Insight: Jimmy Chin Launches Adventure Photography Master Class

By David Schonauer   Friday January 4, 2019

Want to be an adventure photographer?

Jimmy Chin has some tips.

One of the best known adventure photographers in the world, Chin is a National Geographic contributor and co-director of the the films Meru, which tells the story of an ascent of Mount Meru in the Himalayas undertaken by Chin and two other climbers, and and Free Solo, a documentary that follows American rock climber Alex Honnold as he ascends Yosemite's 3,200-foot El Capitan without a rope.

Now Chin is launching an online master class — a 20-episode digital video series that, noted Conde Nast Traveler recently, covers everything from what gear he uses and how he edits photos, to pitching your work to magazine editors.

The adventure photography MasterClass—which costs $90 for the individual class, and $180 for a year's membership to all classes—is now available. Here is a video preview:

Episodes average about 12 minutes and can be watched in any order. The class also comes with a downloadable workbook with more tips, tricks, and exercises for you to practice Chin's techniques. Plus, you can upload video of your work to get feedback from other class members. Chin will even critique some students' photos himself.

"There's very detailed technical aspects for the photo geek who wants to know about what lens or what exposure I use. But it is also is geared towards people who love storytelling, the ethos around the type of shooting I do,” Chin says. "I felt like I downloaded 20 years of experience."

That is, 20 years of experience crammed into just a few years of photography. Chin was living in his van as he rock climbed through Yosemite after college, and a friend lent him a film camera to take some photos while they were climbing, notes Conde Nast Traveler.

"He was trying to sell the photos he was taking with that camera. And the only photo he sold was the one that I took," Chin says, adding that you don’t have to climb El Cap to capture your own memorable adventure images. “A lot of it is just getting down the nuts and bolts of photography,” he says.

Meanwhile, at Outside magazine Chin distills those nuts and bolts in nine tips for adventure photography. His first tip: Know your way around mountains:

“Be really good at the activity you want to shoot, whether that’s skiing, climbing, or mountaineering,” he says. “If you want to shoot with the best athletes or want to get out and get after it, you need to be able to keep up. And you certainly want to be dialed in. No one wants to shoot with someone who’s a liability in the mountains.”

Chin also recommends going light: “If I’m really on the move, I usually carry my camera in a super-minimalist shoulder bag so it’s always accessible. Most photography bags have a ton of padding, but I’ve found that’s usually overkill,” he says.

His other tips:

Get Up Early and Stay Out Late

“Light is such an important aspect of photography, especially outdoors. The Golden Hour is great, but oftentimes there’s beautiful saturated light right before sunrise and right after sunset, so it’s always worth getting to your spot early and sticking around.”

Be Present

“Shoot the moment for what it is and for yourself. Don’t worry about how it’s going to look on Instagram.”

Look Around

“When you’re charging in one direction and you’re like, That shot’s so sick, it’s easy to focus on one thing and miss what else is around you.

Aim for Variety

“This means shooting with different focal lengths and compositions, for starters.

Decide What Your Subject Is

“Is it the landscape or a person? If you want to focus on a person, you can make them very big in the frame and put them in the center or follow the rule of thirds. If you want to show context or the scale of the landscape, then zoom out to make the person smaller.”

Do Your Research

“Study different genres of photography for inspiration—conflict to street to fashion.”

Just Go Out and Shoot

“A lot. Find your voice.”


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