Dan Bailey’s Big Adventures
While attending Berklee College of Music, Dan Bailey bought a camera. That was all it took. “I got really enamored with photography and I transitioned my mindset out of trying to get a job in the music business,” he says.
After getting a degree in Music Production and Engineering, he became an assistant editor at a stock agency in Boston for a year, then moved back to his native Colorado to pursue a career shooting. That was 14 years ago in Fort Collins. He has since moved to Alaska, where he’s been based in Anchorage for almost three years. “I’m trying to establish myself as a local photographer but also take advantage of what Alaska offers in terms of its photographic opportunities,” he explains.
A sports enthusiast himself who regularly participates in rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, trail running, and long range alpine hikes, Bailey is naturally drawn to photographing these activities with Alaska as his backdrop. “People on locations really fascinate me,” he says. “I can find really cool imagery with light and shape and form and color, whether it’s just a person inside a room, or outside. [The subject] should bring a unique set of challenges and force your creativity to come up with something really exciting.”
Instead of undertaking a second formal education, this time in Photography, Bailey began reading books in the Boston Public Library. He studied Galen Rowell, John Shaw, Nevada Wier, ultimately attending one of Rowell’s Mountain Light workshops in northern Nepal in 1993. Poring over all the library’s photography books by Bryan Peterson, Bailey then began to practice on Boston’s streets, with “industrial city stuff,” as he says, being his main subject matter.
Shooting the kind of work Bailey is known for has come about by his love of the activities he captures in his lenses. “The whole thing about adventure photography is you get into it because you love adventure and you want to take pictures while you’re adventuring,” he explains. “Sometimes it works really well. If you’re hiking, mountain biking or skiing, sometimes you can just whip the camera out and shoot a great shot, stick it away and keep skiing. There are certain sports that doesn’t work quite as well, like climbing. Being a climber definitely helps being climbing photographer.”
Bailey credits intimate knowledge and experience with the sport you’re photographing as critical to shooting the best you possibly can because you’ll know what to expect. “You know what the athletes are going to be doing,” he says. “If you’re fish out of water—if you’ve never been in that kind of place—you’re going to be much more concerned with your safety and the unfamiliarity of the situation. Just being comfortable in your environment is going to make you allow you to get better photos, as well.”
Bailey is a Nikon shooter, and currently counts on a D700 as his main body, and an entire range of compatible lenses and flash units.
Intrigued by the possibilities of off-camera flash, Bailey has fully immersed himself in learning the craft. “I think my approach is to have the flash be either plausible and/or invisible part of the scene,” he says. One of Bailey’s goals is for someone to view one of his lit photos and say, “Wow, that’s really well-lit. That’s a great photo,” as opposed to “Oh, that’s flash.”
There are a number of judicious applications of off-camera flash outdoors for Bailey. “Obviously, some photos you’ll know it’s flash, but if you do it right, if you do it with enough creativity and scale and balance and experimentation and accidents, you can get something that’s really exciting,” he says. “You can replicate light that you may not have on the scene, but you very well could have had. It’s just one of the really exciting possibilities to do, and I’m excited about getting more precision with that.”
Bailey uses PocketWizard radio triggers to control his off-camera flash units and more. “I have three PocketWizards and I use them for three different things,” he says. “The first thing I ever used them for was just remote triggering of the cameras. I did a six‑week solo bike trip in southern Spain and I took a PocketWizard unit so I could shoot myself riding. I didn’t have anyone else to take a picture. I would set it up on a little tripod and ride by with the trigger in my hand and do it that way. I’ve used it to trigger cameras in a variety of different ways—sometimes shooting myself and sometimes shooting other people or just situations where having a remote camera is useful.”
The other two ways Bailey uses PocketWizards are in conjunction with flash units. The first is when he needs to trigger a flash at a substantial distance. The second is when he uses multiple light sources, such as a combination of speed lights and monoblocs. He controls these with PocketWizard Plus II units. “I never had a problem with them,” Bailey reports. “I have three of them sitting in a little pouch, and it protects them. I always take them with me. You never know when you might use them. One more tool in the arsenal to help you achieve different results in different times.”
Although not a newcomer to shooting portraits and landscapes, Bailey is shooting more of these subjects lately, and sees himself doing more of that in the future. “It’s sort of like guitar playing,” he explains. “I started as a rock guitar player, but I branched out and I like playing different styles of music. I think photography is the same thing. You have fun with a variety of subject matter and styles you can explore. The more you get comfortable with each one, you become more proficient. You obviously open up your possibilities for professional work, and there’s personal satisfaction.”
Other creative outlets for Bailey include his blog and teaching. “I’ve really found enjoyment in teaching,” he says. “I write for The Photoletariat every week. I’m a senior contributor there. Writing has been a huge thing. I see myself as moving further into writing although it takes a lot of time.”
The author of two ebooks, How to Become a Pro Photographer and Making the Image, Bailey credits his Internet-based writing as a major way to attract new eyes to his work. Of the first title, Bailey says, “I see it as the equivalent of sitting down with a pro and picking their brain, but doing it on your own, because most don’t have the time to really sit down with a stranger and tell them everything you need to know in order to try to pursue a professional career in photography.” He covers everything from self-motivation to equipment, risk to marketing.
Making the Image covers creative aspects of photography, including light, color, exposure, placement, and different creative concepts Bailey feels make strong images. The sales of both titles to date have confirmed for Bailey his outreach work of photographic education is something he’ll continue.
If you’re looking for action shots in extreme locations, Bailey is your man. He knows the sports, but also how, where and when the athletes move as they do them. Not many people like hanging from a rope on the side of an ice-covered mountain. Fewer do it with one hand while holding a camera in the other. Even fewer do it and bring back great photos.
Written by Ron Egatz