How do I become an adventure photographer?

Nick’s take was created from interviews made in 2000.

The letter that I most often get is: “I’m a photographer, I’m an adventurer, I love travel. How can I get your job?”

My answer is a little harsh, but hopefully positive too: photography is not about adventure, and it’s not about travel. Do you want to be a traveling adventurer, or do you want to be a photographer? They’re not the same thing. I understand where that perception comes from, because our lives on paper look very adventurous, and it’s a lot of travel. But I hate to travel. I can’t stand airports or airplanes, and then I go to a country that doesn’t want me there, and they search all my stuff, and everybody wants bribes from me. I’m not driven by the thrill of adventure at all.

The lust for capturing the images has got to be what drives you. Your images have to be really new and surprising to the world, and if you’re more interested in the experience, you’re not going to take the best pictures. Of course, because I’m so focused on the images, that makes me focus on the culture more — so I learn more about it, and I do end up having a great travel and adventure experience. But that’s not why I do it.

On the other hand, some of my best friends, they’re photographers because they like the girls, they like the attention — but they’re also damn good photographers. They’ve got a point of view, they make beautiful pictures. And I like the attention, too. Having that be part of the reason you’re a photographer is fine. But why would you invade people’s privacy or bug a wild tiger just so you can glorify your own image?

Sometimes I take a hard stance about it because I’m very mission-oriented. I’m here to help the gorillas — and having too much fun along the way–well, maybe that’s not cool. I don’t need to be bigger than the work. I don’t want you to know my name; I want you to know the image. What’s important to me is if somebody says “Yeah, I saw this picture in National Geographic of a tiger carrying a cub,” not that they saw “a Michael Nichols picture.”

The whole goal shouldn’t be to be published in National Geographic anyway. The goal should be to make really interesting photographs that mean something. And that comes from somebody really focusing. That’s the real litmus test, not going to Timbuktu.