Celin Serbo is the quintessential outdoor adventure photographer. Currently based in Boulder, Colorado, Celin is a founding board member of the Colorado chapter of the American Photographic Artists. He has traveled all over to handle assignments for a wide variety of commercial (i.e., Patagonia, New Balance) and editorial (i.e., Outside Magazine, Runners World Magazine) clients. He has won numerous awards for his spectacular and stunning photography. Celin speaks to atlas about how he got his start and what he likes the most and the least about being an outdoor adventure photographer.
How did you first get started in outdoor adventure photography?
Celin Serbo: Photography started out for me as a hobby. Early on I was interested in the landscape masters like Ansel Adams. In the early 90s, my step-father gave me a fully manual medium format film camera. This is what I used to poorly imitate the masters that inspired me. I would go out and shoot a roll of black and white film, record my camera setting on a note pad, and then develop prints in a dark room and try to learn from my failures. Several years later I had a career as a mountain guide in Estes Park, CO. At this point my friends and I were climbing a lot so I would drag my Nikon F100 along on our adventures. I started submitting my slides to various outdoor companies and slowly started getting published. This is what started the ball rolling.
What do you like the most about shooting outdoor adventure? What do you like the least?
What I like the most are the places you get to go to are often really special and the experiences on the shoots go beyond photography. I really value that. I feel very lucky not to have the traditional Monday thru Friday work schedule. What I like the least is that this is a tough business. It’s a challenge to have a sustainable long-term career. Client budgets are under constant downward pressure. A large portion of the outdoor photography industry is based in “lifestyle” rather than “profession.” This isn’t inherently a bad thing but it makes it very challenging to run a profitable business. It’s certainly not all about money but as we mature both personally and professionally our priorities have a tendency of shifting.
Your “office” is probably shooting from a cliff in high elevations or shooting in some gorgeous back country somewhere. What is a typical day like for you at the “office”?
“The Office” isn’t always as glamorous as you might think. Digital photography requires a lot of computer time. I’ve converted the basement of my house into my “office” and I spend more time there than I’d like to admit. The time spent is not only for editing but also for marketing and planning/pitching for upcoming projects. This profession is equal parts business and art.
As an outdoor adventure photographer, what is the craziest thing you have had to do for a shoot?
Not that it’s “crazy” but in the adventure realm there always seems to be a lot of pre-dawn starts and humping your gear a long way. One of the craziest things I have witnessed was the famed Fang ice pillar near Vail, CO detach and crash to the ground while hanging from a fixed line about 10 ft away. It resembled a super slow motion shot from an action movie and the impact was so powerful. It is something I will never forget.
What are you looking for in terms of composition when you are shooting an image?
I am usually drawn to graphic compositions. I love shooting with back light and having enough room in the frame to give a sense of place.
Are there any photographers whose work you admire? If so, who?
Sebastiao Salgado is my all-time favorite. He is just absolutely incredible. In terms of contemporary adventure shooters, I’ve always liked Keith Ladzinski, Dan Patitucci, and Tyler Stableford. They all do great work in their respective genres.
You have been shooting outdoor adventure photography for so long and are considered one of the most experienced photographers in the industry. Do you have any words of advice for someone who wants to break into outdoor adventure photography?
There are many that have been at this a lot longer than I have. I have been shooting semi-professionally since 1997 and as a full-time pro since 2007. That said, I’m hesitant to give too much advice but this is my two cents. Work hard (get up early and stay out late). Develop relationships with athletes. Educate yourself on the business side of photography. Don’t go into huge debt for the latest and greatest gear. Get a part-time job and have patience.
For more information about Celin, visit his website. All images © Celin Serbo.