learned that the worst thing they can say is no.
“Put it this way, If they think I’m a dickhead, then I probably don’t want to work with them anyway. So there’s no real loss in trying.”
To see more of Ben Galli’s work, or to get in contact with him, click here.
Spencer has a keen eye for hard news, and does some of his best living on deadline day. He loves more than anything to travel on his motorcycle, and is adamant that Melbourne Bitter is a world-class lager. He also knows how to operate the big computery thing in the office. By night, Spencer plays guitar with Melbourne punk outfit LOUTS.