I have an abiding respect for skilled individuals who earn a living practicing their passion. Moreover, I consider it an insult when laypersons who engage in a similar activity take themselves too seriously. For instance, I have circumnavigated a motocross track at the same moment as Jeremy McGrath, so I know Super Mac participates in a sport with which I am totally unfamiliar. Me talking about clearing 20-foot doubles just seems like a slap in the seven-time champ's face.
Likewise real photographers. A wise and talented lensman once told me, "Amateurs take pictures—professionals make photographs.” I’ve worked with some of the best photographers in several industries, so I know my own skills are terrapixels below The Real Thing. Nevertheless, when I attend chopper hootenannies, I try to take picture-taking seriously. None of my amateur snapshots will ever hang in a gallery, but each of them reminds me why I enjoy today's custom motorcycle scene so much.
To keep the pace of this ChopCult pictorial lively, I took just ten minutes to pick these 20 photos from my archives. Any longer might have implied more gravity than these pedestrian images contain. Writing each caption took considerably longer, but that's only because some of them were satirized for your protection.
Dan Collins and his lovely wife Tiffany of Old Gold Garage Co. exuded an air of quiet confidence and raw sensuality at 2010's Slab City Riot. Tiffany's Buell Blast-powered chopper is as rad as it is period incorrect.
This work-in-progress was built by Wayne Ahquist for the biker build-off at Laconia Bike Week 2010. It didn't take top honors at New England's biggest biker hoedown, but it did land on the cover of Acme's catalog. This photo doesn't do justice to the level of detail on display.
I lived in Lake Elsinore for 13 years and never saw this bike or its owner. Duane Ballard lived in LE for less than six months before he and Alex Cardone and his CB750 chopper became best friends. The things Alex can build with a belt sander and a garden rake would blow your mind.
I met Darren LePage and fellow Jersey Boy Walt Gemeinhart on Gypsy Run I in 2007. Both men should have pummelled me for my creepy campfire shenanigans but they didn't, and that's what makes Darren and guys like him so great.
My friend Rob Warren gifted me his CB450 cafe racer basket case, so to honor his generosity I spent the next year building this StreetTracker. Lots of talented people stopped by the shop to to pitch in on my most ambitious project to date. This motorcycle more than any other stands as a constant reminder on the value of talented and generous friends.
I shot this photo of Bill at the Hell on Wheels vintage moto races in 2010. Notice the bent pegs, the paper plate and the handlebars in Bill's lap. Lowbrow hijinx at its best. I don't know anyone who enjoys riding motorcycles more than Billdozer.
Girls are awesome, and make camping in the dirt with bearded weirdos bearable. Some day I will return to earth as a brass zipper.
Dr. Jerimy Cox from Ponca City, OK, is a respected chiropractor by day and a tattooed chopper freak evenings and weekends. I was 60 yards away from this bike when I shot it parked in the middle of the dirt track at last year's Twine Ball Run. Long-lens photos sometimes give the subject a toy-like quality I find appealing.
I'm not sure anything in this photo is in focus, but the light and the space and the environment say "man cave" like few images I've stumpled upon. This man cave happens to be Foundry Moto in Phoenix, AZ, which might explain why there's a knucklehead on the workbench instead of an XS650.
This bike is more "tech" than some ChopCult readers care for, which is why it never made the cut as a home page feature. Nevertheless, I love Satya Kraus's not-so-subtle melding of old style and new technology, especially in black and white, which lets you see what's going on by toning down the bling.
Periodically I give portraiture a stab, and sometimes it works. The subject of this photo and the owner of the bike said she liked this image, and that's good enough for me. Thanks for posing, Little Jenny.
Understanding your camera's focal and aperture settings can open a whole new world of creative possibilities to the amateur photographer. I have a marginally better than topical knowledge of such parameters, and I still take shitty photos. How this one turned out okay I will never know, but it does a decent albeit ham-fisted job of saying what choppers are all about.
Anyone who's seen my bike features on ChopCult knows I'm a fan of low angles. Getting down in the dirt is essential to creating compelling motorcycle images, in my opinion. I'm aware my taste for subterranean shooting sometimes presents a chopper's stance in muddy light, but I think the ruggedness evoked in images like this one is often more compelling than simple geometry.
In some photos, light, composition and sharpness take a back seat to subject matter. This is one of those times. Rouser Rob is known for his Sportster-powered choppers, but he also enjoys camping on the beach and chasing wizards aboard his KTM dirt bike. Given the same opportunity, who wouldn't?
Another long lens shot gone right. It doesn't happen often, but when it does I get stoked.
Compositionally speaking this photo is flawed in my opinion—too "fried egg" if you will. Fortunately, there's enough other stuff going on that it works as a whole. Dumb luck delivered the nice strobe-fade, double exposure on the flapping flag, and there's some rich color, light and content happening all around. Did anyone pick up the subliminal "Stop Daytona Bike Week" message, or the phallic imagery practically everywhere? I wasn't trying to say "Daytona Bike Week is for kooks" when I shot this photo, but that message seems loud and clear. Sorry, Sunshine State.
I use on-camera fill flash even during daylight hours, if for no other reason than to get some light into the nooks and crannies that decorate the surfaces on most motorcycles. I'm far from having the process mastered, but it's supposed to work like this: Lower the f-stop on the lens to decrease the volume of incoming light. This will widen your depth of field, but also under-expose your image. Use on-camera flash to improve lighting on all the black bits that are sure to be present in your chopper photo. Fill flash gives the dozen or so different blacks in this photo clarity so tires, rims, fenders, seats and pipes don't blend into one ebony mess.
Perhaps slightly too amateur Ansel Adams for many people's taste, but the old magazine editor in me loves this photo for the design opportunities if might offer a clever art director. Bill and I have conspired on ads and catalogs for so long, old habits like off-center composition and keeping the subject out of the "gutter" are here to stay.
I learned a long time ago you don't need to see everything to get the whole picture. Bleeding sections of this bike's important bits out of frame adds tension to what can sometimes be a static subject matter. The wide-angle lens doesn't hurt the energy in this photo, either. Walter's shovelhead looks ready to ride, and that's what I was shooting for, no pun intended.
Something I do quite often is tilt the camera slightly to put the subject on an angled horizon. Is it art, or merely annoying? A friend of mine who happens to be a professional photographer says visual cues like this define a shooter's "style," and can turn mundane snapshots into highly prized pieces of original fine art. I'd happily settle for "in focus."
Thanks to all the real shooters I've met over the years for sharing their hard-earned tips and tricks for creating better photos. If I could remember half of them, I'd be a better photographer. Until that day comes, I'll keep buying thicker glasses and try to lay off the coffee.
To see the work of photographers I admire, go here and here.
Spoiler alert: The Second Annual ChopCult Photo Contest will be announced in the main forum late August, and up for grabs will be prizes from Old Gold Garage Co., Pangea Speed, Old-Stf Choppers, Loser Machine Co., No School Choppers and several others. Stay tuned…