This Outdoor Photographer Balances Work and Play

Adventurer Torrey Merritt

Pacific Northwest native Torrey Merritt is building his foundation as a full-time freelance photographer. This means being his own boss and juggling the challenges of a workday without a quitting time. But being able to pursue his passion as his job allows him to spend time capturing the beauty of the American West.

“I think adventure to my generation means anything that is not the typical workday routine,” he says. “Adventure could mean going cliff jumping, hiking, biking, road tripping, or even to the swingset in a park at midnight to catch up with friends.” His thirst for adventure spans someday owning his own float plane with a cabin on a lake and a dock and traveling to 30 countries in the next three-to-five years.

Here he tells us more about pursuing his passion and his creative inspirations.

ROAM: This Outdoor Photographer Balances Work and Play
Photograph by Torrey Merritt

Where do you live and what drew you to this place?

Torrey: I live in Bellingham, Washington. I actually grew up about an hour away on Fidalgo Island, which was definitely a dream location in which to grow up. This area has so much to offer. Within a two- to five-hour drive there are: three national parks, the Pacific Ocean, rugged mountains, farmlands, islands, prairies, forests of all kinds, and plenty more. It’s somewhere I can’t ever anticipate leaving, at least not for a long time.

What does “adventure” mean to you and your generation?

Torrey: I think adventure to my generation means anything that is not the typical workday routine. It can be a very broad definition. Adventure could mean going cliff jumping, hiking, biking, road tripping, or even to the swingset in a park at midnight to catch up with friends. My favorite adventures are usually the ones where everything doesn’t go perfectly—that’s how you know you are actually participating in something worthwhile. When everything goes perfectly as planned, that reminds me of a two-week per year vacation at a beach hotel—that doesn’t get my heart pumping much. I enjoy things that push me past my comfort level a bit more.

How do you balance your work with your outside-of-work passions?

Torrey: I’m actually a full-time freelance photographer now, since October 2017, I’ve loved the change in lifestyle. I would say the balance mainly comes in terms of knowing how to be your own boss. For example, it’s the type of balance where maybe you get home and your roommate has a bunch of friends over who want to hang out, If you work a nine-to-five, you don’t have to think twice about joining them for the fun because your work day is officially over. But as a freelancer, your work day isn’t ever “officially” over. You can always work more. So, in that scenario, even though you might want to go have fun, it’s the balance of potentially deciding to put your headphones on, sit at your computer, and edit and email for several more hours.

When did you discover your passions?

Torrey: I actually discovered my passion for photography on a road trip with my dad from Denver to Washington. He randomly brought an old Minolta 35mm film camera and let me use it. I was hooked almost instantly. I took photos all the way back through Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

What does your average weekend look like? Where do you like to go on adventures?

Torrey: My average weekend could be a big possible range of activities. I’m fairly new to freelancing, and that means that I can’t go out every weekend on a huge trip, but I definitely try to get out as often as possible. My weekends usually consist of taking photography courses online, camping, hanging out with friends, refining my editing techniques and style, emailing and planning, or short road trips. I really like to see anywhere in the Western U.S., since most things are at least relatively close, being within a days drive. I definitely love to explore in my own state, though. The North Cascades, Olympic Peninsula, and the Mt. Baker and Rainier areas are all favorites of mine.

What is your favorite national forest or park?

Torrey: In my experiences, a lot of national parks are starting to feel incredibly over crowded, but most of the time, this isn’t true in the North Cascades. There are busier areas, but most of the harder hikes aren’t overly busy like many are in Yosemite, Zion, etc. The North Cascades are also compared to the Swiss Alps, and for good reason. There are deep glaciated valleys and jagged peaks all over. It’s been called one of the most rugged mountain ranges, if not the most, in the entire United States. The hiking is pristine in the North Cascades.

What are a few things on your bucket list?

Torrey: I want to own my own float plane someday with a cabin on a lake and a dock. That’s probably my number one bucket list item. I also really want to travel to 30 countries in the next three to five years.

How do you keep track/log your adventures?

Torrey: I think the easiest way to keep track of any adventures is through my photos from each location. I upload all of my photos to my Lightroom catalog, so in a pinch I can scroll through that catalog on my computer and see a rich history of where I’ve been and when.

Who inspires you?

Torrey: So many people inspire me, but I would have to say my biggest inspiration from the beginning would be Dylan Furst, or @Fursty, as most people know him. Never have I met someone so talented and skilled with such a humble personality. Dylan is a legend for sure.

Who are a few of your favorite artists, authors, musicians, or photographers?

Torrey: Some of my favorite musicians/bands right now are Andy Shauf, Kevin Morby, Day Wave, Real Estate, Led Zeppelin, Ten Fé, Justin Vernon, Summersalt, and plenty more but those are the ones coming to mind. My favorite author would have to be Mark Helprin. Although, I’ll admit that I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I used to. His book A Soldier of the Great War is my all-time favorite. I would say it’s a little harder to pick my favorite photographers, mainly because I think my taste in photography changes too often to find a permanent list. But once again, Dylan Furst is high on the list, Benjamin Everett, , Benjamin Hardman, Alen Palander, Andrew Kearns, Ben Sasso, Alex Strohl, Matthew Hahnel, Phil Nguyen, and plenty more that I’m forgetting as well.

What are your two or three most essential adventure gear items? Essential adventure snacks?

Torrey: I would say my three most essential adventure gear items are a beanie, a good sleeping pad, and great coffee. It’s really true how much you can save yourself on a freezing day or night by just putting something warm over your head—it’s always worth bringing a beanie. A good sleeping pad makes all of the difference in how your body can recover after a full day of strenuous activity. A good night’s sleep is well worth the investment of a good camp pad. And finally, you can’t forget to bring some delicious coffee. Nothing tastes as good as a hot cup of coffee in the morning after hiking or camping.

After a long work day, what motivates you to get out?

Torrey: I think my number one motivation is that life is extremely short. Not being motivated to go out and explore and witness the beauty around us does have a price. I don’t want to reach the end of my lifetime and have a huge list of regrets, wishing I had done and seen more. That definitely motivates me very strongly.

If you could go on a spontaneous adventure right now, where would you go?

Torrey: I would definitely either go to Glacier, Banff, or Jasper National Parks. I haven’t been to any of those parks yet, and I can’t wait to see them.

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