“Adventures don’t always have to be huge,” photographer, Brad Pearson, tells me.
We’re walking through the plains of Utah, the colors so strikingly intense — blue, snow-tipped mountain peaks against a grey sky, contrasted with the bright marigold of prairie grass — that it feels like we’re walking through the middle of a painting. We’re searching for giant beasts in the wilderness, pushing through grass as tall as our heads, and each sweep of our hands fills me with childlike wonder.
I realize it’s the feeling of being small that I connect to. A tiny spec in a grand, impossibly beautiful world, adventure always at the tip of my fingers, new sights just behind the next bend. The sky above my head is clear, the plains are vast, and anything is possible. It’s a mini adventure that feels like an epic voyage.
That you can have adventures in only an hour or two and that they can be just outside of a major city, is a realization that has slowly dawned on me in recent weeks. I’ve been traveling around the country searching for natural experiences near America’s biggest cities. And these trips have opened my eyes to how much beauty we have here. I consider myself an adventurer and thrill seeker. I’ve spent a lot of time flying internationally searching for the next big thing. But the last few weeks have reminded me that true adventure can find you any place and at any time.
For this trip, I met with adventure photographer, Brad Pearson because I was impressed with his incredible landscape photos. He has an amazing eye, and gets these raw, majestic shots of nature that need very little post-processing. More than that, it’s the stories he tells with his work that really draws you in. It’s almost like he’s creating a scene in a video, but just pulling out a single frame.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to take stunning nature shots, and I figured that Brad was the best person to learn from. He’s not just outside to take a pretty picture, he’s truly an outdoorsman and adventurer all around. He grew up in Idaho, moved to Utah because he loves skiing so much, and every weekend he’s in a different park, hiking and enjoying nature. Along the way, he takes striking photos. His unique style has given him a large Instagram following, but he doesn’t do it for that.
“I just really want my photos to tell a story and I want them to look good,” Brad says when I ask him how one would build a following. It’s a refreshing and almost wholesome, old-fashioned approach to social media. Create art out of what you love, do good work, and people will notice.
When I arrive in Salt Lake, Brad suggests we head to Antelope Island, a nature preserve just outside of the city. He’s been chasing a perfect, very specific shot of a buffalo for years now, and Antelope Island has almost a thousand of them. That number feels crazy when you consider just how close we came to buffalo going extinct over the last 150 years. There used to be 20-30 million buffalo in North America, but by the end of the 19th century, hunting and development had sliced that number to just over a thousand.
Now, slowly, through conservation and preserves, their population is climbing back up. There are currently about 500,000 of the animals in the wild and Antelope Island — whose population was once totally depleted — hosts a thriving community.
As we get out of the car, I have to keep reminding myself of how close Antelope Island is to a city — because it feels so far removed from any kind of civilization. It’s like going back in time. An untouched world that we’ve only just happened to discover.
We walk side by side, icy fingers poking out of fingerless gloves, hovering over our shutter buttons. As we search for a herd of buffalo, my eyes scan the horizon. I do my best to take in the scene from a new perspective, as a photographer.
And we wait. And wait. And…wait.
The island is a big place, so for a while there’s nothing. Just a barren landscape that reminds you why whole families died while crossing the plains. It’s the definition of isolated. We start to worry that maybe we’ll have to leave without snapping a single shot.
Then, just like that, we’re upon them. The massive, prehistoric-looking animals are silhouetted by soft sunlight. They seem almost posed for us as they graze, a postcard in progress. I’ve never seen a bison up close before. I’ve only seen photos and drawings. Tiny blips on a screen while playing Oregon Trail. So, I had no idea of their mass.
In person, they’re huge, powerful, looming creatures that you absolutely should respectfully keep some significant distance from. But we just had to get the shot. So…we edged closer. Not stupid “we put a baby bison in our car to keep it warm” close, but in hindsight, we were right up in there.
All in all, photographing a herd of buffalo in Utah was an amazing experience. I learned so much from Brad. Photography with a still camera is different than what I’m used to. I work in film, moving pictures, that’s my thing. So, I know cameras. I understand how to properly expose for an image, and to compose a shot, but still, there were so many new pieces. The aperture, depth of field, focus, they’re all done a little differently with a still camera.
I think the biggest difference for me was just how much waiting and patience the experience involved. Shooting wildlife is the ultimate stakeout. But the satisfaction and thrill of capturing that moment in time, a thing of beauty that has never before looked exactly like that and, never will again, was tantalizing. Looking back at the shots I took, I feel right back there. The story unfolding in front of my lens.
It wasn’t a long trip, and it wasn’t far from the city, but it was an incredible adventure. Every trip, it hits me just a little harder that you don’t need to board an international flight to get away. You can escape the cityscape from anywhere. You just need to take a walk with a camera, look at the world through new eyes, and really see the beauty around you.
Adventure is waiting. You just have be ready.