Making a name for yourself usually involves a lot more than talent, especially in the arts. You can produce the most stunning work, but if you can’t promote it, no one will ever see it. Adventure photographer Dalton Johnson knew this was true, so when the pandemic hit, he focused even more of his energy on making connections.
In 2020, Dalton had developed a road trip that would take him through the American Southwest, the Eastern Sierra, and the Rockies; then, a worldwide pandemic hit, stunting his travel plans and planting him firmly behind his laptop.
I wanted to make the most of it, so I started reaching out to every company I was interested in working with in the future. I tried to connect with them on a biweekly basis until a relationship was formed, meaning every day I was sending out about 200-500 messages.
Daltons taxing form of personal promotion continued for two months without pause until the mountains in California were calling his name. He set off in his van and shot through the backcountry, climbing, editing, and sharing when he could, working 12-hour days for months. By the time winter rolled around, Coalatree and Gregory Packs finally gave in to Dalton’s consistent pestering.
I was shooting a small Instagram piece for a CPG company about climbing a mountain in the Teton Range when winter came with a vengeance and I was ready to leave. I submitted any outlier images from the project and Coalatree and Gregory both had a positive response. So, I asked for a meeting.
Coalatree is an eco-minded outdoor apparel and accessories store while Gregory produces quality backpacks, hydration packs, and hiking packs. They were two companies that were right up Dalton’s alley.
They both sort of said ‘yes’ to the meetings, with the caveat that they were really busy. So, of course, I went to both of them. We talked and they gave me direction (and made jokes about how persistent I had been).
Dalton has extensive experience exploring the great outdoors. Having been a part of the National Outdoor Leadership School, he learned traditional climbing, backcountry skiing, white water canoeing, canyoneering, and more. As an instructor at Outward Bound, he taught backpacking, canoeing, and climbing. Most importantly, though, he discovered photography.
I truly live an adventurous life. I live in my van and travel between surfing and climbing locations all year, and every day I shoot. I’m going to climb or surf anyway so why not have my camera with me?
This is, in fact, a lifestyle, one that not many live. This allows Dalton to take authentic photos of these adventures consistently, never lacking content, and always shooting “real people.” For this adventure, Dalton traveled to Moab, home to Arches National Park. Just south of the park is the “crack climbing mecca,” Indian Creek.
Both places are a sandbox for adults with a night sky that is always glowing with stars. The whole area is actually a part of the International Dark-Sky Association which is an awesome project in itself.
Dalton chose these locations for the adventures that could be had and for the weather, as they were heading there right on the cusp between fall and winter.
Luckily, the snow didn’t come until a week later. This was honestly one of the smoothest shoots I’ve ever had.
The talent Dalton had along with him were all people who lived together that he had worked with many times before, so the focus of the shoots remained on having fun, having an adventure.
We did get lost once while hiking in the dark and were afraid we were going to miss the alignment with the milky way. Luckily, the talent and fellow photographer, Devon, found the trail and got us there in time.
Another unexpected adventure took place when Dalton decided to pull an all-nighter out in the wilderness.
We started the evening shooting landscape arch and a few other arches, then we set up a time-lapse of the milky way and everyone else went to bed. I stayed up to start editing images and monitoring the two cameras — coffee and Oreos became a critical part of the process here. Eventually, I switched the batteries out of the cameras and took a 30-minute nap before breaking down one camera and waking Devon up.
Once Devon was awake, they drove to slot canyon and began moving through in the dark with two long repels and a lot of scrambling. They made it to the summit of the highest point to shoot some lifestyle, two time-lapses, and some landscapes.
I learned I can push myself behind the camera well into the dark. Since this shoot, I’ve been experimenting a lot with shooting at night or in low light.
At the end of the shoot, we had a birthday party where we parked all our vans in a triangle and made pizza from scratch. The night was filled with laughter and was undoubtedly my favorite part of the trip.
Assistant/talent: Devin Perry
See more of Dalton’s work at daltonjohnsonmedia.com.
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