Photography: Shooting for Magazines

Ever dreamt of having your image on the cover of a motorcycle magazine? Simon Thomas (whose images have adorned three covers of ABR over the years) shares his secrets to capturing the perfect shot and pleasing artistic directors

The Buzz

It’s every rider’s wet dream. To have your image splashed across the cover of a major bike mag. Let me tell you, no matter how many covers you’re on, it’s always special and the buzz stays. So, the big question is ‘how do you take a shot that’s good enough to get you on the cover?’ At the very least how do you get a shot that puts you in the running?

Different Strokes

Although most motorcycle magazines differ, in as much as they cater to a differing segment of the biking community, they have differing artistic styles and stick to specific layouts, I figured that there are only two or three cover styles that they all use.

The main styles are the dynamic close up, bike focused action shot and then there’s the dramatic open rider in a landscape shot. For most of us, who don’t have a pro cameraman following us around like a lost puppy, waiting to capture our greatness, getting the second style of shot is always going to be easier.

That said, there is another factor to take into account if you’re planning on shooting a bike-focused action shot, and here’s where psychology comes into play. Try to set up your shot so the bike is riding from left to right. In the West, we read from top left to bottom right, so our brains are programmed to find this visual route naturally, which means it feels right. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

The Jackanory Effect

If you’ve read my previous photo masterclasses, you’ll already be a fair way down the road to be able to capture a technically strong image, but cover shots have to be strong. They have to tell an entire story in a single image. Let’s look at the mock ABR cover we created (which you can see below) and I’ll run through what we did to make this shot happen.

Cover Checklist

Composition: We have foreground (the road), we have the focus mid ground (me freezing my arse off) and then we have the dramatic background (The Pamir Mountains).

Filter: Because we were at altitude 14,000ft, Lisa had to use a UV filter to control and minimise the blue hue that’s created when shooting up in the clouds.

Lens Choice: Lisa used a telephoto lens too, but stayed well back to capture as much of the landscape as possible.

Bracketing: Because the amount of brightness in the scene, caused by the reflected light bouncing off the snow-covered mountains, Lisa shot bracketed images. Which means multiple shots of the same image taken at different exposures. This increased her chances of capturing at least one correctly exposed shot in these difficult conditions.

Space: Nope not the kind with zero gravity, but space for text.

One of the biggest reasons that one specific image is chosen over another for the cover, is often down to simple spatial logistics, which is a fancy way of saying, the creative pros who design the cover need space to put words!

The magazine title, article heading, bar code and a ton of other features have to find a home on the cover.

So, if you want to create an image good enough for the cover, you have to think about the space around the main subject of your image. You may have an award-winning snap, but if the creative director can’t put words over it, it’s not going on the cover.

Breaking The Rules

A few issues ago, I spoke about composition and the rule of thirds. Shooting for a cover often means breaking a ton of those ‘so-called’ photographic rules.

Bearing in mind that cover shots are all portrait, that is they’re taller than they are wide, so often it means putting the focus of your shot bang in the centre of the photo, something I’ve said in the past is a big no-no.

Again, check out the mock cover shot, I’m right in the middle both horizontally and vertically, but we made sure to allow for space for text.

The one rule that can’t be broken though, is the story. If we’ve done our job right then you’re pulled into the image, you feel the immensity of those f***ing freezing mountains and you want to know what’s over the brow of that quickly disappearing road.

Right, off you go, go and shoot a stunning cover. The thrill is worth the effort.

Best of luck.