As a professional wedding photographer, I spend a lot of time with people in front of my camera. But because I grew up racing motocross and driving fast cars, I have always been intrigued by automotive photography. So when I was asked by a friend of mine if I wanted to help shoot a 80s-styled cafe racer motorcycle, I jumped at the opportunity. Add to this that the shoot was going to be inside of an arcade filled with old-school machines, and this shoot sounded like one amazing time.
Going into this shoot, I didn't really know what to expect. I had never been to this particular arcade before and I hadn’t seen any images of the bike. So flying blind, I arrived at the arcade about 10 minutes early to get an idea of what I was dealing with for the location. Walking around things looked pretty standard for an arcade. It was relatively dark with most of the light coming from some overhead lights along with the lights from the arcade machines. Because of this, my mind instantly went to using strobe to light the bike, but using it in a way that would look like it was coming from the scene. So I found a longer isle of machines and had the bike placed directly under one of the overhead lights. I then set my camera on a tripod and locked in my composition.
After getting the base exposure, I then brought in the light. For this I used a Phottix Indra 500TTL along with a Paul C. Buff strip box. The strip box allowed me to get adequate light coverage on the bike while not getting a bunch of light spill onto the ground and surrounding machines. I placed the light directly over the bike in order to mimic the overhead light that is part of the scene. From here, there was a bit of fine tuning in order to get the light to come from overhead, but still light up the side of the bike and show the name.
We now have a base exposure that shows the machines and overhead light as well as an exposure that shows a nice light on the bike. If we wanted to, we could easily stop here and have a nice image. But we decided to add a bit more drama and brought in a fog machine. For this exposure, I switched out the stripbox for a standard reflector with a grid. I then placed the light up high in about the same location as the overhead light, but a bit behind the bike so that the light would hit the fog right where the bike was. The fog machine I used was just a cheap $30 one that was on sale after Halloween.
In order to create this image, we now have three exposures that we need to combine together in post. This seems like a complicated task, but it's actually a lot simpler then it looks. Because our camera was on a tripod and the bike didn’t move, all of our images are perfectly aligned to one another. So we open each image as a separate layer in Photoshop. I placed my base exposure on the bottom layer, followed by the lit bike, then the fog. From here, we just work from the bottom up, starting with the base layer. The only thing I really wanted to do with this base layer is to darken down the ceiling and machines that were behind the bike.
Next up is to combine the nice light on the bike with the base image. To do this we simply set the blending mode of the lit bike layer to lighten. We then use a layer mask to brush out the light.
Next up is the fog, and thankfully, it's pretty much just as easy to combine this layer as it was for the bike layer. The only difference here is that the strobe light that lit the fog doesn't perfectly align with the overhead light. To fix this, all I did was use the free transform tool to warp the light of the strobe to match the position of the overhead light. Now that everything is lined up, all we do is set the layer to the blend mode of lighten.
After all the layers have been combined, it was just a matter of making some small adjustments here and there. Things like darkening down the floor a bit under the bike, cloning out some distractions, and making sure the warping I did on the fog was perfectly centered on the light.
For this shoot, we also did a another image of the bike turned at a 45-degree angle with the headlight on. This image was pretty much done the exact same way as the one above. The main difference is that the light had to be placed in front of the bike in order to light up the name because of how the bike leaned on its kickstand. Other then that, all the other images and editing looked the exact same.
Aside from these two main images, we also shot a set of detail shots. For this set of images I used the Indra 500TTL with the stripbox again. Each image was shot with the stripbox as close to the detail as possible without getting in the way of the camera. This allowed me to get a nice soft light, but because of the inverse square law, I also got a very fast and dramatic light falloff. The main thing I had to really pay attention to for these images was how the light was reflecting off the bike. If I shot an inch or two to the left or right, instead of a nice strip of light lighting the curve in the tank, I would be left with just a patch of light on just the front or back half. Because the Indra has a built-in modeling light though, I was able to see exactly what my light was doing and just how those finite movements affected the image.
If you are new to this type of editing process, feel free to grab the base exposures above and give the Photoshop part a try. Share what you get in the comments. And shout out to the guys at Blk Elk Media for inviting me along and to One-Up Moto Garage for the bike.