Star Trails and Winter Camp, Mount Rainier National Park. Credit Randall J. Hodges
EDMONDS, Washington -- “Take only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints.” That’s the motto of Edmonds, Washington based professional-photographer Randall Hodges. The 47 year old has spent the better part of the past three decades taking pictures in some of the most beautiful areas in the West, all the while working towards his goal of hiking 24,901 miles, the distance of equator, or the earth’s circumference. This past New Year’s Eve on the Ebey’s Landing Trail on Whidbey Island he hit the goal that was 27 years in the making. Along his incredible journey his stunning images have been published more than 4,000 times in the likes of National Geographic, Outdoor Photography, Nature Photographer and dozens of others. TrailMob has the interview:
TM: Give us a little background about yourself, the goal of hiking so many miles etc…
RH: I have always loved hiking and backpacking and finding that special piece you can only find on a trail, or in front of an expansive view. I have the need to move my feet on a trail, and the need to see...to see the natural beauty of the wilderness. I am very grateful for the last 16 years as I have gotten to do what I love for a living. That would not be possible without my customers, my students, my publishers, and my followers and collectors. Without them this amazing life I am blessed enough to live, would not be possible, and I am grateful to each and every one of them. For the last 27 years I have carried a camera everywhere I go while hiking. And about 20 years ago it became such a passion I knew I had to work toward doing it as a full time career, and leave my job as a Chef/Restaurant Manager. 16 years ago I was able to make that happen and have been working hard at it ever since.
TM: How did you come up with the goal to hike 24,901 miles, the earth’s circumference?
RH: I have always kept a yearly calendar where I would highlight my hikes, from day trips to extended trips and backpacks, and I always wrote down my mileages. About ten years ago I had hiked 14,000 trail miles. I wanted something to put that in perspective, The Planet Earth being the biggest thing I could think of so I looked up the circumference of the planet, 24,901 miles. I realized I had just under 11,000 miles to go, and my yearly count was going up every year. Then I began hiking towards that goal! Carrying my camera and tripod the entire way! I now average over 1,000 trail miles per year, with 2015 being a banner year with over 1,200 miles hiked. I watched my goal of hiking enough to have hiked the around the planet earth get closer and closer until I hit it at 2pm on Dec 31st on Ebey's Bluff Loop Hike in the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve on Whidbey Island in Washington!
TM: How long did it take?
RH: 27 years of counting.
TM: What was your first trail you hiked after you set your mind to such a lofty endeavor?
RH: I hike too much to remember that one, as every hike I have hiked is a part of it!
TM: What’d you do when you realized you were getting close to finishing your goal?
RH: I had just finished a 3 day Snowshoe Backpack to Artist Ridge in the Mt. Baker National Recreation Area of Washington. I realized I was still 2 miles short. I asked my hiking buddy Bryan if he would mind stopping on the way home to do this loop hike. We grabbed a couple of beers, I made a cardboard sign listing the mileage on a handmade sign, and we hit the trail. On the spot where I figured was 2 miles, we raised a toast, took a couple of photos to commemorate the accomplishment! It was a great way to start a New Year's Eve celebration!
TM: How did you get started as an outdoors photographer?
RH: I simply always carried a camera and wanted to get paid to hike. It just made perfect sense to me to be a professional Nature Photographer.
TM: What attracted you to landscape photography?
RH: I wanted to show people the places I had been and the beauty in the world, without having to explain it. A photograph was the perfect way to do that!
TM: Name a few of your favorite place to photograph in the world and why?
RH: The Canadian Rockies, especially Lake O'Hara Region of Yoho National Park. And The Desert Southwest including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Escalante, and the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness.
TM: For all of the “Washington Hikers and Climbers” (Awesome Facebook group, btw) name a few of your favorite places to photograph in the Evergreen State?
RH: The North Cascades in Washington, including Sahale Glacier, Park Butte on Mt Baker, Yellow Aster Butte, and Skyline Divide. The Wilderness Beaches of Olympic National Park in Washington including Shi-Shi Beach, Second Beach, and Toleak Point
Each one of these areas has a hold on me and I often dream of returning, and I often do. They all have unbelievable and unforgettable scenery. But they also have magical trails that my boots want to hike and a measure of solitude so you can find your own special peace and quiet... Awesome for the spirit and soul! If a trail is fantastic to hike, and offers fantastic photography, then it is on the list!
TM: Any places you have not photographed yet, but hope to soon?
RH: Right now I have been revisiting places I photographed in my slide film days or visited before I was a pro photographer, so I can get all those images that are stuck in my head into my camera... For this year that will include hiking and photographing all the Hawaiian Islands, which I have not done in 10+ years.
Randall celebrating along the Ebey’s Landing Trail on Whidbey Island after hitting goal! Credit: Randall J. Hodges
TM: Pick one… if you can. Favorite picture you ever captured?
RH: Not possible. If you were standing in my gallery, every image on the walls is one of my all time favorites. Each image has a story and a feeling all its own… I can say I did a 20 day trip to the Canadian Rockies during last Autumn to capture Golden Larch in full Fall Glory. Right now that is stuck in my mind as one of my favorite hiking AND photography trips. I came back with over 500 professional publishable images of which over 200 could easily go into my gallery. I have over 50,000 images in my working files, I would easily say that I have a t least 2,000 favorites
TM: Who, What, When and Where do you look for inspiration?
RH: Everywhere.... all the time… and from everyone. One of the things that inspires me the most is planning a trip, which I do year round. I plan all my big trips at least a year out. It is very inspiring to research and plan a trip. I try to put myself in the best possible positions for light in each location, while making sure there is amazing hiking to be done at the same time. I research sunrise and sunset time, moonrise and moonset along with moon phases for each location. I research images of the area and plan how I can capture a more unique view if possible. I reserve any campsites or get any permits that need to be acquired to do a certain hike. I plan all the places I will sleep, making as many of them in a tent as possible and if it can be a backpack even better. All this research gets me so excited and inspired that by the time I am about to leave on a trip, I can hardly stand it! Then you get to do the trip and live it, hike it and photograph it! Then when it is over you get to relive those memories and images forever. Once I am back in home and in my Gallery, I start planning another one. Right now I have 13 large trips in this planning stage...
TM: How many pictures do you normally take in a day on the trail?
RH: This varies from zero to a couple of hundred on a really good day. Almost every trail day I have results in at least one fantastic image. Even if it is not the image I planned on getting, I always seem to get something!
TM: In 27 years of taking pictures… You’ve had to have seen some pretty crazy stuff on the trail. Any stories standout in particular? Sasquatch sightings? Etc.
RH: Recently I helicoptered into Mt. Assiniboine in British Columbia, Canada. We then backpacked from there into a backcountry camp. The threat of grizzly bears were everywhere and on day one a Grizzly ripped up my neighbor's tent.. Everyone we ran into it seemed had just seen a grizzly. Luckily I never did, but let's just say none of as slept soundly the entire time we were there. The really funny part of this story, is that one of my favorite movies is called the Edge. An action adventure thriller about a couple of guys who get in a plane crash and must find their way out of the wilds while a big mean grizzly bear chases them the whole time. Some of my favorite scenes were filmed from "The Nub" in Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park. It was one of the reasons I wanted to go hike and photograph there. I got to stand in the same spot the stars of the movie did. The funny thing was, that movie was all about the grizzly bear, and my visit there was also all about the grizzly bear...very fitting!
TM: Any time you’ve been humbled, so to speak, by the trail?
RH: Many times, for many reasons. Mother Nature can humble you at anytime, and I have been in some life or death situations. But most often I am humbled simply by the overwhelming size and beauty of what I am seeing and experiences. It is one of the reasons I do it!
TM: Just curious, are you a Canon, Nikon or other type of guy?
RH: I am a Canon guy, I shoot the Canon 5DSR. But I always tell my students I will help them on any camera you bring to class. I believe the light and technique are much more important than the camera. Most people find it very hard to believe I do all my work in the camera and do not post process my images at all. I am considered an "All in Camera" or "Old School" Shooter.
TM: Complete this sentence: Besides my camera, I never hit the trail without…
RH: Toilet paper and Rum.
TM: Any post hike rituals or guilty pleasures?
Cocktails at Sunset then Night hike out or back to camp. I love night hiking!
TM: What about pet peeves?
RH: People who litter in the wilderness.. For the life of me I can not understand why.
TM: “Take only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints,” this is a motto?
RH: Yes it is, I like to practice no impact hiking and photography otherwise known as "leave no trace." I also believe it is important to pick up after others who are not as considerate. And sometimes you must even choose to not even leave footprints… Some places just should not even be walked on.
TM: Any advice to aspiring nature photographers?
RH: Take an out in the field class with a professional like myself. Many people spend a lot of money on there cameras and gear, but won't invest a couple of hundred bucks on a lesson to use it. I can teach anyone in one class how to run their camera like a pro.
TM: What about weekend warriors like ourselves. Any common photography mistakes that have simple fixes?
RH: Yep, bring a tripod... Number one rule in outdoor photography. But the above ‘take a lesson’ also applies.
TM: Any other massive bucket-list goals?
RH: Do what I get to do for the rest of my life. Dream locations? Patagonia and New Zealand.
TM: Anything else you’d like to add?
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