Where are you now and what are your plans?
I’m in South America and have been for quite some time now. Before this, I rode 240,000 kilometers around Africa over two years, spent three years in Asia, and one in Australia. The Covid 19 virus has ruined my plan to go up to Alaska in 2020. I am currently living in Bolivia.
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?
I got my first camera when I was 10 years old and since I got my driver’s license for motorcycles, motorcycle travel and travel photography have been combined. In total, I have traveled to 62 countries on motorcycles, 54 alone on my current tour. Traveling without a camera and motorcycle is actually unimaginable for me.
Is moto photography a personal art for you, or do you try to share your photos widely?
I regularly publish travel reports in magazines, I have an Instagram account and, if time allows, I also exhibit pictures. Moto photography is of course also personal documentation, but more of a possibility to report about countries and to let the viewer and reader travel along.
The love of motorcycling is certainly reflected in my photography. But I also try to document the everyday life of people in their respective countries. I think the combination of both is the attraction. The motorcycle allows for incredible flexibility. You decide where you want to go and when, regardless of the specifications. Before my current trip around the world, I also cycled through India and Asia, but I prefer the motorcycle because you can take some more existential things with you, which means extreme freedom, especially in structurally weak countries.
I am often asked what my favorite countries were. And I answer that actually, every country has its indescribable charms. There are countries that only trigger a recurring longing in retrospect. In my case, Australia. You fall in love with others instantly. Like Bolivia with its extreme diversity and breathtaking off-road slopes. Some countries are more impressive with their landscape and nature, others with their people and culture.
Has your photography evolved over the years?
It is difficult to say whether my photography has changed over time. Others should judge that. But I think the point of view is changing. Especially in developing countries, where I try to focus on social problems. I am sure that traveling generally raises awareness. And definitely, you can see this by the pictures taken.
In your many moto-travelling adventures, what experiences would you say truly move you and stay inked on the sleeves of your heart?
There are so many formative experiences. I was deeply impressed by the fauna on the African continent. Whether warthogs won’t let you into your tent, elephants who attack the motorcycle because they don’t like the noise of the engine, or the last mountain gorillas in Uganda. Impressions you won’t forget. But hospitality in some countries will also remain unforgettable. In Iran, I rarely had to pay for my gasoline or food, as someone had already paid the bill for me. And then, of course, the breathtaking off-road slopes like the Karakoram Highway [northern Pakistan and China] and Mojale Road in Kenya, not paved back then. Mud in Cameroon on the Ring Road, Carretera Austral [Chile] with snow, Ruta de Che [Bolivia]. Too much and so beautiful, but also tough. Sure, it’s up to you. But the way I plan my routes, it’s not a Sunday trip.
Can you define what motorcycle travel photography means to you?
My aim is to create a balanced mixture of photos of the motorcycle in different situations, my life situation, as well as documenting the respective country. This is a balancing act. With many motorcycle travelers, I notice that they only focus on themselves and their motorcycle. Too boring for me personally.
I actually love all areas of photography. But maybe my strength lies in portraits and street photography. I am very interested in people’s living conditions and culture. On such a long journey you automatically learn to immerse yourself in a culture and to realize what works and what doesn’t.
When I work for magazines, I don’t change a lot in post-production. The images are cropped and the gradation is adjusted. But the possibilities of post-processing are fun and I sometimes let off steam for my Instagram pictures. I shoot exclusively in raw, convert with Lightroom and then work with Photoshop. Of course, I try to take photos as optimally as possible. But of course, there are also incorrect exposures. Then the possibility of a correction in retrospect is great. As a rule, you don’t get a second chance.
What camera equipment do you use? What is your go-to lens and camera? For someone wanting to get into motorcycle travel photography, what types of equipment would you say are essential?
I have worked with Canon equipment for years. Initially with the 5D, now with the slightly lighter 6D. I prefer the full format. I have lenses from 16 to 200 mm, a converter and a small flash to brighten up. And of course a light tripod. I mostly travel alone. Since you also want to have pictures of yourself, a tripod with remote control for the camera is very important. In addition, I have an Olympus all-weather camera that fits in my jacket pocket and can also be used in wet weather during rainy seasons. My all-around lens is the 28-105 mm. My gear is heavy, but it’s worth it.
On the one hand, I have camera insurance to get a replacement in the event of a total loss. During the journey, my equipment is in a tank bag specially developed for cameras. The upholstery protects and I can access it as quickly as possible. Also 100% waterproof with the attached rain cover. When I’m on foot I have a shoulder bag with a camera insert. But I can also use the bag for shopping.
What would you suggest are three easy things any motorcycle traveler can do to take better photos?
Many motorcycle travelers spend huge amounts of money on accessories and clothing and then save on the camera. Usually, you only go on such a trip once, and personally I would be extremely annoyed if I came home with bad photos, even if they were only for me. There are now very good cameras for less money. As a tip, I would always note to change the perspective, to take lots of photos (you can still delete), and also to change the depth of field to focus on what’s important. It can’t hurt to look at lots of photos of fellow motorcycle travelers. Often that can be helpful.
How do you deal with the ethics of taking pictures of people?
I don’t usually take sneaky photos. I ask the person beforehand, especially when taking closer portraits. This is essential. It takes a lot of experience to know how to proceed to get your photo. Sometimes you have to break the ice first and it can take a while. The advantage of today’s digital cameras is that you can immediately show a photo that has been taken. That can make the situation easier. Usually, the person who is photographed is happy to see his person on the monitor. But you also have to respect a clear no. It is, of course, a matter of time, but to make friends with locals who in turn introduce you to others always helps to create trust.
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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.