How exactly does one build a new hiking trail across the US? The first step is to scout and explore — and that’s exactly what Rue McKenrick set out to do. Amid the nation’s COVID-19 crisis, Rue McKenrick, a professional backpacker and triple crowner, embarked on a journey to hike a 12,000-mile loop around the continental US. His goal was to connect people to the land through the creation of the American Perimeter Trail. While on assignment for Backpacker Magazine in Bend, Oregon, photographer Michael Hanson met up with Rue during his hike.
Michael is a National Geographic Expeditions Expert. He has worked with brands like REI, Patagonia, and Outside Magazine, so he’s no stranger to the outdoors. He’s also worked closely with Backpacker Magazine for a few years and has developed a rapport with the editors. His ability to consistently deliver captivating, quality photos with little resources, sets him apart, and they trust that he’ll always get the perfect shot. His home, a short drive from the Pacific Northwest’s trails, also makes it convenient for Michael to capture outdoor photography in the area.
Aside from delivering interesting images, the goal is to be flexible and low-maintenance with the client and subject, whether it’s a high-end commercial shoot or an editorial assignment. In the editorial world, oftentimes, my location in the Pacific Northwest is the driving force behind receiving the assignment.
Michael collaborated with Louisa Albanese, the photo editor at Backpacker Magazine, on the direction for the shoot. They settled on two locations they thought would be the ideal setting for the subject. The first location was a diner nearby. The diner images show us a glimpse of what a typical rest stop would look like for someone enduring Rue’s mile-long journey and somehow manage to convey the feeling of isolation brought on by traveling solo.
When the editor and I were scheming on ideas for locations, we were thinking about what comes to mind when you think of someone walking around the US. It was obvious to us — small-town diners and food. So I researched a few local dives and found one good option. I spoke with the owner and explained the article and project.
The second location was outdoors near one of the trails that Rue was exploring. In Bend, Oregon, there are many trails, so a secluded location was easy to scout out. Michael photographed the subject in natural light, using color and contrast to highlight the vastness of the landscape.
We found a somewhat remote spot where we could set up lights and have a little natural light to play with. I think both locations turned out well and added some color to the article.
The various locations provided plenty of alternative layout opportunities for the magazine to work with. The diner images are interesting and introspective shots that deviate a little from the typical outdoor imagery you’d find in a backpacking magazine but paired with the trail photos, it all melds together to tell a compelling story.
The subject was extremely patient and allowed me to take more photos than necessary, but it gave us options. I think this experience reinforced the importance of finding really good locations. It was nice to know exactly where we were shooting and how those locations would play into the whole picture.
Backpacker Magazine published Michael’s images in the January issue of Backpacker Magazine. Read the full story on Rue McKenrick on Backpacker Magazine’s website.
Editor: Louisa Albanese
See more of Michael’s work at Michaelhansonphotography.com
Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!