Specialty: Adventure Photography

Apr 26, 2019

You’re hanging about 1,000 feet above the ground with another 6,000 to go. The only thing holding you is a harness and a rope as you grip the rock and pull upward. Your arms are pumped, your feet are hot, and your hands need chalk. Then as you turn around, you see the most glorious backdrop you could ever imagine: Yosemite National Park. You get into place, check your focus, and just as the climber ascends the pitch, you take your photo. Welcome to the world of Adventure Photography.

Here is how Wonderful Machine defines Adventure Photography in our Specialty Guidelines:

Picks up where active lifestyle leaves off, including extreme sports and other rigorous outdoor activities. Can be highly produced or more journalistic in approach. Demonstrates the photographer’s ability to tackle remote locations and/or adrenaline-fueled action.

Adventure photography is a specialty we often see and is even the first category you can select in our search (it could be because it’s a super-specialty! …or because the list is alphabetical). Adventure can have elements of Sports & Fitness or Travel photography, but it goes one step further by including rigorous outdoor activity. While some shoots include high production elements, most take the form of reportage, giving it a candid, journalistic look. After all, it would be hard to carry a lighting kit, props, backdrops, gaffers, makeup-stylists, and caterers up a mountain. (Take a look at our Find Crew page to see all of our production services not to take on a hike!)

An adventure photographer is passionate about travel and action. When given an assignment, they expect to climb a mountain, fly a helicopter, or sail the ocean to get the perfect shot. It is more than a job, but a longing for the outdoors. 

It's important to develop a style that is your own. This is the true value of your photography. It's easy to go outdoors and take photos of amazing things — mother nature creates awesome moments. But it's your take on it; your perspective that stands out. There is a difference between photographers who take photos of amazing things, and photographers that create amazing images out of nothing. Most of this creation is the personal style and message that's unique to you. That's the most important part of the process to me. -Blake Jorgenson

Certain publications almost exclusively use adventure photography to tell stories about the roads less traveled and the people who wander down them. 

Adventure Journal is a high-quality, quarterly magazine and online platform, established in 2008. This magazine feels more like a coffee-table book with its carefully curated pages and high-quality paper. Steve Casimiro founded this publication after working as a photo editor for companies such as Powder Magazine and National Geographic Adventure. What started as his passion project turned into a decade of collected stories and beautiful imagery.

A page in Adventure Journal shows a scuba-diver, swimming below a sheet of ice in the Great Lakes. Photo by Geoff Coomes.

Outside Magazine is a publication available in print and digital form. Since its first issue in 1977, this magazine has transformed from a simple story-telling platform into a host of articles, podcasts, blogs, and videos. Their goal is to inspire readers to explore the outdoors — covering everything from people, places, discoveries, and gear. They reinvent what it means to be an outdoor enthusiast by making it accessible to all and giving the resources needed to thrive in the unknown land.

While Outside Magazine uses mostly stock images for smaller articles, they often hire photographers to shoot their feature stories. Photo Editor Kyra Kennedy looks for dynamic and engaging photographs to illuminate the writing. After highlighting key-words in an article — she searches for a photographer who captures the same energy and mirrors the voice of the writer. 

At Outside, so many of our stories are physically demanding, so when hiring a photographer I sometimes have to make sure that not only do they make beautiful images, but they also have to be able to surf/rock climb/sky dive at the same time. I make sure the photographer is well informed about who and what they need to photograph, but I really love letting them go wild while they are on site and round out the visuals with their own style. -Kyra Kennedy/ Outside Magazine

The cover of June 2018's edition of Outside Magazine.

Member photographer David Carlier's work is in Swiss 30°, a Swiss magazine where "Sport and recreation have come together in the same publication." This publication covers outdoor adventures as well as the preservation of nature. David's photos accompany articles such as “Explosion de Couleurs,” which captures the beauty of the Emosson and Mauvoisin Swiss dams, as well as “Glaciers de Suisse,” which focuses on the melting and preservation of Swiss glaciers.

Copies of Swiss 30° that feature David's photos.

Adventure photography is also useful for branding as it inspires people to buy gear and explore the great outdoors.  REI or Marmot are two major companies that use adventure photography to promote goods and demonstrate them in action.

Patagonia is an outdoor brand that produces high-quality gear for all outdoor scenarios. Blake Jorgenson's photograph of Kyle Petersen was taken on a ski trip in the Tantalus Range in British Columbia and used to show Patagonia's Ascensionist Pack in action.

Blake Jorgensen’s photo in an advertisement for Patagonia.

Friction Labs is a company that produces chalk — an essential tool for climbers. To promote the company, numerous athletes represent the brand as ambassadors, pros, or athletes. David Clifford photographed the Friction Labs Pro, Daniel Woods, on an expedition in Bishop, California — a photo used for a Friction-Lab poster. David is a multifaceted photographer who got his start working as a photo-editor for publications like Trail Runner, traveling the world and exploring the outdoors. While behind the camera, David looks for the best light and the most genuine moments.

My images tend to have authenticity. I’ve always been drawn to authentic imagery. It’s harder to come by authentic moments in time. Whether I use digital or film or lighting I strive to show something different when ever possible. -David Clifford

David Clifford's photo was used to promote Friction Labs.

Redbull uses adventure photography for a wide range of promotional material. As a sponsor and advocate for extreme athletes, adventurous sports, and dangerous missions, they show what humans are capable of in the most extreme conditions. Justin Bastien recently worked with Redbull’s Red Bullet Magazine to publish a story focused on the U.S. Coast Guard and its rescue missions in Alaska.

Justin Bastien is shooting the Coast Guard for Red Bullet Magazine.

While the viewer applauds the athlete and the organizations in each photo (rightfully so), Wonderful Machine pays attention to the human behind the camera.

If you’re a client seeking daring adventure photographers, check out our Find Photographers page! And if you’re a photographer in need of help connecting with clients, feel free to reach out!