why i fail at being an adventure photographer


on june 23, 2017 i landed at london heathrow airport, with no address and a few simple instructions of trains to my destination at brookman's park.  i was about to embark on a journey that would forever change the way i viewed the world. before coming on this expedition i was told i was crazy for hiking in a foreign country with men i didn't know. they were right; i am crazy. and i was okay with being called that. i left college to pursue photography, i had spent over $4,000 to get there, my relationship had to end, i wasn't with my dad on father's day, all to get some photographs of a hiking trip. but this wasn't just a "hiking trip," at least for me it wasn't. i had seen this as an opportunity for my photography to grow. to get another expedition under my belt. to get some of the best shots i had ever gotten before. i was ready.

turns out, i wasn't. 

a 19 year old woman going up against a former royal marine and another man who had been doing professional videography for the past 3 years, i was intimidated. who wouldn't be? they were a team before me and i was randomly added into the mix. i spent most of my time trying to figure out the role i played in this expedition. it was only after the expedition that i figured out my role. and it wasn't photography. 

this adventure wasn't for me to get the best shots i had ever taken. it was for me to learn the mentality it takes to be an adventure photographer.

photography has always pushed me past my comfort zone, putting me in risky situations just so i could get 'the shot.' i expected to do just that during this trip. however, this situation was different. in past expeditions, i was never actually participating in the adventure. this time i was, and i battled constantly between getting the shot and being safe. 

on our fifth day, using rusted chains as our guide up a rocky trail, we tediously climbed until the clouds greeted our arrival. we were surrounded by mountains on all sides. a clear glacial lake reflecting the view we would see for the next few miles. this was the first time we had come across more than a single patch of snow.

we had stopped for our lunch and as we did, three women appeared behind us. making small talk, they gave us information about a cabin a short walk away. this was our motivation for the next 5 hours. we had images of a cozy fireplace, beds, and a solid roof over our heads. making our way to the cabin was easy at first, following the clearly marked trail up and over small hills, Occasionally seeing reindeer prance away from us, feeling the slight breeze brush against our cheeks. it was only a few short moments later when the trail was no longer clearly marked, the reindeer had disappeared, and the slight breeze turned into a heavy fog. giving us only about 30 feet of visibility in front of us. as our determination to get to the cabin grew, we didn't know that we were only a few minutes away from encountering a situation that would hinder our ability to get there. with ian leading, me in the middle, and jamie taking up the back we were making good time. my hood was up trying to protect my ears from the wind when i heard a faint call for help. i yelled at ian, and as i ran over i found jamie's head just under a rock, nothing but black underneath him. i could hear the rushing of the water below the snow drifts and reached out my pole for him to grab onto. reassuring him he was okay, though in my head i wasn't sure if that was the truth. with adrenaline rushing, i felt all my senses come alive, observing everything with detail. the snow crunching in between jamie's finger tips as he grasped for leverage. i glanced up to see ian running over and demanding i start taking pictures. a wave of relief washed over me until he knelt down grabbing onto jamie's backpack. i could see the veins of ian's hand protrude as they struggled to lift him. the strain on his face worried me enough to shorten my breath. the weight of my backpack suddenly becoming heavier than before. i was now making decisions about what to do if ian had fallen through, all while mindlessly clicking my shutter.


at this point, i was caught off guard. jamie's safety was at risk and i had to take pictures? what if he had fallen through? what if his family had blamed me for not being enough help? the scenarios were endless and i went to sleep that night repeating the situation in my head. this is where i learned the value between the importance of documenting and safety. i had remembered famous conflict photographers who had gotten their legs blown off and still took pictures of what was happening around them. this scenario is when i found the mentality it took to be an adventure photographer. and to be quite honest, i wasn't sure i had it. only after when i was looking at the photos from this situation was i disappointed in myself. i did not capture it the way i had observed. 

when i tell someone i am trying to pursue expedition photography, most people tell me how 'cool that must be to experience all that.' to a certain extent, they are right. however, it is moments like jamie falling through ice that make it difficult to decipher between work and reality. at what point do i put down the camera and check in with what is happening beyond my viewfinder? this is where i fail at being an adventure photographer. i later learned it was okay to take my camera out and document what was happening. in fact, it would be a critical part of our story in the future. in this instance, i failed. and that is okay. from this small expedition, i acquired big ideas. by looking beyond the viewfinder often, i am able to obtain the details to make any image come alive through words. and that skill is equally important for an expedition photographer.

i can't wait to fail more often.