17-Year-Old Bikes Over 300km to Take Beautiful Pictures... By Himself!

(Lake Louise, Photo by Ethan Chin)

Ethan Chin is not your average seventeen-year-old. After graduating high school in Canada he wanted to pursue a career in photography, but he had a problem. He didn't have enough pictures to build a portfolio or a website as he had only been shooting landscapes seriously for a little over a year. His solution was both brave and inspiring. He spent the summer after high school traveling the Canadian Rockies from Banff to Jasper taking photos of the dramatic landscapes, both to fill his portfolio and also as kind of a crash course on photography. His idea, however, presented a big obstacle. He didn't have a car, nor was he old enough to rent one...

So he did the trip on his bike.

Stuffing his Fuji X-T2 and Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 lens, a case of LEE filters, his Surface Pro 4 and a tripod into his Peak Design Backpack, Ethan hit the road. And man oh man did pay off.

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(photo by Ethan Chin)

Let me remind you this wasn't a 300 kilometer trip through the flat plains of Kansas. This is the Canadian Rockies! Aside from the dangers of wild animals, the terrain is rugged and the weather unforgiving. This is a perfect example of if you want something bad enough, you can do it. But just for scale, here's what it looks like on a map:

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Yeah, that's far. We reached out to Ethan and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. So, enjoy the interview:

Steve's Digicam: Hi Ethan, thanks so much for talking with us and telling us a little bit about your journey. Were you after specific images on your journey or did you let the beauty of your surroundings dictate what you took?

Ethan Chin: For my trip I mapped out specific locations on a personalized Google map. Part of my planning process was breaking up the 300km between Banff and Jasper into small segments. I ultimately planned it so that every segment of the trip ended at a specific location I wanted to shoot.

That said, I did shoot some images spontaneously, such as the time it started raining halfway through a segment and I was riding past a mountain shrouded with clouds. I just knew I had to photograph it. While the planned shots were crucial to the planning, I felt like the spontaneous shots were the most exciting, precisely because I did not foresee them.

What was the furthest you traveled to get a specific shot?

The furthest I've traveled continuously within a day was when I cycled the 100km from Toronto to the city of Hamilton, ON, to photograph Albion Falls. I did it as training for my bike-packing trip through the Rockies and got a great image out of it in the end.

When I visited the famous Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park, there was a large crowd of photographer gathered around the bridge with the best viewpoint of the falls. I went in search of another viewpoint and eventually came across this view of a smaller waterfall right next to Athabasca. The trees were completely bathed in golden light and surrounded by dramatic clouds. I knew I had a keeper immediately. It's a significant image to me because I had never seen an image like it from that location, and that is why I like it.

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For a 17-year-old to do this is pretty brave, were you alone and if so were you or your parents scared?

I did, in fact, do it alone. I've always been a fairly independent person, and this trip was no different, and it wasn't too big a challenge. I stayed in youth hostels in Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, as well as campsites along the way, and met a lot of awesome and friendly people. They often invited me along for hikes or talks around the campfire, and sometimes shared their food with me! Their warmth and openness to me, a complete stranger, definitely made me feel welcomed and right at home.

My mom was the most worried, of course, because of the bears that are present in the National Parks. I reassured her that I would bring bear spray along, and that I knew the necessary safety precautions regarding bears and other wildlife. She claims she was comfortable with me doing the trip but she still sent me messages every day until I lost cell reception on the Icefields Parkway.

Moms are the best.

On the last leg of my trip, it started raining incredibly heavily, and I was soaked to the bone while riding. The defining moment of that segment came when I rode past this view of a mountain shrouded by rain clouds, and I knew I just had to photograph it. I stopped by the side of the road, drenched and cold, and shot this image of a mountain I still do not know the name of. It was unexpected, beautiful and special.

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Lastly, the image I shot at Honeymoon Lake is special to me because it was a gorgeous location I did not expect to see. I camped at a site called Honeymoon Lake Campground for one night, and did not expect to find this amazing view right next to my spot. It just goes to show that sometimes the best locations are the unforeseen ones.

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Where would you like to go next if you got to take a trip for another few months to take pictures?

My sister introduced me to an awesome adventure called the Mongol Rally. It's a trip where you are supposed to buy a cheap, preferably used, car and drive from the UK to Russia (it was formerly Mongolia, hence the name). Along the way, you're supposed to force yourself to interact with locals in their language in order to get help when your car breaks down (and it will). You're completely on your own otherwise, and you're supposed to raise at least a thousand British pounds for charity along the way.

It's a trip that I would love to do one day. It would be just me, and 10,000 miles through mountains and deserts through Europe and Asia - a landscape photographer's dream! Given the distance, I have no doubt it will be a trip that will last at least a few months.

That said, this trip would hinge on my ability to drive, and given the circumstances of my last adventure, the Mongol Rally will definitely have to wait a while!


Thanks, Ethan! We hope you get to take that trip so you can share it with the world and continue to inspire people to get out and go after what they want, even if it seems daunting at first.

Source: Ethan Chin

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