I Want Your Outdoor Job: Bryan Hansel, Professional Photographer and Kayak Guide

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Bryan Hansel is a busy guy working in the outdoor industry. He is a professional photographer and kayak guide living in the small, quirky tourist town of Grand Marais, Minnesota which is on the northshore of Lake Superior. He tells the world about his adventures by writing for several outdoor magazines and through his blog, paddlinglight.com.

After guiding for several years, this year he decided to start North Shore Expeditions which offers both day tours and multi-day kayak trips on Lake Superior.

1) How long have you been in business and what got you started?
I've been working as a pro photog for about eight years now. I learned photography in high school in the late 80s and decided that it would be worthwhile to turn a hobby into a job when I moved to Grand Marais.

North Shore Expeditions is a new company that grows out of the private guiding and instruction that I do. I decided that I wanted a fleet of kayaks to get more people on the water, so I turned it into its own company. I've been guiding and instructing kayaking since 2006. Back then I was looking for a fun summer job to get out and meet a bunch of people. I loved it so much that I decided that I wanted to make it a career choice.

Basically, I live in a typical, small, tourist town with limited opportunities for meaningful employment and most of the available jobs have low wages. In order to make anything close to what I made in the corporate sporting goods world, I have to piece together income by wearing a bunch of different hats. Plus I moved here, so I could do what I love doing.

2) What’s the best part of your job?
I love teaching photography workshops and kayaking, and introducing people to the outdoors. Seeing a smile on someone's face after they realize that they just made a great photo or after they learn their first rescue makes it all worth it. I remember one student who struggled with a self rescue. She almost gave up, but with a little gentle encouragement, she pulled through, got the rescue and when we got onshore gave me a big hug and told me how happy and strong she felt that she could do the rescue. I still get warm and fuzzy inside when I think about it.

Plus, I get to be in the outdoors, doing what I'm passionate about. It's "living the dream."

Night Photography. Photo Credit: Bryan Hansel

3) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
People think that being a photographer or a guide is a glamorous job, but when you're running a small business all the business stuff consumes more time that the photography or guiding. I personally spend more time on marketing than anything else. I wouldn't call it difficult, but it's definitely work.

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start their own guiding/photography company?
Think twice about it. If you're turning a hobby into a business, you may find that you ruin your hobby. For example, I love to write as a hobby and I went to college to learn how to write at one of the best writing schools in the U.S., and even though I freelance to various magazines the entire process of submitting drags me down and subtracts from my enjoyment, so I usually channel that creative energy into my blogs where it's more enjoyable for me. I wouldn't want to make all my income from writing because it'd wear me out quickly. It's better for me as a hobby. I have friends that have tried to make it as photographers and guides and many of them burn out after a year. It's more work than you think, and you need to approach it with a business sense instead of as a hobby.

The other tip is to build a strong business background either through classes or experience before jumping in. You need to know how to build a business plan, act on the plan to achieve goals and revise it when it's not working. If you're going to be successful, you can't just wing it and hope things turn out. That can work, but you usually end up wasting a bunch of money and time in the process.

Kayaks and Tent. Photo Credit: Bryan Hansel

5) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
The cost of gear and the training you have to get. To calculate the cost to take one fine art landscape shot, I have to add up the cost of all my gear to make it: a $3000 camera, $2000 lens, memory cards, batteries, hard drives, computer system, computer programs, classes I've taken, etc.

After adding up everything, the print that I sell for $50, cost me $10,000 to make. For guiding, I have spent over $1,500 to get and update my Wilderness First Responder cert and ACA kayaking certs.

6) If you could tell something to your 18 year-old self, what would it be?
I was 18 in 1989, so I'd tell myself, "Don't wear a white tux and pink cummerbund to your senior prom and cut the mullet!"

Photo Credits: bryanhansel.com

Additional Info

  • Article Description:

    I Want Your Outdoor Job finds people working in the outdoor industry making a living doing exactly what they love to do and asks them how they did it.

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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