Bret Blakely - How Photography Opened My Soul To The Wonder Of Mother Nature

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

Hi, my name is Bret Blakely, I grew up and live in Buffalo, NY which I absolutely love.

It is nice as a photographer to have Niagara Falls 20 minutes away but many people don’t realize how close we are to so many amazing places like Letchworth State Park. Letchworth is known as the Grand Canyon of the East and is truly spectacular.

I spent many days as a child and adult hiking Letchworth, the Adirondacks and Allegheny. This started at a young age with yearly camping trips with the family from as young as I can remember and I’m appreciative that they exposed me to the outdoors.

I have always been mesmerized by the beauty and awe inspiring qualities of nature, so I caught the bug pretty early as far as a love for nature. Nature can challenge us in the best way possible.

Yosemite is where I began my serious journey into photography just over a year ago and I recently went back and felt a connection again

Since getting into landscape photography, I have done a lot of traveling to places where hiking is part of the adventure and the memories with friends that I take these trips with is what stands out the most.

Sometimes things get dangerous and a little sketchy but that is part of the journey. I think the place I associate with most right now is Yosemite. Yosemite is where I began my serious journey into photography just over a year ago and I recently went back and felt a connection again, just as I did the first time there. That first trip fueled an obsession.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

I think my favorite and most life changing hike was last February during my first trip to Iceland. 

I went with one of my best friends and we ended up renting a camper van that we would spend 8 days in driving throughout Iceland, sleeping next to waterfalls and feeling like we were on another planet.

We planned in advance to do a private glacier and ice cave tour. We arrived at the pick up location so early that it was still pitch black out and made our way in their adventure vehicle known as the defender and made our way to the start of the glacier.

The most important thing is to just get out there and explore.

The sun was coming up and blessing us with a jaw dropping sunrise filled with pastel, pinks, blues, oranges and purples. When we exited the vehicle, we were given small and big ice cramps to walk on the glacier with and to hike into the caves with.

As anyone who has been to Iceland gets windy, I mean seriously windy. We began our hike around 7 am with awe inspiring mountains everywhere, the sunrise in all its glory and wind that was trying to blow us to another continent and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

As we hiked across this epic landscape we would say to one another how it felt like we were in a national geographic video. The hike was strenuous and beautiful, exhausting and exhilarating, serene and surreal. The ice caves were mind blowing and the pictures we got are some of my favorites of all time.

Needless to say, by the time we got back, the sun was now setting and was equally as astonishing as that morning’s sunrise. We were tired, sore but filled with euphoria over the experience we had that day. When we checked the Apple Heart App to see what we had done, it showed we hiked 10.7 miles while climbing a vertical distance of 87 floors.

That was my most memorable and historic hike without a doubt and the accomplishment, the experience and the inner peace I had while going through it is what changed me. It made me feel small in the best way possible and was just another catalyst in my insatiable thirst to get out and explore!

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

Hiking and being outdoors and landscape photography has filled me with such an appreciation for all of nature and the beautiful creatures that roam this incredible planet.

We began our hike around 7 am with awe inspiring mountains everywhere, the sunrise in all its glory and wind that was trying to blow us to another continent and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

It has taught me to always look up and be attentive to the beauty that surrounds us. It could be the way the light is pouring through the trees or the vast open landscape of snow and mountains like I experienced in Iceland or the soft and meditative rush of water in a stream...the beauty is everywhere. 

Some of my hiking experiences have pushed me past my fears as well. There was a waterfall we were trying to hike to in Iceland with fresh snow, no real defined trail and it was a 30 foot drop to my right and every step felt treacherous.

For someone who is afraid of heights, there were times I thought I should just turn back...but boy did I want to get that waterfall and that was what drove me through that fear.

Don’t get me wrong, I was one happy guy when we got there and returned safely but I was also incredibly happy I did and pushed through the fear!

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

When I hike the things I don’t leave without are:

  1. My camera because its my passion to capture these places and experiences
  2. Water because you never know when you need it
  3. Waterproof hiking boots
  4. For winter...crampons. After using them for the first time in Iceland I had to get some because of how much safer and sturdy it makes hiking in troublesome places where snow and ice could play a serious role. They are so inexpensive too….

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

For someone who is just starting out my advice would be to do something you are comfortable with.

If you aren’t physically active then start going on walks, building up muscle endurance and cardiovascular endurance. If you are in good shape and plan on doing something more advanced I would just research the hike, make sure you are well prepared and understand what you are getting yourself into.

The most important thing is to just get out there and explore.

You find out so much about yourself and become more connected to your environment and to the planet in general. I find it very therapeutic so it's not just a physical benefit but a mental one as well.

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

I am very active on instagram because of my landscape photography and there are so many photographers I follow that truly inspire me. Some with massive followings and some with small followings but if I follow them it is because they inspire me and I appreciate their artistry.

This may seem like a promotion of my friend type of answer but truly I have to say Adam Danni aka @adamrdanni on instagram.

He is the one who helped me turn a like for photography into a full blown obsession. He invited me on my first photo trip to Yosemite and I do all my photo trips with him. Last year we did Yosemite, Iceland, Oregon, Washington, Letchworth, Niagara Falls, Yosemite again and now have Norway coming up.

His skill is incredible, his style is breathtaking and the memories we have made mean the world to me.

We are always looking for podcasts to listen to during long drives from one location to another and often find ourselves listening to the @ArtofVisuals podcast. I like how you learn the stories of photographers you may or may not follow. Always inspiring and nice to get deeper than a photograph.

Where’s your next adventure?

Although I have several trips planned this year, including one a month to South Africa (which I cannot wait to go to!!)...the next scheduled adventure and photography trip is Norway this summer with Adam Danni.

It is a landscape photographers dream and a place with unmatched beauty as well as somewhere I have never been. We will explore Oslo and Lofoten as well as some other places nearby for 10 days.

It will be interesting because the sun never really sets in the summer so our opportunity to shoot photos, hike and explore are that much greater. It will allow us to do some longer hikes as well since we do not have to worry about the cover of night.

Where can others learn more about you?

For anyone who may want to follow my adventures they can find me at the following places:

Go and explore because as Edward Abbey says: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Want to share your Story From The Mountain?

Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.

We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.

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