The Sweetest Gig on the Trails

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Q&A with adventure and mountain sports photographer Dan Holz

Another rough day at the office for Dan Holz. Photo by Kaare Iverson

Dan Holz, 37, of Seattle, Washington, has a day job most of us would regard as a dream job—traveling to beautiful parts of the world as a full-time active lifestyle and mountain sport photographer. He’s worked with clients like Patagonia, REI, Sierra Designs, 5:10, Feathered Friends and several international nonprofits.

Below, we chat with him about his job, his participation in our 2011 photo camp and his transition to full-time photography.

Photo by Dan Holz

For seven years, Big Stone Publishing (which publishes both Trail Runner and Rock and Ice magazines) has hosted a photo camp for outdoor photographers—pro, amateur and aspiring all welcome!—to gain experience in the field, hone skills, develop a portfolio and network with industry pros.

Learn more about this year’s trail-running photography camp here—and if it piques your interest, just ask for the “Dan Holz Discount” by Sunday, August 4 to receive 20% off your camp entry fee.



What’s one of the coolest assignments you’ve been on?
I took on an eighth-month portfolio-building excursion in Asia that led to significant stock sales and several magazine publications, including an article in Tiger Airlines’ in-flight magazine. Because we were in pursuit of climbing destinations, we got off the typical tourist path and into some areas that are less well-known and rarely see Westerners. My camera always became a jumping off point for connecting with the locals—climbers and non-climbers—definitely a conversation starter. My little LCD screen was often the only reflection of themselves that the people we encountered had ever seen.


Have you always been passionate about photography?
I got hooked on photography when I was in sixth grade. I was starting off in a new school and painfully shy during those years.  I saw photography as a way to express myself. I used to spend hours in the darkroom and pretty much lost all sense of time. I was totally flailing and producing dreadfully boring images, but I didn’t care. I was totally in love with the process from start to finish.  While I never received an actual degree in photography (I have an associates in Liberal Arts), I had one or two great teachers who taught me the art of storytelling and helped me to discover my shooting own style.


What did you get out of attending the 2011 Photo Camp with us here at Big Stone Publishing?
The photo camp provided me with ample opportunities to work with pro athletes in the field (it’s not always easy to pin these guys down for a shoot). The networking opportunities were fantastic. I not only expanded my network in the industry, but I made some great friends as well. [Our instructors] were just so down to earth in their teaching methods, which allowed me to push my photography skills to the next level.


What was the most fun aspect of the camp?
Honestly, the whole thing was fun!  Though I did truly appreciate the critique. We all had the opportunity to review the culmination of everyone’s hard work projected on the big screen while celebrating one another’s successes over a few beers and Duane’s BBQ’d chicken.  Good times.

Photo by Dan Holz

What did you do for work before you went full-time as a photographer?
I’ve worked in the outdoor industry for the past 15 years. A good bulk of that time was spent working for REI. I had a nice, flexible schedule and worked with plenty of amazing/outdoorsy people who were willing to ‘model’ in the mountains for me.  (Most happily worked for beer.) I spent 40 hours working at the store and the rest of the time in the mountains, camera in hand. Since then, I have worked in a few little climbing shops from Colorado to Seattle. It paid the bills while I built my portfolio. I still keep in touch with a lot of the people I worked with over the years … in fact, I married one!


Anyone in particular whose work you’ve admired?
I’ve always admired the work of Dan Patitucci. Seeing his work got me hooked on shooting wide. Also, Keith Ladzinski’s portraiture always brims with a person’s essence.


So … Canon or Nikon?
CANON. I started with a 35mm and have slowly built my quiver to include higher-end DSLRs. The clarity and speed of a Mark III, combined with L-series lenses are perfect for the activities and style I shoot.


What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
Perseverance. Perseverance. Perseverance.  Also, don’t be afraid to try new things—but always be true to yourself and your instincts.


Anything else we should know about you?
I couldn’t do any of it without my wife. She’s basically edited every article I’ve written and set me straight every time I felt like calling it quits in the photography game. Thanks, Lisa.


Photo by Dan Holz

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