Motorcycle Travel Photography

Riding a motorcycle is my favorite way to travel. The feeling of freedom and the sense of adventure that I experience serve to heighten my awareness of the world around me. Drivers of cars simply tunnel through the landscape, unaware of its amazing details. Their metal cages isolate them from the marvels and the dangers of their surroundings. The motorcycle rider is exposed to the wind, air, sun, rain, smells, bugs, and all the other elements making him part of the landscape instead of merely a traveler through it.

A good motorcycle trip also gets you away from the over-glorified details of life: the things that others mandate are important to you, but are utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Life's little problems like backlogged emails and projects at work all fade away the second you get on that steel horse and realize that you have everything you need to survive for the next few weeks of your life: a tent, sleeping bag, and map. Finally you've got time to think about the important things; the things that can't be solved by emailing someone or by holding a meeting.

Of course, the same things that make traveling by motorcycle a joy, can also be hugely limiting to the enthusiastic photographer wishing to document his travels. Rain and foul weather can do a number on camera gear and other electronics. The lack of luggage space can make gear selection a difficult task for even the most selective gear-head.

Little Montenegro

Go Exploring!

Because motorcycles offer such limited capacity for gear, I only took a small point & shoot camera with me on many of my travels. Size limitations and my worry that expensive gear might get stolen while camping prevented me from bringing anything else. For many people, a point & shoot is all they'll need to document their adventure. However, as my enthusiasm for photography grew, I began to bring a DSLR outfit with my while traveling. My photos improved, and I was hooked. Now, my travel kit looks like the following:

Motorcycle Travel Gear

What do I recommend that you carry with you? That depends on your level of experience and enthusiam for photography. As the bare minimum, all levels of motorcycling photo enthusiast should carry the following items (besides the usual stuff like maps, tent, etc):

  1. Small backpack or tank-bag which will hold your camera gear and valuables, and will come with you when you have to leave your motorcycle (like sightseeing, for instance).
  2. Chargers for each of your cameras, and multiple batteries. Not all camps have charging outlets readily available. Make sure you have enough batteries with you to spend at least a few full days taking photos without running out of juice.
  3. A dry-bag (or multiples) which will fit all your camera gear and electronics.
  4. Some sort of tripod. I carry a small Benro Travel Angel A-069M8, which folds down to 13", making it short enough to fit in my tank bag. Despite its size, it's sturdy enough to support my DSLR. At the very least, I recommend a little Joby GorillaPod if all you're taking is a point & shoot. It can be invaluable when the light is fading, or if you just want to take a quick self portrait.

As for camera gear, I recommend the following for each level of experience:

  • Amateur: a high-quality point & shoot digital camera like a Canon Powershot S100 or Olympus XZ-1.
  • Prosumer/Advanced Amateur/Semi-pro: an entry-level or prosumer Digital SLR camera like the Nikon D5100 with a space-saving super-zoom lens like the 18-200 VR. Another option is to go with a compact mirrorless camera, like the Olympus E-PL3. These cameras perform incredibly well, yet are only a fraction of the size and weight of traditional DSLRs.
  • Professional: due of size limitations, I still recommend a crop/APS-C sensor DSLR (instead of the usual full-frame professional recommendation). A Nikon D7000 or Canon 7D fit the bill nicely. As for lenses, those are a very personal choice. I prefer to give up some zoom range for image quality, and therefore would tend to gravitate towards lenses like the Nikon 16-85 VR or the Tokina 12-24 f/4. Supplement one of those with a fast-prime like the 35/1.8G or 50/1.4G, add to that a cheap telephoto like the 55-300 VR, and you've got yourself quite a capable travel kit that doesn't take up too much space in your tank bag.

For me, the tripod is one of the most important pieces of my kit because of my shooting style. You may not get as much use out of one as I do, but I do recommend bringing at least a small one along just-in-case. These photos of mine were taken while on a motorcycle trip through the balkans, and would not have been possible without a tripod:

Marooned Underneath the Stars

Star, Crossed

Dubrovnik at Night

Adventuring Around

Most importantly: get out there, and have fun! The world is here for us to explore!