andrew zuckerman outside magazine adventure photography

See It Their Way: Lessons in Adventure Photography

Bird, by Andrew Zuckerman (Chronicle Books, $60); Feathery portraits on white backgrounds look three-dimensional, like museum exhibits or taxidermy. Disturbing and thrilling. Photo: Andrew Zuckerman

It takes more than a good camera to get a good shot. Nowhere is that more true than in adventure photography—a field of photographers snapping with split-second shutter speeds in the least hospitable environments on earth.


Indispensable lessons in adventure photography from the experts. What to remember? Act insane, but be good. Words of wisdom from Robert Maxwell. Get inspired, and then get out there.

Paolo Marchesi

Marchesi, 40, is a workhorse. We can send him skiing in Alaska or diving with giant squid and know he'll get it done.

Get down! Never shoot from eye level unless you only want to get what people see every day. Drop to your knees or belly.

Keep it dry. Carry a cheap shower cap. They're lightweight and offer your camera just enough protection from the rain.

Obsess over your bag. Look for one that fits your activities and your body. The more comfortable you are, and the more accessible your camera, the more pictures you'll take. I own 20 different camera bags and use them all.

You really need that? Don't let camera-shop employees upsell you so easily: I use amateur lenses all the time. They're cheap, lightweight, and, on average, sacrifice less in image quality than most photo editors can discern.

Joshua Paul

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 2005 (Mamiya 6). Click to enlarge.   Photo: Joshua Paul

The Brooklyn-based travel photographer, 40, has shot in 60 countries—primarily with a 50-year-old film camera.

Long lenses suck. Like Robert Capa once said, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." I use two lenses—one normal, one wide. I get as close to my subjects as my camera's focus will allow.

Be bold. No need to sneak around unless you're in a war zone. I sling my camera over my shoulder and let people take an interest in me. I shoot an old Rolleiflex medium-format, which people always seem to be drawn to.

Show up, hang out, and then shoot. Never arrive at a scene and start shooting. I give it a little time, say hello, have tea or vodka, and let people get a sense of me. Once I've established trust, which sometimes takes only seconds, I have all the time I need.

Have a standoff. Once you've gained somebody's trust, stand in front of them, confront them with a camera, and see what happens. It's basically a stare-down. It can get awkward, but it works. If I want to provoke an expression, I might lift my head from the camera and give them a look, like "C'mon, man," and then go back to the viewfinder.

Don't skimp on disks. I save my memory cards onto G-Drives (, which can survive a fall.

Adventure Photography Lessons

Outside's photo editors see the same mistakes repeated time after time.

When posing... Either look at the camera or smile. Never both.

Think diagonal. The subjects in great photos rarely line up with the vertical or horizontal axis of the frame.

Edit. Just because digital is free, it's not OK to post 100 party photos on your Facebook page. The top ten will do.

Same goes for prints. Snapfish will mail you high-quality prints at about a dime a pop. Print something only if you would hang it on your wall—your real wall.

Jake Chessum

adventure photography jake chessum outside magazine
Viggo Mortenson in Los Angeles, 2002 (Mamiya RZ67).   Photo: Jake Chessum

The 42-year-old portrait photographer has shot everyone from Stephen Colbert to Coldplay to Ben Harper.

Buy the postcard. Just enjoy a nice sunset rather than trying to photograph it. It'll never be as good as you'd hoped.

Be yourself. Trying to take pictures in the style of your favorite photographer is a dead end. If you don't measure up, you'll feel like a failure, and if you do, you'll only be second-best.

Hide those chins. When photographing somebody with a double chin, keep the lens above the subject's eyes and say, "Chin down a bit." The rolls will magically vanish.

Jason Florio

The 44-year-old Manhattan-based photographer famously shot Afghanistan the month before the 9/11 attacks.

Ready, aim, fire. You don't have to look through the viewfinder. Instead, try looking people in the eye, smile, and continue to shoot frames with your camera held surreptitiously at waist level. Your apparent cease-fire and eye contact will help put your subject at ease—at least until he hears your camera firing. Lowering your camera also changes the perspective of the photo.

Robert Maxwell

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Climber Tori Allen in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, 2002 (Zone 6 4x5).   Photo: Robert Maxwell

The San Clemente–based surfer and celebrity shooter, 47, is almost as colorful as his photographs.

Act insane... When I see body language I like, I'll scream, "Don't fucking move!" I find that if I ask politely, they'll move. Screaming helps get the job done.

... But be good. Take beautiful photos and your audience will find you.

Jimmy Chin

Chin, 35, a veteran of more than 20 Himalayan expeditions, is the go-to guy for any photo editor who needs work done above 8,000 meters.

Make a checklist. Anytime you're going on a shoot that's physically demanding, write a list of the photos you need. Then prioritize. There will be plenty going on during the day, and it can be easy to miss things like portraits or details.

Keep your cards close. Memory cards are cheap now. On expeditions, I bring 60 to 100 gigabytes' worth. At the end of the day, download your cards onto a portable hard drive, but never erase them. Save your cards in Ziploc baggies like you would exposed film. CompactFlash memory cards—which, unlike microdrives, contain no moving parts—are safest.

Joel Lipovetsky

The Santa Fe–based consultant, 34, teaches pros the tricks of the digital darkroom.

Buy this program. Adobe's Lightroom is like iTunes for your photos. It's fast, and it allows you to create galleries, organize multiple albums, and make basic corrections. For more advanced post-production work, you'll need Photoshop.

You'll need Photoshop. Digital cameras capture images in a totally different way from film cameras—namely, worse. They reproduce midtones and sharpness poorly. Photoshop makes up for the deficiency the same way Fuji Velvia and Kodachrome film amped colors back when people shot slides.

Hit the books. You've got to invest time in learning Photoshop. Martin Evening's Adobe Photoshop CS4 for Photographers is a good place to start. I give my clients four or five macros that mathematically fix common problems like midtone contrast.

Calibrate your screen. All computer monitors reproduce colors differently. If you want to print your pictures, you've got to have your screen adjusted with a light-reading tool called a spectrophotometer. Call your local specialty photo printer to see if they've got one. A calibration should cost $40.

Then print at Costco. Amazingly, most digital-photo kiosks can produce high-quality prints if you give them the right information. Get your photos looking like you want them in Photoshop, then print with the machine's auto-correct feature turned off.


Chris Anderson

Anderson, a 39-year-old, New York–based photographer, covers war, fashion, and everything else.

Stay loose. Antonin Kratochvil gave me this, and somehow it makes sense when he says it. If you try too hard, if you're too uptight, the photos never seem to work. You've got to be like an athlete and react to what happens. That's how you capture those moments of serendipity. It's especially important in other countries. Maybe you've got culture shock, food poisoning, or something else. You've got to tolerate the differences and flow with things that you didn't plan or expect. If you stay loose, it's going to work out.

Alex Tehrani

The 38-year-old New York–based world citizen is our man for assignments in his home country of Iran.

Pack light. Pack smart. You don't need to be geared out with tons of lenses and bodies. Carting all that stuff around is a burden and only serves to confuse the task at hand. Choose one camera body and two lenses at most.

What you see is never what you get. The shot you think you're taking is never the one you end up with. Acknowledge that now and instead get excited about the surprise. It could be better than you'd hoped.

Anyone can shoot chaos. But the most perceptive photographers can make compelling pictures out of uninteresting moments.

Be patient. Try letting the picture come to you. Sometimes it works better that way.

Myth Busting

Some of the things you hear over and over about taking great photos aren't necessarily true.

Shoot during "the golden hour" for the best results. The last hour of sunlight doesn't make people look fabulous; it makes them look orange. If you're going to shoot during the so-called golden hour, try shooting into the sun—and adjusting your light meter so you're not shooting silhouettes—to give everything a back-lit glow. —EDS

You need permission. U.S. law gives photographers wide latitude to document anyone—kids, police officers, criminals—in public places, so long as those places don't give the people in them a reasonable expectation of privacy, as in a ladies' room. On private property, you can be toldto stop shooting or to leave, but, no, nobody can confiscate your camera, film, or memory cards without a court order. Learn more in Bert Krages's Legal Handbook for Photographers. —Jason Florio

You need a ton of megapixels. Most amateurs obsess over image quality. Eight-megapixel images are generally sufficient for printed spreads in this magazine. If you just bought a camera, chances are you have more than ten. Most pictures, though, end up on the Web, and the ones that are printed are rarely enlarged beyond four-by-six. Worry more about the image you're framing and less about your pixel count. And when you buy a camera, think about shutter lag, aperture control, and exposure compensation. Those things do matter. —Jake Chessum

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