20 in 10: A ChopCult Pictorial


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…

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Commented on 7-29-2011 At 04:46 am

Nifty piece. Would be great if you did a little more ''tech'' and explained how the shots were set up.

FWiW, I like the pics.


Commented on 7-29-2011 At 05:11 am

I liked them too. I think you're more talented than you give yourself credit for.

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 06:20 am

I wasn't fishing for compliments, but thanks! The truth is, I'm never quite sure what I'm doing when I shoot. My camera has a big preview screen, so I keep taking the same shot while fiddling w/ settings until I think I've achieved the desired result. Only after I open the files in iPhoto do I realize that there's shit on the lens, or that I was out of focus. I guess my top tip would be this: use daytime flash. Light is your friend, and it's easier to adjust for more, but rarely less, light in post. Oh, and make sure you're wearing your glasses...

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 06:32 am

I've posted your first paragraph on my FB wall... it is gold.

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 06:36 am

And FWIW, lens selection is what separates amateurs from pros. And the good thing about that is that good lenses are expensive, and it takes a real commitment to photography to have the right ones... DSLRs are a dime a dozen these days, and cheap. But glass... that is what makes it or breaks it.

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 08:25 am

Nice write up. I have always considered myself an expert snap shot taker and have dreamed of committing real time and resources to venture towards art, until that day, I'll just keep appreciating good photos like the ones above!

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 08:38 am

I don't comment much……but you and all the other contributors really deserve props for the great camera work and well put together features. Call it amateur if you must but Chop Cult brings to life a subject we all enjoy without looking like grandma ol’ photo albums. Thanks for sharing some insight into what you guys do and hopefully more people will understand what we got in front of us.

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 10:24 am

A tear just welled up in John Ker's eye. I hope the "professional photographers" of the MC print world see this feature. If I see one more photo with the bike and rider blurred in front of an in-focus, scenic background, I'm gonna puke.

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 11:15 am

Note to self: Get a haircut you damn hippie!

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 11:18 am

Nikon D5000... I want one.. or a D90

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 12:35 pm

Great shots, great write up.

On a side note, PLEASE do a Chop Cult feature on Satya Kraus' bike.

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 01:01 pm

"Amateurs take pictures—professionals make photographs.”

That was the first thing that my first photography professor said to my class. With camera phones in everyone's pockets and DSLRs becoming commonplace, EVERYONE seems to think they are a photographer. But anyone can point a camera at something and hit the shutter. It takes dedication and developed skills to make true photographs, just like any other craft or art.

+1 to BillyT as well. Forget about the newest and greatest camera body. Quality glass is worth its weight in gold...

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 02:24 pm

A couple of tips to consider, Mr. McGruther

Talent and skill are related, but not quite the same thing.Both are improved by practice and careful study of what you see in the magic window on the back of the digicam. Including blowing up the pics to check focus,and depth of field,and learning to read the histogram.

Off-camera flash is generally better than on camera and the latest radio slaves make it fully controllable thru-the lens. So all you need is a lovely assistant to hold the flash.. If you're not dealing with strong sunlight bouncing or diffusing the flash will make you happier w/ the pix.

Nowadays, the machinery is so capable and so transparent, it's really more a matter of educating your eye than anything else.

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 02:58 pm

Good write up McGoo!
I've been making my living as a real estate photographer for the last 11 yrs and I am still learning!
Everything I know has been learned from trial and error, some day I will make the time to take some photog course's

Most people buy nice equipment but dont really know how to use all of the functions and my advice is to READ the manual that came with your camera and learn ONE function at a time, experiment until your comfortable with it before moving on to the next function.........

Commented on 7-29-2011 At 07:11 pm

Nice work man.

Commented on 7-30-2011 At 09:41 am

Nicely done. I always enjoy the eye candy here on ChopCult, a talented crew putting this all together for us. It's the passion that shines through in all of it.

Thank you.

Commented on 7-30-2011 At 04:39 pm

You know, I own alittle guitar shop and come into contact with a ton of players. More often than not the best ones think they suck... Nice work man keep it up.

Commented on 7-30-2011 At 08:19 pm

I'd say 78-97% of people stop by ChopCult for the photos... That seems proof enough to me that you are WELL BEYOND the "picture-taker" phase. Love the site, keep it up (and thanks for the advice...everyone wants rad pics of their creations).

Commented on 7-31-2011 At 08:28 am

When you use fill flash, dial it down and it won't look so flat. Hint of the day.

Commented on 7-31-2011 At 08:34 am

Bloodhound is "hot on the trail"

Commented on 7-31-2011 At 10:02 am

good photos i am way worse at this you are a ruler

Commented on 7-31-2011 At 02:47 pm

that was a good article

Commented on 7-31-2011 At 09:07 pm

Fantastic, inspiring stuff. I hope to do as well someday.

Commented on 8-6-2011 At 03:34 pm

I love photography have been doing it for yrs and I am lucky to have a job that takes me to the craziest places and I grab shots in great places. I don't think you need a top of the line Camera my main body is a D2X and my other is a D7000. I have taken amazing photos with pinhole cameras, cellphones, medium and large format cameras, etc. etc. The most important thing is to have an eye for it and to know when to blow out the 2/3rds rule bullshit and use your instinct.

I love helping those who are interested in photography too and passing along tips and tricks. I don't really buy in to any slogan that makes photography seem too serious. I dated a girl who has photos on her facebook page that she takes with an Iphone that frankly blow most photos I see away. Because she has a natural eye for it and she has fun and doesn't take herself too seriously.

Commented on 8-17-2011 At 03:40 pm

Great article! It's always cool to get some tips from those in the know.

Commented on 6-12-2013 At 04:22 pm

I think they're great. Could you make some available as downloads big enough for a desktop background/wallpaper?

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