I am only 17 years old and still in High School. But unlike other teenagers who will sleep until noon, what is it that motivates me to wake up in the earliest hours of the morning to capture a moment in time that will pass by in an instant? What pushes me to hike under the stars in the middle of desolate wilderness in below freezing temperatures? What makes me appreciate all that is around me and look at the world through different eyes? Photography. Plain and simple. My love and dedication to the craft has helped me see the bigger picture – my direction in life, what I’m most passionate about, and the joy I get from waking up every day to embrace every adventure that life throws my way.

When I was about 13, long before I got into photography, I often asked myself, “What is my purpose?” and “What do I want to do most in life?” I understood that I still had quite a bit of time to figure that out, but at that age, as I was maturing, I didn’t really have anything that I was extremely passionate about. There had always been this feeling that I was lacking something – as if I was deprived of a vital ingredient to the recipe of my life. I still engaged in regular teenage activities such as playing on the soccer team, skateboarding with my friends, and playing the drums in my school band. But up until about three years ago, I felt this inescapable emptiness inside of me. I wanted to understand the cause of the emptiness and lack of direction, but it would take a few years for me to finally discover the cause. But once I did, everything changed.

The summer before my sophomore year, I took my father’s Nikon D5100 on a two-week backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies. When I returned home, I had over two thousand photographs and a new found obsession. I was completely hooked. That emptiness was filled and with it feelings of boredom, frustration, and anxiety vanished. But a new restlessness took root. Along with photography, I discovered a love for adventure and travel. I am constantly wanting to see new places and explore the unknown.

I enjoy the adventure aspect that comes with most of my photography outings just as much as I do in taking the photographs. Whether it’s shooting from rooftops in San Francisco, hiking down steep cliffs to reach a deserted beach, or climbing to the top of a fourteen thousand foot mountain in Colorado, adventure is always calling my name.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I picked up the camera and was instantly able to take good photographs right off the bat. In fact, those first few thousand images I took in Colorado were nothing more than simple, thoughtless snapshots. I was just a kid fooling around with an expensive piece of photographic equipment, pushing random buttons in hopes that it would go CLICK! But to me, it was pure magic. Today, I often look back at those photos and can still feel the indescribable joy that those first images gave me.

Eventually, I was able to get my own camera (thanks Mom!) but I still did not fully understand how to put all of its confusing buttons and functions to good use. So, I took it upon myself to learn all that I could about my camera with the help of many YouTube tutorials. I learned everything from how to properly shoot in manual mode to post processing the final image in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The learning process was a little tedious at times, but I was determined to pursue my new found passion. I then applied this new knowledge by taking different types of photos all over the San Francisco Bay Area. I unearthed hundreds of places around San Francisco that I didn’t even know existed prior to my interest in photography. I felt like a giddy little kid opening presents on Christmas with each new discovery being as exciting as the next.

I couldn’t drive myself to all of the locations I wanted to see – I was only 14. Because of that, I owe a lot of credit to my parents. My dad was already into photography, and would shoot beside me on our trips, but my mom was not. So rather than sit in the car and patiently wait until I was finished, she decided to make the best of it and picked up a camera of her own. I am extremely fortunate that my family is able to share a common interest in photography and travel, and it has allowed me to photograph places that I have never dreamed of even seeing in person.

As I began to accumulate a catalog of work, I began posting my work on various social media sites, such as Instagram and Facebook, and was overwhelmed with the surprising amount of positive feedback that I received. I also connected with an amazing community of local Bay Area photographers and began shooting with them regularly. Most of them are at least twice or three times my age but it doesn’t really matter to me. They have become good friends and my life is enriched as a result.

For me, photography is not just a casual hobby, it is a lifetime obsession that will stick with me forever. Even though I am only 17 now, I realize the profound impact photography has on my life. It has improved my work ethic and made me look at the world around me with more appreciation. It is my dream to one day have a successful career based on my photography, adventure, and travel. If there is anything I have learned from my passion, it’s that anything is possible as long as you put hard work, dedication, and joy into whatever it is you are trying to achieve.

To see more from Taylor Gray, follow him on Instagram at @taylorgrayphoto or on his website.

 

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Yosemite National Park, California

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San Francisco, California

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Multnomah Falls, Oregon

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San Francisco, California

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Jackson Lake, Wyoming

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Mt. Harvard, Colorado

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Yosemite National Park, California

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Hallstatt, Austria

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Buena Vista, Colorado

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Davenport, CA

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Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

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Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

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Fort Point, San Francisco, California

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Columbia Basin, Colorado

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Martin’s Beach, California

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Yosemite National Park, California

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Davenport, California

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Lower Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

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Gibbon Falls, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

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Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

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Harvard Lakes, Colorado

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Marysville, California

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Yosemite National Park, California

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Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

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Buena Vista, Colorado