Kat Carney is one of those women who seems to have lived a million lives: before launching her career as an outdoor/adventure photographer, she graduated from Adelphi University in New York. She worked as a journalist and staff photographer for the Chanute Tribune, the local newspaper in a tiny town in southeast Kansas. She played volleyball professionally in Spain. But it wasn’t until she moved to San Diego in 2012 that her photography business really started to take shape—and she’s never looked back.
Today she lives out of her 2002 Chevy Suburban, driving around the west coast to take photos, tell stories, explore the wildest places she can find. She’s shot for British Airways, Hyundai, Kelty, Thermarest, Outdoor Research, Outdoor Women’s Alliance, and The Clymb.
The Clymb: What inspires you? Who has influenced your visual style?
Kat Carney: It’s changed over the years. I used to look at other people’s work all the time, but now I’m more inspired by being out in the field, either by myself or with other people who enjoy doing the same things I like to do. I find that collaboration with my subjects lead to images that I find inspiring—they often have unique and interesting ideas and different perspectives, and they help me break the rules.
The Clymb: Tell us about the role of social media in your career.
Kat Carney: I’m on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but Instagram is where I focus my social media energy. I joined Instagram in 2011, but I didn’t start using it until 2013. At the time I didn’t know how to put my work out into the world, and Instagram became a fun daily way to share what I was working on. It gave me a reason to get out and shoot every day. I realized that people were interested in what I was doing. I’ve made connections, and it’s played a huge role in how I’ve gotten jobs.
Social media is also a fun and interesting way to connect with other photographers. I love seeing different and overlapping perspectives on the same place or the same scene. I’ve gotten involved with the Outdoor Women’s Alliance and She Explores that way. Through them I found an online community, which helped me find a local community of rad female friends doing badass things.
The Clymb: Tell me about your truck.
Kat Carney: I live in a 2002 Chevy Suburban 4×4. My boyfriend and I built it out with a bed, shelves along one side of the interior, a fridge, and a locking drawer for my photo gear. When we were choosing a rig, we looked at everything from Mitsubishi Montero to LandCruisers, but the decision to buy a Suburban came down to a combination of value and capability. Our budget was $10,000, and we really wanted a rig with four-wheel drive.
I have a high-lift jack, a shovel, an air compressor, various other recovery gear in case I get into a bind. I also carry a tool kit, an auxiliary battery, and solar panels on the roof. I can charge my camera, laptop, fridge, and phone off the grid.
The bed is a 4” tri-fold foam mattress. We have compartments underneath each section. It’s 6’6” long, which was a requirement for my boyfriend (who’s 6’2”.) It’s slightly less wide than a full bed. I always travel with my two stuffed hippos, Hedgehog and Rufus. If you’re interested in seeing the Suburban, there’s a tour of our rig here.
The Clymb: What kind of photography gear do you carry in the backcountry?
Kat Carney: I have two camera bodies: a Canon 5d Mark II and a Canon 6d. I usually carry the 6d because it’s lighter and smaller. Depending on what I’m planning to shoot, I carry one or two lenses. If I’m shooting landscapes or the night sky, I’ll bring my 16-35mm lens. If I’m shooting climbers, I take my 24-70mm. If I’m in big mountains, I carry my 70-200mm—it just shows the scale better.
I also carry a GoPro. I use the wrist mount a lot, especially when I’m canyoneering or climbing. They’re fantastic, because you don’t have to worry about them getting wet or banged up. You just put it on video or time lapse and go. They also work pretty well in low light, especially if you stabilize it against a wall or rock or tree.
The Clymb: What are five things you couldn’t live on the road without?
Kat Carney: My camera, of course—it’s always in my hand or tucked into my backpack. My friends on the road—the people I meet along the way are so important for my mental sanity, and they make the experience what it is. A very large water bottle, because refilling is a pain. Sunscreen, because I’m a very fair-skinned ginger. And my wide-brim hat.
The Clymb: Where are your favorite places to shoot?
Kat Carney: I’m really drawn to the southwest: southern Utah, northern Arizona. It’s so hard to pick just one place. I find magic everywhere I go.
The Clymb: What’s your dream project?
Kat Carney: I’m currently really interested in filmmaking, because it’s the next step in telling complex moving stories. I think I’m moving in that direction, slowly but surely. Photography and videography are very different skill sets, but I find them both fascinating.
Right now I’m planning to make a film about surfing in Baja. I spent a month surfing in there last year, and out of the dozens of people that I saw surfing, there were only two women. But there are absolutely badass women who are surfing, and I have a lot of female friends who are crushing it. So I want to get a group of women together to experience the magic of the Baja waves. The culture is great, the scenery is gorgeous—that story is just waiting to be told.
The Clymb: There aren’t tons of outdoor/adventure photographers who are women. Has that affected your experience?
Kat Carney: Frankly, the sports that I shoot are male-dominated. Elevating women in those sports is something I’m really passionate about. Showing representation of women in those sports is important to. I want to tell younger women that they can climb big rocks, explore canyons, paddle out to that break. I want to show them that there are people like them out there doing it. You can be part of this lifestyle, too.
The Clymb: What advice do you have for people who are interested in getting into visual storytelling?
Kat Carney: Shoot a lot! You don’t have to travel—you can shoot in your own backyard! You don’t have to spend a lot of money, or have the right gear, or life the right life. There are beautiful things happening all around you, every moment of the day. Just start noticing those things, and you’ll start developing your visual eye. There are stories everywhere. All you have to do is look.