Specialize: Outdoor and Adventure Photography

Freelance photographers seek to earn a living from their work. Unfortunately, their “art” may not pay their way, and so many will decide to specialize in a particular area or subject matter. For the focus of this discussion we will look briefly at the equipment, locations, associations, and needs of the photography groups known as outdoor and adventure.

Choosing Your Specialization

People who specialize in outdoor photography will actually be required to master the widest range of photographic techniques imaginable. This is because they are going to be snapping images of animals at rest and in motion; they will find themselves working in all kinds of terrain and weather, and even needing specialized equipment to protect their cameras from harm. They might also need to understand the way to best capture a landscape, or how to compose an action shot in a very dangerous setting.


Adventure Photography
Photo by divemasterking2000

For example, extreme activities like mountaineering, skiing, skydiving, scuba diving, polar exploration, and high altitude climbing all fall under the outdoor and adventure category.

So too, does bird photography and underwater work as well, and this usually implies that further specialization is going to be necessary. This means that the photographer is going to have to select two to three major focal areas in order to create a paying audience and a regular stream of income. They might sell their work to magazines and publishing houses, they could seek to sell individual images through stock agencies, or they could work on an assignment basis as many photojournalists operate

Importance of Professional Organizations

One of the smartest choices an outdoor or adventure photographer could make is to join any relevant organizations or associations operating in their area (or just in general too). For instance, the North American Nature Photographers Association is a great way to network with like-minded professionals and to gain access to a potential audience.

Looking at the Gear

Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, we will need to consider the equipment through which this type of work is done. When we say that a photographer specializes in outdoor and adventure photography, quite often we actually mean that they tend to focus on nature and wildlife or activities that occur outdoors. This is work that requires advanced planning and research in order to identify the best subjects and to learn when and how to best record them with a camera. For example, anyone hoping to make perfect photographs of birds is going to have to put in the time to study their habits and habitats. They will also have to know how to make shots through a telephoto or even a super-telephoto lens.

Why? Few wild animals or birds are going to happily remain in place while a human with a clunky camera and tripod trudges up alongside them. This means that mastery of telephoto techniques and equipment is usually the first step of the process of becoming a professional freelance wildlife and nature photographer.

Additionally, the digital camera being used is going to have to meet some pretty high demands too. For example, one of the major complaints of many digital camera owners is the fact that the “refresh” rate is so lengthy. This is one of the main reasons that professionals rarely use even the most advanced “point and shoot” models and will instead opt for a DSLR (digital single lens reflex). This is a camera that is identical in quality to the classic SLR, only it comes with seriously advanced features. The major one where outdoor and adventure photography is concerned is the “burst” mode, which translates to multiple shots per second. This holds true even if the photographer is working in the RAW mode rather than the traditional JPEG.


telephoto lens
Photo by John Schanlaub

Lens Essentials

What sort of lens is best? Well, the first rule of thumb where camera equipment is concerned is to remember the old adage of “you get what you pay for”. This means that you shouldn’t grab the cheapest lens available, and would be better off if you waited until you could afford the highest quality lens possible. Generally, this is going to mean that the lens is relatively “fast” and able to give you as much control and flexibility as possible. A fast telephoto lens would be something like a 400/f2.8. This would mean that it had a large aperture with the ability to fire at higher shutter speeds and deliver a great deal of light intensity.

A major problem for most professionals specializing in this type of photography, however, is the tendency for the larger telephoto lens to move or shake, thereby blurring the image. This means that in addition to the DSLR body and a good telephoto lens, the photographer should make a point of investing in a high-quality and adjustable tripod too.

Most outdoor and adventure photographers will also rely on teleconverters that multiply the focal length and pull them even closer to the subject. This is the way someone might get a dramatic “zoom” of a bald eagle or a great shot of someone leaping from a plane high above the ground. These would represent shots worth a good deal of money and would be the very reason to explore options in gear accordingly.

Share your Work

For those who would like to share their outdoor and adventure photography please feel free to join our flickr group and add your images to the pool. Make sure and tag your outdoor and adventure images with “TPA_Outdoor”. From the pool of images we will be selecting the best examples of outdoor and adventure photography and showcasing them in a future article. This can mean some great exposure and your images will be inspiring photographers from around the world.