Drew Martin is one of motorcycling’s most inspirational and renowned photographers, but as our own in-house shooter Geoff Kowalchuk recently learned, this self-made man could easily side hustle as a Life Coach. Legendary landscape lensman Ansel Adams once said, “Half of photography is knowing where to stand.” If that’s true, Drew Martin has both feet firmly planted on solid ground.
1982 Honda MB5, a 50cc two-smoker.
Where does your love for outdoors come from?
I grew up surfing mostly, but once I could, I traveled a ton around the tropical world and road tripped around the western United States, just getting to know it and myself. I found out I loved sleeping under the stars. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I still can’t. If I’m not living out of a bag and camping as far away from anything that costs money, I get antsy. Then motorcycles came. It felt like surfing to me, but way better. Less pricks and rich kids acting like they own the beach.
Why is it better in Baja?
Baja is better because it feels like the wild west. You can’t make plans. You do what Baja wants of you. She tests you, and can make or break you. I think it is more beautiful than anywhere I’ve been in the world, and it’s almost my backyard. There are less entitled pricks there, and the old saying rings true: “Bad roads bring good people.”
What’s your photo gear setup?
I’m currently using Canon gear, although I’m not on any train saying one is better than another. I’m using an assortment of lenses collected over the years and a couple 1DXii’s I absolutely thrash every time I use them.
"Baja is better because it feels like the wild west. You can’t make plans. You do what Baja wants of you."
Got a favorite lens right now?
Lenses are so funny. We think they make us better. Then you do a big job and you can’t even use the lens to its full potential. You can do most jobs with a 24-70 and a 70-200—prove me wrong [laughter]. Anything telephoto is my favorite, though. I love compression with a good desert or mountain backdrop. Gets me every time.
When was the last time you shot on film?
I haven’t shot film in probably four years. Wild. I shot it mostly when I couldn’t afford it. Once I could, I stopped. I think I’m just really interested now in pushing and pulling on my imagery as much as possible, and learning the limits of what I can do with an image, and that helps teach me how I need to shoot. I shoot for how I edit, and if I’m constantly learning new shooting and editing techniques, I need to be spending time pushing the images in post to the point of destruction to see what I can get away with. Film is beautiful because the result is right out of the camera. But with dreams of working on big advertising projects, that won’t do. I need to know my way around all this shit. I feel like a kid still, all green and flying by the seat of my pants, wondering when I’ll have to get an application at McDonald’s because I’m a dropout [laughter]. Whatever. I’m loving every second of it now. It’ll all be worth it, regardless of what happens.
"You can do most jobs with a 24-70 and a 70-200. Prove me wrong…"
What’s it like to have a husband/wife production team?
I couldn’t imagine our business being any different. From as soon as we were serious about being together, which was probably after 24 hours, we dreamed of this. Worked our asses off for it. Sold most things to pay rent to keep our dream. Filled the tank even when we couldn’t afford it, just to get out and go. The lifestyle was and is what we are after. Plus, I don’t think it would work out between us if I was just “gone guy” all the time for work, traveling non-stop while my wife works 9-to-5. That’s not my idea of a good relationship… for me at least. I’ve always thought spending as much time together as possible was what it was all about. Otherwise, just date and screw off, right? That’s just me. If I’m going to be with someone, she’s going to be my best bud, my partner in crime, my travel buddy, the one I spend all my time with, my chosen family. We’re both just grateful this dream is happening in real time.
Ocean or fresh water?
Ah… you know I can’t answer that. If you asked me ten years ago, I would’ve said saltwater and given you the middle finger. Now I can’t seem to stay out of the mountains, searching for swimming holes and hot springs.
Favorite beer after a long day of shooting?
Pacifico or Coor’s Light will do juuuuust fine. Give me a lime and some tajin and I’m even better.
With the amount of dust, sand, mud, and outdoor photography you do, how often are you servicing your camera and lenses?
Seriously, it’s a pain in the dick. Before and after every big project I get all my shit serviced. One of my 1DXii’s has had the sensor replaced three times in three months. Luckily, it’s all warrantied, but at this point just give me a new camera as there’s probably something wrong with the seals on this one? It’s crazy. You go from broke and spending all your money on fuel and gear, and trying your best to baby said gear, to just looking at it like a box of tools you need for work. You need to keep the tools as clean as you can and in great working order, but that’s your job, and these are the tools that you need to use. It’s like a weird switch that flips in your head.
"Being rich isn’t about money—it’s about time. Your time."
At what point did you go all-in to pursue life as a photographer?
I was running a surf shop for seven or eight years, traveling as much as possible. But I’d reached the goal I had as a child by 24 or so, and still couldn’t afford to pay my bills and live close enough to the store to make sense of it, even as a store manager. Besides the rad community I had around me, it was kind of miserable and boring. Once I got my first trip offer for a surf magazine and a clothing company retainer offer, I just went for it. I quit the shop and never looked back. Just kept working my ass off, trying to keep pushing myself, even still. I think I must have been 27 or 28 when I went all-in. Even my new retainer still had me at the poverty line, but I was now my own boss. A new start.
Where to next?
I’ve got a few things lined up, although this year has seen a whole lot less work than the last few. Texas, Utah, Idaho, and tons of Baja coming up.
Any advice for aspiring Drew Martins out there?
Don’t stop learning, don’t get comfortable, accept help, offer help, work your ass off, and don’t give up, and don’t get taken advantage of too often. Be prepared to realize being rich isn’t about money—it’s about time. Your time. It’s about sleeping in on a Wednesday because you felt like it, or because you drank too much Tuesday night because it didn’t matter. Or riding your motorcycle to the desert on a whim after you wake up that same Wednesday afternoon, because you can. That’s fuckin’ rich