New on Sidetracked:

Jody MacDonald

Adventure Photography Guide

Jody MacDonald’s images have appeared in National Geographic, Sidetracked, Red Bull, Outside, and many other editorial publications. With a background in outdoor recreation, a paragliding pilot’s license, and a global kiteboarding business, Jody has carved out a niche for herself as an outdoor, adventure, and documentary photographer. Jody recently spoke to Photoshelter about turning her passion for the outdoors into a thriving photography business.

Download the complete Photoshelter guide to building your outdoor & adventure photography business here.

Born in Canada and transplanted to Saudi Arabia at two years old, Jody got the travel bug early on. “I’ve always loved the outdoors, adventure, and wildlife. Because I travel so much, adventure sport photography fits perfectly,” she says.

For Jody, adventure sport photography is about expressing a passion for a lifestyle lived outdoors. The business aspect began when she decided to sail around the world on a 60-foot catamaran ten years ago. She knew it was crazy not to be taking photographs while she was wandering, and the thought of whether she would be able to sell her images didn’t worry her. With a career as a photo editor at an outdoor company already under her belt, she had an insider’s knowledge of how to pitch potential clients.

“I started submitting to different magazines,” says Jody. “I had a good idea of how many images to submit,
what to say, and how to approach them.”

Past Experiences

Jody still remembers her days sifting through photo submissions as an editor. People would “submit way too many images,” she says. “They were clearly not being critical of their work. That’s a huge turnoff, because editors don’t have a lot of time. They don’t want to look at semi-good images, and they don’t want to look at hundreds of images.” Jody now sends 20 to 80 of her best photographs when she pitches prospective clients. “I am my biggest critic. I’m so critical that I could never tell anyone ‘these were good images.’ To me that’s the sign of a professional. If someone tells an editor ‘hey – I’ve got some GREAT images that you need to see!’ you can bet they are going straight in the bin.

Paragliding in the Azores - Photo by Jody MacDonaldPhoto by Jody MacDonaldPhoto by Jody MacDonaldparaglider-banking-turn-sea-and-ocean-shadows-foreground-mozambique- - Photo by Jody MacDonald

Editorial buyers also are always looking for something new and different – and Jody has that covered. But when it comes to understanding what will sell, Jody goes with her gut. She begins by doing her research and finding a story that interests her. Because she works primarily with magazines, storylines are an important aspect of her image-making. For example, when Jody was in India working on another project, she saw a movie featuring Rajan, “the world’s last swimming elephant,” floating in tropical blue water. Jody remembers thinking, “Oh my god, I have to experience that. I have to go see if I can find this elephant,” and she did. “I went to go swim with him and found out that his story was incredibly compelling. It was a story that blew me away. I didn’t know if people would relate to it the way I did.” It turned into her best selling story. Though magazine stories are at the top of the heap, Jody also relies on stock and print sales to make money. At this point in her career, she’s approached by editors and clients for work.

Marketing Advice

When it comes to self-promotion, Jody relies on social media, saying, “I am continually impressed by how powerful and influential social media is.” Jody is also a whole-hearted believer in approaching her clients and suggesting that they profile her. “I think that’s the best form of marketing—get somebody else to talk about how good your work is.” Since starting out, Jody has noticed the effects of digital and social media on the adventure sport photography industry. Today her clients look for “interesting and unique content for the web,” and she needs to produce a lot more work for different media platforms. In addition, video production has become part of her repertoire. There was a learning curve (she learned as she went along), but video is a lucrative new revenue stream for her – and one that takes much more time to produce, too.

Advice for aspiring adventure photographers

There are a couple of things that Jody would tell an emerging photographer. One, which she knows is controversial, is don’t give your work away for free. She struggled with this when she was starting out, wanting to get her work seen by as many people as possible. But she’s an advocate for producing quality work and selling it for what it’s worth – something she believes is more than possible.

“Go out and find good stories to photograph, then contact the places where you want your work to be seen. Whether you want to work with an NGO or you want to sell in galleries, it all comes down to shooting a lot and getting your work out there in those different avenues.”

But ultimately, the key is to love the work. “For me it’s less about the money and more about the passion and the love of it and the lifestyle. I place personal importance on that more than the cash flow. I’m a firm believer in that if you do those things, then the cash flow will follow.”
_MG_3161-Edit - Photo by Jody MacDonaldlong-dunes-with-paraglider - Photo by Jody MacDonald

Jody MacDonald and Gavin McClurg’s story, ‘Surfing the Sierras’, a cross country paragliding adventure along the Sierra Mountains, is featured in Volume One of Sidetracked. Get your copy here.

If you would like to know more about Jody, please visit her website: or find her on Facebook: jodymacdonaldphotography or Twitter: @jodyphoto.

All photography ©Jody MacDonald