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Ride Around the World with Award-Winning Photographer Jody MacDonald

Photography and exploration go hand-in-hand. Curiosity is often the catalyst for a photographer’s next image, and as visual storytellers, we are ...

Photography and exploration go hand-in-hand. Curiosity is often the catalyst for a photographer’s next image, and as visual storytellers, we are known to document and learn as we go.

We love that about photography. It’s a never ending journey.

Jody MacDonald, award-winning photographer and long-time PhotoShelter member, is no stranger to exploration, as she has made a habit of going to many corners of the world.

From train hopping in the Sahara to paragliding in the Himalayas at 17,000 ft, she is passionate about stepping off the beaten path in pursuit of documenting issues that blend insightful storytelling, big expeditions, and social change inspiration in the hopes of promoting the preservation of wild places.

Recently, Men’s Journal named her “One of the 25 Most Adventurous Women in the Past 25 years” and she has had the opportunity to speak on the TEDx stage. She has worked on prominent campaigns with companies such as Disney, HP, Ford, and Leica. You can see her images in many international publications such as National Geographic, Red Bull, Outside, BBC, Patagonia and many others.

We caught up with Jody to hear about her latest adventure in India, how it all started for her as a photographer, what’s in store for her next international workshop (hint: it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure on motorcycle) and more.

We’re also highlighting Jody’s work this week on Instagram! Head over there to see more of her travel photography and follow her new account, @everydaymotorcyclediaries.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Cover image by Jody MacDonald.

Photo by Jody MacDonald

How’d you get your start as a photographer?

JM: I’m Canadian but I moved to Saudi Arabia at the age of 2 until I was 16. This early exposure to exotic places during my childhood inspired my love for adventure and exploration. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in art and outdoor sports. In university, I ended up majoring in Outdoor Recreation and took a photography class as an alternative and fell in love with the creative medium. I started taking a camera with me on my adventures and it became a perfect marriage of my passions of art, adventure and travel and I haven’t stopped since.

Tell us about your photography workshops. What do they include? How did you begin this process? What are you offering in the months and years ahead?

JM: I started running workshops a few years ago. So far I have run workshops in Namibia and Tanzania and currently I have one coming up this September in the Himalayas. The one in the Himalayas has a unique twist to it because it will be done by motorcycle. 

Last summer I embarked on a solo motorcycle adventure through the High Himalayan region of Ladakh, India along the Tibetan Plateau. My trip was so extraordinary that I decided I would love to share it with like-minded adventurous individuals who are interested in improving their photography skills.

Photo by Jody MacDonald

In general my aim in these workshops is to improve all participants’ ability to take beautiful images. I cover the theory of image-taking, planning and post-processing. I teach in a casual, hands-on style that allows for plenty of practice and shooting time with feedback for each participant. I also cover photography modules such as image editing, composition, onsite critiques, and much more. 

Ultimately, my goal of the workshops is to have a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and have my clients return home with unforgettable memories, new skills and great photographs.

I started my first workshop by partnering with a local touring operator in Namibia that could facilitate all travel, food and lodging logistics. It worked out great and I have continued to do that. 

As for future workshops, I hope to take what I’ve learned along the way and fine tune them so they can provide as much value to the clients as possible.

I absolutely love this recent post on your Instagram about your motorcycle adventures, and your new Instagram account too! Can you tell us more about this? When did you start riding? How does it change or impact your photographic adventures or assignments?

JM: I have only very casually ridden motorcycles over the years but for some reason I have always dreamt of doing a solo motorcycle trip along the Tibetan plateau. So last July I just decided to start doing it. I didn’t know anything about buying a motorcycle in India or even how to pack it or ride with gear, etc…I basically just dove right in and have been winging it ever since.

I’m also a big believer in creative constraints and wanted to challenge myself photographically on this trip so I decided to create a new Instagram account called @everydaymotorcyclediaries. I’m taking one photo a day while on my trip using one camera and one lens. I’m interested to see how my photography will change over that time.

I think traveling by motorcycle and taking photos impacts my photography by allowing me the freedom to really pursue my photographic curiosity in a unique way. If I ride by something I think is interesting, I can stop and spend time there. It also creates many opportunities and provides a certain level of access that I haven’t experienced before because the locals seem so interested and intrigued in seeing a female solo motorcyclist that they invite me into their homes and villages.

Tell us about your gear. What cameras, lenses, tools and programs do you typically use during travels or throughout your workflow? What’s one piece of equipment you can’t live without and why?

JM: For this solo motorcycle journey that I’m on, I’m using 2 Leica cameras for still photography and 3 GoPro 10’s for video. One of the Leica’s is the Leica M10 with a Summicron-M 28mm f2 and the other is the Leica X-U that has a fixed 23mm f/1.7. 

Other tools that I use to get the job done are my ZbyHp Studio laptop with Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Premiere Pro programs for editing, 4 x 4TB Sandisk external hard drives, Gitzo tripod and 2 x DJI drones.

It’s hard to pick just one piece of equipment that I can’t live without so it’s a tie between my Leica M10 and my iPhone because I use it for filming all my social media.

Learn more about Jody’s go-to gear, including lenses, camera bags, accessories and more.

Photo by Jody MacDonald

What are your top tips for aspiring photographers? What have you learned over the years that others would benefit from?

JM: Some top tips that I have learned along the way would be to:

  • Don’t get bogged down by gear. Right now I’m shooting with one camera and one lens. I think the freedom really allows me to be more creative and take a lot more pictures, especially on long shooting days.
  • Taking portraits can be tricky. In order to take good portraits you have to overcome any shyness you might have. It can be intimidating at first but slowly keep pushing yourself… it does become easier.
  • Try challenging yourself by giving yourself creative constraints. I think it makes you a better photographer.
  • Photograph things that are important to you and that you connect with. Work in areas you feel passionate about and try to bring awareness to them in your own way and your own voice. No one will be able to replicate that and then don’t stop. Persistence is key.
  • Shoot as much as you can and then shoot some more while constantly critiquing your images and trying to make them better. Great images will make you stand out but they are very hard to take and require constant critique and effort to achieve…be ok with that process.

Do you have any favorite features on PhotoShelter? How will it help with your creative workflow and/or your photo business in the year ahead?

JM: Yes, absolutely. I think my favorite feature on PhotoShelter is the ability to create an online archive of high res files that I can let clients access when I’m on the road.

When I’m traveling I’m unable to carry all my hard drives so being able to have the high res files stored online is invaluable for me when I’m on the road.

If you want to take the next step in your own photographic journey, you can learn more about Jody’s photo workshops here.

Visit Jody’s website to see more of her work, and don’t forget to follow along on our Instagram this week as we highlight more of Jody’s stunning travel photos!

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