Backcountry Journeys is pleased to announce today the latest addition to our growing collection of Photo Guides. Please help us welcome Grant Ordelheide, a Montana-based outdoor and adventure photographer with loads of experience with everything we ask our photo guides to be; photographers, instructors, guides, and lovers of the natural world.
His photographs have been published in National Geographic Traveler, Backpacker, Outside, Climbing, The New York Times, The Yosemite Journal, and many other print and online publications. Grant’s fine art prints hang in gallery, corporate, and private collections across the country.
And while some of you know Grant already, as he has led trips with BCJ over the past couple months in both Alaska and Grand Canyon, we felt it was time to introduce him to our guests and readers!
Kenton: Welcome Grant! You’ve been with BCJ for a few months, now, but we like to introduce everyone to our guests and readers by doing a quick Q&A piece, so thanks for making time today. How about leading with a really hard-hitting question? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Grant: I grew up in Colorado in a very outdoorsy family. Backpacking, skiing, and biking through the Colorado Rockies instilled a love of wild places and ultimately set me on a path to being a photographer. I studied photography and business in college and have been working as a photographer ever since. My wife and I recently moved to the Flathead Valley in Montana. It has been pretty awesome to have Glacier National Park as a backyard!
Nice, man. All of that sets you up nicely to work with Backcountry Journeys. Personally, I love our Glacier trips. Having you right there will be advantageous, no doubt. My next question was going to ask about your interests and hobbies, but I’m guessing those are things you’ve mentioned?
I have always enjoyed most activities out in the mountains. I love traveling to new and remote mountain ranges around the world to hike and backpack through them. Here in Montana, I have gotten really into packrafting as a way to utilize rivers for backcountry travel. That being said, my favorite things in the world are snowboarding and mountain biking. Whether it is on snow or dirt, I am just perpetually searching for that elusive, perfect turn.
Nice! You mentioned travel and adventures. Are you able to point to a specific trip that you’ve done as your absolute most favorite?
That is so hard to choose. I have been fortunate to have so many great experiences in the outdoors and that isn’t something I take for granted. Some of my favorite places and trips would be backpacking through Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, kayaking Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, trekking the Himalya in Nepal, and mountain biking through Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. I just returned from great trip in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park. We spent twelve days backpacking through some of the most remote, and least traveled landscapes I have ever been too. It was one of those trips where I was wet, cold, tired, and hungry the whole time, but the second I got home I started thinking about a return trip. It is usually those trips that have a healthy amount of Type 2 Fun (fun only in retrospect) that stick with me the most.
When did you get into photography?
My parents took me on my first backpacking trip when I was 7 weeks old. From there we would regularly go camping and backpacking throughout my childhood. At one point I took over my dad’s 35mm camera to take a few pictures documenting our trips. Soon I had my own camera, and I was trying to take nice pictures of the places we would go. Of course, those early photos weren’t so great, but I was hooked and knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. As I got more serious, I decided I needed to learn photography on a film camera, despite the fact that digital cameras were commonplace. I ordered an old used medium format camera on eBay and began schlepping that thing around the mountains. It was a slow and frustrating process to get film back weeks later only to realize I blew the exposure, but those film days really helped me slow down and gain a deeper understanding of composition and light. Photography really came about as a byproduct of my love for wild places. It was just a vehicle to document my adventures and justify more time in the outdoors. To a certain extent, I still view it that way. I love the art of photography, but my true passions are the wild places that it allows me to visit.
What is it about photography that attracts you to it, or keeps you interested?
I love the creative outlet photography provides. I love the chase of that “perfect” photo. The whole creative process is very cathartic to me and is something that I will never tire of. The process of coming up with an idea, pre-visualizing the shot, researching and planning, and finally nailing the image I have envisioned is such an incredible feeling of accomplishment. Over the years I have come to realize that I almost enjoy the process more than the photo itself. As soon as I get one done, it’s onto the next!
That is really nice insight, Grant. I think understanding what it is about that we love about photography is good to keep in mind as we all continue on our own journeys. What, in your estimation, separates a good photographer from a great photographer?
That’s a hard question and one I am not sure has one exact answer. I have certainly met photographers who have just had an instinct for composition. I have also seen photographers who may not have had a natural eye, but have worked very hard to get to the level they are at. I think similar to most things, photography is something that needs to be practiced. To take your photography from good to great, it takes that next level of commitment and work. The best working photographers are the ones that are out there constantly pushing the boundaries of art and creativity. The photographers that plan a little more, hike a little further, and get a little less sleep are usually the ones producing the most incredible work.
Landscapes or Wildlife?
I love both honestly. My background is landscape photography, and I still really enjoy it, but wildlife photography is something I have actively pursued for many years now. They both have such different processes and challenges that I like to go back and forth to keep from burning out on any one genre. I suppose the shot I am always looking for is a strong landscape image with an animal perfectly placed in it. To me, that is the ultimate way to document a nature scene.
What system do you shoot with?
I shoot with Canon. I recently made the move to the R5 and have been pretty impressed with that camera.
What lens do you find that you shoot with the most?
While I am a believer in bringing a wide, medium, and telephoto lens with me to most locations, if I had to take just one with me it would be my 24-105mm lens. I probably use that lens the most as it is a very versatile focal length range and can photograph a wide range of subjects. I especially like this lens for shooting adventure sports/people or in situations where I can’t bring my whole camera bag.
How did you find Backcountry Journeys and what attracted you to the job?
I found out about Backcountry Journeys from fellow guide and video program manager, Matt Meisenheimer. It just seemed like a great organization, and that it would be a good fit for me. They have such a wide range of trips in so many cool locations. I mean who wouldn’t want to work in an office with fellow photographers and a couple of Coastal brown bears!
What were you doing professionally prior to starting with BCJ?
I have been a full-time outdoor photographer for eight years now. My work has included many magazine assignments for various tourism boards and National Park publications. I also do a lot of fine art prints, commercial work, licensing, and teaching. It has been a wild ride, but I am very grateful for the opportunity to do what I love.
You’ve run a few BCJ trips already, is that correct? Which have you been a part of so far? What were some takeaways from each trip?
Yes, that is correct! I have been on a couple of the Uncharted Bear trips in Alaska as well as the Southwest Monsoon trip in the Grand Canyon. All those trips were so fun, yet so different. I was definitely impressed with the overall smoothness and efficiency of the trips. All the guides I have worked with have been super friendly and knowledgeable. I have also really enjoyed getting to know our guests on these trips. It is fun to travel and experience nature with like-minded people.
I heard a story that you were leading a BCJ trip and upon walking into a hotel you saw an image of yours hanging on their lobby wall. Any truth to that? Can you expand?
That is true! I sat down for breakfast and looked up across the dining area and saw a familiar photo hanging on the wall. For a second, I thought I was just a little sleep deprived, but sure enough, it was my photo. I work with a couple of different stock agencies that sell my work to publications or other photo buyers. Most of the time I just get a royalty report and I don’t always know who is buying or where exactly the photo is going. In this case, it was likely bought by an art consultant that was hired by the hotel to fill its walls with art. Small world, I guess!
What do you feel is the thing that you’ll really “bring to the table” as a guide for BCJ?
I feel like I can be a resource for answering photo related questions or camera problems. I love helping people with compositions and talking through what is working and what can be improved upon. I always feel like I get just as much out of a composition discussion as a guest might. I also feel like I can bring a positive moral to the group as I always feel like the next shoot is going to be the best shoot of our lives!
What are you looking forward to most in your role as a guide for BCJ?
My favorite thing about teaching photography is helping someone nail that shot they have been after. It is so awesome to play even a small role in helping someone create something that they are proud of. I want people to have fun and safe experience in these locations, but if we can get them a “wall hanger” shot in the process then I feel like we have done our job!
Thanks again, Grant. We’re certainly excited to have you in the BCJ family, and I am certain that folks reading this will be happy to find you as their next BCJ Trip Leader wherever that might be! Best of luck to you out there.
If you’d like to see more of Grant’s incredible work, head on over to his website: grantordelheide.com.
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Olympic, Redwood, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.