Chat with us, powered by LiveChat
If there is anyone who has ‘put in the time’ to get to where he’s at, it’s Will Saunders. For the past few years Will has slogged it out as a mentee of the renowned photographer Tim Kemple, all the while crafting his own style and photographic voice. On his own now, Will has managed to find a balance between the grind of commercial work and passion projects around the globe while working for some of the worlds biggest brands. 

Hola amigo! Tell us how you got introduced to photography. 

I got introduced to Photography at the end of my freshman year of college. Up until that point I had never touched a camera, I was a hippy college kid studying environmental science hoping to get a job that let me be outside more than an office. The last trimester of freshman year a class opened up for freshman only. It was an adventure travel writing course and I signed up immediately. To get into the class you had to submit a resume of sorts about your background in the outdoors, the love of it, the adventures, etc. I sent my application in and the same day I got an email from the professor saying, “Come see me”, with his contact info and office hours below. I honestly didn’t understand. I was a freshman still figuring out the whole college thing and I had never gone to office hours and I had definitely never been told to meet with a professor. At first I thought I said something wrong in my application and was going to get in trouble for it, but figured I’d go anyway. I showed up at Professor Dan Morrison’s office to see a large, well-dressed man with a big white beard, weathered face, and a skull ring on his finger. His office was filled with images from around the world. He looked at me standing in the door way and says, “The fuck you want?” Not in a mean tone but in a way that just felt real. I told him “You asked me to come in, I’m Will.” He smiled and asked me to sit down. Cursing like a pirate he asked me questions about my experiences climbing, river guiding, and leading backpacking trips. He was impressed with my time outside. I grew up in Sisters, Oregon where playing outdoors was everything to us. He then asked me if I had ever thought about being a photographer. I said “Never really. I mean in my mind it’s a dream job (I’ve loved magazines and the images in them ever since I can remember) but it never seemed like a possible job for me. I had never picked up a camera and always thought of photographers as almost too amazing to be true, I didn’t know if they could actually make a living! Dan looked at me and said, “Well if you stay in environmental science what are you actually going to do? Seriously.” And I understood where he was coming from. I don’t do well in the science field, the really cool jobs in the environmental science world are hard to come by, and most kids end up washing toilets for the forest service. He then proceeded to put a giant binder on my lap and inside was his portfolio. Dan Morrison had been an adventure photojournalist the last 20+ years of his life. He had been around the world documenting mountaineering ascents, cannibalism ceremonies in Papa New Guinea, and hung out with Rastafarians in Jamaica. The dude had done it all. He looked at me and said this is a life you could lead and if you are willing to make the switch to photography I will take you under my wing and teach you everything I know. I was honestly stunned. A guy I had just met, telling me to switch my degree and become a photographer and learn from him. I didn’t know what to say other than I have to think about it and ask for some advice from family. He understood and waited for my reply. I left and couldn’t stop thinking about the possibly of this lifestyle as a photographer. The images he showed me from his career brought me to life. I called all my family and told them the story “Should I switch my degree and go for it?” I would ask. Everyone seemed to think it was worth it, especially if a professor wanted to take me under his wing personally. So I did, I made the switch and immediately signed up for the classes and started renting cameras. It changed my life. The second I picked up a camera and put my eye to the viewfinder, I fell in love in a way that still to this day gives me chills. I had loved many sports and hobbies growing up, but this was different. I became obsessed; I photographed everything and started reaching out to friends to let me take pictures of them. Many of my friends were talented athletes so I would tag along on whatever they were doing. I remember the first shoot I did outdoors, photographing my buddy kayaking down a large waterfall, changed my view of the world forever. I realized I could frame the world how I saw it and share it with others. I didn’t know I was a “creative” until picking up a camera. I was able to express myself, focus my brain, and shut off the anxieties of everything around me when the camera was up to my face. The next three years of my college career consisted of endless photography. I shot everything and anything, learned the softwares, worked on creating a style and learned how to tell a story from one of the most talented Photojournalists in the world, Torsten Kjellstrand, another professor in the Journalism department. Torsten is a storytelling master and has won many awards for his talent in telling true human stories through his eye. He worked with me in class and out of the classroom coaching me giving me help and showing me how to find and craft a story through a set of imagery. 

From there you began working under Tim Kemple. How was that?

Mentors were and still are everything to me, this also meant that the second I graduated college I told myself I was going to assist the best of the best before making it a career for myself. I wanted to know the ins and the outs of the industry so I was confident and capable when it was my turn. My buddy Jacob Oster sent me a message saying to listen to this podcast where Tim Kemple was being interviewed. Tim Kemple, in my opinion, is the most talented creative in the outdoor industry and all through college I told myself I would work with that guy some day. His images were my inspiration since the day I picked up a camera. At the end of this hour-long interview Tim said, “If anyone is still listening I am looking for an assistant”, and then the podcast was over. Was this for real? I was about to graduate and move to Utah, where Tim is based, and he happened to be looking for an assistant at the same time? I can’t tell you how but the stars have aligned many times like this once I started shooting. Next thing I knew I was Tim Kemple’s first assistant, working every day for him for two years. We went all over the world photographing the best athletes in the world for the biggest brands. It was the dream and I learned more than I could have ever imagined, became best friends with a guy I thought I would never meet, and saw parts of the world I only knew about because of Planet Earth. It wasn’t easy though, and I quickly learn that this career is not for everyone. I was on call 24/7 because that’s how the industry is. Some days we would work endless hours in front of the computer editing and other days we would spends weeks on weeks traveling for shoots. I learned that this job takes passion, grit and everything you have in you. After two years of this assistant position my time was up and I went off to the life of a freelance photographer. Working with Tim set me up for success and I wouldn’t be where I am today with out his guidance and willing to teach me. Today I’m fortunate to be working with dream brands, documenting expeditions around the globe, and hanging out with some of the most amazing people in this world. 

 How have you managed to balance passion projects and your commercial work?

 Balancing passion projects and commercial work is one of the hardest things to do. This industry is addicting in that you will never say no to a job and when you’re not on a “job” all you want to do is take more pictures for personal projects. So you end up living every second thinking about the next idea, place to go, pitch to send, people to photograph. Torsten, my professor, always told me that commercial work will not be an issue for me, but that you will get sucked in to too much of it and forget to make pictures for yourself. And its true. So I started working with a group of friends The Locals Project where we told ourselves we would all come together once a year to focus our time and energy on a self funded passion project. I quickly realized that these passion projects are the most fulfilling for my mind and that society seems to be impacted by them more and they are a powerful part of human history. For me passion projects often end up being expeditions documenting communities or athletes that have a story, whether it’s surfers in Cuba or skiers that want to go into the Himalaya where no man had been before. I live for these trips now, its what I love, and its what makes me feel alive.

From there you began working under Tim Kemple. How was that?

Mentors were and still are everything to me, this also meant that the second I graduated college I told myself I was going to assist the best of the best before making it a career for myself. I wanted to know the ins and the outs of the industry so I was confident and capable when it was my turn. My buddy Jacob Oster sent me a message saying to listen to this podcast where Tim Kemple was being interviewed. Tim Kemple, in my opinion, is the most talented creative in the outdoor industry and all through college I told myself I would work with that guy some day. His images were my inspiration since the day I picked up a camera. At the end of this hour-long interview Tim said, “If anyone is still listening I am looking for an assistant”, and then the podcast was over. Was this for real? I was about to graduate and move to Utah, where Tim is based, and he happened to be looking for an assistant at the same time? I can’t tell you how but the stars have aligned many times like this once I started shooting. Next thing I knew I was Tim Kemple’s first assistant, working every day for him for two years. We went all over the world photographing the best athletes in the world for the biggest brands. It was the dream and I learned more than I could have ever imagined, became best friends with a guy I thought I would never meet, and saw parts of the world I only knew about because of Planet Earth. It wasn’t easy though, and I quickly learn that this career is not for everyone. I was on call 24/7 because that’s how the industry is. Some days we would work endless hours in front of the computer editing and other days we would spends weeks on weeks traveling for shoots. I learned that this job takes passion, grit and everything you have in you. After two years of this assistant position my time was up and I went off to the life of a freelance photographer. Working with Tim set me up for success and I wouldn’t be where I am today with out his guidance and willing to teach me. Today I’m fortunate to be working with dream brands, documenting expeditions around the globe, and hanging out with some of the most amazing people in this world. 

 How have you managed to balance passion projects and your commercial work?

 Balancing passion projects and commercial work is one of the hardest things to do. This industry is addicting in that you will never say no to a job and when you’re not on a “job” all you want to do is take more pictures for personal projects. So you end up living every second thinking about the next idea, place to go, pitch to send, people to photograph. Torsten, my professor, always told me that commercial work will not be an issue for me, but that you will get sucked in to too much of it and forget to make pictures for yourself. And its true. So I started working with a group of friends The Locals Project where we told ourselves we would all come together once a year to focus our time and energy on a self funded passion project. I quickly realized that these passion projects are the most fulfilling for my mind and that society seems to be impacted by them more and they are a powerful part of human history. For me passion projects often end up being expeditions documenting communities or athletes that have a story, whether it’s surfers in Cuba or skiers that want to go into the Himalaya where no man had been before. I live for these trips now, its what I love, and its what makes me feel alive.

You recently took a month to ski and do some first descents in Kyrgyzstan. Tell me about that experience.

I took 35 days off to document a ski mountaineering expedition in Tajikistan. This was to date my biggest and gnarliest expedition that consisted of four first ascents and descents above 17,000 feet in the Himalaya, longs days in a tent, the most chaotic ice fall crossing, one shower, and good times with good people. This expedition pushed me both physically and mentally.

How has travel and your experience in these different cultures influenced your work? 

I think traveling to these different cultures has taught me a lot about the world and myself. I am often reminded how lucky I am, I am reminded that this earth is such a gift and our life is as well. Everywhere I have traveled, people have brought me in as family and it has taught me to do the same to everyone else.

You’ve gone back to the University of Oregon to speak to classes a number of times. What are you telling the students who are aspiring to be photographers. 

I have gone back to the university to talk a couple times and I have so much I want to share about the industry. I tell them to find inspiration, learn from the people who have been doing it for a lifetime already, and if you want to be a photographer, well it won’t even be a question. I promise you if it’s right, you will know and it will change your life forever.

At SILVARA, we aim to keep you moving through the finest offering of CBD products and educational materials. Our goal is goal is to inspire, educate, and curate the finest selection of CBD available anywhere.

info@silvara.co