Documenting Your Motorcycle Trip: Part 1/2

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Documenting your motorcycle trip will definitely involve one thing: A rabbit hole of Googling that will leave you more confused than when you started!

The next few posts aim to make the whole thing easier to digest. And in doing so, will help you capture your adventure so you can enjoy it for many years to come.

After lots of jiggling about, we decided the best way to do this would be to split it into two separate posts.

Each post will cover something specific, but together, the two posts will act as a basic ‘how to’ guide on documenting your motorcycle trip.

An Overview

Part 1:

The first post will cover the basics. We’ll go through some underpinning principles as well as highlighting some common mistakes when it comes to ways to documenting your motorcycle trip.

Part 2:

Here we will look at the equipment you will need. Everybody is different, and everybody has their own level of creativity and knowledge when it comes to cameras and tech. So we’ll break this up into beginner and advanced sections and you can take what you need.

As an avid landscape photographer and occasional videographer, I’ll also include the equipment I use. I’m not saying you should go out and buy the exact same set up as me (your needs might be different to mine), but it should point you in the right direction – whatever your level.

So now that’s out of the way, let’s get on to the good stuff by looking at some basic principals – and some mistakes to avoid!

1. Story-Telling To Document Your Motorcycle Trip

If you’re new to all this photography and filming stuff, let me tell you right now that story-telling is the most important thing you need when it comes to documenting your adventure.

This post by National Geographic does a great job of going into story-telling in more detail.

It doesn’t matter what camera you have, what bike you ride, or even where you are in the world. If you can’t make it into a captivating story, people will switch off.

Me on my adventure bike crossing a raging river. Using story-telling to document your motorcycle trip is important
Telling a story is the most important aspect of documenting your motorcycle trip

Look At The Structure

Remember when you were at school and your teacher said that every story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end?

Well, the same goes when you’re documenting your adventure.

It doesn’t matter if your recordings and photographs are just for friends and family, or if you’re planning on showing them to the world on YouTube. The premise is the same: You need to tell a story – so you need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

You can have the best camera that money can buy. But if you can’t make it tell a story, then your expensive camera isn’t worth shit I’m afraid! Which leads us nicely on to point number two.

2. You Don’t Need The Best Gear To Document Your Trip

Don’t get sucked into the mentality that expensive gear yields better results.

It doesn’t.

And that’s because the camera doesn’t create the image or the story.

You do.

With this in mind, concentrate on telling the story rather than camera gear, and you’ll do just fine!

Lastly, most people have a smartphone in their pocket these days. And smartphone technology is getting so good now that you can quite easily create some decent videos and photographs using nothing more than your phone and a little bit of imagination.

Camera man filming with expensive professional set up - documenting your motorcycle trip doesn't need expensive gear
You don’t need the latest and greatest gear to record your adventure (image via Mike Palmowski)

3. Showing vs Telling Us About Your Motorcycle Trip

Nobody wants you to tell them about your trip. They want you to show them. Your audience loves the human experience – so they want a captivating introduction and then they’ll want to follow your journey to see what happens next.

Your job is to get the viewers attention, and then keep it by leading them on a trail that takes them from the start of your journey to the end.

Videos, photographs and commentary (or ‘interviewing’ friends/riding partners) all play their part in telling your story.

Then there’s the less direct content such as B-roll which is there primarily to set the scene.

4. Document Your Trip; Not Your Bike

I’m really sorry to tell you this, but nobody cares about your bike!

I know you’ve spent £20,000 on your Ducati and you love it. But everybody has already seen that exact Ducati a million times before!

And don’t forget, not all of your viewers will be avid bikers. For many, your bike will just be ‘a bike.’

By all means, show it. But show it in context.

So for example, let’s look at these two scenarios.

In the first scenario, there is no commentary but I put together a series of clips that shows:

  • Packing my bike and attaching luggage
  • Filling my bike with fuel
  • Putting on my helmet
  • Shutting the visor
  • Turning the ignition key
  • The bike setting off
  • Riding onto the ferry

Even without any verbal explanation, your brain will automatically piece the information together and you’ll know that I’m going somewhere.

Similarly, if I just show you images of my bike from a thousand different angles, your brain will just think “Oh look, a bike.”

Even if I gave you a running commentary on the specs of the bike as I showed you, you still wouldn’t know WHY I was showing it to you.

It’s all about context.

Ducati motorcycle in a field of flowers showing context
Show footage of your bike in context (image via Jeremy Bishop)

5. Document More Than Just The Road

In the same vein as showing us too much footage of your bike, don’t fall into the trap of showing us too much of the road.

Yes, a GoPro attached to your chin will give us that rider-focused view of exactly what you were seeing at the time. And that’s great!

But we don’t need to see 1,000km’s of you hurtling through France on toll roads.

As mentioned above, it needs to have context otherwise your viewer will just be wondering why they’ve been looking at a road for the last half an hour.

6. Document The Disasters That Form Your Trip

As mentioned above, people love the human experience. Of course, people want to see the amazing roads, the breath-taking scenery and the most incredible sunsets.

But they also want to see you get a flat tyre. They want to see your struggle to change it and they want to ultimately see you overcome the hurdle.

People want to see that moment when you fall off. They want to see when you get lost. They want to see you rise above the challenges of touring. And whilst they do want to see the pretty bits, that’s not all they want to see when you’re documenting your motorcycle trip.

It’s okay to show the bad bits; your audience are routing for you!

Man fixing motorcycle - show the parts that went wrong when documenting your motorcycle trip
Showing the bits that went wrong adds to your story! (Image via Pexels)

7. Give Us A Narrative To Help Document Your Trip

A few years ago, you could compile a bunch of video clips, add some music and call it finished.

These days, that just won’t wash because it’s overdone and boring!

Give us narrative by providing commentary or a verbalised journal.

You could record a piece-to-camera or you could overlay a voice recording to some video. Mix it up!

Tell us what was brilliant and why it was brilliant. Tell us what was shit and why it was shit. Tell us how it made you feel. Tell us what you enjoyed and what you disliked. Tell us about where you are. Allow yourself to be excited or disappointed and show/tell us why.

Another nice touch when documenting your motorcycle trip is to talk about your day to your riding partners or pillion and get their perspective. All of this adds to the richness of your experience and gives the viewer an insight into your trip.

8. Move The Camera To Document Your Surroundings

As mentioned above, if you’re using a GoPro, it doesn’t have to be permanently fixed to your chin.

Get off the bike, put your camera on a rock, and then film yourself riding past it.

Try filming your buddies, and then get them to film you.

Different camera angles keep your audience engaged – so consider shooting behind you or panning left-to-right.

Put your camera on the ground as your ride past. Or put it somewhere high so the camera is looking down on you instead of at eye level.

Finally, capture something other than yourself or your bike! Document the scenery to show us where you are. Or show us a stylish shot of the lovely meal you’ve just been served or that ice-cold beer with droplets running down the side of the glass.

Aerial shot of winding mountain road
Shoot low, shoot high – use different angles to keep your viewers engaged (image via Lucas Davies)

9. Keep It Simple When Documenting Your Adventure

I once attached five GoPro’s to my bike and hit record at the start of my ride out. My logic was sound in that I wanted to capture the ride in pretty much 360 degrees – which I achieved.

However, editing that footage afterwards took me months! Literally months.

To make it worse, I’d also recorded myself talking which meant that the commentary had to match the footage otherwise it didn’t make sense.

In the end, I got so frustrated and confused that I ended up just taking the best bits and putting it all to music.

The moral of the story? Keep it simple! Yes, use different angles. But use just one camera at a time and accept right from the start that you can’t record the entire trip.

You will miss good shots when documenting your motorcycle trip. But accept that this will happen and simply enjoy the experience rather than worrying about recording it.

You’ll save yourself hours and hours of unsuccessful editing when you get home.

10. Don’t Record Everything From Your Motorcycle Trip!

This is another mistake we all fall into.

We become so scared of missing something that we try to record everything.

The truth is, not all of your trip will be worth watching.

If you have a 200 mile stint on a motorway, do you really need to record it?

No, you don’t. Take the camera off, save the battery, save the memory space, and save yourself hours of editing when you get home.

A group of GoPro's on charge. Avoid filming too much when documenting your motorcycle trip
Avoid this! You’ll spend half your trip charging batteries and months editing footage (image via Pixy)

11. Editing Software For Documenting Your Motorcycle Trip

This is where people start to get all anxious!

The truth is, you will need some sort of software to edit your footage.

Professionals use it to colour-grade and blend and add effects.

But even as an amateur, you will need to chop and change your clips and put them in some sort of order.

Do you need to spend hundreds of pounds on this software?

No of course not. Professionals do because they need the functionality and they need it continually.

As an amateur who won’t need this software again until the next trip, your best bet is to take advantage of free trials that most software programs offer.

12. Think Whilst You Shoot To Document Your Trip

The final thing to remember whilst documenting your motorcycle trip is to think whilst you shoot.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a lot of photographs and recording a load of video clips and then piecing them all together when you get home.

You absolutely can do that and it will be fine.

But if you can, try to pre-visualise what you want the result to be whilst you’re shooting. The end result will be way more coherent and much more professional.

If you get off your bike to take a photograph of the scenery, have a look around. You might see a bend in the road where you could get a cool clip of you riding through the bend with the landscape in the background.

Or, you might take a shot and realise that it’d make a great story shot. So could you put something before it and after it to make it tell a story?

This sounds difficult at first (because it is!), but once you get into the mindset of seeing the bigger picture, you’ll find you begin to create stories rather than simply waiting for them to happen.

13. Get Creative With B-Roll: Describe Your Adventure

If you’re wondering what B-roll is, it’s supplemental footage to the main shot. In terms of video, it’s usually used to ‘set the scene’ and is used to tell the story.

So if you were in a forest, you might take some stylish shots of meadow flowers or a running stream. Or you might set the camera up to focus on a sign that reads “Welcome to X Town” and then have you riding into the shot and past the sign.

In both of those examples, no commentary is needed. It tells the story of you exploring in a forest, or that you’ve reached X Town.

B-roll footage can also be used to show the atmosphere of a place. If you were riding in the mountains, you might use it to capture fog or a thunderstorm. And you can also use it to capture sounds such as a waterfall or birdsong.

B-roll is an art in and of itself and will improve the more you practice it. And whilst it isn’t essential, it’s a really good way of telling your story and adding that cinematic feel to your footage.

14. Audio Beats Visual For Documenting

This seems really odd, but poor quality video with excellent sound beats high quality video with poor sound.

If you look at the analytics on YouTube, for example, people switch off from videos if the sound is too low or of poor quality. Because it’s annoying!

Conversely, if the video quality isn’t great (say it’s been shot with a phone) but the audio is crystal clear, people will forego the quality of the video because they can hear what’s going on.

And don’t forget, many people (myself included) don’t even watch videos! In many cases, they will play a video and then minimise the screen so they can continue to work. In essence, the video becomes a podcast – can you imagine a podcast with poor audio?!

Many cameras have great internal microphones but they’ll usually start to flounder when you get them outside.

Even a cheap external microphone will improve the quality of sound dramatically so it’s well worth investing!

What’s Up Next?

In the next installment of this mini documentation series, we’ll delve into the type of kit that’s available and have a look at some of the equipment you will need.

As mentioned above, we’ll look at a range of kit to cater for the needs and budgets of everyone.

And remember, it’s not the gear that makes the photograph.

It’s the person standing behind the camera!

Feel free to share!

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Photography Gear For Motorcycling: Part 2/2