Become an Adventure photographer!

Alexandre-Gendron-Roys-peak-Wanaka-The-Nomad-wolves

Documenting your adventures.

In this article, I’d like to touch on the essentials of outdoor and adventure photography. I’ve been working as a photographer for a long time in fashion, wedding, corporate, pack shots, nightclubs, architecture… but didn’t really get into outdoor photography until moving to New Zealand. There I realised how freeing it was to get lost in the wild with my camera. New Zealand is the perfect playground for that! After doing a solo night crossing of Tongariro National Park, I will never forget that night on Mount Ngaruhoe alone with my camera. The views and the beauty were spectacular and sitting on top of that volcano watching the sunrise was when I realized I needed to get into adventure photography to save those insane sceneries.

“I realised how freeing it was to get lost in the wild with my camera. New Zealand is the perfect playground for that!”

What I love the most is going to remote places without many people. From hiking to canyoning to heli-biking, New Zealand has it all! In this article I will talk about the equipment I use on my adventures, we’ll explore some of my techniques and I’ll give you tips on how to take care of your gear in any condition (like canyoning in freezing cold water).

Sunrise on Black peak
Sunrise over Black Peak, in Aspiring NP, New Zealand while working as a social influencer for Wanaka tourism.

I’m going to assume that you already know a little bit about photography, so I will not be getting into aperture, speed and ISO settings. There are some great resources online if you’d like to learn more about photography basics. I’ve made some photo recipes explaining the settings and composition secrets behind my shots and you can find them here. But for now, let’s dive into the adventure of outdoor photography!

Why adventure and outdoor photography?

Photography is used for many different reasons in the wild. The most obvious would be to preserve memories (even though sometimes it’s better to just enjoy the moment!). Another reason for documentation is to create photographs for commercial use. Outdoor companies and travel magazines main source of marketing are through photographs. When talking about adventures, places and gear the best way to speak to consumers is through stunning visuals to make them want to be in that place. Mostly, outdoor photography is used to inspire people to get out and explore. That’s why I love Instagram. It is a great place to share your photographs, stories and get inspired by thousands of like minded people around the world.

What equipment to use?

When exploring the great outdoors, most of us often go for a full day or more. Since our house is left behind we need to carry equipment with us for cooking, camping, changing clothes, drinking water, and so on. Having photography gear often adds a few kilograms to our already heavy load. Because of this, it’s important to get just enough equipment to capture those good photographs. Have you heard of Pareto’s law? It says that 20% of our efforts can give us 80% of the results. I like to think of that when selecting just the right gear. As long as I have 20% of the equipment I need, I’ll be able to take at least 80% of the photographs I want to.

beautiful-sunrise-at-Kaikoura
Early morning for a beautiful sunrise at Kaikoura

List the type of photographs you like to make

When I do nature photography here are some type of photographs I usually do:

  • Long exposure in daylight to capture smooth waterfalls
  • Long exposure at night to capture the milky way and starry sky
  • Panoramic or wide angle photos for landscapes
  • Zoomed photographs for wildlife or other far away subjects
  • Taking photographs while being in front of it.

To cover all of these situations, here are the necessary pieces of equipment:

  • Camera body (DSLR, Mirror less, Compact pro…)
  • Wide angle lens
  • Zoom lens
  • Tripod for long exposures
  • Neutral Density (ND) filter to block light coming in the camera for daylight long exposure
  • Wireless radio frequency remote to take photographs up to 100meters away from the camera
Portrait Alexandre Gendron By Matte Vonnée at Breast Hills
This is my equipment while hiking. Backpack and photo bag in the front. taken by Matte Vonnée at Breast Hill, Wanaka.

With all of this equipment, you can cover most of the outdoor and adventure shots you see on my Instagram. I won’t go on any adventures without these 6 things. Depending on your camera body, the packed size will vary. If you are concerned about weight and size, then mirror-less cameras are as good as DSLR these days. With almost the same quality of a DSLR camera, mirror-less cameras have a smaller body, smaller lens, need a smaller tripod and are a lighter weight to carry. I’m currently using a Fujifilm XT1 but I miss the mechanism of my robust Canon 5D Mark III.

Some photographers have a specific style and need to carry specific gear in order to capture their shots. This leads me to my friend Matte Vonnee. He is specialised into portraits with a huge softbox. With the help of his girlfriend Sonia they carried external flash lights and a huge softbox up Breast Hill for portraits of Leo and me on top of the peak. To me, that was pretty extreme but the result was unique! So figure out what kind of photography you like to shoot and then choose your equipment from there.

To me, that was pretty extreme but the result was unique! So figure out what kind of photography you like to shoot and then choose your equipment from there.

Matte-Vonnee-Photography-Breast-Hill-New-Zealand
Matte Vonnée and Sonia taking photographs of Léo at Breast Hill, New Zealand.

Create your photographs

Depending on what type of photographs you like to take, it is good to brainstorm ideas of shots you want even before you leave. You will always get new ideas on site too. Can you imagine someone building a house with no plans? Well… For photography it’s the same. Try to always have a sort of a plan.

“I tend to make myself unrecognizable, showing mainly my back so that people can project themselves into the photograph.”

Since I do a lot of solo adventuring, I often take photographs of myself as a subject in wide sceneries. To do so, I set up the camera on a tripod and choose the frame for the image. Then, I look for a good spot where to stand within that frame. It must offer a great contrast between myself and the background. The shape of a human is very recognizable even if the body is small in the picture.

Full moon at Bealey Spur near Arthurs Pass. New Zealand
Setting up the camera on the tripod, focus on the rock I’m standing, Running, taking a few photographs and checking…

Once I know where I’m going to stand, I manually focus my camera on that spot. With digital cameras, it’s easy to do that by zooming inside the frame via your live view screen on the back of your camera. Now, it’s time to run to that spot. With my wireless remote, I take a few shots on different postures so I can go back and check which ones I’m happy with. I’ll do this until I get the right image! I tend to make myself unrecognizable, showing mainly my back so that people can project themselves into the photograph.

I also really like to make landscape photography to highlight nature’s beauty. This is a different process that often uses long exposures and editing afterwards to adjust contrasts, tones, etc…

Long-exposure-Milford-Sounds-New-Zealand
Long exposure at the Milford Sounds. It creates a milky effect on the clouds and a soft water.

Getting used to sleeping less

I think the best time for taking pictures is at sunrise, sunset and at night. This means I don’t sleep as much. During the day, I stop here and there to snap shots of interesting things I find along the way. But once night comes around, it’s time to get the tripod out to get those amazing milky way shots or my lighted tent.

Sometimes it can get exhausting to go on an adventure for a few days, especially if the environment or weather is rough. That’s why it’s important to invest in a good mattress, sleeping bag and tent to stay dry!

Alexandre-Gendron-Roys-peak-Wanaka-The-Nomad-wolves
Before to go to sleep, let’s take some photographs!

There is great apps out there to help you know the best time of the day for good shots. When and where sunset and sunrise will happen and where the milky way or the moon is and their course. It’s great having this technology to help you to get the perfect shot.

Protecting your gear

I used to hike with a backpack and a chest bag to have direct access to my gear without having to remove my backpack. This, I found, is the best solution. Mindshift gear makes a great backpack with a belt pouch that rotates around your hip without having to take the pack off. It’s called Rotation 180°. Check it out, It’s my favourite camera backpack for day trips! Now that I’m cycling around the world I use my MSX 48Grad fully waterproof backpack to carry my camera and documents dry, it’s perfect either when cycling or walking around.

“Keep in mind that through continuous practice you will develop your unique style.”

When I was working for a canyoning company based in Wanaka I was challenged with having to figure out how to keep my equipment dry while still getting the best shot. Even two dry bags couldn’t stop the powerful water stream coming in. The best solution was to use a Pelican case. It’s a hard shell foamed case that is 100% waterproof for jumping in waterfalls and getting washed in the stream. I also used a towel on top of my camera to be able to clear water spots so that I’m ready when my subjects are ready to jump.

Canyoning-guide-in-Wanaka-New-Zealand
Diana was my Canyoning guide in Wanaka, New Zealand, for the company Deep Canyon.Taking photographs here is challenging.
Castle-Hill-New-Zealand-Alexandre-Gendron
Self portrait while walking between giants at Castle Hill in New Zealand

I hope this article has inspired you to go create amazing adventure photographs of your own! Keep in mind that through continuous practice you will develop your unique style. And now with digital cameras, you can keep clicking for free. So don’t be afraid to keep shooting and get that perfect shot.

Share with us what you are struggling with on your journey to becoming an outdoor photographer! In the meantime, Stay tuned for next more detailed articles!

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