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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good photos help sell your motorcycle

Something appeals to me about the Royal Enfield Bullet above, pictured in an ad on CraigsList. The angle is visually enticing, the background is interesting but not obtrusive and the fall leaves are a subtle hint that the time is perfect to go for a ride.

Ebay and CraigsList offer sellers the opportunity to show off their wares in pictures. Unfortunately, many sellers make simple photography mistakes that cause their motorcycles to look less appealing.

What's the Number One most common sin? After looking at many hundreds of ads for Royal Enfields and other motorcycles for sale, I would say the White Garage Door is the single biggest problem.

I suppose sellers are looking for a nice clean backdrop for the photo, and what can be handier than that nice, white garage door? Trouble is, that expanse of white will throw off the camera's exposure meter and cause the motorcycle to look too dark. Besides, the white garage door is boring. And it's flat: it makes the bike look like it's a picture on a billboard.

Compare the white garage door photo above to this picture of a Royal Enfield photographed against a grassy lawn. All the photographer had to do to clean up the background was to step up on a porch stair or a step ladder and shoot down on the motorcycle. Much more appealing. There is no glaring white to distract the eye and the motorcycle looks like it is in a three-dimensional space.

Walls aren't always bad backgrounds. Look at the effect this simple brick wall has. It's colorful and interesting but it doesn't distract the eye from the motorcycle. Why? Because your mind knows it is a brick wall built out of identical bricks; you appreciate it unconsciously without examining it in detail.

If anything, this background implies that the motorcycle is built like a brick... well, you know the expression. In other words, it's a solid buy.

The garden trellis in this photo is another story. With peek-a-boo openings and vines, and lines running diagonally, it's a visual roller coaster ride. The motorcycle becomes an afterthought in this picture, not what you, as the seller, want to achieve.

The best amateur photos of motorcycles are taken outdoors. Few of us can bother with studio lighting and, besides, motorcycles belong outside. Sunlight is a powerful tool. Stay on its side, with the sun behind you, and you should have no problems. The seller of this motorcycle blasted his Royal Enfield with sunlight, and made the details really shine.

But there is another way to use sunlight, too, and that is to shoot early in the day or late in the afternoon. Professional photographers prefer "The Light", as they call it, at these times. It produces a softer, more subtle glow. The example below is one of my favorites.

But be careful. If you wait until the sun is low you will have to hold the camera very still (or brace it on a railing) so that the photo isn't blurred by camera shake when you press the button. If you're having trouble, try setting the camera on time delay and letting it release the shutter itself.

Some sellers create appealing ad photos by putting the motorcycle in a real setting. It's hard to say whether these pictures are more effective sales tools, but they are striking. This photo of a Royal Enfield for sale in New Orleans, with a horse and carriage in the background, suggests how much fun I might have touring around if I bought the motorcycle.

An admission: I doctored the picture of the motorcycle for sale in New Orleans to clean up the background, using the PhotoShop program. Can you spot the change? Here is the original:

In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with using computer software to improve a picture if it doesn't disguise the condition of the motorcycle itself.

I can't resist adding one last amendment to my warning in the previous post that having a female model stretch out on the motorcycle might send the wrong message. Part of the appeal of motorcycles is, undoubtedly, sensual. Using a human being to convey that is a lot of trouble, and a bit obvious.

With the right light, angle and background, the machine itself can make the statement you want to make. It's a matter of taste, of course, but consider the picture below, which ran with an eBay ad for a Royal Enfield Interceptor.

Taking pictures like this one is harder than it looks. This photographer was a professional, with studio lighting to help him make the shot. He dared to put a normally uninteresting part of the motorcycle in the foreground, dared to let the camera lens distort the motorcycle, and dared to crop out most of the machine itself.

Never mind the motorcycle. This photo could sell as a poster.

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