6 Ways to Be a Better Photographer, According to Pros
Best practices gleaned from decades of shooting
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
The art of adventure photography can take many years to master. With things like ice, snow, wind, altitude, miles of travel, and cultural barriers to contend with, it’s a different game altogether from your average picture taking. But fortunately, these six pros, who have over 100 years of combined experience behind the lens, were willing to share their hard-earned knowledge.
Shoot Toward the Sun
“The combination of dramatic light and shadow creates a palette that jumps off the page or screen. Admittedly, shooting with back lighting can produce horribly underexposed photos if not done carefully. You’ll need to manually adjust your exposure, overexposing the image from what your camera meter says is ‘correct,’ so your subject is not a silhouette. Bump up your exposure and keep experimenting until you strike an artful balance between your subject and the background.
“You can also add fill light to your subject with a reflector or flash, but just be subtle if you want the image to feel natural.”
— Tyler Stableford, Emmy Award–winning director and photographer
Keep It Simple
“Less is more [when it comes to camera gear]. The simpler the system, the better, because it’s lighter and quicker to use.”
—Pete McBride, author and National Geographic photographer
Learn How to Capture a Crisp Action Shot
“When I was first learning how to shoot in manual, a friend and mentor took me to a rodeo in Jackson, Wyoming. This sport is incredibly fast—you blink and you’re going to miss the action—so I was forced to learn about shutter speed and motion blur. Before you head out on your next adventure, read up on what your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture do and how they work together. Then find a fast-paced sporting event near you and practice capturing speedy subjects. This was the best lesson I had in learning how to shoot action.”
—Savannah Cummins, photographer, filmmaker, and climber
Do the Sports You Want to Capture
“A lot of adventure photography is knowing how to be in the right place at the right time. If you’re not familiar with a sport, you wouldn’t know where to begin. So get involved in and gain an understanding for the sports, the lifestyles, and the people. To have the right eye and to know what shots are meaningful, it’s really important to understand these activities.”
—Mattias Fredriksson, senior photographer at Powder, Bike, and Backcountry
Always Be Prepared
“As photographers, we’re often on the go, participating in the activities we’re shooting. We have little time to futz with our cameras, and if we take too long to get the shot, the moment can be lost—or we can annoy our friends by asking them to pose for so long. When you get to a location, take a few test shots right away so you can dial in your camera settings (white balance, aperture, ISO, shutter speed). That way, when the moment comes, you’re set up for success.”
—Irene Yee, adventure photographer and climber
Form Relationships with Your Subjects
“Great portraiture is as much about psychology as it is about photography. It demands an exchange—you have to engage with another person. There’s some magic to it, a bit of alchemy. Great portraiture happens when the people being photographed let down their guard enough to be seen in an honest light.
“As a photographer, showing vulnerability opens yourself to being observed as a human, and in that moment, you are recognized as something other than a photographer, which is pivotal to helping somebody relax.
“You cannot extract yourself from the photograph. And I think we often overlook that portraiture is really a reflection of the self. We’re going to find elements of ourselves that bring out elements of others, and it will be those photographs that become transcendent and speak to larger narratives.”
—Cory Richards, National Geographic photographer and alpine climber