In February we teamed up with Maidstone Harley Davidson to work on a very special photography project. Let us start by giving you a bit of background on exactly what we were going to photograph…
Harley Davidson motorcycles, more than any other manufacturer, are renowned for their creative custom builds. With that in mind, at the end of 2014 Harley Davidson UK threw down the gauntlet and launched the ‘Custom Kings’ competition, open to all of it’s official UK dealerships.
The brief was simple, they each had a standard Harley 883 Sportster ‘Forty-Eight’ base model to start with, and a budget of £3000 to modify the machine as they saw fit. The entries would then be assembled in a gallery on Harley Davidson UK’s Social Media pages and put to the public vote to find the official 2015 Harley Davidson ‘Custom King’.
The competition was launched at the end of December, and each of the dealerships had one month to complete their build, with the deadline for entries on 4th February.
We arrived at Harley Davidson’s Maidstone showroom on a brisk Sunday morning, and were greeted by Harry Pearce the dealership manager, and Charlie Pearce the group marketing co-ordinator.
From the moment I saw the ‘King Slayer’ propped up on a display stand in the corner of the showroom, it was clear that they had made something special (‘King Slayer’ was the name that the team had given to their creation, and if nothing else it speaks of their confidence in the build and its ability to ‘slay’ the opposition).
The bike had a intimidating ‘dark custom’ feel to it, with it’s black frame and matte bodywork, and dull brass/gold details. The shape and silhouette of the bike had been completely transformed, with the tank and headlight being lifted about 6 inches and the rear mudguard ending abruptly behind the vintage custom seat.
The Firestone deep-treaded tyres also added to the dark vintage look, and contrast greatly with the modern dark alloy wheels. The gold details on the Firestone’s really tie the tyres into the overall theme of the build.
The ‘piece de resistance’ of the build had to be the hand-built custom exhaust system, which exits low down on both sides of the bike. The exhaust finishes off the stage 2 package, producing an amazing sound and increased performance. The gearbox casing also features subtle gold details, bringing it in line with the overall colour scheme of the bike.
Finally to note are the custom foot pegs and tail light, both of which suit the build perfectly and really show great attention to detail. The rear shocks were also upgraded to give a lower stance, and streamline aftermarket indicators were added.
After having a good look over the bike and discussing the modifications with Harry and Charlie, we sat down to put together a creative brief for our planned shoot. The guidelines from Harley Davidson UK for the entry images were very clear, they required one full side on shot, one rear three-quarter and one front three-quarter, both from the rider-right side (this is usually the side of the bike that looks more aesthetically pleasing due to engine, gearbox and exhaust layout). On top of these three essential shots, we were also asked to produce a more creative and comprehensive gallery of images of the bike, that could be used by the showroom themselves.
After agreeing on a brief and the number and styles of the images that were required, we came on to the subject of possible locations. They had already taken the bike to Rochester Castle and got some good shots in the castle grounds, which was a great concept given the name of the competition and the bike, but they also wanted something darker and with more atmosphere, that would emphasise the personality that they imparted on the bike.
I noticed that next door to the showroom was an old abandoned warehouse. Harry told me that they often photograph their bikes outside, between their showroom and the old warehouse. He suggested that we go and have a look and thought we might be able to do the same. The weathered industrial texture of the corrugated sheet metal cladding looked like it could make for a good backdrop, but being a less than subtle shade of green, it would need a fair bit of post production work desaturating the background and make sure that the bike stood out enough and was the main point of focus.
The warehouse intrigued me, and although it felt like a good setting, I couldn’t find any compositions that would do this bike justice. After a good walk around, I peered through one of the warehouse windows, and what I saw inside was much more like it! I asked Harry if they had the keys to this place, sure that the answer would be no… but to my surprise he said “I think so”, and disappeared back into the showroom presumably to look for them. After a few minutes he returned with a bunch of keys in his hand, and after a few minutes fumbling around with the rusty lock, he pulled back the sliding warehouse doors to reveal a dust-covered and long forgotten array of shipping boxes, steel framed shelving units, building rubble and wire mesh fence panels. There was even a huge old mechanical hoist, complete with a crumbling wooden cab, suspended half a dozen metres in the air.
As we wandered through the old warehouse, we became more and more excited about the prospect of using this as the setting to photograph the King Slayer, the post-appocalyptic feel of the place really suited the MadMax styling of the bike. We decided on an area of the warehouse that we would shoot the bike, and planned to have the area cleared ahead of our return for the photoshoot on Tuesday morning.
We arrived on Tuesday morning and had a look around the warehouse, which I must say the guys had done a great job in clearing. We met Charlie who was going to be the art director for the shoot, and was there to make sure that we got all of the necessary images, and to make sure that the style and composition of the shots was in line with what had been set out in the brief.
My assistant Kaitlin started putting together my off camera flash units and light stands, while we brought the bike into the warehouse and began setting up the first composition… the side shot.
For this shot I used 3 off camera flash units, one on either side of the bike looking down at 45 degree angles, and one almost directly overhead. I used this lighting style to really add a lot of contrast to the image, throwing the foreground and background into shadow and really drawing the viewer’s attention to the bike itself.
Next up came the front three-quarter shot. I created a number of different takes on this composition, so that the client had a few options to choose from. I really liked the drama that was created by changing the camera angle and putting an aggressive slant on the image, but I wasn’t confident that this would fall within the brief given by Harley Davidson UK, so thought it best to also produce a level version as a safe bet.
During the shoot we had the nice surprise of TV personality Vic Reeves turning up to check out the King Slayer. For those that don’t know, Vic is a huge motorbike fan, and long time Harley Davidson customer.
For all of the compositions I also used different lighting styles to produce a different feel to each of the images. The naked off-camera strobes creating punchy high-contrast photographs, while light painting produced a much softer and surreal texture.
After getting the rear three-quarter shot, we moved on to capturing some of the details, again using a combination of off-camera flash and light painting to create the desired look and feel to the images.
Finally, after a long day of shooting in the warehouse, we wheeled the bike outside and set it up in front of the showroom to capture a dramatic night shot.
The photographs were submitted to Harley Davidson UK and the competition went live on the 9th February, with the public voting on their favourites throughout the rest of February.
When the public voting closed on the 28th February, the Kingslayer was at the top of the pile, leading it’s closest rival by more than 100 votes!
Given the public voting figures, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Maidstone Harley Davidson’s ‘King Slayer’ would be crowned the 2015 Harley Davidson Custom King. Unfortunately, two weeks after the public voting had ended, Harley Davidson UK announced that after the judges votes were taken into account, the King Slayer had in fact finished in second place, out of 29 UK Dealerships that took part.
Although a disappointing final result after doing so well in the public vote, coming second amongst 29 fantastic custom Harley’s is an amazing achievement, and one that all of the team can be proud of.
The King Slayer will be on display in Harley Davidson’s Maidstone showroom for the rest of March, so pop in and check it out if you are passing by!