Second Thoughts
Personalizing The Landscape

Lin's wife, Joy, jumps in Dixie National Forest, Utah. (Notice that we resisted the impulse to use the phrase, "a jump for Joy.")
Photos © 2003 Lin Adler, All Rights Reserved

Lin Alder changed his mind. And his style, too.

"I came to photography initially as a black and white large format landscape photographer," Lin says. "Ansel Adams was my primary inspiration, as he was for a lot of people."

Lin began taking pictures when he was 16, and his first subject was the overpowering landscape of the desert southwest. "I felt at that time that I went to the wilderness to be alone, and so my photographs reflected that. Photography for me then was a very personal thing, very individual. It was all about nature, it wasn't about people."

But as the years passed, Lin began to enjoy experiencing the outdoors with other people. "The solitary nature of the experience changed," he says, "and I wanted to share the outdoor experience with people who were close to me." That feeling began to be reflected in his photography. He started photographing in color with 35mm cameras and, more and more, people were showing up in his outdoor images. "I evolved from the strictly environmental viewpoint that nature is the most important thing, to the realization that the landscape belongs to humanity as well as to the earth."

Isabel Juma at the summit of Ecuador's 19,385-foot Mount Cotopaxi.

A Natural Connection
Lin began to get "some real support from people who were looking at my pictures," and he started to think about the commercial value of his images. He had attended the Outdoor Retailer convention, a twice-a-year trade show held in Salt Lake City, where all the outdoor gear companies show their wares, but now he began to see the exhibitors as a possible market. "I found a natural connection there," he says, "because these companies were selling the jackets, tents, backpacks, and all the other things that were already very much a part of my life. I realized that they needed pictures for their catalogs." His images of people enjoying the outdoors and participating in outdoor adventures filled those and other needs perfectly, and over the years Lin's pictures have appeared in numerous outdoor, adventure, and travel magazines as well as the catalogs of equipment and clothing manufacturers.

More than 90 percent of the time Lin photographs a genuine outdoor experience, but in the past few years he's started doing dedicated photo shoots for clients, complete with models and specific gear. In those instances, casting is the key, and Lin prefers to work with people he knows. "It's easier to show a genuine experience," he says, "with people who've had those experiences." And so, he cheerfully admits, often it's his friends who get hired for those shoots.

Vince Bynan mountain biking near Navajo Lake, Utah. His dog, Lucy, was an unplanned addition to the photo.

When it comes to camera equipment, Lin has two words to offer: fast and light. The photos here were taken with Nikons--an N90s or an F100 and either a 17-35mm f/2.8 or 80-200mm f/2.8 Zoom-Nikkor. He always carries a flash--currently it's an SB-80DX Speedlight, although an SB-28 was used for many of the photos here. "I'd say I use flash 90 percent of the time," Lin says, adding, "and I hope its use doesn't show in the images."

He's recently added a digital camera to his kit--a Fuji FinePix S2 Pro, which is based on a Nikon N80 body and so accepts his Nikkor lenses. Why go digital? "It's revolutionized my ability to capture motion blur images," he says. "I know right away if I've got the shot."

Joy pulls a handstand for an admirer, Grand Staircase National Monument, Utah.

The Emotion Of Motion
Although he's been doing motion blur photos for some time, with digital he says he can go a lot further with motion experiments. The idea of the motion blur was to add another dimension to his photographs. "It was part of the evolution of my photography from the fine-art landscape," Lin says. "Once I started including people in my images, I started noticing what was going on with outdoor sports and adventure photography. I found some photographers who were doing some awesome stuff--Galen Rowell for instance--but, truthfully, for the most part a lot of what I saw wasn't terribly dynamic. I knew I wanted to try to capture the emotion of what I loved to do--mountain biking, hiking, and climbing. Those aren't necessarily extreme or action sports, but there's a lot of energy and a lot of action involved, and I thought about how I might capture the energy I felt when I was speeding down a mountain bike trail."

Adding the emotion of motion was one way. Lin achieves the motion blur effect by setting his cameras and flash units for rear sync flash, a technique that allows him to depict motion rather than freeze it. Rear sync fires the flash just before the camera's rear curtain closes; it's the ambient light that's added to the exposure before the curtain closes that captures the movement of the subject as a series of motion streaks.
"I remember the first time I started using flash, which was back in '98," Lin says. "I wanted to show motion across the photo, and I asked a friend who was a runner to jump over me at sunrise as I lay on the ground. I remember thinking, this is going to be so cool! Then when I got the film back, I saw that it worked, and then I started using the technique for mountain biking photography, too."

Lin's website,, features a variety of his images as well as his writing about his travels and adventures. Lin is also a photography instructor, and you can find out about his workshops at: