Your Photos Should Tell a Story
First, your photography should tell the adventure story. Look at outdoor adventure magazines. You’ll notice the stories appear as photo essays.
Before I set out, I research and create a list of ideas that will tell the complete story in photos.
This includes locations I want to photograph and ideas for photographing people. I also write down the specific photographic techniques I want to apply.
Here’s an example of a pre-planned idea. I captured this photo during a magazine assignment on a wilderness backcountry camp. I needed to photograph a guest relaxing and enjoying the camp.
The idea I had was them sitting on their cot as close to the side of the tent as they could.
I used a wireless flash to create this silhouette, and the illusion that a lantern was inside.
This depends on the adventure you are planning. But it’s fair to say you should take everything you can if it’s appropriate to the adventure.
For example, backpacking requires carrying a lot of weight already. Too much camera gear can become an extra burden.
On adventures where weight (or lack of space) is a big issue, consider one camera with a lens such as a 28mm – 300mm. This will provide most of the focal lengths you might need from wide-angle to telephoto.
A carbon fibre tripod is a good choice and much lighter and easier to carry.
Photographing adventures like rafting means being around water. Protecting your gear is important.
I use a waterproof case like a Pelican for my DSLR cameras, lenses, and accessories. And when photographing rafting I use a waterproof camera like a GoPro.
In fact, the GoPro is excellent for mountain biking and other subjects. The participant can have the camera on them showing their point-of-view.
Decide If You’re a Participant or an Observer
If your adventure includes photographing action sports, are ready to join in?
If you are photographing rock climbing will you be climbing on the wall? Or will you be capturing climbers from a different vantage point?
Both approaches can provide excellent adventure photography. Being on the climb can often add greater impact to the photograph due proximity to the action.
I was up on the wall when this woman was bouldering and the close-in perspective provides a sense of where she is.
Play With Perspective and Scale to Highlight Your Subject
Perspective relates to the point-of-view you choose to frame your subject. Many photographers shoot at eye level.
Changing height conveys a completely different perspective of your subject.
Some adventure photography subjects look great when photographed from up high. But others will appear more interesting from a perspective near ground level.
Wide angle lenses are great for subjects where you want to show a lot of the scene. Or if you want to get close to the subject like this snowshoer.
I was low to the ground looking up and it created a perspective making her appear large and dominant.
Front Lighting, Side Lighting or Backlighting?
Like all photography, great lighting is essential to creating superb adventure photography.
The angle, the colour, and the quality of light are the main things to look out for.
I used front lighting, photographed early in the morning for this photo. It was perfect for this kayaker preparing to launch on the river.
It’s warm in tone and has a shallow depth of field, forcing the viewer to look at her.
I used side lighting, coming right after sunrise here. It makes these adventurers stand out by creating highlights and shadows.
These help define the shape and textures of the scene.
When it comes to quality of light, many subjects look better in flat, overcast light or shade.
This light quality often has no direction. And it produces a soft, low contrast light quality, like these hikers resting near a waterfall.