If you’re like me, you’re hooked on combining two favorite hobbies: outdoor adventure and photography. Although fully experiencing the adventure is of primary importance, it is always fun to photograph the journey. Whether you are the occasional hiker, a weekend warrior, or a sponsored athlete, consider these eight tips that I and other explorers have used to capture images that are as epic as the adventures we go on.
Photo: Scott Kranz
1. Adventure better.
The first step is an obvious one, although easier said than done: go on better adventures. Above all, it is the particular adventure you choose—or sometimes that chooses you—that will determine the shots in your camera roll at the end of the day. Will you check out a popular spot, or will you venture to an “untapped” location that few have reached? Will you keep it local, or will you travel to a bucket-list destination? These are the questions to answer. Regardless of the approach you take, make sure to use The Outbound, a go-to source for many for finding the next best adventure.
2. Do your research!
Before you even step out the door, make sure to research your destination and its current conditions. Check out the latest adventure on The Outbound’s site. Get to know the lay of the land by doing a virtual trip on Google Earth. Search the hashtag of the location’s name for some images of what your destination looks like today. Even reach out to a local in the destination’s area to get some insider information. (Heading to western Washington? Feel free to reach out to me. I'm always happy to share what I know and explore the Cascades.)
In addition to researching the destination, get in tune with the sun and moon. Know when both the sun and moon will rise and set, know their positioning and angle in the sky, and know of any special circumstances (e.g., a “super moon”). For the night photographers out there, know the moon’s current phase, brightness, and positioning in the night’s sky. This knowledge will bring your adventure photos to the next level.
A snowy tent view shot near Mount Shuksan, Washington, picturing Outbound Explorer Nick Lake. Having researched the positioning and angle of the sun at the time of this trip, we were able to predict the point at which the sun would rise over the ridge in the distance.
3. Bring the right gear.
After you’ve nailed down the adventure and done your research, you need to bring the right tools. In addition to all of your outdoor gear, you will need the right camera. Will you bring a DSLR? A GoPro? A compact? A camera phone? All of the above? Sometimes the particular adventure you’ve selected will make the decision an easier one. If you plan to climb several thousand feet to a mountain summit, are you willing to carry a heavier DSLR and multiple lens? If you plan to explore the water-filled slot canyons in Utah or gorges in Oregon, do you need a waterproof GoPro?
In addition to the right camera, other gear to consider is the right tripod, batteries and memory cards, and portable power, as needed. If your plan is a day hike or a single overnight backpacking trip into the mountains, an extra camera battery or two should work. For longer multi-day trips, other options include Goal Zero. For several longer unsupported trips I have planned this summer, I will be using Goal Zero's Sherpa 100 to power my cameras, laptop, and mobile.
A sunrise shot from our April 2015 Mount Rainier summit trip, with Outbound Scout Casey Sullivan. Despite leaving my heavy DSLR at home for this strenuous climb to Rainier’s summit, I was able to capture this shot in the dim morning light with less noise than a mobile camera by bringing and using a lightweight fixed lens camera, a Sony RX100 III, my go-to camera for when I have a big climb and need to move fast and light.
4. Scout it out.
Regardless of the amount of research and planning you do before the trip, nothing can replace what you can see “on the ground” with your own eyes when you reach your destination. Scout out the area before the trip, or build in time during your trip to explore the entire area to check out and consider all of the different sights and perspectives your destination has to offer.
5. Be ready!
Be ready to take the shot! It sounds so simple, but it's easy to forget. Keep in mind that the "picture perfect" moment can come and go unexpectedly. The beautiful red alpenglow on distant clouds and mountains at sunset can disappear without warning. The mirror-like stillness of an alpine lake can break as soon as the wind picks up. So, have your camera out, powered on, and ready to shoot with the right settings.
6. Use a subject.
What often distinguishes adventure photography from landscape photography is the use of a “foreign” subject or subjects—that is, either a person or thing that is external to the landscape but that is introduced to add perspective and a sense of scale. Subjects might include a person, such as your adventure buddy or your own legs; a physical object, such as a tent, a kayak, or a hammock; or any other number of things, even artificial light, such as a beam from a powerful flashlight.
An early morning shot of Prusik Peak, in the Enchantments. A popular subject to use when backpacking is your tent. Use of a dim headlamp or other artificial light can give the tent a warm glow to your shot.
7. Find a unique perspective.
While it’s easy to take the classic or obvious shot of any destination, push your creative limits by exploring different angles, perspectives, and compositions. Photograph your subject from higher or lower. Photograph your subject from far away, but make sure he or she or it is not lost in the landscape. If you're with a group, move ahead and look back to see how the group looks among the surrounding landscape, or lag behind and watch as the group ventures away and into the wilderness. Get down low and see how the view of your surroundings change. There is no right or wrong way to compose an image, so explore all possibilities and have fun.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most photographed areas in the American Southwest, if not the entire United States. Finding a unique composition can be challenging. But sometimes it’s as easy as looking up!
After the adventure is over and you’ve captured the images you hoped you would, you’re not done. The post-production (or “post-adventure”) editing process is key—for example, make sure your horizon is even, crop your shot as you wish, touch up the highlights and shadows so they're just right, and bring out any wanted details in your subjects. And if you are not already, consider shooting in RAW, which gives you the most latitude in post-production editing. In short, editing after the adventure is over is not to be overlooked, and for many, it is an essential step to really bring your images to life.
As it turns out, adventure photography is an extremely rewarding activity, with the myriad of activities to shoot (hiking, climbing, kayaking, mountaineering, surfing, to name a few) and the ever-changing terrain and conditions. So get out there and experiment with what you can capture, and above all, have a blast doing it!
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.