Discover the secrets of shooting in dangerous locations with insight and experience from eight unstoppable adventure photographers.

When photographing Alaska’s glaciers and mountains, the legendary explorer Bradford Washburn (1910-2007) regularly tethered himself to the cabin of an unpressurized aircraft with the doors removed—often, in temperatures that dropped below zero. Even the landscape photographer Ansel Adams, when presented with Washburn’s work, was astounded by the risks he’d taken to get his extraordinary shots.

For more than a century, photographers have been some of history’s most intrepid explorers. They travel to the ends of the earth, and through pictures, they introduce us to some of the harshest and most extraordinary landscapes known to man. And sometimes, their personal stories of fear and triumph are just as enduring as the photographs themselves.

We spoke with eight extreme photographers who went out on a limb to capture difficult terrain. Some work with extreme sports, while others prefer extreme climates, but they all share a thirst for adventure. Like Washburn before them, they’re not the type to give up or say no to a challenge. Read on for the stories behind some of their most memorable shots.

1.”I live for those moments when it all comes together.”

Jason Wolcott

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Watch for the Right Moment
Let the Pieces Come Together

Image by Jason Wolcott. Gear: Canon 7D Mark II camera, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. Settings: Focal length 170mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f8; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Last year, I was asked to come out to Nihi Sumba, two-time #1 hotel in the world (Travel and Leisure) as a resident photographer. Sumba is one of
the wildest islands of Indonesia, featuring megalithic carvings, ritual blood rite sacrifices, and animist religious beliefs. It also has many world-class waves, the best being right in front of the luxury hotel which has become my second home over the past eighteen months.

The Indian Ocean is at its fieriest in July and August, as it faces straight south, looking down the barrel of Antarctic winter swell—which creates some of the best surfing in the world when it meets the Indonesian Archipelago.

I found myself in a small Zodiac with an underpowered engine, driven by a local, and on this particular day, the waves were huge, and the current in the channel reminiscent of class five rapids. I was very grateful for my Pelican case to protect my camera, and I even threw a pair of swim
fins in the boat in case something went wrong and I had to swim for it.

Lucky for me, on this particular day South African big wave surfer Shawn Denis was surfing and took off on this beautiful beast of a wave. The tide eventually came up, and the waves became bumpy, signaling that the end of the session and the treacherous return to the beach were imminent.

The massive swell had washed most of the sand away, and getting the boat landed on the beach was one of the most dangerous things I would do in years. I held my breath as the driver gunned it and put us on a tiny spot of beach less than five feet away from jagged rock breakwall.

A large shore break wave was looming behind when both of us decided to run for our lives before being smashed into the sharp rocks. We ran and climbed as fast as we could as the boat was flipped and smashed just behind us. Somehow, we made it safely up, and at that moment, I
realized that I had instinctively grabbed my Pelican case, saving my camera gear and the images I had captured that day.

Pictured: [1] Jason Wolcott [2] Jason Wolcott

Pro Tip

Be prepared. When you’re shooting surfing from a boat, don’t ever forget a Pelican case or at least a dry bag, sunblock, extra batteries, a hat, and—if it’s big and scary—a pair of swim fins and a leash attached to your Pelican case in case it all goes wrong and you have to save yourself and your gear.

If you are not a strong swimmer, you get seasick, or you’re not ready to risk your life for the shot, stay on the beach. I live for those moments when it all comes together. It’s funny, I ended up coining a phrase I still use to this day after the crazy events I described above. When people ask me how I am in Indonesian Language, I say, “Masih hidup”—which means, “Still Alive.”

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2. “It is worth waking up early in order to be on higher ground by sunrise.”

Jakub Cejpek

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Wake Up Early
Get up Early

Image by Jakub Cejpek. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens. Settings: Focal length 35mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f6.3; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This photo instantly takes me back five years and evokes strong memories. It also represents the essentials of any alpine experience, from my point of view. It was late September, and I was undertaking the ascent to Matterhorn—possibly the most photographed mountain in the world.

I was climbing alone, from the Italian side, and there was already a fresh snow covering some parts of the rocky ridge. Solo climbing for me is always a deeper, more intimate experience with a lot of introspection. Caution is also a big factor in solo endeavors, since you have to climb many sections unprotected. It also means that you move faster than you would with a group.

Soon after I left the bivvy hut at 3830 meters, I overtook all the other parties surrounding me, and just in that moment, the first rays of light illuminated the neighboring peak of Dent d’Hérens. In one of my shots, I could also see one of the guys making progress over the tricky terrain.

Back then, I did not even appreciate this lucky coincidence, since I had to focus on navigating the perilous terrain that lay between me and the summit. But it is certainly one of my favorite photographs now—for both aesthetic and emotional reasons.

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Prioritize Safety
Prioritize Safety

Image by Jakub Cejpek

Pro Tip

In the mountains, no matter if you’re skiing or climbing, the shot is not the
priority—safety is. You must deal with unexpected challenges posed by glacier crevasses, avalanches, harsh weather, or any combination of the above. Often, you cannot wait for the shot like landscape photographers do.

Developing your alpine, navigational, and rescue skills is a good way to prevent any major trouble. Good physical strength is also a big advantage, especially if you are working with other athletes. Often, you must tackle the same terrain, but with enough time and energy left for taking photos. Timing is also essential. It is worth waking up early in order to be on higher ground by sunrise.

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3. “Try to shoot a sport that you are very good at yourself.”

Zhukovvvlad

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Know the Sport You're Shooting
Know the Sport You’re Shooting

Image by Zhukovvvlad. Gear: Canon 6D camera, 70-200 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/4000 sec; f4.0; ISO 250.

What’s the story behind this photo?

My friends informed me that they planned to walk this long highline one early morning. I woke up at dawn and went to look for a good place to shoot, but the whole mountain was in the clouds, and nothing was visible.

I climbed to the top of a nearby mountain using my climbing equipment and waited for the sun to rise and push the clouds down. After sitting for about two hours, just as I had already begun to put my camera in my backpack, the clouds fell and allowed me to take this shot.

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Keep Safety in Mind
Keep Safety in Mind

Image by Zhukovvvlad

Pro Tip

Take care of your safety. When I head out to shoot in the mountains, I always take some climbing equipment for belaying and special shoes. Try to shoot a sport that you are very good at yourself. Knowing the sport will help you to convey all its subtleties and nuances.

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4. “I always protect my gear—whether that’s from the cold, from salt spray, or worst of all, from a drop in the ocean!”

Lauren Farmer

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Protect Your Gear
Protect Your Gear


Image by Lauren Farmer. Gear: Canon 1DX camera, Canon 70-30mm f/4-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 300mm; exposure 1/1250 sec; f10; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I am very fortunate to be employed as an expedition guide in the polar tourism industry, and I spend half my year working on small ships in the Arctic and Antarctic. Sometimes my job involves teaching photography to adventure travelers who are hoping to capture the voyage of their lifetime.

Other times, my main role is being a Zodiac driver or a science coordinator. Expedition guides wear many hats, but a key thread of what drives our passion for the region is our hope of creating ambassadors—people who will return home and champion the protection of our environment and wildlife.

Neko Harbour is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful spots on the Antarctic Peninsula, nestled in Andvord Bay in the infamous Gerlache Strait. It’s one of my favorite places to photograph landscapes, as Mount Francais, the highest mountain on the Peninsula, towers over the fjord.

I took this photo from the shoreline, where you must be careful of tsunamis created by large calvings of the nearby glacier. Antarctica has a way of being incredibly peaceful and remarkably harsh in the same moment. Mirror calm, icy days like this one are perfect examples of that.

Pictured: [1] Lauren Farmer [2] Lauren Farmer

Pro Tip

I always protect my gear—whether that’s from the cold, from salt spray, or worst of all, from a drop in the ocean! I carry a lot of other gear, like a radio, binoculars, a utility belt with a flare pistol (in the Arctic, for polar bear protection) plus a heavy backpack with additional layers and a first aid kit, so traveling light is very important to me. I usually decide what lens I am most likely to need that day, and it’s the only one I bring with me.

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5. “…don’t be afraid to take on the challenge.”

Ondra Vacek

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot— Take on the Challenge
Look for New Challenges

Image by Ondra Vacek. Gear: Sony a7 camera, Sony FE 16-35 f/4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T*lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f4; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I was working on a larger winter-themed production for an outdoor gear reseller in the Czech Republic and needed to find a location with snow and ice for these shots. Of course, we don’t have any snow in summertime in the Czech Republic, but because I happen to be a mountaineer, I knew exactly where to go: the Dachstein Glacier in Austria.

We drove hundreds of kilometers, used a cable car to get to the mountains, and hiked more than 1000 vertical meters in alpine terrain to the glacier, while carrying all our gear. I knew I had to find suitable creavasses in order to get this kind of shot, and I got lucky as we found this one after just a few hundred meters.

Being an active climber and mountaineer is the main reason I can get this type of photo. The best thing about this shot, for me, is actually the person climbing. This is one of the best-known Mountain Guides in the Czech Republic and also a winner of the Piolet d’Or mountaineering award.

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Find Your Passion
Find Your Passion

Image by Ondra Vacek

Pro Tip

I truly believe that the foundation of creating a stunning image is shooting something that is close to your heart. And climbing, more specifically alpinism, is my way of life. Finding the right spots often requires walking and climbing dozens of kilometers in the great wide open, and that takes experience.

My advice is: don’t be afraid to take on the challenge. Start with easier trekking paths, train in a climbing gym, and hire a guide to learn the necessary skills. It doesn’t take as long as you might imagine to get a handle on it. Shooting in the mountains also means you have to carry everything
with you, so the lighter your gear, the better.

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6. “Shoot as much and as often as you can… for the soul.”

Maksym Protsenko

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Shoot What You Love
Shoot What You Love

Image by Maksym Protsenko. Gear: Nikon D800 camera, Nikon 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6G ED DXlens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f/6.3; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

The evening sky was unusually expressive that day, so I decided to capture the sunset. As a sports photographer, I knew I needed some action in the
frame, but it’s difficult to find a model with one to two hours notice (even among friends), so I decided to photograph myself. I always have my bike ready for shoots like this one.

I loaded my equipment and bicycle into the car and drove to a location I had scouted previously for such sunset cycling photoshoots. Once there, I selected several angles, put my camera on a tripod, placed an external speedlight on another tripod, and got on my bike. I took my faithful
assistant—a wireless shutter release for controlling the camera—and clamped it between my fingers and the handlebar.

I wanted to make the most expressive and dramatic shots I could, so I rode the bike down a huge stone towards the camera. Descent after descent, I took pictures, changed angles, and tried to achieve the most impressive shot.

On one descent, however, something went wrong, and I went off the planned trajectory and was barrelling straight towards the camera. You can’t brake on such a steep descent, as this can lead to the bicycle turning over completely.

That’s exactly what happened to me: I turned over. I managed to jump off the bike through the handlebar, but the bike fell right onto the camera. I was afraid the worst had happened and that I’d broken my camera. Fortunately, the camera and I were both safe, and I got a really impressive shot out of the whole incident.

Pictured: [1] Maksym Protsenko [2] Maksym Protsenko

Pro Tip

All of my experience in sports photography has taught me that safety should always come first. If you are shooting a sport, you need to worry about security. Details like protective gear, bright clothes, and safe spots to shoot from are all very important. Sports photography always comes with an increased risk, especially if you’re shooting in rugged terrain or harsh
weather.

I believe that every new shoot helps us to develop as photographers. Shoot as much and as often as you can—not just for work, but for the soul. Experiment. And go out for walks more often, even without a camera. When you don’t have a camera available, your desire to shoot only gets
stronger.

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7. “…spontaneous images can be some of the most beautiful.”

Alexey Tulenkov

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Shoot Spontaneously
Shoot Spontaneously

Image by Alexey Tulenkov .Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 16-35L ll lens. Settings: Focal length 21mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f7.1; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I flew to the Crimea on a photoshoot, and we planned a trip to the top of Ai-Petri. We traveled mostly by car, and then we walked several kilometers on
foot along a plateau. The weather there is unpredictable and cloudy most of the time, but the mountain offers incredibly beautiful views of the Black Sea.

We arrived early in the morning. I took a quadrocopter with me and spent a lot of time with it in hopes of capturing something beautiful. I wanted to fly closer to the mountain, but because of the strong wind, I couldn’t.

To get this shot, I had to climb over a fence myself. Sitting on the edge of the peak, I waited for the sun, which only showed up for a few seconds at a time. Passing tourists looked at me askance; I must have looked like I was about to fall off a cliff! Fortunately, I managed to catch the sun and take this shot.

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Look for Opportunity
Look for Opportunity

Image by Alexey Tulenkov

Pro Tip

Take advantage of every opportunity you get. When we went to Crimea, for example, we had traveled there for a larger project and I didn’t plan on taking photos like this one. When I got there, I really liked the view from this spot so I grabbed a photo. Unplanned, spontaneous images can be some of the most beautiful.

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8. “…enjoy the journey and have fun photographing it.”

Rafa Fernández

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot— Enjoy the Journey
Enjoy the Journey

Image by Rafa Fernández. Gear: Olympus E-M10 MII camera, Olympus M 40-150 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/500 sec; f6.3; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I took this photo on my last trip to Finland at the impressive Korouoma frozen waterfalls. The day was cloudy and it was very, very cold. We
walked through the frozen forest, and when we finally arrived, the view was amazing: a hundred meters of frozen waterfall right in front of us.

We got lucky because no one was climbing. My brother and I prepared our equipment to climb on the ice, and in seconds, we were shooting photos—trying to capture the solitude of the climber in this remote place. I think this image was the best one because shows both the beauty of the place and the extreme nature of the sport.

Extreme Photographers Who Went Above and Beyond to Get The Shot — Plan Ahead
Plan Ahead

Image by Rafa Fernández

Pro Tip

When you travel to extreme places, you need to plan everything out because you won’t have a second chance. Things like equipment, clothing, water, food, and maps all have to be organized and under control when you’re working in extreme weather. I recommend traveling with as little equipment as possible because you need to be flexible and adaptable to every situation that comes your way. My best tip, however, is to enjoy the journey and have fun photographing it.

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Top Image by Lauren Farmer.

Looking for more tips from adventure photographers? Check these out.