The Journal in Motojournalism

The Journal in MotoJournalism is the storytelling part of the equation. Overland journeys drop us right into the deep-end of personal experience and adventure.  When we travel slowly through the countryside and the cities it puts us into direct contact with individuals, cultures, history and landscapes.  
The experiences we have and the photos we take give us an infinite well of potential stories to draw from, but how can we put those experiences into a compelling story?

I wrote a ride report about my last motorcycle trip - Canada to Panama - while I was on the road. Of course photos were taken all day every day, but I'd also jot down notes in my Moleskine notebook: Where I started and finished the day, who I met, what I saw. Nothing in detail, just enough to trigger my memory.

With my memory fresh and an open bottle of beer, I'd work at night in hotels and hospidajes or camped in my tent,  I'd use my netbook computer to process the photos and expand my hasty notes into a narrative.
The entries in the ride-report are raw and rough around the edges - just initial impressions really - but they have the excitement of the unknown. I'd finish writing a chapter then ride-off to live the next one.

I've been flipping through that Moleskine lately and there's still plenty of potential stories to draw from. Forgotten details, interesting charaters with their own stories, crazy places. And in the Lightroom catalog there are many unseen photographs that I now have the time to go back and retouch - time to get the best out of each image.

The more I learn about photography, the more I'm convinced that all of this aperture and shutter-speed business comes down to telling a story. Anecdotes about people, myths about places. That's the kind of thing that keeps people interested. The stories are what they want to hear. Photography and writing - and now audio and video - are just tools to convey the story.

The technical aspects of the camera or of Photoshop and Lightroom are well defined - the manual has all those answers - but storytelling? That's tough.

What's interesting? What's compelling? What makes you feel something? 

How do you tell your own story without being boastful or overly modest? How do you tell somebody else's story without being condescending or effusive? 

How do you put that story into your images? How do you put it into words or sound

These are all things you can't easily put a finger on.

Where do you go to learn about telling a great story? Please let me know in the comments! 
This is the skill I'd most like to improve - here's what I've been looking at to learn:

Great books
Hemingway and Kerouac are favourites, and I've been trying to chip away at Ulysses... (This helps)

Great Photographers
Photojournalists are masters of telling a whole story in a single image or a series of images.
Sebastião Salgado
Didier Lefèvre

Of course movies have a lot of storytelling power to learn from. I recently discovered that a whole pile of my favourite films were shot by Robby Müller - Dead Man, Paris Texas, Down By law, Repo Man...
Alec Soth has a good post about photographers as filmmakers as well.

"How-to" guides
Sound Reporting  is an excellent book about storytelling and writing for the spoken word, though I find it's perfect for the conversational style of a ride report.

The BBC Styleguide is really just about how to be understood through your words. Incredibly they've manged to make it an entertaining read. is a recent find. It's a collection of short quotes wisdom from folks who know what they are talking about. I find myself saying "hell yeah!" a lot while reading it.

I can't get enough of this stuff, It's fascinating and exciting to learn something new that can expand the potential impact of your photography.

I'm looking back through these photographs from Guatemala, as it was the country that I got closest to, where I spent the most time and where I really got to know the people and their lives. I think I'll spend some effort honing my storytelling with the experience of Guatemala. 


Wow, just a few days later and up pops an excellent interview on just this subject with Pullitzer Prize winning photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice.
Matt Brandon has a great talk with Deanne about her multimedia presentations and the power that the combination of still images, video and audio has for storytelling.

I've been checking out the Depth of Field podcast for the last few months, where there's some really inspirational talks with great photographers that give you just the right kick-in-the-ass to get out there and try harder. I particularly liked the interviews with Brian Storm of MediaStorm, National Geographic photographer Nevada Weir , and Canadian adventure and NGO photographer David DuChemin.

5 Response to "The Journal in Motojournalism"

  1. Macrobe Says:

    Excellent post! I applaud!
    I recently posted to my blog on a similar topic, especially the difference between a travel 'report' and a 'travelogue.' Yours I put in the latter category, and, consequently, much more interesting to read. Nice to see other motorcyclists (and travelers) think similarly.

  2. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    Cheers Macrobe,
    Like I was saying in the post, the more I learn about photography, the less I'm concerned about equipment. That part is relatively easy, and much less important in the long run. I've been doing a lot of digging around about how to combine storytelling with the photography, this was a particularly good post on writing and can be applied to photography easily:

    I enjoy your rants n' ramblings too! For the other folks reading this, here's a link to the post she mentioned:

  3. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    That's the bit that nails it right there -

    "I know many photographers point and counter point about the techniques and equipment used. And still don't see what photographs are. To me, good photographs are like reading poetry, like savoring a sip of fine wine, experiencing the grip on your heart by a piece of music, inhaling the sweet and musky smell of a wild rose, or tighten your throat with the human condition. Not all photographs are pleasing; some show what we don't want to see."


  4. Macrobe Says:

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Over the past year I have intermittently toyed with the idea of 'story mapping.' In fact, I hope to start an experimental project soon, then extend it to other participants in the small community where I will be moving later this year (Terlingua, TX). Story mapping is related to one of my philosophical interests: sense of place. The process can include two or more types of media: text, photography, video, maps, drawings, audio. No limit on creativity!

    If you are interested, I can refer you to an article that inspired my idea. It might be interesting to connect with others using the story mapping approach and their projects.

  5. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    Sure thing Macrobe, post the link right here in the comments!

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