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While there are many types of outdoor photographs to capture—from Milky Way shots to landscape photos—there’s no category of photography more thrilling than adventure photography.

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Jimmy Chin Teaches Adventure PhotographyJimmy Chin Teaches Adventure Photography

National Geographic photographer teaches his techniques for planning, capturing, and editing breathtaking photos.

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What Is Adventure Photography?

Adventure photography is a category of photography that focuses on capturing shots in the great outdoors, usually involving extreme sports. Skiing photography, mountain-climbing photography, and kayaking photography all fall under adventure photography.

Adventure photography requires a different skill set than other types of photography. In many cases, photographers must participate in the adventure itself in order to capture the shot (for example, climbing a mountain while simultaneously taking photos). Photographers who enjoy being outdoors and can handle taking risks to get the perfect shot are the best fit for this type of photography.

Essential Adventure Photography Equipment

Adventure photography requires more gear than other forms of photography. To be prepared in the field, you’ll need the right equipment.

  • Camera: DSLR cameras are the most common workhorse camera for adventure photographers. There are a wide range of lenses and price points available for this specific camera type. Mirrorless cameras are a newer addition to the world of cameras, and while they don’t have as many lens options, they are often lighter and smaller than bulky DSLRs. If you’re new to adventure photography, you can start out by shooting with your smartphone. Many smartphones come with high-performing cameras, and they’re lightweight and easy to carry.
  • Lenses: When you’re out on location, you have to think about the shots you’re going to make and prioritize which lenses to take. If you want to start with one lens, a 24–70mm (f/2.8) is a great choice—it has a good blend of a slightly wide lens to a slightly telephoto lens and can be used for just about anything. Two other great lenses to try are a 16–35mm (f/2.8), which can capture jaw-dropping landscapes and sweeping vistas, and a 70–200mm (f/2.8), which has a good range from medium telephoto to telephoto and is good for compressing the background and photographing things that are far away.
  • Power: When you’re out in the field shooting, the last thing you want to see is a low battery signal on your camera. Before heading out, fully charge your camera batteries, change out your lighting batteries, and pack extras (if you have them). A solar charger is a practical investment if you’re planning on being outdoors for long periods of time.
  • Storage: If you’re planning on being out in the field for multiple days, you’ll need to bring a reliable storage system to keep all of your photos safe and to make space on your camera to shoot more. Bring memory cards and a solid-state hard drive. Solid-state drives don’t have moving parts and are better for backing up your media than traditional drives, which are more fragile.
  • Tripod: Depending on your shots, it’s a great idea to bring a sturdy tripod or monopod. They can help you get suitably sharp images even when working with slower shutter speeds or low light environments, and they are essential for long exposures. Look for tripods and monopods that are compact and made from a lightweight material like aluminum.
  • Adventure gear: You’ll need the right equipment for your particular adventure: Activity-suited clothing you can move around in and proper footwear are essential. Other necessary gear includes a headlamp, sunscreen, a hydration bladder, a pocket knife, a GPS, and high-protein snacks. An adventuring backpack is also an important piece of equipment for an adventure photographer. Choose a waterproof backpack that can handle the weather and fit all of your gear (a 35-liter backpack is a safe choice).
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4 Tips for Shooting Adventure Photography

Consider these helpful tips for capturing great adventure photos.

  1. Do your homework. While any kind of photography requires preparation, adventure photography needs the most. Before you can shoot a subject for adventure photography, you need to have extensive knowledge of that subject, especially if you’re going into remote or dangerous situations. If you’re hanging off the side of a mountain, you need to research safety procedures before you get your camera out and start shooting. Spend time learning the activity, so it becomes familiar and even second nature. Once you’ve built a foundation of skills and you’ve got space in your brain to think about other things at the same time, then you can start to add photography into the mix. Build your adventure skills before you build your adventure photography skills.
  2. Know your light. When you’re shooting outside, there’s usually only one light source: the sun. Working with natural light is going to be one of your biggest assets and your biggest challenges because, unlike indoor or portrait photography, you’ll have little control over the intensity and direction of light. Midday shooting tends to create harsh shadows and washed-out highlights, which will cause you to lose a lot of details. If you find yourself shooting with the sun high in the sky, make sure that it’s behind you so that it’s illuminating your scene rather than overwhelming it. The best times to shoot outdoors with natural light are in the early morning and evening when the light is softer and more diffuse. If you want to take advantage of the golden hour, you’ll need to be on location and set up at least an hour before sunrise or after sunset.
  3. Look for natural lines. Leading lines are elements that help guide the eye through a photograph. They can be obvious, like a stream or a set of train tracks, or more subtle. In general, leading lines should begin in the foreground and lead to the focal point or some other element in the background. You’ll also want to keep the horizon line level (unless you’re looking to create a sense of drama or unease), but also pay attention to the way it divides your composition. A horizon line running straight through the middle of the frame may make your photo look cut in half, and you may be missing out on interesting elements in the sky or foreground.
  4. Learn to assess and mitigate risk. Adventure photography often has higher consequences than other photography—climbing mountains, whitewater rafting, and snowboarding are all higher-risk activities than shooting portraits. Careful practice is key: The more time you spend doing something, the better you get at it. Being proficient at the activity (whatever form of adventure it is) will also help you assess the difference between perceived risks and actual risks, enabling you to make the best decisions when you’re in a difficult spot.

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