Feature: Adventure Photographer Iz La Motte on the Pursuit of the ‘Human Story'

Feature: Adventure Photographer Iz La Motte on the Pursuit of the ‘Human Story'

By Hannah Truby

This story was originally featured in the Mountain Gazette Sunday email — our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here

Residing between the ridges of Utah’s Wasatch Range by winter and the Green Mountain State of Vermont by summer, adventure photographer and filmmaker Iz La Motte is surrounded by year-round beauty.

But as any outdoor photographer will tell you, the craft goes beyond simply capturing thrilling moments in pretty landscapes. On Iz’s website, you’ll find a kind of simple but captivating mission statement that reads:


“The easiest way for folks to connect with each other is hearing each other's stories,” Iz explains. “I think the beautiful thing about being a human is that everyone has a story, and one of my biggest conundrums in life is, how do you tell all the stories?”

Iz’s childhood included lots of upstate New York skiing, leading to a transient dream of being a professional ski racer. While she is an avid skier today, Iz is no racer – she credits an old collection of 35mms to her change in trajectory.

“Inherited my grandfather's collection of cameras when I was 12, after he passed away,” she tells me. “Once I got those cameras, I was immediately hooked. Once I became an adult, all of my bigger decisions started revolving around skiing and cameras.”

In her final year of college, Iz visited Alta Ski Area to film a segment for her senior thesis.

“I was in that phase of ‘Oh my god, the world is ending. I'm graduating from college and I don't know what's happening,” she recounts. “A group of us stayed in the Goldminer's Daughter Lodge there for a week, and it was like, ‘Wait a second, this is even better than college!’ because you get to hang out with all your friends, and you don't have any homework!”

After her week at Alta, Iz made the move across the country to make Utah her new home. While Iz was working at a local ski shop (and convincing her coworkers to let her use them for photography practice), Alta Ski Area was in search of a new videographer. 

That same winter, Iz was approached by their marketing team. She accepted, and went on to work there for the next three seasons.

Iz’s time with Alta offered loads of opportunities to network, meet with brands, and get her work out into the public eye. Now a professional adventure photographer and filmmaker, Iz has collaborated with some seriously big brands, like National Geographic, K2 Skis, and Backcountry. 

But no matter how big the name, the goal for Iz has always been the same: to help brands tell their story in a way that feels true to them.

As humans, we love stories; we think in stories, remember in stories. Back in the day, stories offered us both connection and survival (one of the main things that made neanderthals different from their sapien counterparts was the latter’s ability to comprehend fiction, and differentiate it from fact.)

As a reader of Mountain Gazette, the power of storytelling is most certainly not lost on you – nor is it on Iz. 

“It draws people in,” Iz says simply. “It makes the patron feel like the brand sees them as human. I've heard it time and time again, ‘I wanna buy from this brand because they seem to get it’. My favorite types of branded work are when you don't even realize that the brand's trying to sell you a product…whatever it is, they're clearly showing you a story.”

But storytelling isn’t just an art, it's also a science. When you hear or see a really compelling story, your brain participates in a phenomenon known as “narrative transportation.” It’s when a story engages so many of your senses that you can almost see, smell, hear and feel what the narrative is describing, and, on a deeper level, connect with it. And when it comes to branding, many in the industry are learning story-driven marketing is the way to do it.

Many brands in the industry have found and succeeded at this, such as with the “community” story. This story brings culture and brand together. A good “community” story campaign reminds us of the bonds that tie us together, to celebrate shared experiences; a great one inspires their tribe to believe in something more than just the product.

Then we have the “pathos” story, the heartfelt tearjerker, which seeks to capture not just the minds and wallets of the audience, but the heart, as well (one that comes to mind is The North Face’s “It’s More Than A Jacket” campaign). 

And of course there is the “inspiring origin” story. The passion expressed in this story can very well be the brand's driving force for generations to come. A dirtbag climber with a passion for adventure who sought to craft the best, most sustainable products? Epitome of founding stories.

Consumers today are oversaturated with options of similar standing – showing stories like these is a powerful tool to stand out, and act as a testimony to the authenticity of the brand.

“I’ve found that storytelling is a really powerful tool, and once brands realize that, they can lean into it. I think it's a really incredible way for them to connect with their audiences. The beauty of humanity is that connection and telling stories is the most common thread in my opinion.”

Creating and maintaining a brand legacy is no easy job. As such, companies need people like Iz, but marketing oneself and one’s work can be tough, especially growing and learning as a young female professional. For Iz, this is one of the bigger challenges in this line of work. 

“When I was younger, everyone was saying how important networking is, and I hated when people said that to me!” Iz says. “Selling myself is something that I’ve never been naturally good at. In general, women are encouraged to be small and be nice, and while, yes - one of my biggest life goals is to be a kind person, at the end of the day, if everyone else around us is speaking up for themselves and we're encouraged to stay small and not do that, we're never going to get what we want or where we want to be.”

Now with four years of successful story-driven marketing under her belt, brands now approach her.

Two of Iz’s recent projects celebrate women in the outdoor space: for an episode of Alta’s “Steeped in Tradition”, a series that highlights modern skiers carrying on the ‘spirit of Alta’, Iz featured industry-trailblazing photographer Re Wikstrom. Wikstrom was Alta’s first female photographer, and secured the first all-female cover shots for both Backcountry Magazine and Skiing Magazine. 

“Advice for Girls”, Storyteller Overland’s film that was released last fall, follows three generations of skiers to showcase the collective experience of women in the ski space, and is the first feature-length film to highlight stories of trans women in the industry.

“That was a beautiful experience and kind of has set the bar for me for every project going forward,” Iz says of “Advice for Girls”. “What I really gained from that experience was understanding the importance of open dialogue and vulnerability. Going out into these mountain environments, you have to trust each other, and have to have that open line of communication. There's no room for fluff or eating around the bush. I think that that is a really special experience, and I’ve found great friendship in this space.”

The industry has seen a substantial rise in women on screen, and Iz says it’s continuous proof that there is not only space, but value in telling these stories.

“Sarah Robbins, the director of “Advice for Girls”, likes to say ‘know your worth and add tax’. I feel as a woman in this space, we can be nothing less than the best version of ourselves - I don’t want to be good for a female, I want to be good.”

Coming up for Iz are several more film projects, one of which includes a month-long shoot in Japan. Iz will be accompanied by two of her “Advice for Girls” crew members, Bianca Germain and Sierra Schlag, and, of course, her grandfather’s 35mm.