All bikes have their own personality – a rough and gruff street bike or ADV, to a naked or cruiser with all its mechanical components exposed, all the way up the exotics with their curved fairings and everything tucked neatly away behind carbon fiber and plastic – each one is like a person, different in their own way.
Mark Squitieri is a published lifestyle, fashion and portrait photographer based out of New York City whose work includes a wealth of stunning moto product shots. The 50-year-old born-and-raised Long Islander started riding at the age of 20 and has never regretted that decision; his love for photography these days is now combined with a passion for motorcycles, a pairing that has opened up a new world of opportunity.
Squitieri, a Field Engineer for a Medical Imaging Company during the Monday-to-Friday work week, has been involved in photography in some form or other for more than two decades. But the last three years, in particular, have been his greatest in terms of growth, skill and professionalism, with his main goal always being to capture emotion and beauty in his images.
We sat down with Squitieri recently to discuss his work, the industry, the importance of continued growth as a creative, and what it’s like to shoot from a crowded Ural sidecar during the city’s Distinguished Gentleman’s ride … it’s not easy.
1) So, let’s start off by immediately getting into your motorcycle photography … I know having talked often with you and even had the privilege of being the subject of shoot, that you see motorcycle photography very much like your portrait photography … where you try to capture the personality and character of a subject in a still image. Tell us a bit about how that works for you, how you choose the subject – whether bikes or people – and what you look for in terms of details to capture.
All bikes have their own personality – a rough and gruff street bike or ADV, to a naked or cruiser with all its mechanical components exposed, all the way up the exotics with their curved fairings and everything tucked neatly away behind carbon fiber and plastic – each one is like a person, different in their own way. I like using contrast sometimes by putting a beautiful European race bike in an urban setting or shooting an ADV bike in a studio. Ultimately, though, I love finding unique locations best suited for what I consider a bike’s personality, like a nice graffiti background for a street fighter, out in the woods for an ADV bike, etc. The details I love in motorcycles are the mechanical components – the brakes, the engine, the rims … so many bikes today are designed and built with aesthetics in mind. It’s hard to not highlight those details designers work so hard to perfect.
— Mark Squitieri
2) I know photography as an art form is subjective in terms of what people react to. What, for you, makes a successful image?
This really made me think. What really grabs my attention is when photographs have great subject isolation. Not to say I don’t love dramatic cityscapes and landscapes. But when a photographer can make my eye go right to his/her subject and not get distracted by other things in an image … that’s what really does it for me. Shallow depth of field (DOF) is by far my favorite.
3) Do you have some favorites in the moto genre you’d like to share? What about each one speaks to you and how were they captured?
- Stunt rider Frankie Peneno taking A and J’s custom build for a rip – shot natural light – love how the bike is just hanging in midair. Best thing about this shot was when I showed the back of camera to (owner) Brian (Ballard), he said, “Do you think Triumph ever thought that bike would fly that high in the air?” (Taken with a Canon 5D IV and a Canon 70-200 f2.8l II lens.)
- Another Roller from this year’s DGR – I mean Steve Kamrad – PERIOD! Taken with a Canon 1DX Mark II and a Tamron 15-30 SP F2.8 lens. Brooklyn Bridge, Steve gave me this shot and I wouldn’t let it get away!
- Rider Rahoul Ghose just looking like a total badass on his custom Thruxton – Just a great pic. No direction was given. Rahoul just jumped on and gave me this look – it’s perfect IMO and hasn’t been replicated since! (Taken with Canon EOS R and Canon 85mm f1.4 L and a Flashpoint strobe in a small octabox.)
- Taken with fellow photographer Hugh Miller, riding my Tiger Explorer – Hugh got the opportunity to provide images to Rukka – this was a last minute shoot – I hung out the window of a car on the parkway going 50 MPH and snagged this with a Canon 5D IV and a Tamron SP 15-30 f2.8 lens – Rolling shots are one of my favorites.
- Taken at last year’s DGR – This guy epitomizes the DGR look, so much so they ended up using this on the website. Such an impromptu photo. Natural light with a Canon 5D IV and Canon 70-200 f2.8L II lens. Funny story … after a whole year went by and this picture being used for a lot of promotion, I finally met the rider and introduced myself. He laughed and said we made history. I couldn’t agree more. It’s such a basic quick shot but it’s so good!
Frankie Peneno | Steve Kamrad at DGR 2019 | Thruxton999 | Hugh Miller | DGR marketing shot from NYC, 2018 — Mark Squitieri
I’m self-taught – mostly, but I did have some help from friends who shoot, and without them I’m not sure we’d be having this conversation.
4) I know you’ve taken many courses and seminars offered by local photographers … did you study photography or are you for the most part self-taught? What do you shoot with primarily?
I’m self-taught – mostly, but I did have some help from friends who shoot, and without them I’m not sure we’d be having this conversation. I’m a Canon DSLR guy – sorry Rahoul – and I love using flash and strobes as much as possible with all my shoots. I mostly use YouTube for learning new things – however I have purchased some online courses here and there.
5) You are constantly experimenting with new equipment and lighting … how important do you think it is as an artist to always push yourself into new uncharted areas of photography? What are your primary resources for learning?
I think its super important to push and experiment with different techniques. I feel like you need to really be good at one style though before you start getting creative, otherwise you end up being all over the map and you never have consistency. Of course, I’m talking about how I feel about me here. I only feel like I’ve grazed the surface (so far), and there’s a ton more techniques I want to experiment with. My resources for learning new techniques are other photographers. I’m lucky to have a lot of good photo people around me, and we often bounce ideas and info off each other.
6) You ride quite a bit … currently on a ADV. I know this holds true for some photographers, but not all. How important do you feel it is for a photographer to be immersed in the culture or technology they’re shooting. ie: when I shot winter sports, the best images I saw always came for those photographers who snowboarded themselves … anticipating action and knowing from personal experience what, when and where to shoot.
I think it really helps at first and drastically shortens the learning curve, however, once someone is experienced and skilled enough, they know where the action is, what the best angles are.
— Mark Squitieri
The truly skilled are the ones who know how to use lights, filters, special lenses, long exposures and get it done in the camera. They simply enhance their image during the processing part instead of building it.
7) What are your personal ambitions as a photographer … would you like to translate your time behind a camera into a full-time career?
I’ve never thought about this – I’m kind of a free spirit when it comes to my photography ambitions. I do get some withdrawal if I don’t shoot for a few days, or even a week. But I’m so very much an enthusiast and not a professional, that I just let things be where they are. It’s kind of freeing. I’m not tied to strict deadlines or dealing with editors and art directors. I feel that would ruin the love I have with moto photography. Being able to take risks with no real repercussions allows me to stay creative, otherwise I would get frustrated and perhaps lose sight of the art of it all. Full-time photography did interest me at one point in my life, but not anymore – it’s a love and passion for creating an image people find interesting. Having it as a full-time gig would diminish that for me.
8) You like me are a bit of a techie geek when it comes to gear … for you, what are the most exciting new camera features coming out. Where do you see photography going as we see more and more software suites replicating effects that could only be achieved with lens choices and camera setting previously?
I love tech … it’s part of who I am, and my regular full-time job has me immersed in cutting edge technology all the time. The newest features in cameras that excite me are the sheer megapixels of new bodies combined with such small packages. I mean 50-60 megapixel cameras will soon be so compact you’ll be able to carry them in a pocket. As far as software goes, it’ll add to the growing pool of ‘photographers’ out there already. However, in my opinion, the truly skilled are the ones who know how to use lights, filters, special lenses, long exposures and get it done in the camera. They simply enhance their image during the processing part instead of building it. However, that said, there is a place for everyone – photo-illustration is a real thing.
9) We also recently had an interesting conversation on what differentiates a photograph and a photo-illustration. Where do features like AI-produced post-production software (changing out skylines in images, removing facial defects in portraits, etc) shift the reality of an image to being more of an illustration.
I think it’s a slippery slope and very subjective. If you take a picture of a beautiful sky and then merge that with a gorgeous landscape is it truly not your photograph? I think AI is a good thing, and used sparingly will help a lot of real photographers get their work out faster and looking better. For my portraits I retouch skin using frequency separation combined with dodge and burn techniques. It’s a tried and true process, but takes a long time. If AI can simplify that into one singular process, why not? – I’ll use it.
— Mark Squitieri
My style swings more towards the edgy side of things. I like contrast and lighting, and although I love soft lighting, I don’t like soft looking images – I love clean and super-sharp images.
10)There have been a number of well-known photo awards that have recently been taken back for use of such effects to remove or change the elements of an image. Is there still a place for photojournalism?
One hundred percent. In my opinion true photography is the image captured, period. We’ve all got the shot damn near perfect in the camera once or twice, right? I think a lot of times we edit and change elements because we can, and it’s easy to do these days. But truthfully, if it wasn’t easy nobody would do it. I have a friend who only shoots JPG – he creates some beautiful imagery and only edits for slight exposure errors – that’s pretty awesome. He never takes out a pole or removes a part of the image. In his mind he knows what’s going to work and what’s not, so he’s very selective, and I believe it makes him a better photographer.
11) Getting less serious … what for you is the most satisfying part of photography? Do you have photographers who inspire you? And how would you define your style?
Sending that image along to a ‘client’ and having them love the work done. A few years ago I shot a couple who were expecting a baby. She was very clear on what she wanted and was willing to do whatever necessary to get the shots. She wasn’t shy at all. The images were nothing complex and mostly run-of-the-mill ‘pregnancy photos’. However, when I delivered the final product to them they were blown away – that’s the high, the satisfaction that comes with doing this. My style swings more towards the edgy side of things. I like contrast and lighting, and although I love soft lighting, I don’t like soft looking images – I love clean and super-sharp images.
My inspirations include:
12) And, finally, on a humorous note … how was it shooting this year during the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride from the sidecar of a Ural along with our friend John Saponara … you must have more than a few amusing stories to tell.
- Andrew Wheeler – his moto GP images are absolutely stunning!
- Dean 'Chooch' Landry – can you really tell me anyone else uses film to this degree. I mean he can take a picture today and make it feel like it’s from 100 years ago. I love that. He’s such an amazing artist!
- Lennart Andreas does some beautiful natural light moto photography. It helps that he has the Swiss Alps as his backdrop, but great skills none the less.
- Plus add Joel Grimes to that list. Just an amazing portrait guy who also does some moto work here and there.
Well I truly think we cheated death more than once on that ride. Poor Will Davis (from Dapper Tours NYC) had to control a Ural sidecar overloaded with people and gear and try to listen to the direction of not one, but TWO photographers trying to get shots. I was glad to have the experience, but I’m not sure I’d do it again soon. It was a lot of the same style of images, so truthfully, it got boring while editing. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE shooting DGR. I’m like a kid in a candy store – all those amazing bikes and people who absolutely love being photographed – it’s my heaven. But I think I had an impression of John's shoe in my back for a few days afterwards. He truly had the more difficult part trying to shoot backwards from the passenger seat – I was shoved into a little box clearly too small for my body, but I wasn’t falling out. John is a great guy – I’m glad we had that time together … but please give him the sidecar next year – he certainly deserves it.
Thank you for your time ... and you still owe me that coffee.
DGR 2019 — Mark Squitieri
Well I truly think we cheated death more than once on that ride. Poor Will Davis (from Dapper Tours NYC) had to control a Ural sidecar overloaded with people and gear and try to listen to the direction of not one, but TWO photographers trying to get shots.
To see more of Squitieri's work, view his gallery on NYC Motorcyclist, or visit him at: .
Mark Squitieri was a speaker at the season opening Motos and Photos: NYC event at the Kickstarter HQ theatre in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. For more information on future events visit motosandphotosnyc.com.