Learn how to take stunning pictures of your bike and the night sky with Simon Thomas’s guide to shooting bikes and stars.
A few years back a cool photo of your bike just needed a great location and the click of a button. Today, everyone’s got a smartphone or a high megapixel camera and the standard of photography has just gone up and up.
More and more riders are asking, ‘How do I shoot one of those super cool motorcycle camping Milky Way, night sky shots?’ Well, I’m glad you asked, because that’s what we’re covering in this masterclass.
The main image was shot just four days ago (at the time of writing this) in one of the darkest places in the US, a national park called City of Rocks. The night sky was jaw-droppingly spectacular and come 2am we were still shooting.
First off, you’re going to need a smartphone app or a camera that will allow you to directly control how long the exposure will last. You’re also going to need a tripod or a way of keeping your camera totally still.
It’s a good idea to use a remote trigger for your camera and ideally you want to pick up a flash (or Speedlight as Nikon calls it). If you’re serious, consider using a remote flash, which means that the unit will flash when you’re physically some distance from your camera.
It’s a great idea to have a controlled way of lighting the foreground. There are a few options, but I’d recommend picking up a LumeCube or two (www.lumecube.com). These are ridiculously small, waterproof, dimmable light units, which can be controlled remotely using your smartphone. Hey, who doesn’t like cool things!
Lastly, grab yourself a head torch. It may sound obvious, but having a light that allows you to operate your camera is critical.
Taking the shot
With your camera on the tripod, set up your shot and decide what you want in your composition. Having your bike or camp spot in the foreground is going to give your image a focus and create your foreground. Use your torch to temporarily light the area so you can properly determine composition.
Locate the button or menu that allows you to select your camera’s ‘manual mode’ yep, that scary setting that you never use, and select ‘manual’ as your drive mode.
*TOP TIP: Manual mode does not activate a self-destruct feature on your phone or camera. It’ll be fine, honest! Set your camera’s exposure for between 15-20 seconds. This means the shutter will be open and light will be hitting your camera’s sensor for all that time.
*TOP TIP: Don’t expose your shots for longer than 20 seconds. The stars will appear as blurs and your shot will be less impactful. Increase the ISO (your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light), this shot was taken at 12,800 ISO. Some cameras will go higher. It will all depend on your make and model.
*TOP TIP: The lower you can keep the ISO value the better, as the higher the value the greater the chance you will have of digital noise being introduced into your image.
Find the option in your camera’s menu that reads ‘long exposure noise reduction on’, and select it.
Next, select the widest aperture your lens has available (the lowest f-number) which, to you and me simply means opening the lens as wide as it will go to let in the maximum amount of light. A good lens will go as wide as f2.8. Expensive lenses will go wider.
With torch lighting your foreground object, use ‘auto focus’ to focus your shot by pressing your shutter release button down halfway, and then, with your camera’s shutter release still pressed, flick your camera into manual focus mode. This will guarantee that your focus is locked in.
Make sure your camera is set up at least 6m from your foreground, which will give you the best chance of capturing your bike, gear and the stars in focus. No one likes blurry dots in the sky.
Set the flash to manual mode so you can control the amount of light it will give. Typically, 1/64 or 1/128 is all you need to use. At some point during the exposure, click the ‘test flash button’ while away from the camera and aiming at your foreground subject.
You can also use a remote trigger if there is something in the distance you would like to have lit as well. As long as you flash during the exposure, you are good.
Place your foreground light out of the shot and set to ‘dim’. You’ll be amazed how little light it will take to create a stunning image when your shutter is open for 20 seconds.
Now, activate your remote trigger to take the picture or alternatively use the built-in timer on your camera and select a delay of 2-5 seconds. This extra work is to guarantee zero camera movement, and therefore no blurring. The magic is now happening.
It will take a little practice, so make sure you play around and adjust the ISO levels and in turn your exposure time. The light available will affect whether your shutter speed is 12 seconds, 15 seconds or even 20 seconds.
Have fun, please post, and share your images with us online!