Traveling and meeting bright, talented passion pursuers is an inherent benefit to the outdoor community. And recently, I had the fortune of spending a few days in the Utah desert with one such talent: Becca Skinner —an accomplished freelance adventure photographer and National Geographic Explorer based in Bozeman, Montana. And yes, the “Skinner” last name ringing a bell in your ear is spot on: Becca, niece of legendary climbers, Todd and Amy Skinner, has a family legacy with deep roots for adventure.
In this Featured Photographer interview, Becca shares insight about her unique connection to the climbing community, how she fell in love with the art of photography, and the challenges and benefits to a life dedicated to capturing moments in the outdoors:
What do you consider yourself: a climber or photographer, first?
Earlier in my life, I would have said climber first, photographer second. But nowadays, I would define myself as a photographer who uses climbing as a tool to change the visual perspective.
Tell us about the first photography experience that made you want to pursue the field professionally.
The first time I ever went on assignment, I shot a story about post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. I remember it being really challenging work-wise and just loving being driven to create compelling images. It was after that I realized I wanted to figure out a way to make a career out of storytelling.
You grew up surrounded by a family of legendary climbers, including Todd and Amy Skinner. How has this connection to climbing and the community shaped the direction of your life?
Great question! I loved growing up in a family of explorers. Some of my favorite and earliest memories are of family and friends coming home from expeditions and the house being a base camp. Growing up that way has made my career a lot more accepted in my family because we grew up adventuring.
Related: Climber Spotlight: Amy Skinner
You also spent much of your youth in the climber mecca of Lander, WY and pursued the competition scene. How has your relationship with the sport evolved over time?
Competing really burnt me out on the sport. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But when I realized I wanted to climb well because I felt like I needed to uphold the Skinner name was when I realized I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I took a long break from it and now I’m back to climbing regularly, though it’s shifted into a way to stay in shape for expeditions—not for competing.
You’re based in Bozeman, MT. What drew you there and how do you spend your time when you’re not shooting or on the road?
I wanted to live in a place with a working airport and major access to the mountains. Bozeman has all of those things! I can go hiking and not see a single person all day, which I love. When I’m here I like to fish, camp, hike—basically all the things I do when I’m away, but locally. I also like to sleep in—that never happens when I’m away from town!
As an adventure photographer, you’re not only documenting the journey, but you’re taking part in it. What are the best/worst parts of this role?
The best part is that my job encourages me to stay in shape and work hard to keep healthy. That’s become a great realization of the work—if my body isn’t functioning well, I can’t do my job properly. The difficult part is sometimes I feel like I missed out on the adventure because I’m working to document it all. It’s a balance.
Is there something you always ask to yourself/think just before you push the button?
Not usually a question, but more just being conscious of how this frame will be different than the hundreds I’ve taken before.
Tell us about one of your favorite days you’ve had shooting.
It would probably be when I did the Teton Crest Trail with my best friend and her (at the time) 14 month old. The light was beautiful and we were all in great moods from being in such a beautiful place.
Tell us about a not-so-proud moment in your photography career.
Every time I miss the golden light creates a little dent in my heart. Ninety percent of my anxiety in life comes from changing/chasing light.
You’re only 25—yet you’ve already accomplished so much as a photographer. What habits/quirks about yourself do you attribute to your success?
I’ve been lucky to have such a supportive crew and meet the right people in my career. Being passionate and excited about what you do, working hard, and being honest and kind. Those are the things I’ve found get you places.
What gear items do you not go into the wild without?
Waterproof matches, my knife, hand warmers, camera, down jacket.
What’s next? Any expeditions you’re especially excited for?
I’m working on a lot of conservation projects this spring and summer, which is really exciting for me to be working to create impactful images for policy change.
What advice do you have for budding adventure photographers and videographers?
Be kind, work hard, and put yourself out there consistently. Use social media to your advantage, talk to the companies you want to work for to see what they are looking for. Be yourself most of all.
Being an adventure photographer is hard work; how sustainable is the career and could you imagine yourself doing anything else?
It takes a constant juggling of multiple projects and looking ahead to the future. It’s not easy by any means and there are a lot of days spent on a computer. The job title doesn’t mean you are going to be outside all the time. But that being said, it’s do-able if you like multitasking! I couldn’t imagine doing anything else right now. There are tradeoffs to every career but this one helps put me in the places that I’ve wanted to be in my free time anyways.