Aidan Williams is an adventure photographer and filmmaker who travels the planet capturing stunning images of world-class athletes completing epic projects. His work has featured in some of the world's most prominent publications, including National Geographic, The Times and Outside Magazine. We caught up with Aidan as part of our On The Couch series to learn more about how he made his way into the adventure realm, the gear he relies on to nail the shot and his process for capturing each project.
Aidan’s initial foray into photography began with disposable cameras and family camping trips when he was five. At the age of seven, his parents gave him a point-and-shoot camera and growing up in the Blue Mountains provided him with no shortage of wildlife and landscape subjects to practice on. Having an older brother active in sports also gave Aidan plenty of opportunities to photograph action.
During high school, Aidan took photography as a major, which was when he first considered it a potential career option. Afterwards, he went into a two-year Diploma in Photo Imaging and honed his technical skills. While studying, Aidan began a cadetship in press photography to gain experience and build a name for himself. Aidan’s drive and ambition paid off, and he began working as a press and sports photographer straight out of TAFE.
Photo by Aidan Williams
‘All I wanted to do was progress as fast as I could, get the experience. And the only way that I could get the experience was by putting myself out there and getting these cadetships through the major newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph and then, ultimately, Getty Images. All the way through studying, I was trying to get experience.’
Aidan’s enthusiasm for press work waned quickly, and he realised it was not the right path. Searching for a new direction, his interest was piqued when he saw that Krystle Wright, an idol of his, was in Tasmania photographing highlining, a form of slacklining performed at great heights. Having never heard of the sport, he learned as much as possible about it and ultimately became hooked.
Leaving the relative security of his press and sports work, Aidan backed himself and doggedly pursued a career in adventure photography. He created opportunities by self-funding trips that put him in a position to capture high-profile projects. Initially, that meant shooting uncommissioned with the hope of selling the work to mainstream press or major publications upon completion. Nowadays, sponsors seek him out to be part of their project team. Aidan has also started writing articles to pair with his images. Producing a package increases salability and gives him more control over the final product.
‘I wanted it that badly and was prepared to do anything to make it happen. So ultimately, … it comes down to trust. If they trust you and they want you there, then you're going to be part of this small team that makes this project happen.’
Photo by Aidan Williams
Since leaving the press world, Aidan has distinguished himself as an adventure photographer and one of the most prominent photographers of slacklining. His passion for the unique sport has taken him on awe-inspiring photography expeditions around the globe, capturing athletes' efforts as they push the absolute boundaries of their discipline in remote and challenging locations.
Interestingly, Aidan considers himself more of a landscape photographer than an adventure photographer, creating thoughtful compositions of stunning natural vistas. But throughout his photography, the human element shines through, expertly balancing subject and environment. The athletes in his images are not separate from their surroundings; they’re testing their physical endurance while revelling in the majesty of the landscape around them.
These days Aidan is perpetually on the move, following highlining projects worldwide. Beginning his career with the Canon 5D series, he has now moved into mirrorless with the Canon EOS R5 body. The lighter setup is a blessing when moving around a location quickly to capture different angles, and is crucial for the amount of travelling he does.
‘With the invention of mirrorless things have just become so much easier, especially in the adventure world because you're packing your gear as light as possible.’
The EF 14mm prime lens is a favourite, offering an ultra-wide field of view without severe distortion. It’s pin-sharp, and the focal length compliments his style. Aidan also travels with the RF 15 to 35mm f/2.8 as well as the RF 70-200mm f/4, which he enjoys using for its super lightweight and compact design.
The nature of Aidan’s work lends itself to natural lighting, but occasionally he will need to utilise some additional illumination. Aidan keeps a speedlight in his kit for such occasions but will also make use of practical lights such as an athlete’s headlamp for additional fill. Rounding out his list of essentials is plenty of fast memory cards with decent capacities, like the Sandisk 128GB 300mbs.
‘You just never know how long the project's going to end up being. You don't want to run out of room and be on a shoot culling photos to have enough room.’
Aidan has recognised that client preferences are changing, and video is an important medium with a rapidly growing demand, so he has expanded his skill set into motion.
It has become inevitable in some circumstances that a drone is essential to get particular angles for more dynamic footage, so he usually packs a DJI Mavic Pro in his kit. However, for his stills work, Aidan’s preference is always to get himself into position when possible, often by rappelling into an area rather than relying on the drone.
Pre-shoot planning with post-project reflection and refining have been critical drivers in Aidan’s success. Before arriving at a location, he will research it to get a sense of the environment to determine the best lens choice and what rigging equipment he’ll need to get into ideal positions. Every time he goes on a new project, Aidan writes a list of all the gear taken and then he’ll note anything not used. Naturally, different locations require packing modifications, but through experience, he now has a set list where everything on it is effective and does not take up valuable space unnecessarily.
Aidan has worked with the best slackliners in the world, chronicling their most challenging projects. To learn more about his work, check out the full interview here.