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Adventure travel has been growing by leaps and bounds lately. In fact, there are now travel agencies solely dedicated to planning adventure photography trips. Of course, not everyone will prefer to go on a boxed adventure trip. To me, having someone else plan everything out so all I have to do is show up with a camera kind of takes away some of the adventure. If you're like me and prefer to take control of your photographic adventure, here are a few tips to get you on the path to a successful excursion.
- Research: Once you have settled on a target location (or locations!) the best thing to do is start researching the area extensively the best you can without being there. Find out when the best time of year is, weather wise, and familiarize yourself with the area using maps and by reaching out to other photographers who have been there. (Tip: The internet is a great resource to find well traveled photographers who love to share the stories of their journey.)
- Pack Accordingly: Oftentimes, photo adventures involve camping, hiking, biking, and/or contact with some large body of water. Keep all these things in mind when assembling your gear bag. If you're main method of transportation is going to be by foot or human powered vehicle, pack lightly! Consider bringing along a compact camera rather than a bulky DSLR, something that will fit in pocket or hang around your neck without inducing too much fatigue. There are some great compact mirrorless cameras on the market that easily rival many DSLR's in picture quality. If you're going to be in or around water (rain included) be sure to protect your gear by packing them in waterproof bags or cases. Bring a minimal amount of lenses. The idea of having 10 different lenses to choose from sounds like a great idea until you have to carry them on your back all day long. Most of the time you'll find you only use one or two, anyways. That being said, if you'll have a secure, safe location to serve as a “homebase” on your trip, feel free to pack a little more liberally, you can always leave behind what you don't think you'll need for the day, but still have a little more freedom of choice.
- Have a Plan, But Don't Stick To It: Come up with a solid plan and agenda that affords you ample time to visit all the locations on your list you have deemed as essential. Do your best to follow it, but keep in mind that something more exciting and breathtaking that you completely missed in your planning stages will always pop up. Don't be afraid to stray from your plan in these instances or you will go home with regret and head full of what-ifs. Plans are good to keep you organized, but living if you are too strict with them, you will experience a lot of missed opportunity.
- Build A Storyline: We all know that the a good photograph tells a story. This is no difference with adventure photography, perhaps it is even a little more important than it usually is. You want your photos to tell the story of your trip without having to speak a word. So as you plan and carry out your adventure trip, think of each segment of it as a chapter in a book. There should be a beginning that builds interest and gives vital information to the viewer, a middle section that usually serves as the climax of the adventure, and an end that shows emotion (good, bad, exhaustion, elation…) after having conquered the quest.
- Experiencing A Moment In Time: What's great about adventure photography is the photographer is part of the action in ways that he may not have been in other forms of photography. He is an active participant in the adventure that he is photographing, so the photos are just as much about him and his story as they are anything else. This gives us, as photographers, a closer emotional connection to the experience which always makes for better, more meaningful photographs. Rather than trying to understand the personality and feelings of someone else, you are ideally creating photographs that reflect your very own experience. Of course, these experiences are often shared with others, but adventures also serve as an exercise in character building so try to harness that energy in your photography.
With adventure and travel photography, preparation is key and will help you get the most out of your trip, but so is living in the moment. You have to find that perfect balance between the details and the experience itself without letting one get in the way of the other.
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One last bit of advice, keep your eye open and tuned into what's going on around you. The atmosphere helps create the adventure, so the more you put into it, the more it will give back to you. And, don't forget, look for a photograph in everything!