By Peta Owens-Liston

Every time I look at a series of framed photographs hanging on our hallway wall, I flashback to our first river trip on the Gates of Lodore. Memories ripple back along with a feeling of gratitude that our family shared that experience together. The same is true for the photo of my husband and I on the White Rim Trail bike trip last fall—the scenery dwarfs us with its beauty; our smiles are genuine and needed no prompting; our legs are tan and dirty.

I know what it is like to experience these outdoor adventures on one side of the camera, but what is it like experiencing them from behind the lens? Two professional photographers share their perspectives and tips on the challenges and the highlights of photographing on bike and on water, in the elements, involving people who are relishing the chance to be carefree far from their traditional responsibilities.

White Rim Trail MappingWhite Rim Bike Trip

Photographer: Kristan Jacobsen

Behind the lens, what are you looking for?

Initially what I had in mind were those more generic shots, with nice lighting, a scenic background, and a perfect spot for a bike coming up into the scene. But when I asked Holiday Expeditions what they wanted for this all-girls biking trip, it wasn’t these types of shots they had in mind. They wanted women just to have fun together. That really freed me up and turns out what this sort of trip is really all about. I love photographing people, so I got to concentrate on them. It was a 50th birthday party celebration so these women were friends and really comfortable with each other, making my job easier. The chemistry of the group made the photography work.

I have a whole series from Day 2 at Candle Stick. A line of women were sitting just above me on a little rock ledge. One of the gals had brought this wicked marinated pineapple drink. Within 15 minutes everyone became really animated, laughing, and it made for great photos of women goofing off together.

Mornings offered great photo moments. Everybody is enjoying the view and soaking up just being there; they’re sitting around drinking coffee, chairs are close together, and good conversation is happening. On this kind of wide, meandering trail and with a group of women, it was easy for them to ride together and chat, so I got some good images of time spent riding together.

Canyonlands Bike Trip in White RimAny surprises?

Besides all the getting naked? The same thing happened on an all-women river trip I did. Actually, what was trickier than I expected was all my camera equipment (i.e., camera, tripod, lenses) was in the van, so every time I wanted to stop to get a photo, I had to wait for the van—which always follows the last rider as a sweeper. I ended up doing a lot of waiting. In retrospect, I would have brought a little camera I could have carried in my bag.

You do weddings, portrait photography, photo-journalism, what do these trips offer you as a photographer?

The nice thing about trips like this is that everyone there has a common goal—they want to work hard riding during the day and relax, have fun, and eat well at night. They all have the same thing in mind, especially in a woman’s group where there is no pressure to compete. Everyone is so comfortable and this comes across in the photos. There is so much natural beauty too on these trips always providing a nice backdrop to people shots.

Any suggestions for amateur photographers on these types of trips?

So many people think the sun should be in front of their subjects, but then you end up with shadows or a lot of squinting. These are unfixable things. Instead, if you have a basic camera that cannot be adjusted manually or an iPhone, shoot in the shade or keep the sun to the side.

Keep in mind, on a trip like this, you may not want to bring along your nicest camera—there is sand and a lot of bouncing around. I’d bring a small one you can fit in your water pack.

Peta Owens-ListonPeta Owens-Liston is a writer and editor with extensive experience in magazine writing and marketing communications writing.  Publications she has written for: TIME Magazine, Sports Illustrated for Women, Organic Style, Paddler, Redbook, Via, KUER/NPR affiliate (radio essays), Park City Magazine, Salt Lake City Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune to mention a few.