Photography has fascinated me all my life, says Ray Mackencie, as a young boy I recalled the old bellows style cameras and wondered how such images were obtained by the “man behind the curtain”. I did not have a proper camera until I joined the military at age 17, my very first paycheck went to a 35mm Ricoh KR-5 camera with a 55mm lens.
I loved taking images so much I always had my camera with me, and the photographer in me was born. I really learned how to use a camera and develop film in a dark room in 1983 while under the tutelage of a graphic arts employee in London Ontario. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that I started taking images of motorcycles, inspired by journalists from Motorcyclist Magazine and Cycle World.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you first get into photography, and to the level of being an accomplished moto-travel photographer?
Fast forward to 2013 when I met Moto Journalist, Philanthropist, and TV Personality Neale Bayly. I defended him from the usual naysayers on an Adventure Rider Forum, and he reached out to me. Next thing I knew I was invited to shoot Neale and HGTV Star Anthony Carrino while on a motorcycle trip to South Africa. I learned so much about the social media side of photography, as well as how difficult it is to shoot when your subjects do not stop. I did manage to get a few setup shots of Neale and Anthony, but for the most part, it was catching up to them (not easy in a diesel truck) and shooting on the move, at 60-70 mph! I even offered to be strapped to the motorcycle trailer to obtain some shots, but common sense prevailed.
Since then I had been invited on a few off-road adventures, some with Neale, some not, and many images making it into magazines such as Overland Journal, Cycle Canada, ADV Moto Magazine. I added writing to my portfolio following a slow-speed accident in Peru, one which saw me medevac’d back to Canada with serious injuries. My story made it into ADVMoto Magazine, and my relationship with my friends there blossomed.
The desire to improve my photography has caused me to seek out others, try different settings, and to seek out situations to expand my portfolio. My spouse, Cheryl also an accomplished photographer, continually challenges me to expand my horizon, and despite us shooting the same scenes, she manages to come up with very creative shots. The friendly competition has improved us both in terms of photography and brought us closer as a couple.
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?
My love of motorcycles and travel started in 1985, and the urge to ride and take images has taken on an almost obsessive focus of time and effort. I have been all over the World, from Europe to Africa, Canada to South America, and our own back yard here on Vancouver Island. Our latest trip to Nepal on 150cc Yamahas was the most challenging and exotic, not to mention inexpensive. Nepal, and specifically the Annapurna Range in the Himalayas, are one place that we would love to return. For me, I need to place Peru on the destination list because I have unfinished business there. That is inspiration enough to keep me plodding onto making those trips happen.
Is moto photography art for you or just a personal memory documentary, is photography a way of storytelling for you and if so what kind of stories intrigue you the most? How do you document your travels and photo?
Moto photography for me is part art, part personal memories, part business, and part storytelling. In some cases the image evokes all three. At times, the image sought is purely for business purposes. When I look through images from past adventures, it is always a few that pop up, ones that had a unique combination that contributed to an image that was not contrived or set up. Being in the right place at the right time with the right settings is not easy when you are travelling with hard-charging riders who want a National Geographic worthy image but don’t want to stop and set up a shot to get it.
Being able to “get the shot” in changing conditions is always a challenge, but for me, those are the ones I find most rewarding. We switched from Canon to Sony mirrorless systems for lighter weight, ease of access, and image quality. We also use our phones, and our Canon M100 backup camera to capture pictures “just for us”. On occasion, though we capture something cool and that memory also becomes etched into our trip photo archives.
Why and what makes moto-adv photography so different, engaging and interesting compared to most other forms of travel and of photography? What do you enjoy most about being a moto-travel photographer?
In my humble opinion, adventure photography is different in many ways. The conditions always changing (including light), the harshness of some off-road sorties, and in some cases places that make it almost impossible to stop and set up a quality shot. There are some amazing photographers out there in our adventure riding genre, and I have no doubt that all have been fortunate to capture amazing moments, yet miss others. For me, it is that challenge that keeps me smiling and coming back for more!
Which countries have been your best destinations for motorcycling and photography and why?
Each country definitely has it’s own flavour in terms of motorcycling and photography. I personally love the challenging conditions, so Nepal comes to mind immediately. Inexpensive, challenging and fun roads, unbelievable vistas, amazingly friendly people and of course the Himalayas. We chose to travel as a local rider would, riding Yamaha 150CC motorcycles with no tour guide. It was a blast, with riding to keep even the most “enduro” focused adventure rider happy. We will be back!
How has your photography evolved over the years, has your focus shifted and how did it shift?
My photography continues to evolve, trying different things to obtain shots that are interesting and high quality. My focus now is simple, if I am to slow down to obtain an image, then take the extra time to make the image a good one. This is a distinct change for me, where just getting a shot was all that mattered and fulfilling the check in the box. Now, I seek to go beyond the check-in the box mindset and look through the entire scene, take a little more time, and get a shot worthy of the effort.
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 three which stand out. One is the smiles on the faces of children in third world countries. Seeing that they are smiling, and dancing while literally not having shoes or clean clothes stays with you and provides a perspective on just how grateful we should be for what we do have. Little people are somehow able to find happiness in the smallest of things, and I believe that there is a massive life lesson to be gleaned from those wee souls. Two, riding with other riders while doing something that is totally off the hook cool.
From riding to the top of small mountains in Peru, with no road, completely cross country – dangerous, but the rush unbelievable when you reach the top – to riding with Cheryl along a busy, washed out, narrow, muddy road northwest of Pokhara, Nepal. Thrilling is a descriptor I would use now, but at the time we were so focused on not flying off the cliffside, that relief was all we felt once we reached our destination. Finally, our planet, and it’s landscapes always take my breath away. Initially, I was a destination rider, point “a” to point “b” quickly and efficiently. Slowing down to appreciate the vistas our planet provides has changed me and it is doing so on two wheels that keep that love alive. Anyone who has ridden beyond their borders to third world countries knows how strong the motorcycle travel bug bites, and how hard it is to ignore.
Try to define what motorcycle travel photography means to you?
To capture the essence of my own ride, truly it is that simple for me. Like art, motorcycle photography is subjective, some shots better than others for no other reason than personal taste. So, ride your own ride, take your own shots, find a road YOU have not been down before, allow yourself to actually get lost, and “enjoy” it. Life is too short, do what you love and it will come through in your images.
What is your loved genre in photography? Portraits, street, landscapes, and why do you love it?
Landscapes and the animal world have always intrigued me. For example, the sea can be calm and peaceful one day, reflecting surroundings with awe and wonder, yet 24 hours later be absolutely raging, with waves crashing upon rocks, the spray reaching high into the air. Landscapes change significantly with changes in light, which is why landscape photographers go back to the same location over and over until the light creates a vision of the shot they want. There is a reason NatGeo photographers take thousands of images to obtain that one special shot, with just the right light and composition. So, for me, nature fulfils my soul and never gets boring.
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 in your opinion and what software do you use?
I shoot in RAW, back up the images while out in the field onto a portable hard drive, then upload them at home to LightRoom. I have pre-set I use which makes processing fast and easy. If I do my best to capture to light and scene properly in the camera, the processing is very fast. Workflow based on years of doing the same thing makes it even faster. Coming from a 35mm film background, developing photos is a must. Shooting in RAW is no different and to get the most out of the massive information contained in each image you have to “develop” it. What most miss, is even your phone modifies each image into a “JPEG” format with specific pre-set information. Understanding the various formats and what can be done with each is vital if photography is a route you choose to make money. For me shooting in RAW provides more data and control over the final image, simple as that.
What type of camera equipment do you use personally? What is your favourite go-to lens and camera? For someone wanting to get into motorcycle travel photography, what types of equipment would you say are essential?
I now used the Sony Alpha Mirrorless Series with their 70-200 f2.8 being the go to lens for motorcycle images. For landscape shots, I like the 24-70. I have a compact backup Canon M100 camera with a couple of lens as well. The short answer in terms of advice is this. I think that if you are choosing to try and become a photographer, what matters most is not necessarily the brand of camera or even a particular system, it is having a camera body that has the interchangeable lenses, the ability to shoot in RAW, and then shoot strictly in manual mode, literally. This will force you to learn the settings on the camera and how they affect your image, from focus to light to aperture to shutter speed. Taking all of your images in manual mode will reward you later when you can change settings without looking at the camera, and help improve the quality of your shots.
Travel and motorcycling come with its share of risk for cameras and camera equipment and it can be heavy to just lug it around. Any tips on how you protect your equipment and ways to make it easier to carry on your travels and motorcycle?
I started to “lighten my load” so to speak in 2013. Looking for gear that was lighter and easier to use. Being a “Canon” camera fan I lugged around some massive prime lenses, the 400mm f2.8 prime sure helped me build my arm strength but was not very practical for motorcycle photography. Changing to the Sony Mirrorless system has helped reduce the load. Pelican cases are great, and help prevent damage. Cameras and lenses are expensive to fix, and you will find the case so much cheaper than sending it to a professional service for repairs! We have also used padded tank bags with great success, as well as dedicated camera bags held in place by our Mosko Moto Reckless systems.
Many motorcycle travellers 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 traveller can do to take better photos?
- Take the “time” to savour the scene and the shot!!! By this I mean if you see something cool, STOP, take a few moments to get the shot.
- Break the scene down into wide-angle, medium and close up shots.
- No matter the camera, learn to use the camera in manual. No courses required, make time to see what each setting does and you will learn how to improve your shots regardless of circumstances.
Portrait and street photography is part of motorcycle travel photography. How do you deal with the ethics and what advice and tips do you have for people who are shy to this and to act ethically and courteous when approaching people and difficult situations?
If you are shooting in support of a contract, obtain a model release if you can. If it is just your own travel, most people have no issues with their image being taken, take the time to show them what you took and there certainly is nothing wrong with giving them something for their time. Some shots though are candid and really capturing the image first is so worth it. If it is for your own use, then enjoy the shot. If it is for a magazine, book, advertising material, etc., the expectation will be proper model release or something similar.
No point in getting sued by someone whom you took a picture of because they later see their face plastered all over a magazine. As they say, it is all good until it is not, and then it can really be not good, with lawsuits possible. I find that it is developing a rapport with people that counts, and THAT allows you almost free reign if approached in a friendly, yet professional way!
Interviewed by: 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.