Viewing Mount Barney from the summit of Mount Maroon in the Scenic Rim, Qld Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM @ 35mm, f/4, 1/15 sec, ISO 1600
Hello, my name is Lachlan Gardiner and I’m a professional adventure photographer. But what exactly do I mean by “adventure”, you might be thinking? It’s a term that can mean many different things to different people, so please allow me to elaborate.
My photographic practice crosses into several genres: travel, exploration, adventure and extreme sports, expedition, tourism, and commercial. But a common theme runs through all of them – visual storytelling in the natural world. My hope is that my work inspires people to go out and have their own adventures. Likewise, we as a global community need to cherish, protect and respect our planet’s amazing natural beauty.
Self portrait at 6000m on the South-West Ridge of Ama Dablam (6812m) in Nepal Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 6D + EF 17-40 f/4L USM @ 19mm, f/8, 1/125 sec, ISO 100
Spending time outside has always been a major part of my life. I grew up on a small farm, so much of my childhood was spent exploring the nearby forests and creeks. This love of nature only grew stronger in adulthood, moving into a passion for trekking, camping, rock climbing, mountaineering, paddling and mountain biking. When it came time to attend university I enrolled in a Bachelor of Photography, majoring in photojournalism. After graduating in 2012 I was shooting a lot of weddings, portraiture and events, but this wasn’t where my true passion lay. Eventually my love of the outdoors and working as a photographer merged – initially by working with outdoor brands and retailers and getting to know that industry. Over the years since I’ve also gained various magazines, travel operators and tourism offices as clients. Whilst photography remains at the core of my practice, it’s also often complemented by writing and video work.
Searching for the elusive night parrot in the Pullen Pullen Night Parrot Reserve inoutback Queensland Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using DJI Mavic Air @ f/2.8, 1/400 sec, ISO 100
Working as a photographer has given me the opportunity to visit some amazing places. One assignment that really stands out is when a magazine in the USA commissioned me to shoot a feature story about the night parrot. The night parrot is a rare bird that was rediscovered in the Queensland outback after being thought extinct for more than 100 years! Suddenly I was in the hot dusty outback, driving around a giant conservation reserve, with a journo and researchers. It was a memorable trip combining science, documentary and adventure.
Another highlight would have to be the two expeditions I’ve undertaken in Nepal. The first, in 2016, was to climb Ama Dablam, a startlingly steep and beautiful 6812m tall peak in the Khumbu (or Mount Everest) region. That trip pushed both my personal climbing career and mountain photography to new heights. In 2019 I returned to Nepal, this time on assignment for adventure travel operator World Expeditions. My job was to document a remote exploratory expedition to a seldom visited region of the Himalaya. The trip was led by Tim Macartney Snape, who is a friend and mountaineering legend. We climbed peaks without names and camped on a glacier no-one had ever visited.
Self portrait looking up towards Mount Brewster in the New Zealand Southern Alps. Thegreen glow in the sky is a faint Aurora Australia. Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon 5D Mark III + 14mm f/2.8L II USM @ f/2.8, 30 sec, ISO 320
Choosing a Camera System
Today’s digital camera offerings are incredible. I’m not going to claim there is any one particular brand or system that is worlds ahead for adventure style photography. But there are certain features that are crucial for this type of demanding outdoor-based work. Must-haves for me are good battery life, and a rugged build with weather sealed bodies and lenses. Most brands of DSLR and mirrorless camera systems have weather-sealed options, but be aware that weather sealing is often reserved for the higher-specced or ‘pro’ models.
Personally I’ve always shot with full frame digital cameras. Currently I’m using the Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R mirrorless camera bodies. Before that I used Canon DSLR cameras and lenses for many years. Quite often my images are printed and reproduced very large, so the increased image quality of a full-frame sensor is worth the size and weight penalties. For many photographers, however, a smaller and lighter APS-C or micro-four-thirds setup will likely be a better option.
For lenses I’d suggest sticking with zooms, as it’s possible to cover a wider range of focal lengths in a smaller and lighter package. My current lineup is the Panasonic Lumix S Series 16-35mm f/4, 24-105mm f/4, 70-200mm f/4 and 50mm f/1.4. I’ve gone with the f/4 versions of the three zooms to save weight.
Self portrait whilst camped at 5700m on the South West Ridge of Ama Dablam (6812m) in Nepal Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 6D + EF 17-40 f/4L USM @ 20mm, f5.6, 0.6sec, ISO 2000
Other Essential Equipment
A big part of shooting adventure style imagery is being mobile and having quick, easy access to your camera. Often on a shoot I’m hiking, climbing, biking or paddling and don’t have time to stop and dig around for a camera that’s stashed deep within a bag. The Peak Design Capture Clip is a clever device that allows you to attach your camera to a backpack shoulder strap, allowing for super-fast camera deployment. I’ve been using one for about 8 years, and the latest incarnation (the V3) has some excellent refinements!
When it comes to bags and transporting your camera equipment, I’ll be the first to say there’s no perfect solution for all scenarios. For shorter day-long shoots I’ll generally bring a 30-40L backpack like the F-Stop Ajna. For longer self-supported trips I’ll use combinations of F-Stop padded ICUs and/or ThinkTank lens pouches stowed inside my larger trekking and mountaineering rucksacks.
The final item of gear I’ll mention is a tripod. Whilst carrying a tripod into the wilderness can seem a bit like overkill, it can certainly be worth the effort – especially when the stars come out! Presently I’m using a compact but sturdy Manfrotto Be-Free Advanced Carbon Tripod.
A stitched drone panorama shot in the north-west of the Nepal Himalaya
Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using DJI Mavic 2 Pro @ 28mm f/2.8, 1/240 sec, ISO 100
To Drone or Not to Drone?
Adding drone photography to your arsenal is almost expected these days. Drones have without doubt transformed photography in recent years, making it possible to capture amazing aerial viewpoints and new perspectives. A couple of years ago a magazine editor asked if I could shoot drone stills on an assignment. Of course I said yes, and promptly purchased a shiny new DJI model. Ever since, shooting with a drone has added a valuable component to both my stills and video work.
BUT! Flying drones is not without limits and restrictions. In Australia there are many places where drone use is prohibited, including in most national parks and conservation areas. Currently there are new laws and restrictions being introduced. In summary, I believe drones and adventure photography can be great together. But it pays to always do your research and fly by the rules.
Hailstorm whilst hiking in the Southwest National Park, Tasmania Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 6D + EF 50mm f/1.2L @ f4, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400
Tips for Shooting in Extreme Weather
Adventure doesn’t stop when the weather gets foul. In fact, most of the time that’s when the adventure really begins! Capturing an activity during adverse weather conditions can add a lot of impact and grit to your imagery. Provided your camera gear is up to the task (remember my point earlier about weather sealing!), there’s no reason to stop shooting when the skies open up or the mercury plummets. Within reason, of course – all gear will have operational limits. If you’re shooting in wet conditions, avoid doing anything that will compromise the camera’s seals, such as changing lenses or opening any ports. I always keep some moisture absorbing sachets in my gear bags too. Uncooked rice can also do the trick!
Exposure to saltwater is something that can destroy camera gear very quickly. Even just using your gear in a coastal/beach area will usually leave some salt residue behind, promoting corrosion. I have a special electrical contacts and parts cleaner, which I spray on a cloth and use to wipe down all non-optical surfaces.
Anyone who has shot in extreme cold will know that our camera’s lithium batteries will suffer. To increase battery life, always keep your spare batteries warm inside a jacket pocket or your sleeping bag at night.
Scott Amjah traverses towards the summit of Mount Brewster in the New Zealand Alps Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon 5D Mark III + 17-40 f4L USM @ f/5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 100
How to Get Started Shooting Adventure Photos
It might seem obvious but the best way to start is simply to organise an adventure, take your camera and shoot with intention. A common misconception is that successful adventure photography has to be of epic adventures in rugged far-away places. Yet some of my favourite images, and also outdoor photography experiences, have been captured much closer to home. It’s incredible just how much you can squeeze into a weekend! What’s important is that you plan the trip with photographing it in mind. Having friends who are equally as interested in photographing the experience really helps. Which leads to my next topic: collaboration.
Walking back to camp after a day of whitewater packrafting on the Tully River in north Qld Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 6D + EF 85 f/1.8 USM @ f/2.8, 1/800 sec, ISO 200
Collaborating with Others
Whilst there’s nothing at all wrong with solo adventure, it can be difficult to document well. My favourite type of outdoor and adventure photography is that which shows humans interacting with a landscape – be it undertaking an activity like rock climbing, or just soaking in a majestic view. Adding this human element brings the viewer into the scene. You’re now capturing an experience, not just a landscape. So it stands to reason that adventures are better with like-minded adventure buddies! It really helps if your compatriots are as stoked about photographing the trip as you are too. Not everyone wants to wake up crazy early for a sunrise, stand in the cold until you get the shot, or carry on searching until you find the most picturesque campsite and perfect composition. Often it takes a fair amount of time to set up shots and get the perfect moment. Usually, going on an adventure when everyone’s shared goal is to capture epic photos will yield the greatest results.
A lot of adventure photography captures a particular extreme outdoor sport or activity. Personally I’m into rock climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking and, on occasion, packrafting. But there are so many more: trail running, paragliding, highlining, kayaking and surfing, just to name a few. If you’re looking to photograph a sport, there will always be a community of people super passionate about it. Most people—professional athletes and weekend warriors alike—love seeing images of themselves. Many of my closest friends, and often the subjects of my photos, are people I’ve met through the climbing community. My advice is to get involved and join a tribe.
The not-so-glamorous side of adventure: Dave Stone sleeping beside the road on the way to a rock climbing destination Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon 6D + EF 17-40 f/4L USM @ 33mm, f/4, 1/125 sec, ISO 1600
Capturing the Whole Story
So often I see adventure portrayed like a shiny highlights reel – images depicting perfect landscapes, smiling faces and amazing, sunny clear weather. But adventure is more than perfect happy moments and idyllic conditions. Adventure is also about being uncomfortable, tired, cold, wet and lost. I’ve found that clients and audiences respond well to authenticity. We want to see the both the highs and the lows, witness the suffering and the success. Likewise, there’s more to any story than just a perfect sunrise or triumphant summit photo. I’d like to urge photographers to document the whole story. Look for those in-between moments and raw emotions. In such an image-saturated world, capturing the unexpected moments can really help your photography cut through the noise.
Some Classic Adventure Shots
One of the best parts about adventure photography is there are really no hard and fast rules. What and how you shoot is really only constrained by your own creativity. But with that said, there are certain classic types of shot that have become synonymous with adventure photography. Here are a few:
Trekkers and Nepali porters carrying loads up to a high pass in the north-west of Nepal
Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + EF 16-35 f/4L IS USM @ 16mm, f/5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 100
‘Tiny Figure in Big Landscape’
This is exactly what it sounds like: basically a human figure (or figures) juxtaposed against an amazing backdrop. Cliched, yes, but these types of photos are hard to pass by. For this type of image I’ll frame the human subject smaller in the frame, and allow the landscape to dwarf them.
Camping under the stars at Mount Arapiles, Victoria
Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Panasonic LUMIX S1 + S 24-105 f/4 @ 24mm, f/4, 20 sec, ISO 3200
‘Camped Out Under the Stars’
To me, few images scream adventure louder than this. It’s a classic shot and always a crowd pleaser. Who doesn’t want to get away from our light-polluted city lives and camp beneath the sparkling stars? My basic shooting tips would be to get your widest lens – ideally an f2.8 but an f/4 would be OK. Set your exposure to 30 sec, aperture wide open, at ISO 3200. Use a tripod and a self-timer to avoid camera shake. It’s easiest to manually focus, on either a subject in the scene or just in front of infinity. A campfire or gently illuminated tent makes for a great central focus point. It might take a few attempts to get your composition and settings correct, but the result can be magical!
A stitched panorama of Mike McCormack watching sunset over the rock climbing mecca of Mount Arapiles, Victoria
Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Panasonic LUMIX S1 + S 24-105 f/4 @ 24mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 1250
‘The Hero Shot’
Similar to the figure in landscape shot, but in this case you’re aiming to make your human subject the hero. Shoot lower, looking up at the subject. By doing this your subject becomes bigger, stronger and celebrated within the scene. A great way to highlight something just achieved – maybe reaching the summit or celebrating a satisfying win.
Nick Foster climbing Cornerstone Rib, a classic route in the Warrumbungles, NSW
Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 6D + EF 17-40 f/4L USM @ 17mm, f/8, 1/400 sec, ISO 250
‘The Action Shot’
Adventure involves a lot of action, often in the form of movement. Freezing and capturing these charged moments is the basic foundation of most sports photography. Adventure is the same; when we’re faced with an image of someone mid-activity it forces the viewer to also stop and observe. Maybe it’s the unusual shape of the human form, or the heightened expression on the athlete’s face. Typically you’ll use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. In some cases a slower shutter and panning technique will demonstrate the movement better.
Trail running at Noosa Heads, Qld – from a commercial shoot for Paddy Pallin Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Panasonic LUMIX S1 + S 70-200 f/4 @ 71mm, f/4, 1/1600 sec, ISO 100
Working with Brands and Publications
There’s no special secret to getting paid adventure photography work. One of the biggest factors in securing commercial gigs and clients is establishing the relationships and building trust. Networking and tracking down the right initial contacts is key. If you land a job, be sure to get to know the business and also the people you’re working for. Whenever possible, I take any opportunity to have meetings in person or chat on the phone.
Likewise with magazines and other publications. Make sure to read the magazine, understand their target readership, style of writing and photography, etc. There’s usually some kind of ‘submissions@’ or similar type of email you can contact; this might be in the issue or on the contact page of their website. Don’t be afraid to submit. I’d start by sending in a few of your best images and a story pitch or two.
Also be sure to engage with the social media accounts of any brand, organisation or publication that you’re interested in working with. Not only can this be a great first point of contact, it also demonstrates that you’re already an active member of their online community.
Camped under the stars at Butterfly Gorge in the Top End, Northern Territory
Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + EF 16-35 f/2.8L II USM @ 16mm, f/4, 30 sec, ISO 800
My 5 Favourite Places to Shoot Adventure Photography
The world is a big place and while I’ve been lucky to travel a fair bit, I’m yet to visit most of it!
Of the places I have visited and adventured in, here are a few that stand out:
New Zealand – Specifically the majestic Southern Alps
Tasmania – The rugged and beautiful south-west wilderness
Queensland – Girraween National Park is a personal favourite and fairly close to home
Northern Territory – The pristine gorges, red dirt and open country of the Top End
Nepal – The mighty and incomparable Himalaya
Alessandro Zen rock climbing at the steep sea cliffs of Point Perpendicular in NSW Shot by Lachlan Gardiner using Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + EF 17-40 f/4L USM @ 17mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 200
Safety Should Always Come First
Shooting adventure work is not without risks. Many of the activities that constitute adventure are inherently risky and can quite quickly become dangerous. The safety of you and all others involved should always be of primary concern. Here are a few questions I like to apply when assessing a potentially risky situation:
If the camera (and my desire to photograph) wasn’t present, would I still deem this safe?
Am I sufficiently prepared? Do I have the appropriate experience and am I trained to do this?
Would this be safer, for myself and others involved, if I wasn’t talking photos?
No photo is ever worth compromising your own safety or that of anyone else.
Other general tips would be:
Always tell someone your intentions before departing on a trip.
Carry an emergency locator beacon in remote areas.
Pay close attention to weather forecasts.
The best adventures are those that end with everyone arriving home safe and sound – with some epic photos to share, of course!
Hopefully this article has helped inspire you to further your own adventure photography journey in some way. Happy exploring and stay safe out there!