Bike porn photo pro tips

Grant Petersen has 30 years of experience choosing bike photos for his catalogs and other marketing material. Just in time for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Grant publishes his tips on improving your bike photography.

Grant is writing for the point-and-shoot camera (and mobile device) crowd, not the pros with the fancy lenses, so his advice is accessible to most of us. He even gives examples of DOs and DON’Ts of bike photography [PDF] so you can see exactly what he describes.

Some of his advice is a little bit impractical for NAHBS. Bikes, people, more bikes, tables, displays, booths, more bikes, and more people clutter the show floor. Finding an uncluttered background, lining up a bike just right and waiting for the constant stream of attendees to clear out so you can snap the photo is a challenge. Urban Velo has, in past years, brought background rolls to create a mini studio for their excellent bike porn shots. (Update: They did this for 2010 as well.) Add poor convention floor lighting and on camera flash, and you usually have to make do with creative composition to make your shots interesting. The photo below of Craig Calfee’s carbon fiber “thread” bike from the San Jose NAHBS in 2007, for example, breaks most of Grant’s guidelines for bike porn photos and is technically lousy in so many ways, yet it remains my most viewed NAHBS photo for some reason that I haven’t figured out.

NAHBS: Calfee carbon bike

It helps tremendously that Calfee provided a nice background for their bikes. Most typical for the smaller builders, though, is something like this booth from Rock Lobster. You can’t even tell what you’re looking at because my photo is so cluttered. In an environment like this, it might be better to get super close for a detail shot.

Rock Lobster single speed

The Richmond show is supposed to be super busy so maybe the exhibitors won’t be quite as accessible as in the past, but if there’s a bike you really want a good shot of, you can ask the exhibitor if you can move the bike for a better photo, like I did for this Moots titanium commuter bike.

Moots Ti Comooter commuter bike.

Keep Grant Petersen’s guidelines in mind, but feel free to experiment as well — digital media is cheap.

Grant’s Photo Guidelines (in a nutshell): Shoot the bike pointing to the right; shoot the drive side (so the components show) with pedals level and the drive side crank at about 2 o’clock; back up and zoom in (to keep everything proportional looking); use even light to avoid shadows; watch the background to make sure it doesn’t clutter your photo. Read Grant Petersen’s complete guidelines to improve your bike photography here.

I’m just an amateur photographer. For point and shoot cameras, what are your suggestions for convention center photography?

One comment

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    November 21, 2010 - 12:12 pm | Permalink

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