Beginner's Tips for Adventure Photography
Imagine tagging along on one of Jimmy Chin’s projects, it’d probably blow your mind. For part-time adventurers, it’s difficult to relate to the pros, in any field. So here I am - normal, relatable, and awfully average with my tips. I claw my way out of routine and plunge into my adventure soaked holidays (when HR says I can). As my backpack passes through airport security, you’ll find a camera, adventure getaway or not.
*Related Post: Exploring not Following: An Anecdote with Pictures.
What is adventure photography?
Simply put, adventure photography is, well, photography (duh) of adventure activities. Usually outdoors. Usually with a sprinkling of danger. Usually a getaway from the desk. Think kayaking, hiking, mountaineering, diving, the list goes on.
While adventuring on your holidays, you’ve probably wanted to capture the epic moments, to tell the whole story of what you experienced. Not just the beautiful sunrises/sets and summits.
What held me back?
Overthinking. You might be familiar with it. But specifically...
Preparing and packing
Going from desk-bound to Destination X isn’t as easy as it seems. Add activities that lace your holiday with adventure and you might feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. You know what it’s like... creating a list of gear and necessities, checking it (the list), forgetting stuff, scrambling to get (forgotten) stuff and finally fitting it into your bag.
How do we pack enough without a fuss?
Tip: Be the best flat lay expert you can be.
Ever seen a flat lay? It’s more than a neat and trendy way to show off your stuff from a bird’s eye view. Practise laying stuff out and you’ll (almost) never find yourself frantically rummaging through your bag while trying to recall if you'd packed that extra battery or charger.
Tip: Ziplock bags are your best friend, especially if you're a cheap-ass and don’t have proper waterproofing gear.
Shooting on the go
'Should I take my phone/camera out now?’ and ‘Will I regret trying to capture this’ are questions you have to be ready to deal with.. and fast! No, I’m not encouraging the flagrant violation of common sense (i.e., scaling skyscrapers to take a selfie and the likes). But when the time comes, fine motor skills will be as important, if not more than your ‘sick camera skills’. So unless you’re pretty f*cking comfortable running around that narrow rocky trail, distracting yourself by peering through a viewfinder isn't such a hot idea.
Tip: Be surefooted in rough terrain before adding a camera into the mix.
But what if I’m no mountain goat? Simple...
Be fluid. Get ahead, hang behind and move up-and-down your group to get a variety of shots and angles.
Getting ahead allows you to scout out different angles, giving you time to think and set up for better shots. It also opens up some new POVs to shoot from. Less fluster and more like a master.
Equipment you’ll need
Tip: Start with your phone or whatever is available.
A camera isn’t something someone should purchase on a whim, neither should it be a two-year long process involving (a lot of) mulling. Before getting myself a camera, everything I shot was on my phone, a piece of gear that has its place in your arsenal, but definitely not the be-all-end-all.
The gear you have (or don’t) shouldn’t hold you back from documenting and telling the stories you want. When you find yourself wanting more of your current equipment, take the time to do the research. A few months of thorough research should ensure this isn't just a passing phase.
Disposable film cameras
Film is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, producing the effects popularised by the likes of VSCO (who created filters that replicate the effects of film). Weird, right? With how affordable single-use disposable film cameras are, it’s no surprise that many people turn to them to capture those warm and fuzzy travel moments. It’s a great option for anyone, if you can deal with shooting with a fixed setting (e.g., ISO 400 and so on).
Cool effects of shooting on film
Shooting on film is permanent
Shooting with a fixed setting
Tiny and often tethered to your phone, action cameras are waterproof, very durable, versatile and inexpensive (compared to top-of-the-line DSLRs). But their ultra-compact nature means image quality and ease-of-use take a hit. What they can add to your arsenal, however, is the ability to be mounted anywhere and on any part of your body to give footage a unique POV, allowing you to focus on the important things... like not falling on your face.
Engineered for action and the outdoors
Tiny and not fat finger friendly
Almost like DSLRs but not quite, mirrorless cameras are lighter and more compact. Images are recorded directly onto the digital sensor and viewfinders are.. you guessed it, digital. Like the baby of a family, most, if not all, the latest tech and innovation can be found on them. While professionals say the selection of lenses and accessories for the new-ish platform is limited “limited”, I'd say you'll still be spoilt for choice as a beginner.
Light and compact
Can stand toe-to-toe or beat DSLRs
Interchangeable lenses and accessories
Better for videos (usually)
The mark of professionals or enthusiasts. It says "I'm serious about this sh*t". Just toting one around bumps your street credentials up. With a wide array of interchangeable lenses and accessories, you’ll be spoilt for choice. If you’re looking to take your photography up a notch, you don't have to blow a ton of money since the entry-level models pack a pretty solid punch. The downside? They’re relatively heavy, bulky, and still relatively expensive when compared to the options above.
Tried and true
Options are endless
Big, burly and tough
Lasting battery life
The combined experiences of witnessing a friend lug his monster of a DSLR up a mountain and always having these hefty beasts around for work swung my decision (after two f*cking years) in favour of a lightweight and compact mirrorless camera.
Now, I’m not saying mirrorless is THE way to go. But it’s the way I like to roll.
Tip: Rent, if you’re still unsure but don’t want to be restricted to using your phone.
Snapping away in the wilderness and outdoors can be daunting. Everything from bad weather to a careless slip can wreck both you and your gear. But with the right amounts of precaution, preparation and planning, these tips (and a big dose of courage) will help you evade most disasters. After all, you're already on your Adventure trip, that's half the battle won.
*Related Post: Why You Should and How to Document Your Travels.