Bea (37) & Helmut (39) were both born and raised in Bavaria, Germany. Since 2009 they have been exploring the world together on motorcycles. Curious, open-minded, with a love of being out in nature, camping, traveling and meeting new people, they’re doing things they love and filling their lives with great memories.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you first get into photography, and to the level of being an accomplished moto-travel photographer?
When we started our motorcycle RTW trip in 2011 we actually hadn´t been much into photography but decided to buy a beginner SLR to capture our experiences. During the travel, I (Helmut) became more and more interested in photography and started to read and watch as many tutorials and specialist literature – especially about landscape photography – as possible. As my knowledge became better and better I started to adapt our equipment to this new level. This process has continued for 10 years now and even if my knowledge and experience are now way better than when we started our RTW trip, I am still eager to learn new techniques and to optimize my photo equipment.
Motorcycle travel and photography are two activities that complement each other perfectly. Both take some skill and learning and there is continued growth in both. Some people just have the ability to tell inspiring stories with their photos and writing.
This is a series of articles dedicated to some of these people. They share an addictive, insatiable passion for motorcycle adventure travel, photography and storytelling.
They are not necessarily the famous types, some are not on social media or well known, many are not good at or not interested in promoting themselves. These are the people that just get on with moto-photo-travel and following their passions.
Where did your love for travel and motorcycling start and where has it taken you?
That´s a funny story as it also describes why we decided to do a motorcycle RTW trip! Bea had wanted to travel through Australia as long as she could remember. When she and I became a couple she asked me if I wanted to go with her on a long trip to Australia. And actually, I was interested in such a trip – but only on one condition: I wanted to do it on a – or better on two – motorcycles! That´s how it all started.
Back then, it was 2008, we would never have dreamed that this first idea turned into a 5+ years motorcycle trip around the world that fundamentally changed our lives.
Is moto photography art for you or just a personal memory documentary, and what kind of stories intrigue you? How do you document your travels and photos?
During our RTW trip photography became way more for me (Helmut), than just a personal documentary. My aim is to capture a situation or mood as realistically as possible, to choose the image composition in a way that conveys the story behind the picture. And of course, if I am happy with the outcome I want to show my work to people. My passion is landscape photography and also (motorcycle) travel photography. I love to explore the beauty of the world – especially extensive, natural and deserted landscapes – and share my impressions with like-minded people.
Why and what makes moto-adventure photography so different, engaging and interesting? What do you enjoy most about being a moto-travel photographer?
Traveling by motorcycle means always being in the middle of everything. There is no window you can close, no door you can shut. We also experienced that our motorcycles very often help us build a bridge to the local people. They are curious about our – more or less – heavily loaded travel bikes and very often this curiosity and interest helped us to get into contact with people all over the world. As a motorcycle traveler, you experience the world through other eyes than you would in a car or van. And the people also perceive you as a motorcycle traveler, being different.
Which countries have been your best destinations for motorcycling and photography and why?
Mongolia is one of our favorite countries. In large parts of it, the land is almost untouched. No paved roads, no urban settlements. The people still mostly live as nomadic herders. What a contrast to our modern, networked world.
Unfortunately, we visited Mongolia at the very beginning of our journey when my photography skills weren’t where they are today. So we would really love to go back one day to capture the exceptional landscape and the people as long as the “advancement” hasn´t destroyed the nativeness of the country completely.
How has your photography evolved over the years? Has your focus shifted?
In the beginning, I photographed all aspects of adventure-travel photography. Our motorcycles, of course, landscapes, people, everyday situations, food. But over the years I developed a passion for landscape and night photography. I still like to capture all the experiences we have on our motorcycle travels. But I also invest a lot of time in the preparation and execution of landscape and night photos and I have adapted my photo equipment according to this focus.
In your many moto-traveling adventures, what experiences would you say truly moved you?
The helpfulness and kindness of people all over the world. We have experienced such great hospitality and support from the local people we met during our travels, which we would never have imagined. This experience showed us that there are not only bad people in the world like the media tries to convince us. Of course, you have to listen to your gut feeling, but you shouldn´t be afraid of doing things because something bad could happen. Just go out, have a positive attitude and be open for all the great encounters and experiences our world has to offer!
Besides the human aspect, the beauty of our world blew our minds, too. Vast landscapes, rough mountain ranges, barren deserts, lush jungles, endless oceans. We are from Bavaria/Germany, which is a wonderful place. But it´s also very crowded. So before we started traveling we hadn´t known what it means to be in absolute silence. Or to look up into the starry sky with no light pollution around. Or to ride your bike for hundreds of miles through untouched nature with no human soul around. We are very grateful that we were able to experience these things, which changed our point of view immensely.
Can you define what motorcycle travel photography means to you?
Trying to capture these life-changing experiences (number 7!) in our images and share them with everyone who is interested. Trying to inspire others to have the guts to live their dreams, even if they don´t fit in with ordinary life. Because if you have a dream it´s always worth to fight for it. It´s your life. You have to be happy with it, not anyone else.
My passion is landscape photography. Why? Because I like to be out in nature, I love being in the middle of nowhere all by myself, waiting for hours for the perfect moment. It´s so peaceful and quiet. I don´t care if it´s cold, wet, getting dark. For me the challenge is to capture the scene in the right moment, no matter how strenuous it may be or how long it may take to get this particular image.
Tell us a bit about editing and post-processing of photos – what’s the hardest part, the setting or the editing? How important is post-processing and what software do you use?
The better the original image is already, the better it is. But of course, post-processing is also an important part to get the best out of an image. Depending on the image and what post-processing is necessary I mainly use Lightroom and/or Photoshop. I like to get the best out of a motive. Therefore I also use techniques like time blending or focus stacking if appropriate.
What type of camera equipment do you use personally? What is your favorite go-to lens and camera? For someone wanting to get into motorcycle travel photography, what types of equipment would you say are essential?
Since about two years I use a Nikon D850 and a set of different lenses, filters and a tripod of course. The D850 is a professional SLR, specially designed for landscape photography, even if you can do any kind of photography with this camera. For a beginner or if you are not particularly into landscape photography I would still recommend an SLR – or one of the new mirrorless cameras, as their size and weight is much smaller and lower, which is an advantage if you travel on a motorcycle, where weight and space are always limiting factors.
When we started our motorcycle RTW trip I started with a Nikon SLR and I have stuck with it ever since, but Canon and Sony also produce great cameras. For me, the best camera is the one you are willing to carry with you all the time. You need to know how the camera works and you should be familiar with its handling. But if you want a concrete recommendation, as an ambitious beginner in motorcycle travel photography I would recommend a beginner’s SLR like the Nikon D5600, an everyday 16 – 300 mm travel lens and at least a small tripod.
Of course, this setup is some kind of compromise, but especially in the beginning, the person needs to find out if he or she has a passion for photography and wants to deepen it. So, in the beginning, it’s very important to get to know your camera, to learn and exercise the different settings (ISO, aperture, exposure time) and also image composition. The reason why I would recommend a 16 – 300 mm, in the beginning, is, that, in my experience, after a while, every photographer prefers a certain focal length. To find out what´s your preference, the 16 – 300 mm offers a good range you can play and experiment with. I, for example, prefer wide-angle lenses like 14 mm on a full-frame camera.
Travel and motorcycling come with their share of risk for cameras and camera equipment and the gear can be heavy to lug around. Any tips on how you protect your equipment and ways to make it easier to carry?
As my camera is my working equipment, I need to have it always in reach. So I carry my SLR in a small camera bag in my tank bag. The rest of the equipment (the different lenses, filters, tripod, etc.) is stored reasonably safe in a camera backpack in my aluminum top case. I have never had a problem with this storage setup. When I bought the D850 I also decided to get camera insurance, which covers theft of the camera as well as any kind of damage. Therefore I don´t have to live with the fear that something could happen to my camera. But regarding the environment you want to photograph in, I am still careful and would not display my camera carelessly in an unsafe neighborhood.
Many motorcycle travelers will not invest in expensive camera equipment or take an in-depth photography workshop, but still want to have decent photos from their trips and to share with family and friends. What would you suggest are three easy things any motorcycle traveler can do to take better photos?
Even with a good mobile phone, you can take decent pictures nowadays, as long as you have a good light situation. But what I always would recommend:
Take your time if you want to take a decent picture. It´s better to take fewer pictures, but if you take a picture, it should be a good one.
Get off your bike, chose an appealing angle for your picture (keyword: image composition!) and check the picture immediately. If you don’t like it, try a different angle, or try to find some interesting foreground like a flower, a branch, etc. This way you can instantly try different perspectives, see what works best and gain experience.
Get a program that helps you to sort and archive your images. During travel, you may take thousands of images and if you don’t save them in a certain structure you will lose the overview. Some programs allow you to tag the images with keywords and additional information, which will help you to keep the overview, too.
Portrait and street photography is part of motorcycle travel photography. How do you deal with the ethics and what advice do you have for people about acting ethically and courteously when approaching people and difficult situations?
Portrait and street photography can be quite challenging and even for me/us it´s still not always easy. We always try to get in contact with the people we want to take a photo of. We try to talk with them for a while. Or if they sell some goods – fruits, food, whatever – we buy a little something. If we have a good connection to the person, we ask if we can take a picture of him or her. Maybe because we like the beautiful traditional clothing or the appealing fruits they offer, or because we had such a nice conversation and want to take a picture as a memory.
If we take our time, be polite, friendly and always have a smile on our lips, most people will agree with our request. But if they don´t, it´s very important to respect their wish. The only disadvantage we experienced is that very often the people try to pose or smile for the picture, which might portray them in a very different way than how they would act or appear in their natural surroundings. So yeah, we are still working on our approach when it comes to portrait and street photography.
Interviewer: Michnus, GenX’er born and bred South African product. Known on ADVrider for his epic ride report Michnus & Elsebie Piki-Piki Around the World. Not known to follow or believe his own advice; however, he loves to share stories and inspiration with others. Michnus and his better half left South Africa 10 years ago on an initial 6 month planned trip up to Europe through Africa. Sold the family pets and mom, hit the road motorcycling on a semi-permanent basis to this day.