Every photographer—hell, everyone in general—has had at least the fleeting dream of exploring the world as a National Geographic adventurer. Their exploits have been drilled into our brains since we were children, via countless breathtaking documentaries and of course the iconic yellow-framed magazines. Well, Keith Ladzinski has gone beyond imagining it and is a staple for the venerable agency, regularly traversing the globe at NatGeo's behest.
When he’s not on a National Geographic assignment, he’s still working with outdoor companies and athletes to document their feats at the extreme edges of the world. From glaciers to rain forests to anything in between, Keith’s Instagram feed is a daily escape from whatever and wherever you happen to be, a look at the hard-to-reach wild places in our world where many of us will never get to actually set foot. We caught him during a rare respite in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado for this Instagram of the Week feature. Give him a follow at @ladzinski, and check out our own account, @thedailybeast, where he will be taking the reigns for the weekend.
How did you get started in photography?
I never really set out to be a photographer. I initially bought a camera when I was 19 to more or less take snapshots of my friends skateboarding and the ridiculous things we were all getting into. I was inspired by my brother and by my friend Atiba Jefferson, watching them take these captured "memories" style photos. After picking up a cheap camera set up, a Pentax K1000, at a pawn shop, I fell in love pretty quickly. Before I knew it I was hooked, buying how-to books on landscape photography, asking my friend Atiba tips on shooting skateboarding, and quickly immersing myself completely. It wasn't long before it just took over my life in a lot of ways. The passion has never rubbed off, I'm more stoked today then ever before.
When did you start using Instagram, and when did you realize it was a viable way to grow your photo business?
I first started using Instagram in October of 2011. A friend of mine, Landon Basset, introduced me to it and I was hooked pretty quickly. It started off as iPhone-only for the longest time, and then I started posting new photos and archive shots from my real camera. I got sweated initially by a few of my diehard iPhone Insta friends, but I didn't care. It was the perfect platform as a photographer to put your hard work out into a social platform–stuff you’re proud of but really don’t make space for on your website.
Now, it's rare for me to throw up a phone photo. For me it's not only something I love, but a part of my business marketing model. It's hands down my favorite app. It’s the photographer's playground. Art buyers, creative, and agencies are always looking through feeds looking for inspiration. It's a good thing to take seriously.
What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you because of Instagram?
I've gotten a handful of high-paying commercial assignments, sold ads to art buyers and agencies, prints... It's really attracted more attention then I would have initially expected.
How did you get hooked up with NatGeo?
It started off with National Geographic Adventure Magazine. I had met the photo editor at a great workshop Rich Clarkson puts on each year called "The Adventure Photography Workshop" that I teach at and Nat Geo supports. I landed a few stock sales, did a couple small assignments. Eventually I started meeting more people at the organization, various magazine editors, photographers, TV producers, NG Creative Agency crew, workshop coordinators, it's a huge place and always exciting to spend time at. These connections started bringing in assignment work in all sorts of various ways. It's always a huge thrill to do anything for that organization, a dream come true. They're the best, they truly get photography more than anyone.
My first assignment for the magazine was covering an expedition to Antarctica and posting to the NatGeo (Instagram) feed was part of the deal. Their feed is always so sick, and being a part of it is such an honor. I'm inspired all the time looking at the work of all the talented photographers on it.
What is the scariest situation you’ve been in on a shoot?
Man, there's been a lot. I've had an anchor blow that I was tied into and fell to the ground in Joshua Tree, broke my ankle. Nearly cut through various ropes I was shooting from, had to get rescued while shooting on an icy sandstone cliff side, been in the hit zone of big rockslides, had a lion charge me and jump on me in South Africa while photographing her in a pen. Somehow I was fine. She was fairly young and had a handler. When I got to her eye level to take the photo, she charged. There's video of it. Pretty ridiculous. There's so many stories. I always do my best to be safe, but you find yourself at the mercy of the situation a lot when you're in the mountains and remote areas. You gotta get that shot!
The most amazing?
Dude, too many. Seems like nearly every shoot. I feel like I have the best job in the world. It exposes me to talented people and personalities I never thought I'd meet, crazy locations and unreal adventures. I'm living a dream that just seems to keep on going on, I'm blessed.
Any advice for the average person to use on the Instagram pics?
Post what you like, use any camera you want, shoot from your heart, and follow people for inspiration. Keep it fun, always. It's Instagram. It's rad. Do it the way you want to.
Who are your favorite accounts?
So many. There's no shortage of amazing photographers out there and I LOVE being a fan. I follow a lot of my friends, love my peers: I really like, in no particular order: Dave Black is always amazing, @andy_mann always killing it, @atibaphoto is a legend and constant inspiration, @timkemple pushing it all the time, @christianpondella is always rad, @jimmy_chin crushes always, @renan_ozturk always good, @chrisburkard always finding a new sick angle, @andy_best is rad, @travisburkephotography rad, @stianmklo amazing, @coryrichards always sick, @robertclarkphoto so damn talented, @argonautphoto is the man, @lucasgilman killing it, @3stringsproductions because I love my company, @natgeo (of COURSE) and so many people I don't know like @skateboardmag @berrics @thrashermag @drpurpleteeth for my daily skate inspiration, @thefatjewish for my daily laugh, @stevemccurryofficial @mustafaseven and many, many more for constant inspiration.