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Submit pictures of your own bike projects to the new AZ gallery that we launched in late April 2012. Comment on, rate and link to others' gallery pictures, too. And, you can search the gallery.

Join our bike builders community to enjoy full gallery functions and privileges. Membership is free. Gallery pictures here on the main AZ site will be migrated to the new gallery this summer.

We hope you like the new gallery. See you there.



Photographing your DIY project

Figure 0

Once your custom bike project is completed, you will want to show off your talents to the rest of the community, and just like all of the other tools of the trade, a camera is a device that will only deliver good results if you know the basics. If you set up your shot using the right lighting conditions, angle, and background, your custom bike will look as good in photos as it does in real life. Of course, a poorly executed photo will fail to capture all of the hard work and fine details you put into your project, so take your time and learn to make your camera work for you.

Lighting and shadows

Figure 1

Just because a scenic background looks good to your eyes does not mean the camera will see it the same way. Being a machine, the camera will do its best to expose the scene, which may in fact be the opposite of the way you want it to. A huge problem for a digital camera is an overly bright spot of light in a scene, such as the reflecting sun on the water in the scene above. When I took this photo, the lighting looked perfect to me, with the bright blue sparkle of the river below adding a nice contract to the bright red bike. To the camera, the reflecting sun was seen as a hot spot and this caused the mage sensor in the camera to "bloom", resulting in the rest of the scene being dark and lackluster.

Sometimes you can see this in your viewfinder on the camera preview, but many times you won't see how bad a shot is until you view the photos on your computer. For this reason, never trust a single shot and take several photos from different angles. Digital photos cost nothing, so take 10 or more just to be safe when you spend the time to setup that perfect scene.

Figure 2

Here, the lighting is a little bit better, but the scene lacks any real brilliance and color depth once again due to the way the camera interpreted the light in the scene. The problem was with the metal guard rail being the brightest object in the background, which once again caused the image sensor to dim the rest of the scene in response to the hot spot. Of course, I cannot remove the guard rail, so I realized that the idea of using the river below as a background would be impossible from atop the bridge.

Another thing that can ruin an otherwise good shot is a sharply contrasting shadow in the wrong place. In this shot, the shadow of the crank and seat distract from the bike and make it difficult to see where things start and end. To avoid an overbearing shadow, you will have to work with the sun, or shoot on a day with some cloud cover to soften the shadows. Sometimes that perfect scene just won’t work, so you will have to find another spot to show off the features of your new ride

Figure 3

In this shot, I was happy with the contrast between the red frame and the background, and the shadows did not interfere with the image since the sun was on the other side of the bike. None of the details in the background distract from the line of the frame, and the ambient lighting was just perfect for showing off all of the fine details of the bike. To place the handlebars in the sky, I had to lay on the ground to make the shot, but this really brought out the details in the black painted parts and made the bike look powerful due to the lower viewpoint. Often the angle of the shot can put the subject into an entirely new perspective and convey a certain attitude.

Framing and background

Figure 4

Sometimes you snap what you think is a perfect shot only to realize later that the background takes away from the subject of the image. Take the image above for example. The phat-ass chopper is rolling away from the camera and showing a great view of the custom made rear wheel. But the scene is ruined by all of that detail in the fence and the similarity in color between the bright green frame and the weeds growing in the background. It is easy simply forget about the background when looking through the viewfinder as you seek that photo, so try to train yourself to see the whole picture, not just the subject.

Figure 5

In this photo, several things went wrong although the position and angle of the subject seemed good at the time. The obvious problem is the blue metal tubing in the background stealing the scene and blending with the subject matter. The second problem is that the camera was focused on the background, rather than on the subject which will sometimes happen when using autofocus on a moving scene. Sometimes the blurred subject can convey motion, but in this case, the background killed the shot, so it went into the trashbin. When shooting a moving object, take many photos and then sort out the ones you like later. Digital cameras can store hundreds of images.

Figure 6

One of the best images from this photo shoot was one of the simple shots with the bright green chopper in front of an evenly lit red brick wall. It was a slightly overcast day, so there are no harsh shadows on the ground or wall and the ambient lighting allowed the camera to pull the detail from the bright green frame, rather than on some reflecting part of the background. The only thing I did not like in this image is the green weed in the background competing with the green in the frame, but in a program like Photoshop, this is very easy to deal with.

Cropping and adjusting

Figure 7

It is very difficult to take a photo that needs no post work at all. I usually try to get the lighting and angle of the shot I want and then worry about framing the subject when I choose the best images. If you try to zoom in and frame the subject during a moving shot, then chances are you will cut off some part of the subject so it is best to frame a larger scene and use an image editor to crop it later. Cropping simply means cutting away the unwanted background around your subject. Most image editing programs will have this basic feature. In image editors, you simply select a box around the area you want to keep and then apply the crop function to discard the unwanted background. In this photo, I wanted to zoom into the details on the lowracer, so my selection was tight around the subject and included the lower shadow just to add some style to the photo.

Figure 8

Once the image was cropped, it really kept the attention focused on the bike rather than on details in the background. I also applied a little saturation enhancement to pull out the metallic orange color of the lowracer frame. Brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, and crop are all basic functions that most image editors will have. These basic tools can take an otherwise lackluster photo and make it really shine. If you really want to enhance your ride, then learn to adjust specific colors so that you can brighten up your frame and lower the saturation of the background. Playing with color replace is also a great way to see what different colors might look like on your ride and help decide on what color you want to use for your next project.

Saving your photos

Figure 9

Don't be one of these people who simply dumps images from their digital camera and then sends them through email to their friends! Dude, I am on a slow Internet connection with limited bandwidth, and the image shown above is almost 53 megabytes in size, which means I could probably build another bike before it would completely download! Even a $30 budget camera will spew out a massive image if you have set the quality to the highest setting (which I highly recommend you do). And, since you always want to use your camera on the best quality setting, this means that you must know how to properly size and save your images depending on what you plan to do with them.

I always keep the full quality images I take, which are sometimes 50 megabytes in size, having a screen resolution of 5000 or more pixels. It is important to keep the original so you can work with full quality when you edit or need print quality photos, but you certainly cannot email these to your friends. To keep things simple, always think in terms of pixels, as this is how your monitor sees the digital image world. A typical new LCD monitor will have a screen resolution of 1280 pixels across, so there is no need to view a 5000 pixel image unless you want to zoom right in. For viewing purposes, a 1024 pixel image is usually great quality, and a 640 pixel image is moderate quality. You are currently looking at 640 pixel images here, and they are certainly fine for email and web purposes.

Figure 10

When you save the images from your photo editing program, always choose JPG or JPEG and then consider both the file dimensions (pixels) as well as the compression ration when you save them. In the Figure above, the photo editor presents a dialog box that allows me to resize (scale) the image before saving, so I can greatly reduce the size of the image for use in email or on the web. The original image had a pixel width of 5451, and a files size of 52.8 megabytes, but after resizing it to 640 pixels, the size was reduced to only 744K, which is less than 1 megabyte in size. This is a perfect email size image.

When reducing the image size, always keep the "aspect ratio", which means that the height will change in proportion the width. Usually, the photo editing software will do this for you unless you force it not to by disable something like "Constrain Proportions" or "Keep Aspect Ratio". Also choose a resolution or "dot pitch" of 72 for computer viewing as this is all a monitor can display. For print work, keep a resolution of 150 or 300 pixels per inch.

Figure 11

When you save your images, choose the JPG (JPeg) image standard as this will result in the smallest file size for web or email use. JPG is a compressed format, which means that some details will be lost depending on the quality or "file size" setting used. I usually use a quality of 80%, which in Photoshop is a selection of "10" on the quality slider. You can see that at 80%, the file size is almost 10 times smaller than at 100%, and as far as compression goes, the loss of detail is almost negligible.

You will have to experiment with these settings as you learn how to size your images for maximum quality and file size, but after a while it becomes easy. Keeping the original image means that you can always go back and save your best photo again for a different use such as printing or on your photo blog. If you plan to email photos of your ride to your pals, then be considerate of their bandwidth and keep your images under 2 megabytes in size and at a resolution of less than 1024 pixels across.

If you would like to display your photos in our forum (or any forum), check out this image sharing tutorial...

How to display your photos in our Forum