This story originally in the Mountain Gazette Sunday email — our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here
Meet Emily Tidwell: she’s an action-sports photographer based in Reno, Nevada, and a senior photographer here at Mountain Gazette. You’ll find her work predominantly in the worlds of snowsports, mountain biking, and trail running – and it succeeds in capturing them beautifully. She’s a spunky creative, sprinkled with passion and zest that translates into both her photography and her personhood.
How did you come to find and work with Mountain Gazette?
I originally met Rogge when I moved to Tahoe, and wound up interning for Verb Cabin, which is his production company. I did that for a year and then went out on my own doing freelance. But when Rogge wound up getting the magazine, he contacted me to be a photographer, and we just started working like that really quickly together. When the first issue under him came out, it was really exciting to see that my name was listed as a senior photographer, which is my first senior position ever. It's been smooth sailing since.
How did you first become interested in photography? Was there a moment when you realized you could turn that passion into a career?
The passion started way before I was even taking photos. I decided when I was 13 that I was going to become a ski photographer. It was kind of out of nowhere. Before, I was really focused on writing and painting. I'd always dabbled with the camera, but I'd never had any screaming interest for photography, but just on a whim – after seeing a ski moving, I think – I was like, ‘Yeah, no, I think I'm just gonna become a ski photographer.’
My first real big job was becoming a staff photographer for Timberline Lodge when I was 25, which was really cool because then I got to take out all my friends and go shoot in the park. But I didn't start freelancing until five years ago when I I was offered the position to be a campaign photographer for Kirkwood Mountain, South Lake, and that really propelled me to quit my day job, start freelancing and hustling that whole business.
Since then, what challenges or obstacles have you experienced thus far in your career?
Freelancing is really difficult – there's major highs and major lows. The first two years of my career were really difficult. The first year I don't think I even made minimum wage especially with paying out taxes. And then the second year was 2020, and all my contracts crashed. And I panicked, I didn't know what I was going to do.
I had always had an interest in mountain biking, and my boyfriend at the time, my husband today, came home from work one day and said, ‘Please don't be mad at me, but I bought you a mountain bike.’ That was a huge catalyst for change in my career; I found a huge passion in mountain biking, and that really satisfied a lot of my seasonal needs. My drive and passion for imagery to mountain biking is so much different than ski photography in a lot of ways. It really pushed me to where I am now in my career.
In what ways do you think you have grown since you started? In your photography, and also kind of running your own business as a freelancer?
I am very naturally introverted, and very self conscious about my photography. And at the beginning of my career, it was really hard for me to convince myself to tell somebody else to buy a photo that I had taken of them.
That's a forever growing and changing challenge, especially to understand what your worth is and have the confidence in stating that and backing yourself.
A lot of multi-sport athletes say they have a favorite – they partake in other activities while they wait for the season or conditions appropriate for the fav one. Do you have a favorite type of photography?
That’s difficult. I would say that my preference right now is towards mountain biking. It’s drastically different from skiing – it's much more moody, there's a lot more texture and play, and color that you get to work with. And that has really opened up a space in my mind where I get to think a little bit more abstractly where sometimes the scheme is so much more critical about getting that one shot and making it right.
In industries like photography or the outdoor scene, I can’t help but wonder if there is any kind of fatigue that comes from combining passion and career? What do you think?
Definitely. I hit a major burnout last fall. And part of that burnout was in photography, another part of that was in skiing. I just felt like I had lost all my inspiration for both.
That whole thing where ‘if you find what you love, you never work a day in your life’ is so fabricated. I mean, sometimes it doesn't feel like I'm working, but I also feel like I'm working all the time, my brain never shuts off!
Were there other things that contributed to it?
The pace of freelancing. I was living off of the go-go-go of it all. There’s also a culture around it — people tell you that it’s how you survive. And at the beginning of your career, there's so much that you have to exert, to say yes to, in order to succeed. And I wasn't allowing myself any space to breathe within that.
For someone like me who’s just getting started, do you have any advice on how to deal with that?
I think it's really key to find something else that you enjoy, and make an effort to not try to get better at it, just do something that you're just fine at. Finding other things you love, other outlets, I think that really helps some of that passion overdrive.
I’ve started baking bread a lot. I have a lot of anxiety around time where I always feel like there's not enough time to do something. And sometimes I'll just wind up sitting there, waiting for hours for something because I'm afraid that I won't have any time! But bread takes 18 hours! And it helped me to realize that it was okay to take your time with something, that I had time to do that as well as other things. So that was major.
Ha! That’s awesome. I can definitely relate to the time-anxiety. Progressing from novice to pro to burnout, what do you think you’ll keep in mind moving forward in your career?
I’ve thought a lot about that recently. For me, it's changing what success means. Last year, it was how much money I could make in the shortest amount of time, and how many times I was able to do that in a month. It was great and exciting, but I also spent between a lot of time away from home and traveling for work, and that really burned me out.
Now, success to me is working with clients that I love, brands that I love. It's a lot more about people that work behind the business and my self worth, so that I only need to work a handful of times a month to feel comfortable – both with paying myself for my business and paying for life.
My husband and I want to buy a house, so now I ask myself: ‘How can I insert myself into that without needing to stress myself out so much?’ And that has helped substantially because now I give myself more free time to hang out with friends to garner skills, relax, breathe. And that's what I'm looking to do.
What’s next for you?
The future is pretty uncertain for me right now – in a great way! I am working on pitching a lot of larger format ideas, a lot of mixed media, and trying out things that I've always wanted to. As a kid, I was a huge science nerd, and I’ve realized I still want to be a science nerd. So I'm pitching some projects that are gonna lend to that.
As for Mountain Gazette, I believe there's going to be a photo gallery of mine that I'm really excited to see. Really anything that comes into the magazine is exciting, especially as a photographer, because you never get to see your images in a large format like that, where you get to flip the pages. That's a really powerful and special moment as creators to see what you do in that large of a print.
I can’t wait to see your stuff! Any last words for our readers?
Print isn't dead! More and more followers are coming in and committing to loving a really special piece of art, which is so cool to be a part of. I can't wait to see what happens with the magazine in the future. 200 is coming up, that's a really big number and a special for everybody. So congrats to Mountain Gazette for thriving!