In a social media-driven world, sharing on our experiences is easier to do than ever before, with live tweets from the summit of Everest and wifi at the south pole we no longer have to wait months or even years for the journals and talks of pioneers lost and exploring in distant lands.
Whilst personally I hold a firm belief that a first big adventure should do away with technology entirely and focus on the experience itself, I still recognise there is as much value in photographs and/or video as there is in writing in a diary.
For many, sharing the adventure as it happens ‘live’ is just as much fun as doing it, and there is equally nothing wrong with that at all. For my own first ‘grand adventure’ trekking through New Zealand for ten months, I took only a pen and a camera which was just enough to capture the things I wanted to share back to my family and friends. Ever since then I have preferred to focus on documenting adventure after the event has happened or in the evenings as a wind down on long winter nights, this reduces the pressure to succeed and, I feel, allows me to make wiser, safer decisions when they matter.
Whether you choose to document your adventure for yourself or for others to enjoy or to do it live or later on, here are a few tips I’ve been given or discovered along the way.
Documenting a Trip: Keeping a Journal.
Keeping a journal is a simple and reliable way to capture each day and a superb way to wind down and reflect in the evenings. There is something about pen and paper that embeds that memory deeper than photos or video for it requires effort after the event. This reflection often draws thoughts that otherwise might have been missed during the day.
When keeping my diary (and writing in general) I try to keep to two basic rules which I have set myself.
Focus on Emotions. Whilst there is value in describing the physical features of a day I find if I focus on how it felt I often capture a deeper perspective. Ask yourself, how or why things went as they did rather than just listing events, if possible try to draw lessons from things that went differently to expected. How did that long boggy stretch feel? How did it feel when I touched the summit? How good did dinner taste at the end? Later on in the comfort of your home this will really help to give context of the day far deeper than a simple description.
"The first rule of good storytelling is to entertain your crowd and not yourself..."
Keep it short. In the past I have aimed to write real stories each night, afraid to miss the details. What I found was that I would often neglect my diary when I felt too tired to commit to writing and subsequently would fail to catch up later. Instead keep to a list of ten bullet points. Five on feelings, three on descriptives/timings etc, one highlight and a low point. I always end this with a personal 1/10 rating of my own mood to capture how content I felt about the day. Anything greater than 7/10 is a success, lower than five needs change, this is also a good way to keep track on your mental health on longer expeditions.
Documenting a Trip: Taking Photos
They say a photo can say a thousand words, but crafting pictures into a story is a different task entirely. It is just as important to capture the tough moments where taking a camera out of the bag is often the last thing on your mind.
My own favourite photos of adventures are not those of spectacular sunsets but instead are blurred by rain – when I've squinted and shot in haste to capture the sense of a testing moment. The easiest way to encourage this is to treat your camera like you would a map, keep it accessible.
Telling the story
I personally like to imagine my photos as a complement to my diary or writing, this helps me picture how it will enhance a story and often affects my composition as a result. If I am hoping to convey remoteness I might choose to include human scale with a person positioned distant amidst the larger landscape, if I want to convey emotion I will come closer and focus the lens back on myself to capture my expression. If going alone then a mastery of the self timer or time-lapse functions on cameras will be crucial to those distance photos, not to mention a lot of running back and forth!
Documenting a Trip: Video
Video is of course a powerful tool, and an increasingly desired format for adventure story telling on today’s social media. Creating professional high quality films takes a lot of time, planning, effort and consideration and when shooting a high quality adventure film it is safe to assume there is a compromise to distance covered each day. If going out to shoot a film then plan your adventure as both a film project and an expedition and assume a lot of time stopping and starting.
However, a good film is more in the story than it is in the technical side of things and can be shot relatively on the move with limited gear. Aim to shoot a range of shots showing long distance, landscape, macro and movement clips and most of all don’t be afraid to turn the camera around and shoot yourself. It might seem somewhat self-involved at the time, but it gives the viewer a chance to relate to the experience they are seeing at a more personal level. Whenever taking clips try to include a few seconds more footage than you expect to use, this gives good room for cropping and editing later on.
Having an idea of the story you hope to tell before you commit to the trip will help you to focus how and what you film, even if the main aim of the story changes later due to unforeseen events. Have an idea and run with it as far as it goes and prepare for dynamic changes.
Sound! The difference between an average and excellent film is sound. It is just as important to capture and record background noise such as wind, rivers, streams or birdcalls which can be used to emphasise your story later on. Good sound quality makes for a far more immersive experience.
Documenting a Trip: Talks
Storytelling has been around since the first campfire was ever lit, perhaps even before that. The first rule of good storytelling is to entertain your crowd and not yourself. Knowing your audience is a crucial part of this, tailor a few introduction stories in the first few minutes of your talk to help yourself gauge their reaction.
I have found that nearly everyone in the outdoor community always enjoys an embaressing mishap story, it’s not just the school kids who like a good giggle. A great example of this is Brian Blessed who often entertains his audiences about an errant windblown poo landing on his friends shoulder rather than focusing on the far more epic tale of his Everest conquests. He does away with the ego of attempting summiting and instead entertains with an amusing, humanising tale.
Understate yourself and leave room for people to read between the lines. You don’t have to make yourself out to be a hero, but instead describe things as they were. If you felt scared then say so, don’t pretend to be brave. The greatest reactions I have when giving my own talks are when I describe the routine difficulties of extended tent life and how it made me feel rather than the few momentary ‘epics’ I have seen in the past.
If possible use talks as an opportunity to learn, both for your audience and yourself. Encourage others to interact and engage as you speak and give reflections on where you might have been better in hindsight. Perhaps this will encourage others to avoid the same mistakes.
About The Author
Outdoors Magic's regular contributor is an experienced outdoorsman who has climbed not only all of Scotland's Munros (in one continuous round), but all of the Corbetts as well. Scroll through his Instagram profile and you'll see he's also a dab hand on the water, with past kayaking adventures that have taken him to the Lofoten Islands, the Strait of Magellan and right around the coast of mainland Scotland.
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