(Originally published in Outdoor Photographer magazine, June 2006.)
Fear and exiliration. That’s what Daniel H. Bailey brings to viewers of his high-action imagery. “I want the viewer’s stomach to drop when they see the shots,” says Bailey. “I want them to be able to share in the feelings of what it’s like to be doing the sports, as well as what it’s like to be taking the pictures.” Shooting this kind of actions isn’t easy, but it’s what Bailey loves to do, and he has made a career of creating stomach-dropping imagery. From his home base in Fort Collins, Colo., Bailey has access to the dramatic landscapes of the Rocky Mountains and the array of adventure sports that abound in those landscapes. Bailey describes his approach to shooting: “When I’m shooting, it’s the landscape that draws me in, but it’s the athletes who add that additional level of depth to these beautiful vistas. The two work together- landscape and athlete.”
Bailey’s interest in action imagery is a natural extension of his personal interests in the sports he shoots. As an avid adventure sportsman himself, he climbs, skis and cycles in the mountains. Anytime you want to convey the essence of a sport, it’s only natural to have an an insider’s perspective on that sport. Being athletic enough to participate in adventure sports is one thing, but being a photographer shooting the action holds special challenges. For one thing, the gear is heavy- really heavy. “I recently switched to a Nikon D200 and, thankfully, it’s pretty lightweight, plus the D200 has enabled to me lighten up on some of my other gear, but it’s still not easy.” To get the perfect shot, Bailey gets right in the middle of the action. Some of his images require special setups and clamps. “I have a variety of clamps to attach to bikes, and I experiment with Pocket Wizards,” he says. “It’s fun to figure out how to get a unique vantage point. It’s something that I’m always thinking about.”
As he works for those dynamic images, Bailey likes to move with the action. Generating motion blurs as he paces from the front or behind was a concept that came from an unlikely source. After seeing a demonstration on the use of the Steadycam motion picture device while working on a film shoot, Bailey was intrigued by the fluid mentality if moving with the action. Although he doesn’t actually use a Steadycam, he doesn’t need to, since he’s shooting one frame at a time instead of 24 frames per second.
While Bailey has been shooting pro for the past decade, his roots in the field are far from typcal. Many a pro has gone to school with a photography program, but Bailey was a student at the Berklee College of Music when he first started to get into shooting pictures. “Photography began to appeal to me with the independence and self-reliance that’s inherent in it,” he says.
Back in those early days, Bailey and OP became inexorably intertwined. “I saw an ad in an issue of OP for a trip to Nepal that Galen Rowell was leading,” he recalls. “I leapt at the chance to do it. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of money, so I pretty much maxed out all my credit cards and went into debt. The trip went into apart of the world that had just been opened up to outsiders and I had the chance to be among the first photographers to go. I learned more about photography from Galen and from the experience of being there that I ever could have in any photography class.” Bailey picked Rowell’s brain for information on how to make it as professional photographer shooting adventure sports, and rowell was generous enough to share his knowledge.
With a desire to make photography his career, Bailey moved to Fort Collins, where he worked at a digital imaging lab. Between that job and earlier work at a small stock agency in Boston, he had an opportunity to see a lot of images from a widely varied group of shooters. He began to see what made for a more successful shot and what was a dud. When the position at the digital lab was eliminated due to cutbacks, Bailey struck out on his own and hasn’t looked back.
Says Bailey, “I maxed out my cards again to buy a full pro camera setup and just started hustling for work. There have been some hard times and some easier times, but so far, it’s working out. For me, it’s the best job I could hope for. I’m outside all the time doing what I love do do. What could be better?”
Written by Christopher Robinson, managing editor, Outdoor Photographer magazine.