We sat down (virtually) with our judge for the Great Outdoors contest as he was packing up to head to Scotland for a shoot this week. Hope you enjoy this glimpse into his path to pro and what drives him as much as we did!
Adam Mowery is an accomplished photographer, specializing in adventure lifestyle photos and has worked with a number of brands including The Boy Scouts of America, Dickies, ENO, Heroclip, and more. Hailing from Winston Salem, North Carolina, Adam has grown up surrounded by photographers and got his start shooting weddings with his father, but we’ll let you hear it from him.
Read on for Adam’s insights and advice for photographers in every stage.
Adam, How did you get your start? Where did you grow-up, where do you live, and does that have an impact on your photography?
I grew up and currently live in Winston Salem, NC. I’ve been shooting for 20 years now, which is hard to believe. I’m only 35 but I started shooting weddings with my dad with I was 15. I actually hated photography for the longest time because when I was a kid my dad would make me and my sister pose for him so he could practice. I was around 14 or 15 when I fell in love with the outdoors and from that my love for photography was born. It started off as just a way to remember my hiking trips and I quickly grew to a point where snapshots weren’t good enough anymore and I started really pursuing becoming a great photographer.
My first true job was working in the lab of a large commercial photography studio in High Point, NC. The studio predominantly shot furniture and after a year of being in the lab I worked my way up to becoming a shooter for the studio. I had no studio experience at all and their idea of training was “here’s a set and the deadline is Thursday”. I was like, “oh crap what do I do?” Luckily all the photographers working there at the time were amazing and really took me under their wing and gave me the best hands on education I could have ever received. Once you learn to light a room scene well you can light anything.
So what made you take the leap into photography?
After shooting for the studio for about two years, I realized I hated being stuck in a studio. So I actually quit and become a fulltime firefighter. I spent 13 years juggling being a fireman and running a successful portrait and wedding business. Again I found myself creatively frustrated. I wanted to be in the mountains shooting what I loved, but I just kept making excuses. Like, “I don’t live out west or even in the mountains!” or “It’s just really hard to make a living shooting nature.” Which that is true, haha, but nothing is impossible if your determined enough and work hard. STOP MAKING EXCUSES AND GET TO WORK!
After an unfortunate divorce I decided I was going to give nature photography a go with the safety net of my fire department salary. After years of hard work I was finally able to leave the Fire Department and pursue my dream job.
Did you have what you consider a “big break?” What was it?
There was no big break. Just refusing to give up and work hard and be kind. Kindness always matters. When your pleasant to work with and follow that up excellent work you will get business eventually. The photography, which is not easy, is the easy part of running a successful business. It’s everything else, networking, marketing, emails, phone calls, researching, etc.; that’s the hard part.
That makes sense, and always good to remember. Who are your major influences? Anybody who helped you get your start? Whose work inspires you now?
My dad probably played the biggest role in sparking my interest in photography. Without him I would have never been introduced to the camera. He has also helped me so many time when business was tight and I had no money to even buy a camera. He would let me use his, which a lot of time unofficially became mine- haha.
As far as professionals go, early on and still today I was very much inspired by Art Wolfe and Galen Rowell. The way both of those guys composed their photos really helped me develop my eye for composition.
What was the hardest part of making photography a career? Anything that surprised you about the photo industry?
The hardest part of making a living at this is the hustle. It first takes time to develop your craft to the point where the quality of your work is worth someone paying for it. Then you have to go out and get the business. Very rarely does it just fall in your lap. Social media makes it look so glamorous but it doesn’t show the endless hours emailing and on phone conferences or hiking the 3-day brutal uphill hike to get to the location just to shoot.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Pursue what you love from the beginning! I learned a lot shooting furniture and portraits and weddings but my career in the outdoor world would probably be further along had I just went for it to begin with instead of making excuses.
How do you continue to educate yourself to take better pictures?
The best way to get better is honestly to get out there and shoot more. I used to say I learned how to shoot through books, magazines, and taking a lot of really bad pictures. Now there are so many ways to learn and the resources are unlimited. “Creative Live” is a great option for learning from some top tier shooters, but nothing replaces just getting out there and shooting and trying things.
What drives you (professionally and as an artist—is there a difference?)?
I believe in excellence both in my craft and business. To many people settle for being “good enough” and don’t push themselves to become great. And no matter how good you get at something you can always become better. And for crying out loud, stay humble! There is always someone else out there better than you- don’t get too full of yourself.
What excites you? What can you not wait to photograph?
I actually really enjoy seeing how many people are getting into photography now. I’ve heard some other pro’s talk about how hard it is now to stay in business because the market is saturated. Which I guess is true to an extent, but there is more need for photos now than ever. And competition forces you to step your game up. The reality is there are a million amazing photographers in the world but most of them will never put in the work required to make it a career.
As far as something I hope to shoot one day goes, I’d love to make to Everest one day and possibly even try to climb it.
That sounds amazing! Anything else we should know?
Yep, you guys are awesome!
Thanks Adam! We think you’re pretty awesome too. You can see a gallery of Adam’s work here. Do you have questions for Adam? Let us know! And most importantly don’t forget to submit YOUR best photos for The Great Outdoors Contest, closing September 30th.