What is Motography? - FAQ

1) Why the name Motography?

2) What’s the difference between taking pictures on motorcycle rides and Motography?

3) Any special considerations to take into account when on a motographic journey?

1) Why the name "Motography"?

Motography is simply a term I coined which represents the marriage of both motorcycling and photography.  Actually, upon scouring the internet I found some other people who also use the word “motography” and its variants like “motographic” for other uses; one of them I believe was a morph of motion and photography. What makes motography different may be difficult to understand so the following section hopes to discuss this matter further.

2) What’s the difference between taking pictures on motorcycle rides and "Motography"?

Both of these great and ridiculously expensive hobbies complement each other well.  Of all the vehicles created to date, the motorcycle and its many derivatives remain one of the best balanced in terms of efficiency, convenience, affordability and global utilization. Riding motorcycles brings many people experiences they cannot describe in words or would even try to. 

Riding, is great! – Even if it’s a journey to work every day.  Unless you feel the urge, there’s no compelling reason to spend the extra time and effort on recording images or video of your rides: like riding, it has to be something you want to do and see the benefits of.  Photography by itself is another fantastic passion that certainly has a well established life outside of motorcycling.  Like motorcycling, your photo gear can be very expensive but, like a motorcycle, won’t help you if you don’t know how to use it or don’t see the world with a photographic “eye.”  The capture of a nice image might not get you into a hundred magazines but when you look at it again later in life, that moment may come rushing back. 

If you can, or would like to share your experiences and visions with other people then, like any artist, you take on a responsibility to yourself and others to show them life from your perspective. Just as much as we can listen and learn from a story, we can also watch and learn from pictures.  What do you want to show them?  What will they see?  Unfortunately, we're already ahead of ourselves: before you exhibit your pictures in some way, you need to select and make your experiences and then be good enough to get the shots.  

This is where the motorcycle perhaps best compliments photography: the freedom and speed to affordably go where you want, when you want.  With certain people behind the bars and lens the potential to travel to wild and unique places and times is practically unlimited.  A quality presentation of these unique and scarce experiences, just like many things, will tend to be of some value – be it for entertainment, education, art, culture, history, language, science or collecting useful data.  Maybe it won’t be obvious right now or, even to anyone else, but the value is there! 

Just because the earth is already mapped doesn’t mean that the range of human experiences is as well.  The use of the word “explorers” is strange to me: Who to date has discovered things that were not already there?  There will always be plenty of room to visit and record new people, places and things in a state of change.  In particular, “adventure” riders spend a good amount of time on remote roads few have seen and met interesting people and situations you won’t read about in most newspapers or magazines.

Whether in high mountains or low deserts the people, languages and cultures that have survived these beautiful but rugged and often unfriendly environments are worlds away from the common modernized-city-dwellers’ experience.  This is not to say that one is better or worse - rather, that we learn a lot about the world, people and ourselves by placing ourselves in these highly contrasting experiences.  With every unbelievable sunset or complete stranger you met you learn a lot about differences - but even more about similarities.  Whether finding something new in your back yard or out in the middle of nowhere, potential discovery lays, waiting to be found.

Timing and location both have a unique relationship to motography and this may be one of the biggest practical differences which helps differentiate itself as its own entity.  When on a motographic trip, getting from A to E is important but often takes a back seat to spending the time and resources necessary to document B, C and D.  In other words, the photographic goal of the journey somewhat dictates the timing, locations and resource planning of the ride. 

Stopping to appreciate a sunset is one thing.  Stopping to photograph a sunset at 5000m/asl by running 30 pounds of water and camera gear half a mile up a rocky hill in full armor with only about 15 minutes of golden light remaining is another - this is also after being pounded all day by bad roads, weather and water crossings. Riding or not, you’ve got to enjoy being “On”.

This is about as far as a few words can take us into motography.  The rest of it requires time, practice, riding and a lot of patience. 

3) Any special considerations to take into account when on a motographic journey?

Answering this question depends on the level of involvement, gear and destinations you have access to.  Whether taking a tour of American National Parks or riding the high altitude mountains and deserts of the Himalayans, travel straddled atop a motorcycle gives us a practically unrestricted 360degree view of the world around us. In developing countries, riding motorcycles affords you an instant camaraderie with many poorer locals who also primarily transport goods, family, and friends by motorcycle. 

Often, in very rural and isolated places, motorcycle taxis are the only vehicles efficient and easy enough to maintain despite their daily abuse of bad roads, heavy loads and less than friendly weather.  Although local brands of inexpensive motorcycles – at least by western standards - will not be suitable for some people I encourage everyone to not underestimate the use of these simple 150cc work-horses.  What you loose in speed you gain in light weight, ease of repair and readily available spare parts.  Still and video camera wise, a few considerations such as protection, weatherproofing, and storage would be good to discuss.  If you plan on bringing more than a point and shoot (PnS) then your list of camera gear may include:


Tripod - is important for any size camera and immediately expands your cameras usability in any environment.  Although many people consider them awkward, clumsy to use and unnecessary, if you’re taking shots near sun rise/set (often called “golden hours”) or at night you will be happy you carried one.  If wildlife is your subject, often the golden hours won’t give you enough light for a fast hand-held shutter speed on many of our mid-toned furry and feathered friends at super telephoto lengths.  If you refuse to carry a tripod, then at least have some plan for stabilizing your camera which is suitable for your needs.  Small hand-sized very light weight high quality tripods are available and good for placing on tables, rocks and rear boxes. 

Alternatively, if you’re careful about where you park your bike, you can squat down beside the bike and set some gloves or a hat on the saddle to act like bean bag.  This way you can shelter yourself behind the motorcycle, stabilize your shot and, if it’s cold, occasionally warm your hands by the engine.


Photo Bag (internal storage) – Exposure to the elements is an inevitable part of motorcycling and while bikes are designed to tolerate a certain level of exposure, most cameras are not.  Protecting your often expensive equipment – not to mention your memories – is of paramount importance.  Riding on sealed roads or dirt will still subject the camera and lenses to extended periods of high and low frequency vibrations and impacts.  At the risk of sounding like an advertisement I’ve had great luck with my Nikon D70, Sigma lenses and LowePro bags – all of which have survived several accidents, impacts, altitudes and climates.  Here I’d also like to note that avoiding the use of heavy plastic bodied lenses is not a good idea.  It’s important for the bags to be waterproof, easy to access and carry as well as use adjustable high quality padding. 

One main bag and a rollable/foldable secondary bag is also useful for off bike wanderings.  I should also not forget to mention a good cleaning kit as high frequency vibrations cause abrasion between the camera and padding (which is sometimes felt material) will create small dust particles inside the bag.  Once you’ve settled in for the night, making a routine check of your equipment will save you time and energy down the road.  Also, before you snuggle into sleepy land it’s a good idea to review your shots on your camera and delete ones that are obvious candidates for the trash can.


Hard case (external storage) – Most, if not all, of the weather protection will come from your external luggage which not only protects your gear from rain, sand and other invasive particles but properly built cases will also stabilize the internal temperature and humidity.  This plays a very important role in not subjecting your camera gear to the effects of rapid climactic changes. 

When going from pass to valley, within’ only a few dozen miles you can experience a change from riding through ice storms in rocky mud to beautifully paved, sunny, warm and lush river valleys.  Should you go down, and if you ride off-road you eventually will, impact resistance is important to not only absorb the shock of the impact but also keep the case in one piece.  Even a small hole or crack in a case can completely destroy it’s weather resistance and security. Naturally, the last consideration is safety.  Most good cases will lock and this provides incredible peace of mind in remote areas as well as cities or small towns.

Also, many people aren’t aware of how time sensitive photography is.  A matter of a minute or a few seconds is enough to loose that shot of a lifetime.  For this reason, I suggest using top loading bags placed in the center hard case on top of the bike.  If you carry a lot of gear,  this unfortunately means raising the bikes center of gravity but you are rewarded with easy access and a little extra protection from spray and other harmful elements.  If you find yourself regularly crossing water, there is no better option - no matter how much you’d like to keep your weight low.


Suspension – Cameras and lenses usually contain a high amount of glass and metal.  The weight can quickly add up depending on how elaborate your set-up is.   Be super sure that your suspension is in good shape (especially the load bearing rear) because nothing transmits shocks to the frame, camera and butt-bone like an improperly maintained and adjusted suspension.  I suppose this should go without saying but I learned this hard way. 

Please carefully examin the rear rack and frame structure of your motorcycle and consider wether it is strong enough to reliably hold you and your load under high impact conditions. This is especially true if you buy local inexpensive motorcycles.


Batteries - Batteries are of course crucial for electronics and in freezing temperatures their performance is affected not only internally but also by the extra drain required to move the motors and other mechanical parts of the camera.  ALWAYS carry enough camera batteries for several days of shooting.  

With a D70 I carry 4 spare batteries (5 total) which is enough to shoot for 3-4 days even in the coldest of conditions.  Unless you plan to constantly have access to electricity and religiously recharge, don’t neglect your batteries and carry plenty of good quality spares. 

If you are going to ride and shoot in cold environments, put a spare set in your inside jacket pocket where it will stay warm, dry and convenient.  There’s nothing like arriving a little late for a once in a lifetime sunset, dismounting, grabbing your camera, running up the nearest hill only to find your camera’s got no juice and all your batteries are stowed back in your bike.  If it does happen though, have a seat and enjoy the sunset. 


Spare Camera – Some may consider this a little excessive but I think actually it’s a very good idea.  Often you’ll want to take what are called “record shots” which are not of any particular significance except to record things like road information, weather conditions as well as quick snap shots of people you meet along the way.  A small, light and slim PnS with a couple of batteries should be sufficient and is also much faster to access than your stowed primary camera.  In many places it’s also important to have a discreet camera that won’t attract too much attention.


Camera friendly gloves – Motorcycling gloves are usualy too bulky to operate the often small and delicate controls of a camera.  Consider keeping a pair of thin windproof gloves on top of your top loading camera bag in the top case between the bag and the lid.  Not only do the smaller gloves help provide a bit of shock absorption but you can change them first, get your camera gear and keep your riding gloves safe from the environment after you close the box.


Flip-face helmet – Although some may dislike this style of lift-face helmet for their extra complexity and weight, they offer some useful features for motography. As well as being convenient for talking to people, a quick drink or smoke and putting on glasses, they also afford more access to the camera back.  If you use a PnS or video camera you may frame your shots using the rear LCD so this isn’t as important.  If you use an SLR style camera, a flip-face helmet can save you the hassle of having to remove your helmet which can not only be inconvenient, but often cold and wet!


On-bike camera mounts – RAM makes a great set of camera mounts which can be placed practically anywhere, are strong, easy to adjust, corrosion resistant, and can be used for other devices such as GPSs.  For still-photography they are rather limited but for video, they are a god-send in terms of flexibility and safety.


Hardware is only one consideration of motography and although it can be expensive and time consuming, it’s a problem usually easily solved.  If you plan on riding and shooting in foreign lands and cultures without an arranged tour or the necessary language skills then please be aware you are entering a totally different set of considerations. 

Depending on the region of the world in which you ride, I feel it’s important for us to be considerate of not only local customs but also political considerations.  There are many interesting and beautiful places in the world which do not, for many reasons, “encourage” photography. I suppose, if you’re carrying more professional photo or video gear then it’s easy for you to become a possible “journalist.”  Although journalism may not be your goal, journalists are often only allowed into certain areas with especially expensive and difficult to maintain permits and an escort.  *Yawn*  Although at times difficult, please handle this issue with great sensitivity and moderation.  Many national border areas have such a policy and it’s good to think about and take any necessary precautions before you arrive at these crossings.

In the interest of brevity, I’d like to close this article but open up the doors for you to send me any comments, questions or suggestions you may have.  I welcome any question you’d like to have answered and added to the list or any useful and pertinent information you think would be helpful to post.  Certainly, I am not the first or last authority of this topic and ideas from more experienced riders and photographers are extremely welcome.

Like motography, the road doesn’t end here but is constantly beginning. The continual evolution of our skills, minds and hearts power the revolutions of our wheels.

It’s all on the way…