Squeezing the best out of your camera

MotoTrip, Motorcycle tours in Europe-1
                                                                                  MotoTrip’s guest taking a picture of stunning Dubrovnik city. Taken by Darko Novosel

Hi there!

Anyone who joined us for a motorcycle tour in Europe, knows about my passion for photography. I almost always carry a camera strapped around my neck and am very happy to talk about various techniques of ‘picture taking’ while on a motorcycle tour. As I tend to talk pretty fast (sorry for that :) ), I thought it would be wise to write all this down… So here it is, a basic photography course: beginner’s guide for basic use of your advanced camera (sounds just perfect). In future blog posts, I’ll be sharing advice on how to use your camera in practice to get a desired shot, what type of camera would be perfect on your next motorcycle tour etc.; but to start, this ‘theory’ is the first step and a ‘must know’ basis when it comes to controlling your camera’s main settings. I tried to explain everything as simple as possible; so I won’t be bothering with the technical background of how cameras work (you can find much more literature online on that). I actually wrote this all down as I’d like to hear it if I was just starting all over again.

Just a note; this summary will be useful to beginners with DSLR cameras, mirorless  cameras and even some high-end ‘zoom’ cameras available today. Small, pocketable cameras, often called ‘point’n’shoot’, usually lack of manual controls and if having those, don’t expect too much to play with.

Sensor- the heart of every digital camera

I’ll be mentioning the word ‘sensor’ often. Every camera has a sensor (image sensor) in its body and that’s the place where pictures are converted from optical to electronic signal (in simple words: the place where pictures are ‘created’). Easiest way you’ll understand it is, when I tell you that analog cameras had films, while digital cameras have sensors for the same purpose. Probably, we all saw a negative of some used film years ago- same thing ‘happens’ on camera’s sensor. Hope I’m clear enough. Again, it is the place where pictures are ‘created’. The size of a sensor will have a huge impact on picture quality; so if buying a new camera, know that size matters here :)  Let’s start!

 Part 1 on getting to know your camera while preparing for a motorcycle tour in Europe

There are three important settings: EXPOSURE, FOCUS and DOF (depth of field) on any camera. Those are, without a doubt, most important settings to care about when using your camera; understanding those, will surely help you control your camera on your next motorcycle tour!



Exposure is controlled by three settings: Exposure time (e.g. shutter speed), aperture and ISO. All of them determine how much light will get into the camera (to the sensor); but each has its own purpose.

1a) Exposure time (e.g. shutter speed)

Nothing complicated. It tells us how long will the sensor be exposed to the frame/light (or how long the shutter stays ‘open’). 1/125 means that the shutter speed is ‘one hundred twenty fifth of a second’. ½ means the shutter speed is 0,5 seconds; 1’’ means its 1 second etc. So in case of 1’’, camera will be taking a picture for 1 second. When you press the shutter button, shutter will open- and after 1 second, shutter will close. During that time, sensor will be exposed to light.

Logically, that duration determines how much light will ‘get into the picture’. The longer the shutter speed, more light you will have. So in case of night photos, you need to prolong your shutter speed to absorb more light. BUT, longer the shutter speed, more chances of blurry images. Generally, anything ‘longer’ than 1/60th of a second is hard to handheld and gets blurry. For moving objects, anything ‘longer’ than 1/500th of a second can get blurry. That’s why, you sometimes need more light, which is additionally controlled by

1b) Aperture (e.g. f-number)

Again, in simple words, f-number tells you how big is the ‘hole’ in your lens- bigger hole (lower f-number- I know, it’s inversely proportional), more light to the sensor. Smaller hole (bigger f-number), less light to the sensor.

So, the f-number in that way, also affects the amount of light. But, what’s its main use?

F-number controls the depth of field (DOF). Yes, those beautiful pictures with blurry backgrounds- that’s the f-number’s fault. I’ll explain more below. Now we’re sticking just to the light.

1c) ISO

In analog cameras, ISO was the number showing how much was the film you’re using, sensitive to light. In digital, ISO tells you how ‘sensitive’ will your sensor be to the light that it receives.

ISO typically ranges from 100-6400. DSLRs (and new, mirorless cameras) can tolerate high ISO (thanks to bigger sensors!) which makes them good for handheld shots in low light; cheaper cameras don’t ‘tolerate’ ISO very good and picture quality drops down massively when using higher ISO settings (everyone who tried to take a picture in dark with a point’n’shoot camera, will know). Pictures at ISO 100-200 will generally be much better (sharper, nicer colors etc) so whenever you can, use lowest ISO setting as possible. For day time pics, use ISO 100-200 (depends what is minimum ISO on your camera).

In practice:

You’re on a motorcycle tour in Europe. Let’s say Alps. Sun went down and you’re just riding towards the valley after riding through mountain passes whole day… It’s been a though day, I know J There’s a beautiful Alpine village below and you want to take a picture of it.

So, you want to take a picture in low-light. First thing you’ll do in case you don’t have enough light- try to prolong the shutter speed (have in mind that in case of (too)long shutter speed, the picture will be blurry). In case you still don’t have enough light, try to lower the f-number (now knowing that your DOF is getting more shallow with that ‘tweak’ so forget about having your R1200GS in focus with the Alpine village). In case you can’t go longer with shutter speed and your f-number is the minimal number your lens can give, raise the ISO.


Not enough light? Prolong the shutter speed. Still not enough? Lower the f-number. Still? Raise the ISO. ISO is the ‘last call for light’. Generally speaking. When you master your camera, you’ll see why I wrote ‘generally speaking’.


And that was light. Now, focus!

Part 2 on getting to know your camera while preparing for a motorcycle tour in Europe



Almost all cameras and lenses have the autofocus system (AF). Use it, don’t bother with manual focus. Doesn’t make too much sense as AF is fast and correct nowadays. How to use it?

AF system is activated each time you press the shutter release button half-way down (shutter release button has 2 ‘positions’- half press and full press). After you press it half-way, your camera will autofocus on the object shown in the square on your LCD (or in your viewfinder), called ‘focus detection area’. At that time, focus will be ‘locked’ (focus point won’t change until you fully release the button).

Before pressing the button all the way down, you have the chance to ‘re-frame’ the picture (while holding the button half-pressed, choose another frame- know that the already focused object- stays in focus), and then take the shot. For the right effect, set your focus point be in the middle of the frame and don’t use face detection or auto-focus points. That way, you can decide on what your camera focuses.

In practice:

You’re on a motorcycle tour in Croatia this time, admiring the beauty of our country.. You want to take a photo of your motorcycle in the foreground with a nice mountain in the background. But, you don’t want the bike in the centre of the picture because the nicest part of the mountain is then hidden; you want the bike in the left end. So, make sure the bike is in the square on your LCD (focus detection area). That square shows you what will your camera focus on. Half-press the shutter button. Now, your bike is in focus. But, it is still in the centre of the frame. Next, re-frame the picture by tilting or panning the camera to the right (all the time holding the shutter button half-pressed) so the bike ends up in the left part of the picture. Press the shutter button all the way down and take the shot. There it is. You chose what object is in focus; you chose your frame. You used the accuracy of auto focus and then re-framed the picture. That’s it. I use it on almost every picture I take.

Only thing to mention: after you focus (press the shutter button half way down), do not re-frame by moving closer to- or further away from the object you want in focus. Re-frame only by slightly tilting or panning your camera; otherwise your object will not be in focus any more.


Part 3 on getting to know your camera while preparing for a motorcycle tour in Europe


3. DOF

Again, making life simple: what determines DOF? 3 ‘things’:

3a) F-number (again the f-number…)

Smaller the f-number (1.4, 2.0, 2.8), the more shallow DOF you’ll get. Bigger f-number (8, 11…), the DOF will be ‘deep’. What’s the use? Well, if you want to take a picture of your bike against a boring background (you’re definitely not on a motorcycle tour in Croatia in that case!), you’ll set your camera to the lowest f-number you’re allowed to (by the camera/lens) and take the shot. That will ‘blur’ the background and your bike will be the first thing observer’s eye will notice.

If you’re photographing landscape and want the whole frame to be sharp (your bike with Dubrovnik city in the background), you’ll use the f-number around 8-11 or even more. That way, both objects will be (almost equally) in focus. Another use is when you want to isolate the main object on the picture, against all other objects behind/in front. Use the same method.

As cameras/lenses with small f-numbers are more expensive, it is good to know that DOF is also very much controlled by

3b) The distance to the photographed subject

If you want a blurry background, get as close to your subject as you can get- and you can do that by

  • A) using the zoom- The longer the focal length (zoom), the ‘higher’ the blur is. There’s where telephoto lenses and zoom mater.
  • B) physically getting closer to the subject- if you don’t have a zoom lens, or you already ‘zoomed in’ but still want more blurry background, just get closer to the object. One or two steps won’t kill you (well, if you’re not on a cliff  ).

 3c) Sensor size

The bigger the sensor in your camera, the shallower DOF you can achieve. Here’s where professional DSLRs with big full frame sensors take place. To simplify, Point’n’shoot cameras have small sensors and it is extremely hard to successfully play with DOF there. Bigger ‘zoom’ cameras do slightly better; while 4/3 and APS-C sensor cameras do good. Full frame cameras are almost on the top, but if having a FF camera, I’m pretty sure this text is too basic for you.


So if DOF is something you’re searching for, get at least a 4/3 or APS-C sensor sized camera; get to know the basics above and start playing with DOF.

Tip: if having a small point’n’shoot, you can still achieve shallow DOF by selecting ‘macro’ (usually a small flower icon) feature and getting as close to the object as possible (I’m talking about an inch here). Do not use flash, have enough light and you’ll be able to capture a shallow DOF picture of some detail that you focus on. You’ll soon realize how limited you are; but it’s good to know it is still possible.



And that’s it. First part and the basics of controlling the light that gets into your camera. Shutter speed (duration), aperture (hole size) and ISO (sensitivity to light) are three things that you NEED to know.

I hope I managed to help and that after reading it all, you didn’t lose the will to take nice pictures. It all looks boring when reading but in practice, you’ll find it very easy- going! On MotoTrip Tours motorcycle tours in Europe, I’ll be happy to show all the examples in real-life, in real situations. So if you enjoy photography and want to ride BMW motorcycles through the best roads of Europe, feel free to check out our website at www.mototrip-tours.com and contact about any tours you see. We’ll be happy to have you!

Let us know how did you like this article by simply commenting below. Thanks for reading, ride safe!

by Darko Novosel

One Response to Squeezing the best out of your camera

  1. Paige Smith says:

    Taking adventures in Europe on a motorcycle sounds amazing. Motorcycles are definitely quick, efficient, and convenient when traveling. Just carry coat on you though, because it does get cold. Learning about traveling Europe on a motorcycle is an awesome idea.

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