Things here at Backcountry Journeys are back in full-swing, and following a period of time navigating COVID, it feels great to report that we feel as though we’re busier than ever before! As such, it really quickly became evident we would need more hands on deck. We’ll be introducing a handful of new folks here in the next month, or so, so look forward to some new faces. First up, new Backcountry Journeys’ Photo Guide, Trevor LaClair. Trevor is currently out looking for Coastal Brown bears with a BCJ group on the Alaska Peninsula, but we caught up with him a while back.
Kenton: Hi Trevor! Let me be the first to welcome you to the Backcountry Journeys team! We’re all very excited to have you on board. We love to introduce new guides and office staff here at BCJ in a Q&A format. Thanks for taking some time today. Why don’t we get right to it. Tell us about yourself, if you would. Where did you grow up, go to school, what did you study? Where has life taken you?
Trevor: I grew up on a small farm in the Missouri Ozarks where I spent a lot of time playing in the creeks and running through the woods. By the time I was 14, I began volunteering at the Kansas City Zoo. Since then, I’ve volunteered at multiple zoos and sanctuaries and had all kinds of experiences with animals, both in captivity and in the wild. Later in life, I attended University of Missouri where I got my Bachelors (degree) in Fisheries and Wildlife. I chose to go to school for wildlife biology and conservation because I wanted to find ways to share my passion for wildlife while continuing to learn more about the natural world. While in college, I received an incredible opportunity to study abroad in Tanzania, where I spent a month studying wildlife conservation and management. After graduating, I left Missouri and traveled around the country working seasonal jobs. A few years later, I attended Miami University where I focused on studying community-based conservation. As a graduate student, I traveled to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Australia to learn more about local conservation projects. After graduating with a Masters in Biology, I began focusing my career on ecotourism while experimenting more with natural history filmmaking and photography. These days, I’m a married man who loves having fun and going on adventures. Animals are my passion and the outdoors is my life.
Wow! You’ve experienced several amazing wildlife hotbeds! Costa Rica and Africa are unreal! Where would you say is your favorite place to find wildlife?
Any place where there are a lot of animals. But to narrow it down, The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I spent a lot of time there exploring, so I know of a few good places off the beaten path to find animals. Plus, there is something remarkable about walking among large predators and other megafauna.
Sounds like you might be a solid fit to guide Backcountry Journeys’ many tours in the Yellowstone region, then, as I assume you will. Since you are a wildlife biologist as well as a photographer, tell us… What is your favorite animal and why?
The grey wolf. I’ve always loved wolves ever since I was a kid. They are majestic and beautiful animals with unique pack dynamics and survival strategies. I love watching them in the wild, and I had a few wolf encounters while volunteering at sanctuaries. Plus, growing up around a bunch of dogs, it’s hard not to appreciate their wild counterparts. It is actually one of my dreams to have a sanctuary for rescued wolves where I can educate and inspire people of all ages.
How did you get into photography?
Well, I can say it all started with those disposable cameras I ran around with during my childhood. However, my interest grew after I purchased my first DSLR in college. As a naturalist, I like to take a lot of photos to document the animals I’ve seen and the places I’ve been. As time passed, I became more serious with the quality of my images and the impact they can create. But overall, I’m a self taught photographer with the mind of a naturalist.
It’s often said that the best wildlife photographers have a background in animals. Wildlife biologists, etc. Do you agree with that? If so, talk to us about how.
It definitely helps. If you want to get unique shots of wildlife, you need to know them. This includes their habitat, behavior, feeding habits, migrational patterns, life history, and more. Sure, in some places like Yellowstone, you can easily grab a camera and get lucky with some road-side wildlife like bison. But if you want to get an epic photograph of a couple bulls fighting, then you’ll need to know when their breeding season is. This also helps for trip planning. You wouldn’t want to go to Hawaii to photograph humpback whales if they have already migrated to Alaska. The more you know about animals and their environment, the greater the success you’ll have in wildlife photography. So, if you don’t have a background in wildlife, then you better start purchasing a few books and looking at other resources to broaden your knowledge. As a wildlife photographer, you’ll be spending your life researching and learning more about animals. I’m always reading books, watching documentaries, and searching online for more information. Even with a background in wildlife biology and conservation, there is still so much to learn. The world is a big place and home to all kinds of species. There will always be something new to learn. Even with all your research and careful planning, you can still travel to your destination and fail to find your subject. Sometimes it can take days to years to capture a decent photo of a specific animal. It all depends on the animal, what you know, and a whole lot of luck and patience.
You do a lot of video production. Can you discuss that a bit? How’d you get started? What drives you?
When I was a kid, I was inspired by TV show hosts such as Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin, and the Kratt Brothers. I saw the impact they created through the media and always dreamed of traveling down a similar road. Luckily for me, my parents had a video camera I was able to practice on. While in middle school, I purchased my first camcorder which began my filming adventures. I enjoy filmmaking because it’s a great way to share my adventures with the world. It is also another way of inspiring folks to explore and discover the beauty of nature. Media has a huge impact on society but a lot of it has been over dramatized. My goal is to find a way to bring hope to conservation and shed light on conservation success stories. I also want to continue to find new ways to guide folks on big adventures while sharing my passion for wildlife. Overall, passion and big dreams are what drives me on this filmmaking journey.
What about your videos do you think make them stand out? Where can folks find those videos online?
Haha, honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out myself. But if folks want to see my work or follow me on my adventures, they can visit me on YouTube by checking out my channel, Trekking with Trevor. Another option is to visit my website: trekkingwithtrevor.com
What were you doing professionally prior to starting with BCJ?
Before joining Backcountry Journeys, I worked as a wildlife guide in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I was originally hired by Teton Science Schools to spend the winter working as a snow coach guide into Yellowstone National Park. However, as the winter came to an end, the bears began waking up. So there was no way I was planning on leaving anytime soon. As a result, I worked with the company as a wildlife guide for about three years. As a guide, it was my job to take people on vehicle-based excursions in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park to look for animals while teaching them about the local natural history. It was a fun opportunity with an amazing team.
How did you find Backcountry Journeys?
Well, after spending about three years living in Jackson Hole, I was forced to leave after getting laid off from my previous job, because of COVID. I took this as a sign and opportunity to grow professionally while seeking out new adventures. My next goal was to guide in Alaska. More specifically, I wanted to lead bear photography tours. Well, earlier this winter while searching for that new dream job, I stumbled upon BCJ. I was ecstatic with all the guiding opportunities they provided. In addition, It was an opportunity to lead some Alaska bear tours while continuing to guide in the Greater Yellowstone. About three months later, I finally applied and POOF! Here I am.
You’ve actually been with BCJ for a while now, yes? How long?
For about three plus months now. Working a total of four tours. My first one was in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Then I worked the Canyons of Utah: Zion & Bryce; followed by Spring Yellowstone & Grand Teton. My most recent tour was Coastal Oregon & California’s Redwoods. All of which I enjoyed. However, If I had to choose a favorite, I would have to say Yellowstone and Grand Teton because that’s where my strengths lie.
Which BCJ tour that you are scheduled to lead are you most excited for, and why?
Obviously the Alaska bear tours! Imagine how epic it would be to hangout and watch bears all day. It has been something I wanted to do for years. Now, I get to accomplish that goal while sharing my passion with guests. It can’t get much better than that!
Which BCJ trip (overall) would you MOST want to go on, and why?
Originally, I would have said one of the Alaskan bear tours. However, since I’m already scheduled to work a few, I don’t really have a big preference. Basically anything wildlife focused is high on my list. Especially international trips.
This might be a funny question to ask since anyone reading this already knows the answer: Wildlife or Landscapes?
HaHa! Somehow I knew it! With what camera system do you shoot?
Canon is my go to when it comes to photography.
What is one goal that you have with your photography?
Being impactful. These days, anyone can take a great photo without having expensive gear. As a result, photography becomes a rat race based on who has the best marketing and social media skills. However, I have learned that the true power of photography doesn’t only come from the image, but also the story behind the image. My goal is to find a way to utilize my images and the power of storytelling to bring awareness to stories in wildlife conservation. I have a few ideas but at this point in my career, I’m trying not to rush so I don’t accidentally speed past a big opportunity. So, right now, I’m juggling my options and seeing what lands in my lap.
You’re so right about that, Trevor. It does seem these days that “everyone is a photographer” since we all cary capable cameras in our hands via our devices. Also seems as if more and more folks are using mediums such as Instagram and Facebook, among others, to promote their product. I like what you said about the true power of an image coming from the story it tells. I also feel that is great advice to give to our guests (as well as reminders to ourselves) while on our photography tours.
What can guests look forward to if they are traveling on a trip with you as their guide?
Hey now! I can’t give away all my secrets, or there won’t be any surprises!
Fair enough. Thanks for the time today, Trevor! Looking forward to seeing you out in the field again, soon!
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.