Why I Left Home to Pursue My Dream of Adventure Photography

Storyteller

Garrett Schmidt

Don't give up! I'm 25 years old and still don't have it figured out, and that's ok.

What are dreams? Just thoughts floating around? Or are they plans?

For two years, I pursued this “dream” of mine — to photograph adventures. Every time I got tired of trying, I would get little nuggets of hope. From random jobs that provided just enough money to pay the bills that month to my photos being shared on a big Instagram account, I was given enough steam to keep on going and to keep on chasing.

The dream started when I was serving on a mission’s team in Slovenia. I had been given an opportunity to film and capture each night of camp for the kids. I didn’t have very much experience under my belt; I didn’t even have my own camera yet.

That time overseas really sparked something in me. Capturing things with a camera made sense.

So with my new found “wealth,” I decided that when I got home I would really chase after this. I got a camera and a new laptop and started taking every moment I could to go out and get familiar with my gear. This also started The Debt Train. You can’t make money without spending it, which is both true and troubling. I looked at it as an investment at the time. Back then, I wasn’t a skilled photographer. These were a few of my first attempts. I was figuring it out.



Everything I took a picture of was so out of focus and just horrible. I try to keep these images hidden because they are awful. My good friend Andrew had enough courage to correct me, and let’s face it, no one likes to be corrected. And I’m no different. I owe him a lot in how much he taught me starting out. These turned out a lot better!


I was fascinated with star photography and how much of the sky you could really see after that shutter clicked. It’s another world up there. I am getting a little side tracked now. Alright. Back to the dream.

As you can see, I was in no way shape or form good at photography. I kept on truckin’ and upgraded my camera a little bit. And I learned how to focus in the dark. Finally, I was focusing my camera and myself, really forcing myself to learn this skill.

Because of the early days, night photography has a special place in my heart. You actually have to plan the night out, go sit somewhere and wait. For someone that has a real hard time sitting still, this is the medicine for that. Because you see instant results on the back of your monitor. I have tried the pills for anxiety, but they are useless for me. Being outside is my pill.



Things were going really well. I started to get photography jobs and made a little money. Weddings, sporting events and helping people out with graduation photos.

But my true passion was hiking and getting up as high as I could to see the world from a different perspective. I am from Florida, so mountains don’t really exist there. I took every opportunity I could to get into the hills. Unfortunately, a six- to eight-hour drive was the only way to make that happen.

Chris Burkard was a major influence in my drive for adventure photography. He could do so much with a camera, tell stories with the snap of a camera. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to chase sunsets in a foreign land and sit around a fire with close friends after a day of exploring. I wanted to be involved in every outdoor sport I could. Climbing, snow sports and anything else that pushed the body and mind to unknown limits.

Who lives in Florida, so far, far away from these things? Me.

Luckily my family was behind me on this, which helps so much to not have to go at it alone. My grandpa was a big contributor to my success. I use success loosely here; I am not some famous photographer, and I don’t get paid from publishing companies. Still, my grandpa just believed in me. He would always tell me he felt like I was meant to do something great.

Maybe that’s why I always push myself hard because I expect so much. That’s a hard thing to wrestle with in itself, and if anyone reading this is a perfectionist, well, you know what I’m saying. My grandpa helped me get an LLC so that when the opportunity came, I could market myself as a professional. He paid for it all.

Fast-forward a couple months. I missed call at 4 a.m. from my mom. I ignored it. It’s 4 a.m. Why on earth would anyone need me then? I rolled over and then a voicemail notification went off. It’s my mom again, crying. My grandpa passed away.

My world was turned upside down. I never thought I would get that phone call. It was the day after Easter. I decided to stay where I was living and come home that next day, but it was too late. The last opportunity I had to see him on this earth was gone. I still wrestle with that. Why didn’t I just go home like normal?

My grandpa and I were best friends. I grew up about 100 yards away from him. He taught me to fish, play golf and treated me like an adult most of my life. This was a blow I still haven’t really come to terms with, but he would have wanted for me to push on. A week after he passed, I got a job at an insurance company making better money, more than I’ve ever made. I was going to take his death and turn it into a positive. I started really planning to get out of Florida and pursue my dreams.

I started applying at the brands I love in hopes to be a photographer for them, chasing after athletes around the world to market their gear. Patagonia has captivated me in the way they run their business and take care of their employees and consumers. I love their gear so why not try to work for them? I applied at every position they have available, and in any state. Rejection after rejection. I lost hope for sure, and I couldn’t even call my grandpa to talk about it. Things got really dark for two or three months. I started to really just give up and take what life threw at me and settle.

That was until I saw an opportunity at REI for a job that I was currently doing. Working in a call center, being on the phone is not the dream but it would get me working for a company that I could stand behind and that would open doors for me in the outdoor world. Oh, and did I mention it’s in Washington state!? The woman who hired me thought it was a joke that I lived in Florida. I said “Get me out of here, please.” She listened.

Here I am now. In Washington. Taking crazy chances and hoping for the best. I wrote about the road trip out here in an earlier story, if you want to check that out. Some things I left out: I lost my place to stay a week before I was leaving for the job, I broke down and had to pay out $3,000 I didn’t have to fix my car, which is still being a pain, but it’s getting better.

I found an amazing dude on Craigslist to let me stay at his house while I got on my feet. While working my first week at REI I met another cool dude, Colin. He gave me and my buddy from Florida a place to live with rent we could afford.

Through all the shit, there was a silver lining. If anything could come from this, it was a growing and deeper faith. A verse really stood out to me last night as I was reading:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)

I would not be the man I am today without these things being thrown at me. I would not know how to cope with things right now if I didn’t go through the tougher things. Don’t mean to get all spiritual on you guys, but this is my story. Not quite finished yet, but on its way.

I write this not as a “Hey, look how cool I am.” Instead, this is an honest letter to whoever thinks their dreams aren’t worth fighting for. You don’t know how close you are. You don’t know what is right over the next mountain. Don’t quit fighting. Push yourself and rely on others. You can’t do this on your own. I have gotten to do more in the past four months then I have ever expected to do.

In April of this year I was sitting on my couch in Gainesville with my friend Will talking about how badass it would be to move to the west and really go after it. And here I am. It’s November, and I have never been closer to the things I want most in life.



(My buddy Will that gave up his life in Florida to move out to Washington as well.)

Published: November 9, 2016

Garrett SchmidtStoryteller

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