This image of Dawn Glanc ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, Colorado, was captured using an Elinchrom strobe, which was placed on a bridge above the climber. To get this angle, I rappelled into the other side of the gorge and sat on a small ledge (while still roped in) and had the camera on a tripod. The strobe was triggered by a radio transceiver mounted on top of the camera.Nikon D800, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED at 40mm, Gitzo tripod. Exposure: 1/40 sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 100.
As far as photography genres go, adventure sports photography is fairly new. While this genre is an outgrowth of expedition photography—explorers have documented expeditions using photography since the early 1900s—adventure sports photography as we know it today has only really been around since the early 1970s. By adventure sports, I mean sports like rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, B.A.S.E. jumping and whitewater kayaking, to name a few.
What qualifies as an “adventure” is debatable, but for this article, we will define it as an activity with an unknown outcome involving risk. Hence, even if you are creating images of other types of adventures that are not adventure sports, many of the tips and techniques discussed in this article will still apply.
Get To Know The Sport
For the most part, the best adventure sports photographers working today all started out as participants in the sports they went on to document. To do justice to these adventure sports, as with all sports photography, an intimate understanding of the sport is critical, not just to capture amazing images but also for your own safety and for the safety of everyone involved. I began as a climber before I began capturing images of rock climbers, ice climbers and mountaineers. In that vertiginous environment, knowing how to move around and position yourself, as well as how to stay out of the way of the climbers you are photographing, is particularly important.
Knowledge of the sport and being able to predict what will happen is key to capturing the height of the action as well as the in-between moments that help tell the story. My advice is to start out with sports you know and participate in. If you want to photograph a sport you don’t know that well and don’t participate in, I would suggest that at the very least you try it out for yourself and learn as much as possible.
For this image of Liam Fields dropping over Spirit Falls while whitewater kayaking, four of us hiked down a very steep trail more than a thousand feet into this canyon with 60- to 90-pound backpacks. We shot for three days, working with world-class kayakers and advanced lighting gear to make this image. The sweat factor was high on this shoot.Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 105mm, two Elinchrom ELB 1200 battery-powered Hi-Sync strobes triggered remotely with a transmitter. Exposure: 1/2500 sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 800.Be Comfortable On Location
For readers of Outdoor Photographer, this probably goes without saying, but pretty much all adventure sports photography happens in the outdoors, and how comfortable you are in the environment in which the sport takes place will have a big impact on the images you are able to produce. A good all-around knowledge base of camping, backpacking and outdoor etiquette will serve you well no matter what sport you are capturing.