This is part two of our series of interviews with the members of our Judging Panel. Today we're talking to Bill Petro. Bill has been a professional photographer for more than 40 years and has worked with brands such as Honda, Kawasaki, Triumph, Yamaha and Toyota. He's also been photographing motorcycle road races and motocross races since the '70s. Beyond that, he's one of the nicest, humblest guys you'll ever meet. You'll notice in one of the photos above that he received an award from the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame for his work in archiving and preserving Canada's rich motorcycling sport history. The other photos, show the lengths that Bill will go to, to get the shot. Yes, that's him sitting backwards on the Kawasaki. Not sure I'd have the courage to do that. Here's our interview with Bill.
TMFF: Tell me how you first got involved with photography and motorcycles.
Bill: One of my brothers got interested in racing Motocross in the early 70’s at around the same time that I was enrolled in the Photography program at Conestoga College. It seemed like a great place to practice my photo skills so I attended as many races as I could. I was encouraged to send in my pictures to the CMA club magazine and shortly after that Cycle Canada asked if I would shoot some races for them. It introduced me to different types of motorcycle racing and soon I was shooting every weekend somewhere. That started a long relationship that has endured to the present.
TMFF: You received an award from The Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame for your contribution to preserving the history of motorcycle sport in Canada. Tell me about your project.
Bill: Since I have the largest photo library of motorcycle images in Canada, I felt the need to put it all together to create a national searchable digital image library. One that could be added to easily by other photographers and accessed by everyone. Hopefully this archive will survive the digital world and last long into the future. The road has been tough as the costs keep climbing but I have been fortunate that the industry and some generous donors have helped get me to this point. I hope to make this archive accessible shortly. [TMFF: You can find
TMFF: Your career as a professional photographer spans over four decades. Tell me about some of your favourite assignments.
Bill: I always felt that I had the best job in the world but unfortunately it was not always the best paying job so sometimes I had to work extra hard just to pay the bills. What better job would allow me to ride some of the coolest motorcycles in the world. I was witness to many interesting feats of daring, incredible races and beautiful pieces of engineering and art in the creation of some of the machines. Trained as a product photographer my first apprentice job was in a fashion studio that did a lot of jewellery, learning to shoot these highly reflective objects taught me the fundamental lighting techniques that led me to lighting motorcycles for the manufactures. This and my ability to shoot action sports set the stage for the many years of interesting assignments.
My absolute favourite would be my opportunity to fly with the Snowbirds. I had a full 45min session with the whole team while managing a camera mounted under my plane and 2 more hand-helds in the cockpit. Something I will never forget.
Long before Go-Pro cameras I was mounting 5 lb cameras on to helmets and vehicles to get interesting POV shots. this was very difficult because of the weight of the cameras so somehow i ended up hand holding the camera while sitting backwards on the motorcycle while going at speed. this would give a POV view of the racers not seen before. This technique is definitely a thriller.
I have driven and been taken on some of the wildest rides all for the sake of getting that special shot.
Through the 1990’s and early 2000’s I was the exclusive photographer for Toyota Canada. This took me away from the motorcycle industry but taught me many valuable skills that have now helped me with creating new images of motorcycles.
TMFF: Beyond the move to digital, how has professional photography changed over your career?
When the digital cameras got good enough to replace the large format film we were using I was very fortunate that I was working with a young crew of photographers right out of school. They helped me understand digital capture and fine tune our shooting techniques.
But the one thing that I noticed was that although these young photographers were great at the camera knowledge they lacked in the lighting of the product. That I believe is what sets me apart from many of the current photographers, I still light as if I was capturing on film.
TMFF: What are some of your favourite movies and what do you like about them?
Bill: Boy, I have seen so many movies over the years that have left a mark on me but I am not sure that I can actually say which are most memorable. A couple that come to mind; "The Worlds Fastest Indian” was definitely a great movie about a motorcycle. “ Take it to the Limit” was a documentary made in the 70’s about extreme motorcycle racing that used a lot of POV mounted cameras that showed for the first time some real exciting footage of motorcycle racing for that time. The director Peter Starr was one of the early pioneers of this camera mounting technique that I was keenly interested in. Of course we cannot forget “On any Sunday” a film about motorcycling that can still entertain today. There probably are a few more that should be mentioned but they are not popping up in my brain at the moment.
TMFF: What are you hoping to see in the films shown at the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival?
The digital revolution in movie and photography have made it easy for many creative people to express their ideas in ways that were not possible back in the film days. I hope that some of this new creativity will come out in the films we are about to watch.
TMFF: What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?
Bill: Although I enjoy riding and racing motorcycles I secretly enjoy racing 4 wheels more at my age but the costs keep me away from this sport.
TMFF: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Bill. Thank you for helping us preserve our rich Canadian motorcycle sport history.