• Without Walls: Extreme Photos

    Capturing that perfect action adventure shot? Turns out you have to be there—and not just nearby. Photographer Isaac Lane Koval tells us how.

    To nail like-worthy action shots, you really have to be in the thick of, well, the action. 

    That’s a lesson pro photographer Isaac Lane Koval has learned the hard—but fun—way. 

    He got into outdoor sports when he moved back to his hometown of Portland, Oregon and went on his first backpacking trip. In the beginning he was just tagging along with friends, shooting them as they indulged their inner daredevil. But he quickly realized that he didn’t just want to photograph their adventures; he wanted to have them himself. The result? Photos that are way more awesome. 

    Lately that’s meant setting up a line across a waterfall, strapping into a harness, and shooting his friends as they huck the falls in kayaks right below him, or climbing Smith Rock in Oregon in order to get a perfect shot of our Without Walls Trailblazers contest winner Caroline Dignes. “When I’m shooting sports, my goal is to capture what it feels like to be in that moment,” Isaac says. “It’s almost a heightened reality.” And that means much more than just preserving how something looks to the eye. “I want to convey how an experience feels,” he explains. That desire has led him to take up mountain biking and climbing, with paragliding, kayaking, and skiing on his to-do list. 

    We picked Isaac’s brain for his tips on snapping outdoor sports—even if you don’t climb 5.14 or race mountain bikes professionally. 

    Be friendly first, shoot second. 
    “I’ve approached people I’ve never met before, and most of the time they’re happy to let me take their photo, but you have to build a relationship before you get the good moments. Otherwise, they’ll be a little shy—they’re not models who can just turn it on. You have to get to know them and get in their world." 

    Study up on the sport. 
    "It does help if you know the lingo and traditions of [your subject's] sport, so you can talk to them about what you’re shooting.” 

    It's not all about the action. 
    “Especially if you’re not shooting athletes at the top of their game, focus on the personalities. Get more detail-oriented shots, like the in-between moments. Sometimes those are actually the most interesting images. Plus, it can be difficult to identify with action shots, but those in-between breaks? Everyone can identify with those.” 

    Pay attention to composition. 
    “Ask yourself, what’s the environment doing? Do the surroundings lead to the subject? For example, I try to place the subject where the lines of trail, trees, and mountains converge. You want your photo to have intersecting lines that guide the viewer’s eye—especially if you have a wide shot. It’s how you tell the viewer where to look. But since you usually can’t move your subject, you have to move, which may mean getting down on the ground for a low-angle view.” 

    Make use of rad apps—but with a light hand. 
    Only have an iPhone to shoot with? Or not ready to plunk down the dollars for fancy editing software? Fear not—there’s an app for that. Isaac’s favorite editing app is Afterlight, which lets him change exposure, color balance, and even throw on a filter. “When I’m on the road, I’ll edit photos on the phone,” he says. But he steers clear of over-filtering. “Sometimes it looks better just how it came out of the camera.”  

    Learn to appreciate your mistakes, and keep trying. 
    “Mistakes are how I got to where I am today. For people just starting out, the biggest thing is to just keep shooting.” 

    Check out Isaac's photos here, and see some shots of him in action below!