Vintage Land Cruiser at Mount Bromo, JavaExploring some of the world's most beautiful landscapes is one reason I feel very lucky to be a traveling storyteller

Becoming a Pro Photographer

How traveling the world changed my life

‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’
~Mark Twain

Living like a pirate somewhere in the Indian Ocean
Living like a pirate somewhere in the Indian Ocean / Photo: Corey Ridings

Explore. Dream. Discover.

To those of us looking for a chance to pursue our passion, explore the world, and live a rewarding life, look no further than Mark Twain’s call to action for your inspiration.

I know the feeling.

On January 31, 2004, I left the safety and comfort of a rewarding career with an environmental non-profit in the Washington, DC area to catch a one-way flight to Manila to take an assignment at a marine biology lab with the U.S. Peace Corps in the Philippines. I had no idea what the future might hold - maybe I would get sick, go broke, or not be able to handle the challenge of living abroad in a developing country.

At the time I had no clue that this decision would lead me to my dream job - to be a travel and adventure photographer, having the chance to meet, learn from, and collaborate with some of the most incredible people and stories in the world.

I'm not trying to pretend that I knew exactly what I was doing when I made the decision to ‘cast off the bowlines’, but I know I always enjoyed reading about how others took a chance to follow their dream when I was working up the courage to do it myself.

My path has been difficult, sometimes dangerous, often uncertain, but as Robert Frost famously observed about the decision to take the road less traveled, ‘that has made all the difference.’

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this far, check out the full story below if you want to learn more about my journey to becoming a full-time photographer and writer, exploring some of the most beautiful places on earth and sharing some of the world’s most interesting stories.

Here’s a short timeline of the path that got me here - if you’d like to learn more, just keep reading below:

  • May 1998: Graduate from the University of Virginia with a degree in Environmental Science
  • June 1998: Teach Fly Fishing as the youngest instructor ever at the legendary Orvis Fly Fishing School at the headquarters in Manchester, Vermont
  • September 1999 - December 2004: Join the marketing / fundraising team at Trout Unlimited to protect wild populations of trout and salmon in North America. Within two years was promoted from the Marketing Assistant to the Marketing Director, responsible for raising millions of dollars to fund TU’s projects nationwide
  • January 2004: One-way flight from San Francisco to Manila to join Peace Corps Philippines batch 263 with 42 other volunteers
  • April 2004: Arrived in Dumaguete, my Peace Corps site and home for the next 27 months of service as a Coastal Resource Management volunteer working with the marine biologists at the Silliman University Marine Laboratory
  • April 2004 - June 2006: Peace Corps service in the Philippines. I had the opportunity to help the fishing community on Apo Island to develop alternative livelihoods, helped work on an environmental education center, and join the SUML team in the field for marine biology surveys. Outside of work at the lab, I started a band with a group of amazing Filipino musicians, playing our music in the Dumaguete community and beyond - two of our original song recordings were played regularly on the provincial radio station. I also had the opportunity to further develop my skills as a photographer and writer, contributing to publications by National Geographic, Patagonia, Philippine Airlines, and more
  • June 2006 - October 2006: Post-Peace Corps trip through Nepal, India, and Thailand. This would be the first time the lessons I learned in the Philippines about extended travel, adapting to other cultures, and the challenges of adventure photography would be put into action
  • December 2006: First trip home since January 2004. The perspective gained from the time abroad made me look at life in America with new appreciation and understanding
  • September 2007: One-way flight from Los Angeles to Dumaguete to launch my freelance career as a photographer and writer
  • November 2007 - February 2009: Invited to collaborate on the Photovoices International project based in Bali and sponsored by National Geographic
  • March 2009 - present: Based abroad as an international freelance travel, adventure, and action sports photographer & writer, working with clients from the USA, Europe, Asia / Pacific region and beyond.
 
Selected clients:
natgeo
patagonia
sj
nface
wwf
gi
kair
Fly fishing the trout rivers of the Adirondacks Fly fishing for wild trout sparked my love for the outdoors and environment that has driven my career

Early Years

An education in exploration

'We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.'
~Jawaharial Nehru

Music and creativity have always beeen a part of my life / Photo: Bill Gladden
Music and creativity have always beeen a part of my life / Photo: Bill Gladden

I grew up in a small town in Virginia, about 70 miles west of Washington D.C., but a world away from the concrete, traffic, and stress of the capital.

We were surrounded by apple and peach trees, forests of oak and maple trees, the distant horizon tinted by the blue of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The opening day of deer hunting season was a school holiday, and as the leaves turned in the fall, I was out in the woods with my bow, in the spring I took to the rivers and lakes with my fly rod.

The connection to the seasonal rhythms of the wildlife, the trees, the weather has been with me since those early days, and it was during those countless hours spent outdoors and exploring the wilds that I was first inspired to pick up a camera to try to capture some of the beauty I was seeing around me.

I was very lucky to get a basic SLR camera (film!) for my 16th birthday, and immediately began spending as much spare time (and money) as I had shooting precious rolls of Fujichrome Velvia slide film and getting it developed. I was making about $3.50 an hour as a lifeguard, and I remember I once calculated that every photo I took cost a bit over 30? - big money for me back then!

I learned to make the most of every shot, all the while studying the work of photographers that I admired like Galen Rowell, Steve McCurry, David Doubilet, and so many others.

 

College Years

An education in environmentalism

Fly fishing the salt flats of Monomoy in Cape Cod
Fly fishing the salt flats of Monomoy in Cape Cod

Spending so much time outdoors when I was growing up in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley made me very aware of how fragile our natural environments really are.

When I graduated high school and moved to Charlottesville to attend the University of Virginia, I decided to study environmental science. At the time, it was the #1 environmental program in the country and the courses were tough - everything from statistics, to physics, to advanced chemistry, to calculus, to numbers-oriented earth sciences like hydrology, atmosphere and weather, and ecology.

In my free time after classes, I was able to explore the Shenandoah National Park with my trusty fly rod, stalking wild brook trout with tiny flies that I had learned to tie myself.

At the time, these ecosystems were being decimated by acid rain caused by coal-fired power plants in the industrial midwestern cities upwind of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The steady degradation of these habitats that I cared so much about made a permanent impression on me, though I had no idea that these concerns would lead me where I am today.

 
Fly fishing the Rocky Mountains in Montana for wild rainbow trout Fly fishing Montana's Gallantin River for wild rainbow trout / Photo: Preston Schultz

The Search for a Dream Job: Attempt #1

Fly Fishing the Dot-com Boom

'You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.'
~Steve Jobs

A River Runs Through It: Fly fishing Montana's legendary trout streams was always a dream trip
A River Runs Through It: Fly fishing Montana's legendary trout streams was always a dream trip / Photo: John Muhler

When I finished my EnviSci degree at UVA in the late 90's, I entered the best job market in history.

I couldn't find a job.

Magazines were publishing headlines like 'People Thought Previously Un-hireable are Now Entering the Work Force', I began to realize I didn't have any of the skills that these Dot-com companies were looking for.

They wanted HTML coders, graphic designers, SQL database managers. My background just didn't match up at all with what they needed.

And although it was pretty humbling to get turned down so many times, deep down I realized I wasn't really interested to work in an office with a foosball table that sold pet food on the internet.

I knew it was time to give up the dream of paper profits from a Dot-com IPO and go back to my original inspiration - being outdoors and exploring the world.

With the help of my great friend Bill Bullock, I landed a job as a fly fishing instructor and guide at the Orvis Fly Fishing School in Manchester, Vermont. I was now spending most of my waking hours in and around the Green Mountain trout streams like the Battenkill and the Mettawee, meeting a lot of interesting people while teaching them to have fun in (and appreciate) the great outdoors.

I really couldn't have asked for a better first job out of college, and for that beautiful spring, summer, and fall, I was living my childhood dream.

But what was I supposed to do when it got cold? Winter in the Northeast is brutally cold and nobody was up for learning how to fly fish when the rivers were icing over and the landscape was blanketed with snow.

I realized that I needed to find an opportunity that would keep me busy year-round and also challenge me to develop skills beyond trout fishing.

You don't have to spend much time in a trout stream before you begin to realize that pollution, deforestation, and dam building had the potential to wipe out these environments really quick if they aren't protected. I had heard about an environmental non-profit called Trout Unlimited (TU) while working at Orvis. For the past 50+ years, the organization has had great success in restoring and conserving threatened trout streams across the United States.

I wanted to be a part of it.

 

The Search for a Dream Job: Attempt #2

Why Working for a Non-Profit is Better Than an MBA

'Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.'
~Steve Jobs

The wild brook trout of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park first made me aware of environmental damage in our rivers and oceans
The wild brook trout of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park first made me aware of environmental damage in our rivers and oceans

At the end of 1999 I was ready to trade in my trout bum days in Vermont, Seattle, and Jackson Hole, WY for the chance to help make a difference in protecting the future of trout and salmon habitat in North America.

The more I learned about the work that Trout Unlimited (TU) was doing, the more I was excited about the chance to join their team.

With the help of Marketing Director John Bleh (who I met while working at Orvis in Vermont), I joined the Marketing Department at Trout Unlimited and began four years of hands-on learning about everything from fundraising, web development, magazine publication, professional photography, and a lot more. Within three years, I was the Director of the Marketing Department and responsible for a budget of $6 million (approximately half of the total budget for the entire organization).

Working with Kenny Mendez, John Griffin, John Bleh, and Bill Sullivan, I learned to love the flexibility variety of projects available at a small non-profit like Trout Unlimited. Since there's always more than enough work to go around, a recent graduate like me had almost complete freedom to work on an amazingly broad range of projects within the organization well beyond my immediate responsibilities within the Marketing Department. In fact, when someone graduating with a liberal arts asks me about where to look for a good first job, I usually recommend checking out the job openings at a non-profit organization that they believe in.

 

An Unexpected Education in Photography

Learning about the life of a traveling photographer from two of my heroes

'If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.'
~Anthony Bourdain

Editing the The annual fly fishing calendar was my favorite project at Trout Unlimited and also how I learned about becoming a professional photographer.
Editing the The annual fly fishing calendar was my favorite project at Trout Unlimited and also how I learned about becoming a professional photographer.

While I was at TU, my favorite extracurricular project was (by far) editing Trout's annual calendar.

I never imagined that the pleasant diversion of looking through hundreds of photos every year would teach me so much about the life of a professional photographer.

I was very lucky to work with many talented photographers while I was at TU, but Tom Montgomery and Val Atkinson were the most fun to collaborate with. They also taught me more about what it was like to be a professional photographer than I could have learned from any book or website

I owe both of them a huge thank you for all their encouragement and advice when I was first trying to figure out just how you go about getting paid to travel the world and take photos.

And I have to be honest. Looking at their amazing photos from far-off destinations while sitting under the fluorescent sun of an office building in the DC suburbs can be a pretty powerful motivator to get outside. Four years into my time at TU, my love of photography and exploring the world was becoming too difficult to ignore. I knew it was only a matter of time before I needed to get out and experience it for myself.

Another inspiration for my travel bug were the adventures of my friend Steve in Nepal.

He had joined the Peace Corps and started a blog to share his experiences. Since he didn't have regular internet access, I helped him post his stories to his website. Every Monday morning he'd send another hilarious vignette from his life abroad.

The downside: after reading one of his updates from the other side of the world, commuting on the DC Metro felt a whole lot less exciting.

I'd never considered joining the Peace Corps myself, but after a few weeks of Steve's stories I found myself at www.peacecorps.gov to find out what it was all about. As it turned out, the Virginia recruiting office of the Peace Corps was directly across the street from my office at Trout Unlimited. Maybe it was fate (or random curiosity), but during a lunch break one day I stopped in to ask the recruiters a few questions.

I didn't know it at the time, but that decision totally changed my life.

 
Surf trip to Siargao Island in the Philippines Catching the local ferry from Cloud 9 in Siargao / Photo: Sande Fuentes

Into the Unknown

The Toughest Job You'll Ever...

'My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.'
~Steve Jobs

In the field on a marine biology survey with U.S. Peace Corps in the Philippines
In the field on a marine biology survey with U.S. Peace Corps in the Philippines / Photo: Analie Candido

What exactly do Peace Corps volunteers do?

This was the biggest question on my mind as the smiling recruiter walked towards me with his outstretched hand. I was sitting in the reception area of the Peace Corps recruiting office.

When I first imagined the Peace Corps, Kennedy's 'ask not what your country can do for you', quote came to mind, along with a few grainy 1960's-era photos of recent college grads digging latrines or planting rows of crops under the blazing African sun.

But in the 50+ years since Kennedy created the Peace Corps, but what should a Peace Corps volunteer expect to do in the 21st century?

Today, a volunteer is much more likely to be teaching business skills to young entrepreneurs in a bustling Asian city than hoeing fields or building toilets. Of course there's still a few projects where the volunteer is doing the latter, but as the needs of developing countries have changed in the intervening decades, the range of Peace Corps assignments have grown much more diverse (and interesting).

Whatever ambiguities might have existed about what I might actually be doing in the Peace Corps, the recruiter knew how to close the deal on the application process.

Within a few minutes of arriving at the Arlington recruiting office they had me in a preliminary interview. I walked out an hour later with a folder stuffed full of application materials and a LOT of questions going through my head--most importantly:

  • Am I giving up my 'dream' job?
  • Is this a really dumb idea?
  • What will people think?
  • Where will I go?
  • What will I do for two years?

Like any good salesman, the recruiter knew how to handle these objections: he used the old 'puppy dog' trick.

You know, when the pet store guy hands you a puppy and says "just take it home for a week and see if you like it--don't worry, you can always bring it back."

The Peace Corps version of puppy goes like this: "just apply and see what kind of assignment you get." Certainly makes the 6-12 month application and 27 months of service sound a lot more manageable.

So I started the application process that day. Six months later the invitation for my assignment arrived in the mail and I didn't know what to think:

The Philippines.

At the time I had been to Asia only once (Thailand), and knew only the basics about the country:

  • 300+ years of Spanish colonization
  • MacArthur, WWII, & "I shall return"
  • Beautiful islands
  • Plenty of natural disasters

Now I had to decide if I was going to take the 'puppy' back to the pet store.

 
Sea kayaking and island hopping the tropical paradise of the Philippines Paddling a local 'bangka' sea kayak in the Visayan Islands of the Philippines

Connecting the Dots

Do Peace Corps volunteers get to scuba dive?

'The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.'
~Jacques Cousteau

In the field on a marine biology expedition to the Tubbataha UNESCO site
In the field on a marine biology expedition to the Tubbataha UNESCO site

Aside from being selected for the Philippines program, my assignment had another unexpected twist.

If I accepted, I would join the Coastal Resource Management program with a focus on Sustainable Island Development. The enclosed brochure mentioned coral reefs, scuba diving, and hands-on marine biology in some of the world's most amazing tropical environments.

At that point I saw myself more as a business guy with an environmental background, but it seems my Environmental Science degree and working on salmonid conservation for four years made me a marine biologist in the eyes of the U.S. Government (lucky me).

It all sounded great, but I still had a lot of responsibilities at Trout Unlimited. I had also just received a very generous raise and promotion. To make such a huge switch seemed crazy, and plenty of people told me exactly that.

In the end, it was some great advice from John Griffin that helped me make the final decision to join the Peace Corps. He pointed out that as good as I thought I was at my job, I was not the only person who could handle it. In the end, TU would be just fine without me.

He pointed out that taking a risk and getting outside your comfort zone can be one of the best things someone can do both personally and professionally. In fact, I really saw the Peace Corps as more of a personal development opportunity and a way to get out and help make the world a better place.

So one afternoon in November 2003, I called up my recruiter and told him 'I'm in.'

Still, it was very difficult to leave Trout. Even nearly ten years later I can still say that I owe a lot of the success I've had today to what I learned from everyone from TU. But looking back on everything that's happened since then I can say that joining the Peace Corps was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

It didn't take too long for the magnitude of the decision to fully set in. Only a few days later I found out that I would be leaving at the end of January. I had just a few weeks to pack up my life and catch a plane from San Francisco with 41 others who would come to be known as Peace Corps Philippines Batch 263.

Next stop: Manila.

 
Live performance at the Dumaguete festival grounds Playing in front of 5,000+ people at the provincial festival in Dumaguete was a huge highlight from the Peace Corps / Photo: Katia Bezerra-Clark

The Philippines Changes Everything

How living outside my comfort zone completely changed my life

'Travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.'
~Aldous Huxley

Philippines scuba diving trip with rare and endangered sea turtles
Philippines scuba diving trip with rare and endangered sea turtles

Remember the famous Peace Corps tagline?

'The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love'.

No doubt this is still true, but my experience was a bit different. If I were to write a tagline, mine would be more along the lines of:

'The Peace Corps Changes Everything'.

It's hard to exaggerate the effect that living overseas in a place that's completely unfamiliar to you can have on your outlook.

When I finally touched down in Manila in late January 2004 aboard a Northwest airlines plane full of bleary-eyed fellow Peace Corps Philippines batch 263 members after a 17-hour flight, I still didn't really know what to expect for the next 27 months.

Within the first week I learned that I'd be working at the Silliman University Marine Lab in Dumaguete on an interpretive environmental education center, as well as other projects with the marine biologists from Silliman. I would be working with Dr. Hilconida Calumpong, one of the most respected marine biologists in the Philippines, and a prominent expert on coastal mangrove forests and seagrass beds.

In the world of Peace Corps assignments, I had officially hit the lottery.

 
Tubbataha Sea Turtle Tagging Team - 2016 Joining the marine park rangers and marine biologists at Tubbataha to tag 200+ sea turtles

Highlights of the Peace Corps

Thirty months of new experiences

'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.'
~Mark Twain

Outside of my work as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, I joined a band and played Saturday nights at Hayahay (thanks Sande!) / Photo: Drew Lewis
Outside of my work as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, I joined a band and played Saturday nights at Hayahay (thanks Sande!) / Photo: Drew Lewis

It would be hard to do justice to everything that happened during my nearly three years of Peace Corps service in this summary, so I won't even try (please check out my blog if you're interested in reading more about those stories). Suffice it to say that the those two and a half years passed more quickly than I could have ever imagined.

Here's the highlights:

  • Working in the field with the marine biologists from the Silliman University Marine Lab. We participated in coral reef surveys around the Visayas and even as far away as Eastern Samar. This was an eye-opening introduction to the challenges of Marine Conservation and the issues facing our oceans today.
  • Becoming a part of the Dumaguete community and playing music with Frying Nemo. Dumaguete is like a second home to me today thanks to friends like Sande Fuentes and his family, as well as the amazing community of musicians and artists that hang out at Hayahay. I'm also not nearly as scared of getting up in front of a big group of people as I used to be thanks to spending so much time on stage.
  • Learning to scuba dive, and becoming a published underwater photographer. This was the beginning of my freelance switch, and I'm still very grateful for the opportunities I had in the Philippines to develop my writing and photography portfolio.
  • Publishing magazine articles and having my work used in the Patagonia catalog. I have to thank the wonderfully friendly and talented editors Jane Sievert, Karen Bednorz, and Sus Corez for giving me the opportunity to contribute to their photo projects--getting published by Patagonia has been a dream of mine ever since I got my first camera and they made it a reality.
  • Learning a new language, living in a foreign country, and learning how to travel like a local. Without this experience, I don't think there's any way that I would have had the skills to move to a new place like Bali and be able to enjoy it as much as I do. Living in a foreign country is not the same as going on vacation there. Everything from finding a house to going to the grocery store can be an adventure (for good or bad). If you don't have some idea of how to adapt you're going to have a really hard time. The Peace Corps gave me this foundation and at this point I sometimes forget that just a few years ago, the idea of long-term travel (much less living abroad) was an impossibility as far as I was concerned.
  • Working with the Apo Island community and learning about their amazing marine sanctuary. I still make it back to Apo regularly to visit, dive, and take photos and I'm always amazed at how the health of the reef seems to continually improve. If you're looking for the best Apo Island experience possible, definitely stay at Liberty's Apo Island Resort--it's been my favorite ever since the first visit there in 2004.
  • Meeting and becoming friends with so many great people from the Philippines and the Peace Corps.

I completed my Peace Corps service in July 2006 after extending my service by three months to give me time to work on some additional projects. I also wasn't totally ready for the experience to be over.

This brought my total time in the Peace Corps to thirty months (24 months of service, three months of training, and a three month extension).

Now it was time to figure out how to take everything I'd learned while I was in the Philippines and TU and turn it into my dream job. I didn't know exactly how to do it but I did know one thing:

I wasn't ready to go back to a 'regular' job again.

 
Camel trekking the Great Thar Desert at the India Pakistan border I spent my 31st birthday trekking India's Great Thar desert by camel

It's not the years, it's the mileage: From India's Thar Desert sands to the Himalayas of Nepal

Becoming a student of long-term travel & exploration

'The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.'
~St. Augustine

Exploring Nepal was never boring with my friend Steve, a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kathmandu Valley
Exploring Nepal was never boring with my friend Steve, a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kathmandu Valley - in this photo we're catching a ride on the roof of a local bus and watching for low electric wires...

In July 2006, Uncle Sam turned me loose on the other side of the world with a $7,000 check and a one-way ticket to Dulles airport.

It was time to go home, but not before I got in a few more adventures on the way back.

I decided to round out my Peace Corps experience with a three month adventure that would begin in Kathmandu and in Bangkok. I met up with my friend Steve and some friends from the Peace Corps to explore Nepal and India.

Here's a few of the highlights:

  • Trekking the Annapurna Base camp. Easily one of the most physically challenging things I've ever done.
  • Living with Steve's Nepali host family in their village near Bhaktapur. Their hospitality and kindness are what I think of whenever I remember Nepal.
  • Finishing a 24 hour hellish bus ride from New Delhi to Manado. I've never been so happy to not be sitting down.
  • Surviving the 4x4 drive from Manali to Leh. I still argue that the driver was falling asleep and my grabbing the wheel probably kept us from going off a 1,000 foot cliff to our fiery deaths.
  • Attending the Dalai Lama's teaching in Dharamsala, India.
  • Camel trekking in the Great Thar desert near the border of Pakistan.
  • Seeing the Taj Mahal (it's smaller in real life than you probably think).
  • Experiencing the overwhelming humanity in Varanasi. I've never looked at India quite the same since then.
  • Learning to cook Thai food in Chiang Mai and Mai Kai Dee's excellent cooking school in Bangkok.
  • Being invited for lunch with some of the soldiers who overthrew Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok in September 2006.
  • Plus plenty more, lots of highlights covered in the photo galleries here and in my blog.

I finished the trip in Bangkok with the coup of September 2006. Although there were tanks in the streets, everything seemed pretty peaceful and I didn't see any actual fighting. I returned to Dumaguete in the Philippines with a hard drive loaded up with more than 10,000 new photos.

At this point I was finally starting to feel like a professional photographer.

 
The Dalai Lama's Norbulinka Tibetan Temple in Dharamsala Taking time to meditate at the Norbulingka Tibetan Temple in India

What did I learn from all this?

Applying the lessons of the open road

'Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.'
~The 14th Dalai Lama

Trekking China's Tiger Leaping Gorge with Preston
Trekking China's Tiger Leaping Gorge with the first travel buddy I ever had, my brother Preston.

I've been lucky to have some great teachers and amazing mentors over the years. I owe much of what I've accomplished to what I've learned from them, but there's one teacher that has pushed me in ways that I never could have imagined and taught me things I didn't even realize I needed to know.

What's that teacher's name? World Travel.

Learning how to adapt to new places and understand people from vastly different backgrounds has been a source of inspiration and growth for me both personally and professionally.

It really is a big, wide world out there and the sooner you get out and start experiencing it firsthand, the quicker you'll start realizing the benefits.

Ok, I'll end the little soapbox talk here. But if you haven't gotten out and explored the world in a while (or let your passport expire / never gotten around to getting one), it's time to get out for a look around.

And if you happen to bring your camera along, all the better. I've found that photography forces me to slow down and observe the little details that tell the story of a place. I've actually created an online photography course to teach you some of my top tips for taking better photos. Click here now if you want to check it out.

You can also get free updates when I add new photo galleries or travel stories by dropping your e-mail address in the box here.

 
Tommy Schultz underwater video shoot with surfer girls I've collaborated on many film projects in addition to my photography

The Benefits of Living Abroad

Becoming a student of the world

'I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.'
~Bill Bryson

Making new friends while traveling sometimes means adapting to local customs...
Making new friends while traveling sometimes means adapting to local customs...

Finally returning home to Virginia at the end of 2006, it was great to catch up with family and friends. But it was also time to decide what was next.

At this point I was completely hooked on photography and exploring new countries / cultures, so I was looking for ways to continue my career abroad. I also realized that the simple experience of living outside of your home country as an artist can be a pretty powerful muse.

Since I already had some success with getting my work published in magazines, newspapers, and catalogs, I decided to launch myself as a full-time freelance photographer and writer. I began to prepare myself for my new career freelancing in Southeast Asia with Dumaguete as my base.

I made the real leap in 2007 by moving back to Dumaguete with a bit of savings in the bank and a powerful motivation to continue the great experiences I'd begun having while I was still in the Peace Corps.

 
Tommy Schultz Surfing in Bali, Indonesia Catching one of Bali's perfect waves is one of my favorite things to do when I'm not in the water shooting surf photos / Photo: Jeffrey Surf Photography

What's Next?

Dream jobs aren't hired, they're made

'Life is too short to be small.'
~Benjamin Disraeli

Life lesson: When it's time for a change of scene, don't fight it / Photo: Wu Lan
Life lesson: When it's time for a change of scene, don't fight it / Photo: Wu Lan

It's been a bit over five years since I truly went solo and I'm still loving it. I absolutely believe the aphorism 'dream jobs aren't hired, they're made'.

After all, if someone's going to hire you to work for them, they're really asking you to help them create their dream job.

I've been very lucky to work on a huge variety of interesting projects with great people and I still feel like things are only getting started.

I'll be updating this page from time to time as anything interesting happens, but for more updates, please check out my blog or the photo galleries.

Thanks so much for reading this far and will look forward to connecting with you soon.
Best,
Tommy

 

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