For as long as there have been cameras, photographers have been among the world’s most intrepid adventurers. More than one hundred years ago, Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley embarked on voyages to Antarctica, braving inhospitable terrain few dared to explore. By the 1920s, an aviator by the name of Edith Keating was helping to pioneer the emerging genre known as aerial photography.
“Adventure photography” is a broad term that can encompass multiple genres, spanning landscape, sports, travel, wildlife, and beyond. The only requirement is that you get outdoors. Today, adventure photographers on 500px continue to reveal unseen places and unlikely perspectives, whether they’re climbing mountains or surfing waves.
As the weather warms up, we hope you’ll feel inspired to pack your backpack and hit the open road, wherever it might take you. In this introductory guide to adventure photography, we’ll cover the gear you need, essential tips for planning your trip, and plenty of inspiration from the 500px community.
Before we start: Safety always comes first, so be cautious, do your research, travel with friends, and bring a GPS tracker just in case.
The right gear forms the foundation for a safe and successful adventure photography trip. In general, you’ll want to pack light to leave room for non-photography essentials, such as layers of clothing, snacks, water (or a water filter), sunscreen, and a first aid kit. With portability in mind, here are some (very) basic, foundational items to consider adding to your backpack.
A mirrorless camera
A DSLR also works, but mirrorless cameras tend to be lighter and easier on your back.
A versatile zoom lens
Prime lenses are sharper, but a good zoom lens, such as a 24mm-70mm or 70-200mm, will allow you to cover a range of focal lengths without packing multiple lenses.
A stable tripod
You’ll need a tripod for landscape shots and self-portraits on the road. A strong and lightweight carbon fiber option, paired with a ball head, is a good place to start.
Durable memory cards and portable drives
It’s worth investing in the highest quality possible to avoid losing your work to the elements!
A solar power bank kit
Keep your camera powered, even when you’re off-grid.
A rain cover and a microfiber cloth
Regardless of the weather, it’s good to have these on hand in case of rain, snow, or dust.
As you research your location in-depth, you’ll tailor your packing and add other items to your checklist to suit the weather, conditions, and length of your adventure photography trip.
Must-have tips for adventure photography
Pre-visualize your photos
While you’re conducting research online—via Google Earth, social media, and local blogs—start thinking about the kinds of photos you want to capture. Put together some inspiration photos, and then decide from there what you’ll need to pack. Even better, reach out to a local photographer for tips on great spots.
Does the location lend itself to wide-open landscapes, or do you need a telephoto lens to capture some intense sports/action shots? If you’ll have to deal with sunlight, glare, and reflections, remember to bring a polarizing filter; carry a neutral density filter if you’re banking on some long exposures.
Plan for the early morning or late afternoon
When it comes to adventure photography, nothing beats the golden hour, so it’s worth the early wake-up to see the sunrise. If possible, scout your location during the day so you know the lay of the land. Then, when the time comes, check the weather forecast, wear a headlamp, and get set up before those first rays peek over the horizon. A weather app like Clear Outside can help with planning for the best conditions possible.
Stay open to surprises
Pre-visualization and planning are just the first steps, so stay open and flexible. If the light and weather aren’t cooperating as you might have hoped, embrace what you have: overcast days, for instance, can make for stunning, moody photography.
Embrace the spirit of collaboration, especially when working with athletes. They know their sport, and they’ll have advice on how best to capture it, depending on the conditions, weather, and so on. If you can, bring an action camera or drone with you as well; these can provide fantastic opportunities for unusual perspectives and behind-the-scenes moments.
Adventure photographers tend to take a lot of photos—from all sorts of angles, perspectives, and vantage points. Whether you’re shooting an athlete in burst mode, looking to capture that perfect moment, waiting for the right light, or keeping an eye out for wildlife far in the distance, chances are you won’t get “the shot” right away. Keep your camera accessible and ready to go at a moment’s notice; that way, when the time comes, you know you’ll be prepared.
Adventure photography inspiration
Follow these photographers to get your creative juices flowing—and add some destinations to your bucket list!
Daniel Kordan has hosted photography workshops and expeditions in Indonesia, Japan, Greenland, Patagonia, Namibia, and far beyond, capturing breathtaking and remote landscapes in the process. This particular series brought him to Son Doong, a massive cave in Vietnam, where he spent three days hiking in near-darkness. He illuminated the images with varying combinations of underwater torches, headlamps, and 40k lumen ambient light for a magical atmosphere.
Karol Nienartowicz is a professional mountain photographer whose travels have taken him across the Giant Mountains, the French Alps, the Faroe Islands, the rugged terrain of the American West, and the wilds of the Peruvian Andes—to name just a handful. He made these images in Iceland, where he explored epic waterfalls, witnessed the majesty of Vestrahorn mountain, and roamed the remote volcanic highlands.
Iza Lyson’s love of dog photography has taken her—and her dog, Opi—to some of the most beautiful places on Earth, from the ice caves of Switzerland to the mountain bridges of Austria and the meadows of the Italian Dolomites. She made these images while traveling through Norway with a friend and their three dogs. For the third photo, they climbed to an elevation of more than 1000 meters to see this view.
Tal Vardi, a photographer, adventurer, and educator, has a passion for remote landscapes, ranging from mountains to glaciers, forests to seascapes. He captured these images throughout the seasons in and around Whistler, British Columbia, just two hours from where he lives in Vancouver. Known for its sports (skiing, tobogganing, snowboarding, and mountain biking), this pristine location offers mountain views and verdant green trails.
Mike Tesselaar has road-tripped through Iceland, lifted off via helicopter over the Netherlands, and traveled off the beaten path in Tasmania. He recently traveled to Madeira, Portugal, where he hiked and made this series of photographs. On the highest peak, he witnessed the strange and magical phenomenon seen in the third image.
“All rainbows are circular but are normally cut off by the horizon,” he explained. “In this instance, a combination of low-hanging clouds, sun, and elevation allows you to see the full circle.? The rainbow forms around your own shadow.”
Explore 500px throughout the spring and summer for new photographs from around the globe, and be sure to submit your own adventure photography as well. We can’t wait to see what you create.
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