Jimmy Chin, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and world-renowned adventure photographer, has built an illustrious career through his work with National Geographic and other notable outdoor journals. He has travelled the world and leveraged his own prowess as a world-class climber, skier, and mountaineer to document epic adventures across some of our planet’s most challenging and wondrous terrain. With more than 2.5 million followers on Instagram, Chin continues to inspire a global audience with his ever-evolving portfolio.

In his course on MasterClass.com, “Jimmy Chin Teaches Adventure Photography,” Chin draws upon the unique insight he’s gained through countless trials and failures over the years in order to mentor the next generation of adventure photographers. While he walks us through the technical aspects of his process, from conceptualizing to executing on a shoot, Chin also shares a number of life lessons he’s picked up along the way. As a result, we learn much more than how to take a great picture. Below, we’ve pulled five quotes directly from Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass that will broaden your perspective as both a photographer and a human being.

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1. “Ask yourself what you want and what you’re willing to do to get there.”

Our first quote from Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass transcends photography. Success often accompanies sacrifice, regardless of profession, and Chin believes you should have an honest conversation with yourself about what you’re willing to do to find it. In his own experience, Chin acknowledges the important role mentors have played in his journey and he illustrates how successfully gaining a mentor reflects one’s drive toward success. Chin urges students to be obsessive about their craft, whether it be photography or some other creative pursuit. Only then will potential mentors realize why someone is worth their time. If your drive would satisfy a would-be mentor, then you’re probably on the right path.

2. “It really begins before you even pick up a camera.”

Jimmy Chin climbs a cliffside to capture a shot
Jimmy Chin gets into position during an on-location shoot in his MasterClass

While photography—particularly adventure photography—can prove challenging, Chin believes that focusing on subjects you’re passionate about will give you the access you need to overcome inevitable challenges and make the effort worthwhile. Chin became an active member within the climbing community before trying to become an adventure photographer, and it allowed him to gain special insight, or “access,” as Chin calls it, and add depth and meaning to the way he approaches and captures other climbers. As Chin notes, “It doesn’t have to be climbing, or skiing, or surfing. It can be a lot of different things. It can be music. It can be art.” If the passion is there, according to Chin, “It really kind of opens up your eyes to how to shoot it.”

3. “You got it. Move. Shoot.”

Jimmy Chin photographs fellow Climber
Jimmy Chin photographs Conrad Anker during an on-location shoot for Chin’s MasterClass

In a section of Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass, entitled “Commercial Case Study: Canon Shoot,” Chin outlines the challenges of meeting a major project’s objective under a tight timeline. To capture the shots he needed for the campaign, Chin had to draw from his experience and remember to continually change his perspective, both literally and figuratively. He scouted locations that offered multiple scenarios and constantly changed his lenses and angles to get a variety of shots for the client to choose from. Chin states, “Sometimes, it’s easy to get trapped into one lens…and I force myself to change the lens, change the perspective, and then to move.” He adds, “One scenario can look dramatically different just by moving.” While this advice rings true in aspects of our lives that lie beyond photography, it’s also helpful for working through scenarios that photographers regularly face on location, whether in extreme conditions or otherwise. We often shoot under compressed timelines and it’s important to keep an open mind for how we might capture a scene; it’s also important to know when to call it and push ahead.

4. “Keep your momentum and divert.”

As a professional adventure photographer, Jimmy Chin notes that a lot of his job requires assessing risks, and when things don’t go according to plan, he has to be prepared with a backup plan, or as he notes, several backup plans. In order to effectively keep his momentum amid setbacks on a shoot, Chin relies more on his foundation as a climber (as discussed in point two above) than a photographer. His comfort in extreme environments is rooted in experience and it allows him to plan accordingly and pivot whenever necessary. As Chin notes, adventure photographers deal with many variables at any given moment, including weather patterns and potential location hazards, such as avalanches, falling off cliffs, etc. There have been occasions in which Chin has had to abandon a scheduled climb due to unforeseen circumstances, but his alternative location proved equally rewarding and fulfilling. Being able to learn from previous failures and understanding that new challenges will arise is key for adapting and pushing forward in all walks of life.

5. “When you have to demand the best of yourself, you give your best.”

Jimmy Chin leads a pre-shoot meeting with colleagues
Jimmy Chin demonstrates a typical pre-shoot talk-through during his MasterClass

Chin demands the best of himself at all times. It’s an important piece of advice that he adheres to whether he’s working solo or as part of a team, and not just when he’s leading the team. In fact, Chin finds it empowering to work alongside those who are better than him at his craft as it pushes him to raise his own standards. Likewise, Chin has found that as he gives his best effort, he also gets the best from those around him. This holds true on epic expeditions as well as in more mundane settings. While similar in nature to the old adage, “Lead by example,” this quote focuses more on pushing oneself for optimal results, regardless of who’s watching.


At the end of the day, Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass effectively showcases Chin’s capacity to serve as equal parts mentor and photography professor, all for the benefit of the students. In addition to teaching us how to capture breathtaking photos and tell visually compelling stories, Chin also shows us how and why photography is “bigger than just images…bigger than a career.” Here’s a quick recap of the inspiring quotes we covered above:

  • “Ask yourself what you want and what you’re willing to do to get there.”
  • “It really begins before you even pick up a camera.”
  • “You got it. Move. Shoot.”
  • “Keep your momentum and divert.”
  • “When you have to demand the best of yourself, you give your best.”

Which of Jimmy Chin’s quotes from the MasterClass resonate the most with you and why? Let us know in the comments below!