Behind the Shot – Emperors of the Single-lens Reflex Camera

By Jerry Bernardo and Dale Spangler

By Jerry Bernardo and Dale Spangler

As Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” In this era where everyone has a camera on them at all times (smartphone) the term “photographer” is often used more loosely than it once was. But Adams’ statement that one must “make” a photograph still rings true regardless if one is shooting with a Canon EOS 7D or an iPhone 7 Plus.

That is why we thought it would be fun to honor those within our sport that make the photographs that grace the covers of our magazines, that tell the stories of our events, and that highlight the difficulty of motorcycle racing and riding. The following are a few chosen photos from a handful of motorcycle racing photographers that we likethat shoot and make great pictures of motorcycles. We are not claiming [nor are they] that these are the “best” moto images out there in the world. They are simply a few of their personal favorites that allow them to tell you (the reader) how they made a particular photo and the back story behind each.

Shan Moore – Oklahoma

"The first photo is of Russell Bobbitt in the middle of a cornfield in Indiana back in 2011. The reason I love this shot is that it took three years to get. I usually arrive at a venue a couple of days before a race to scout out locations and for some reason I missed this spot although I happened to see the final few riders passing through the cornfield on my back to the pits after the pros had finished and I vowed to get a shot there the following year. Well, in 2012 I showed up and to my disappointment the corn had already been harvested. So in 2013, I was ready. I got there early and found the location, set up and got the shot. And as luck would have it, my best shot of the day happened to be of the guy who won the race: Russell Bobbitt!"

"The second shot is a dual sport shot I took of the Dirt Rider crew testing Adventure bikes in Donner, California, in an abandoned railroad tunnel near Donner Ski Ranch. I love this shot because I had read about the "Donner Party," a group of pioneers who got stranded near that location in 1846 while trying to get to the west coast. The legend is that some of the party resorted to cannibalism to survive. Yuk!"

John Gasso – Illinois

"As Mr. Bernardo is keenly aware, Bill Gusse has a favorite obstacle on the long and arduous Moose Run trail. The spot is affectionately referred to as “The Log.”  While nothing pretentious or glamorous, the simple appearance of this beautiful piece of wood belies the difficulty of mastering her. It would seem that Mother Nature conspired with that man called Gusse, and, with the simple act of a good size tree falling in the woods (I wonder, did it make a sound?), a legendary viewing area was created. The log is feared and loathed by all manner of riders. To watch a pro motorcycle racer pop over with grace and ease gives one a sense of calm respect. However, when a less experienced rider approaches this obstacle, you can almost smell the fear. Great riders give the impression of a smooth and near effortless act of “just crossing a log,” while the near terror induced within the less skilled rider reminds you this is not just simply crossing a log in the trail, but a major effort requiring amazing skill and balance to successfully navigate this impediment. Many choose to simply let their bike cross the log sans rider. They let it fly alone across the massive chunk of timber, only to re-join the beaten and abused machine on the other side. It is not a pretty sight."

Joe Bonnello – California

"For the Aussies out there, Chad Reed, last lap of the last Moto of the year, 2003 at Glen Helen. The crowd were filing out, but I was hiding in far back of the course and a narrow beam of light just happened to be hitting this turn when Reed came through. I got off one shot, and the light was gone! Bad Motherfucker that Chad Reed! though Carmichael was over minute ahead of him, Arrrgghgh!"

"French Trials rider Benjamin Benhamoux in Moab, Utah, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Just in front of his Scorpa is a 75 foot (25 meters!) straight drop to more boulders below!"

"Three guys, epic day of riding in the High Desert, classic!"

"Nicky Hayden on the Victory lap after winning the USGP at Laguna Seca, 2007. He’s looking right at the camera, and check the background! No explanation needed, our hearts are heavy."

Eddie Marak – Texas

"Sometimes it not about the excitement, some times it’s just about the beauty. This image was shot in Bills Woods, 22 miles of directional, dirt bike only single track at Red River Motorcycle Trails in Bulcher, Texas. Taking the photo itself was the easy part, carrying 30 lb. of camera equipment on your back to get to the places you need to get to so you can get the shot… well, let’s just say it definitely affects your riding."

"The RevLimiter Extreme Enduro, held in January 2017 at Rocky Ridge Ranch just outside of Decatur, Texas, provided endless opportunities to capture awesome enduro images. There was mud, fog, and rain along with plenty of bikes, with, and without riders, flying through the air. Of all the great action shots I got that day, this is the one than I feel encompasses the intensity of the event the best. Not a single rider made it through the course without help from another rider. Here, two pro riders (Steve Leivan and Jojo Toole) help each other while battling their way through an extremely rough section called root canal. This image is proof that the spirit of camaraderie outweighs the spirit of competition. I don’t know if that exists in any other sport."

"There is that special “oh shit” moment every rider experiences. Not the moment prior to attempting something you know you probably should not attempt. Not the moment you realize “this is going to end badly.” Not even the moment you feel the bike initiate its inevitable exodus from under you. That special “oh shit” moment happens when you thought it was all over… but the bike, the dirt, and those contemptuous deities of enduro have alternate plans. Here, Adam Iglesias is bracing for impact shortly after experiencing his own personalized “oh shit” moment on Widow Maker, the 3rd obstacle at this year’s Ballzapalloza event held at Red River Motorcycle Trails in Bulcher, Texas. Adam went on to complete the obstacle, and on to a 3rd place finish, but not before paying the gods with a generous serving of 'oh shit.'"

Art Pepin – Vermont

"I see photos of Extreme Enduro from everywhere but the US. This photo from the Tennessee Knockout Enduro shows the rest of the world that the US has Hard Enduro too. In this photo, you see Cody Webb dropping down the "waterfall" section with Ben Kelley right behind him. Kenneth King is the photog snapping away."

"This photo is a result of my testing out a wide angled lens. I was standing right on the edge of the track. Most of the riders were going to the opposite side of the track which made “so so” photos. Then Spencer came up the hill on my side and I focused on him, pulled the trigger and spun right around in order to keep him in frame. When I looked at the back of my camera I started to laugh at what I just got. He was so close I could see the intensity in his eyes but could still see his surroundings. The lens is a keeper."

Mark Kariya – California

"Ron Purvines has asked me to shoot the autograph stock for his off-road race team for the past few years, and I think this shot is probably my favorite of all. This is from the 2015 shoot in Laughlin, Nevada, when the team was still on Betas and I think this was the last location of the day before the guys had to hustle over to get signed up for the Best in the Desert race taking place the following morning. Being later in the day, the light was about perfect and as I walked around looking for a final location to shoot, the hills in the distance caught my eye, so I had the guys start burning in a turn. After several passes by everyone, this final one by Nick Burson just clicked in every way. Technical data: Nikon D3 with 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor VR and three Nikon speedlights; probably 1/250th @ f/8, ISO 100."

"At the last ISDE in Finland, I'd heard about a huge boulder section in the forest so the next day I drove to the general area in my rental car and hiked in. It was worth it. There was a good variety of not only boulders but beautiful Scandinavian forest so not every shot would be the same. In this particular section, it was dark enough for me to experiment with slower shutter speeds as well, and I got a number of good results. Jerry B liked this one the best; it's of Team USA's Ben Smith cruising through the mud, ruts, roots and moss-covered rocks like it was another day on the trail back home in New York. Technical data (guessing since I don't have the file at the moment): Nikon D3 with Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8, three Nikon speedlights, ISO 100, 1/30th @ f/4.5."

Marc Jones – Australia

"There's no better feeling than finding yourself on the podium after a hard day’s work, cracking the champagne and showering your fellow competitors. For this photo, I tried to create the feeling of being a part of the celebration and make the viewer feel like they're about to be showered themselves. I positioned myself directly between the riders and the sun, using a flash to light up the foreground without overexposing the sky. I walked away from the situation both pleased, and extremely sticky."

"Nothing went right this day. I was meant to arrive at the FMX compound a couple of hours before sunset but several things got in my way and I arrived for the final moments of the sun going down. In the heat of the moment, I scrambled my flashes together and tried to make the most of the final light but was simply too late. Being in Wagga Wagga, light pollution is quite low, to the point where the stars are quite visible. This got me thinking about putting together a double exposure. I shot Tom Robinson performing a Cordova flip using flash and darkening the rest of the scene, then set my camera up on a tripod and took a long exposure and merged them in post-production. The result is what I consider my best ever work."

"It was a long hot day, and Ryan Brown had been riding most of it. The sun was going down and the idea of some great sunset imagery sparked life into him and we set out to make the most of the colourful sky. I tried several compositions, shot it both tight and wide and wasn't happy with what I'd taken. I set up some flashes on the down ramp hoping to expose both Ryan and the sky perfectly. I jumped into a tractor bucket and was elevated 5 meters in the air ready for the shot. Ryan came in and did a few different tricks and the shots were OK, but far from amazing. The sky wasn't popping in the background as much as I liked. He came around one more time and pulled off a huge Ruler Flip, quite large for him at the time. I took the shot and was chimping away only to realise my flash hadn't gone off. What I was left with was an amazing silhouette shot which was the perfect way to wrap up the day. The photo has since won several competitions including the US Digital Photo Sports and Leisure Competition best photo overall."