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Adventure Photography: Your Ultimate Guide

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adventure photographer taking pictures in a desert.

Adventure photography is all about connecting stunning landscapes with a thrilling experience. At first glance, it may seem that this photo niche is limited to those with specific skill sets, but you’d be surprised at how little experience you need to achieve great shots.

Instead, having a creative mind and the courage to walk the road less traveled are more important assets in this case. In this field of photography, the participant is also taking photos. I mean, it’s nice to have amazing gear and a travel guide, but sometimes you need real adventure to capture genuine moments.

What is Adventure Photography?

When you think about adventure photography, what comes to mind? Some people will focus on extreme sports, while others think about travel photography. The truth is that adventure photography encompasses many other genres. The general idea is that it is outdoor photography in spectacular locations, with the end goal being creating inspirational story-telling images while improving as a photographer.

Get Inspired By Nature

If going on an extended camping trip into the wilderness is your idea of adventure, have at it. Plan on traveling to foreign destinations to experience a new culture? That is also adventure photography! If you’re starting to see the trend, it’s that your imagination is the limit when it comes to incredible adventure photos.

If you’re stuck on figuring out what you would want to do, here are some outdoor adventure photography ideas to get your mind going:

  • Rock or Ice Climbing
  • Winter Camping
  • White Water Rafting
  • Underwater Photography
  • Urban Exploration
  • Travel Photography
female traveler with a camera.

Those are just a handful of activities for you to explore. A big part of the inspiration is taking advantage of the beautiful way that nature uses light to highlight natural features. Finding your natural rhythm in outdoor photography is all about experiencing, not speculating.

Gear Considerations For Adventure Photographers

Sure, you can go out and shoot adventure photography with nothing more than a smartphone camera, but that’s not what pushes photographers to get better. Having the right gear to craft the vision you have for a photograph impacts the final product more than you think.

Drone Photography

Quickly becoming a popular niche on its own, drone photography is the perfect option for adventure photos because of the perspective they give the viewer. Lightweight and with powerful cameras, sending your drone up for a bird’s eye view of the area is sure it inspires any adventure photographer.

Currently, a high-quality drone will cost you several hundred dollars, but as technology further expands and materials become cost-effective, that price could surely come down. Be mindful of drone laws in the spot that you will be shooting in, as there are some hefty fines and penalties for improperly flying a drone in a restricted area.

aerial photo of city buildings at night.

Cameras

Some photographers will argue that the camera body is the most important aspect of shooting the best photograph, while others will tell you that it’s the lens that makes the photograph shine. In reality, multiple facets make up the perfect photograph, and the camera is a big part of that.

Mirrorless Cameras

If you had asked any photographers what a mirrorless camera was over 10 years ago, you might have received mixed responses. Mirrorless cameras have exploded on the photography scene as the DSLR counterpart is compact and provides the same quality of photography as their larger cousins.

Cameras such as the Canon EOS M50 Mark II is a great option for portability and powerful performance.

person taking pictures in the field.

DSLR Cameras

A Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera is the standard type of camera for any adventure photographer as they provide the best balance between cost and performance. There are a plethora of selections on the market for all experience levels. DSLR cameras give you the ability to change lenses, providing excellent control over the outcome of your photograph.

Primarily, there are two main companies to be aware of, Nikon and Canon. They offer their line of products, each with its strengths and weaknesses.

Some important features to look for in a camera include: 

  • Ergonomics and weight
  • Automatic features (Auto ISO, aperture priority, shutter priority)
  • Focusing system
  • Lens choices
  • Availability and price

Some differences are personal preferences, meaning some think that Nikon has a better-focusing system or that Canon is more approachable for beginners. Check out some reviews for the model you’re looking at and make a decision based on functionality and ease of use.

Smartphones/Point and Shoot Digital Cameras

Smartphone software has become so good that they are effectively replacing the point-and-shoot style of the camera. Everyone has a smartphone and the capability to take incredible photos. A smartphone camera is a great tool as a backup camera for your adventure photography since it provides a quick option for fast shots.

The downside is that these cameras don’t have the creative capacity that you would have with a camera that has interchangeable lenses and the ability to fully control all of the settings (smartphones have a RAW option, but the software restrictions of the device limit them.)

person taking artistic sunset photos of landscapes.

Film

Film photographers are looking for that Lomo photo effect when using film cameras, that kind of old-fashioned look that retro-inspired images are produced from. Using a film camera for adventure photography is doable, but it can be tricky for beginners to understand.

The first obstacle is what ISO film to use since the lighting changes frequently, and you’re stuck using the ISO that you have. The second obstacle is that a lot of film cameras are not weather sealed, providing a very real chance of damaging your equipment.

Lenses

Any professional photographer will agree that the lens options for your camera are arguably more important than the body itself. Aspiring photographers looking for adventure would be wise to purchase your camera with that kind of foresight in mind.

A great idea would be to have multiple lenses, each with a different focal length, so that you have options depending on the action in front of you. Most cameras will come with one lens, called a kit lens, that can change focal lengths.

These kit lenses are ideal for most situations as they can go from a wide angle to something a little more zoomed in. Other lenses are called prime lenses, and they are stuck at one focal length, the upside is that the glass is much higher quality as there aren’t as many moving parts.

A telephoto lens is an option for long-distance adventure photography since they are good at compressing the scene and creating a great depth of field. You don’t need to be as close to your subject either.

different types of camera lenses used for adventure photography.

Accessories

There are additional accessories that good photographers will recommend as part of the right equipment to take when you want to shoot adventure photography. Of course, the more expensive gear will have better quality construction and materials, don’t break the bank and go with what makes sense in your situation.

Tripod/Monopod

Your adventure photo session is probably going to need some stability, depending on the terrain and light available. Slower shutter speeds can create blurry images without something holding it still. A monopod provides stability for a slower shutter speed that can be used as a hiking pole as well, providing multiple uses. Used in conjunction with your camera strap as another point of stability, you can get some steady shots.

Tripods are a more popular choice, especially if you’re going to be doing any long exposure photo sessions. With the three legs, you can position the camera without having to worry about errant wind moving it. Additionally, getting a tripod that can also be turned into a monopod is the perfect option.

Remote Shutter Release

An uncommon piece of kit, a remote shutter release lets you control when your camera takes photos with the push of a button. Most photographers set a timer for 2-12 seconds to get their shot without a camera shake.

This kind of fidgeting can sometimes lead to missing your shot or just not being able to capture it in the way you wanted. A remote shutter allows you to take shots in real time while you are away from your camera, preventing you from knocking the camera mid-shot.

camera shutter release.

Backpacks

An important tool for protecting your gear while out shooting for National Geographic is going to be your backpack. Ensuring your pack has enough room for your camera body, all of your lenses, tripod, extra memory cards, and batteries, all the while being comfortable to wear is important.

Find a backpack with wide padded straps, a chest strap, and a hip belt to provide maximum support while you’re carrying your gear. Look for packs with waterproofing features, whether it’s a material coating or rain fly that goes over the bag itself.

Headlamps

Adventures don’t just happen during the middle of the day. There will be times when you might have to start taking photos in the early morning when it’s dark. Fumbling through your camera’s settings in the dark wastes time and can be frustrating.

A cell phone light is cumbersome and has to be held, whereas a headlamp provides you with bright light without the hassle. Do yourself a huge favor and always pack a headlamp in your bag for times in the dark.

How to Shoot The Best Adventure Photos

Fellow photographers have told me for years that having the best camera setup or the most expensive gear won’t get you the best shots, and they were right. As with many things in life, photographing adventures is as much skill set as it is what you’re using.

Creative Compositions

How you compose your image is just as important to make the photo stand out and stay interesting to the viewer. Composition means how you place your subject within the frame to best show it off.

Luckily, there are a handful of techniques that can be applied to almost any type of shot, whether it be long exposures or action photos.

Check out this article on the best time to shoot photos outdoors to help with your compositional questions.

composing the shots and adjusting camera settings.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds divides the frame into 3×3 squares with four intersecting points within the middle of the image. Placing your subject within these intersections is important as the viewer’s eyes are naturally drawn to those spots.

Portraits are a great example of using the rule of thirds, as it determines the amount of white space around the person. This creates interest around the subject, which keeps the viewer looking at the photo.

Leading Lines

Other photographers use leading lines to help draw the viewer’s eyes deeper into the image. A photographer can use things such as shorelines, pathways, corridors, or anything that acts as a road for the eyes.

The idea is that once the viewer looks into the photo, their eyes will follow any natural pathways in the images, from front to back. Utilize this technique for urban landscapes or natural formations to maximize this effect.

5 Tips For Incredible Adventure Photography

Here are some real tips you can action today that will instantly help you take better adventure photos, regardless of the situation or climate.

backpack of a photographer.

Over ad above these tips, do your research before you go and be safe while you’re out in the field.

Adventure photography also poses a higher risk than many other niches since it involves being outdoors and can be high action.

1. Use the priority modes to your advantage: There are two main modes that use this, aperture and shutter priority. These modes allow you to set either the aperture or shutter speed, and then the camera calculates the rest. This is great for quick shots where you don’t have time to mess with settings.

2. Bring neutral density filters: These handy filters help reduce the exposure, so you don’t have to do it on the camera. They come in a variety of stops, with each reducing the exposure by a set amount of stops. These are excellent for shooting in bright conditions or reducing your exposure for long-exposure photography.

3. Take a lot of photos: Memory cards are meant to be filled for a reason. You’d be surprised to find an “accidental” great image that you may have shot on the 30th shot.

4. If it’s cold out, don’t take the camera out of the bag: This is more of a maintenance tip for your camera. As the camera warms up too quickly, condensation might form on the lens or inside the camera. If you leave your camera in the bag as it goes to room temperature, then this problem won’t happen.

5. Shoot from different perspectives: You can still take great shots while standing and pointing at the subject but changing the angle or height that you’re shooting from can give some different perspectives.

Final Thoughts

Adventure photographers can be from all walks of life, whether it be landscapes, world travel, or portrait photography.

Understanding what it is you’re trying to shoot, how to create the best gear loadout for you, and techniques to help you master composition will be your key to success in this exciting photography genre.

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Perrin lives as a nomad in Canada and spends his time shooting landscape photography while exploring the wilderness. Throughout his career, Perrin has been a wedding, portrait, and product photographer. However, his passion always leads him back to the outdoors, where he teaches people how to photograph and interact with the natural world.
Perrin lives as a nomad in Canada and spends his time shooting landscape photography while exploring the wilderness. Throughout his career, Perrin has been a wedding, portrait, and product photographer. However, his passion always leads him back to the outdoors, where he teaches people how to photograph and interact with the natural world.
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