Interview: Krystle Wright on National Geographic’s “Photographer,” Storm Chasing, Setbacks, and More

The new National Geographic show Photographer puts the focus on those who capture the amazing shots featured on the pages of the iconic magazine. One of the subjects having the camera turned on them is Krystle Wright, who’s not only had her work featured in Nat Geo but also Outside magazine, The Times, GQ, and more.

During SXSW, we had a chance to chat with Wright about her fascinating profession, the new show, putting herself in danger, and more.

Laughing Place: Congratulations on the show.

Krystle Wright: Thank you.

LP: And I guess you talked about it in the show, but if people are reading this before they've seen it, how did your passion for photography start?

KW: Well, the funny thing is, growing up I just didn't feel like a smart kid. And so when it came to the end of high school, all my friends going to university and I was a bit lost. And originally I thought, "Okay, well, I'll do some fine art." But my mom was actually the one who said, "You know, you are pretty good at taking a photo." So I was like, "Oh, okay. I never really thought about that." And so I enrolled into a degree and surprised I got in. So I took a bit of a gamble on it. And after about a year of fooling around with the camera, excuse the pun, things started to click. And from there, I just never looked back.

LP: Photography and Nat Geo are intertwined. You talk about how your photo appeared in the magazine after a tragedy and it meant a lot to you. What's it like to have out of all the photographers in the world for Nat Geo to pick you amongst the other people that are participating to tell their story?

KW: I mean, It's an honor… especially in this same age where we are seeing so many images created all the time. But in saying that, is that you realize, well, how much of that photography do you forget? I mean, if I scroll on Instagram, I don't think I could tell you a single thing I can remember. But when someone creates something absolutely phenomenal, you realize, yeah, to create a great image or a great story, that still takes skill and time and dedication.

So it is nice for the show to come out to recognize those photographers who do put in that dedication. It is more, it's not just an influencer type thing. It's like, "No, this is our lifestyle. This is what we dedicate ourselves to." But yeah, it's definitely a bit of a pinch me feeling, some days, I think, "Oh, s***." Yeah.

LP: And one of the tasks that you are trying to accomplish in the episode is storm chasing.

KW: Yes.

LP: It always strikes me, because you'll be driving and everything will be sunny, and then things will start to get a little rainy. Does any part of you just feel worried as the conditions get worse and the worse… Or do you have no fear?

KW: Oh no, there's fear. And honestly, I think fear keeps you alive. It's complacency that gets you killed. But storm chasing, I f***ing love it. It's just the very first storm chase I ever got to go on. I think it was like 2017 or 18, and we land in Dallas within an hour. We're in this ferocious dust storm. And I just knew as soon as I got out of the car, I was like, "I'm f***ing hooked." I got another expensive hobby to do.

But yeah, it's wild. As you said, it'd be blue skies and you think, "How could today have a tornado warning?" But then usually by midday things start to happen, and by 3:00 p.m. sometimes we're in clouds so black, you feel like it's nighttime. It is wild. How cool is that?

LP: You have great success, but you've had some setbacks and what allowed you, whether it's tragedy or health or family, to come back and bounce back and better than ever?

KW: I mean, at the moment, I got a broken ankle, so… Walking around and sucking it up briefly. But I mean, we all have setbacks. That's the thing. I think, yeah, setbacks can be hard. And the older you get to keep going through setbacks. You sort of think, "F***, how do I have the energy to keep coming back?" But I don't really have a plan B, I don't know what else I would do. This is the only thing I've ever set my eyes on, so I'm not ready to give up. And whatever setbacks that keep being thrown at me, I don't know. At some point you just think, "All right, well, what else?" It's either you start from scratch and something new or you go, well, I've got all this knowledge and skill built up. I either pivot or I simply try again.

LP: The second task you are trying to execute is this vision that you have for a photo?

KW: Yes.

LP: What's that moment like when you just have that strike of inspiration? Can you just not let it go?

KW: No, it becomes an obsessive… Well, yeah, very obsessive path that starts, because once an idea formulates in my head, it tends to just keep circulating again and again and again until I find a way to finally execute the idea visually. And sometimes those visions haven't worked out. Sometimes I've gone to the ends of the earth and gone, "Oh, s***. That didn't turn out how I expected, or this didn't add up."

But in the show, thankfully that gamble did pay off, and when it did come together, it was like, "Holy s***." From months ago when I came up with a vision and then it all came together. I think that's why I keep coming back because I know when things do come together, it really does pay off.

LP: Do you have a vision right now that you can't get rid of? Is there something?

KW: I did. Well, I was supposed to, after the festival, go back to Utah because I had some variations of that concept I wanted to go try. But yeah, last Monday I had a rock climbing accident.

LP: Oh, sorry.

KW: It's fine. Most people can't tell. But yeah, it's quite big. But then it's like, "Okay, another setback." But no, there's a couple ideas bouncing around. So whether I can do it, well, obviously I can't do it now. Just means I've got to wait a bit longer and try again.

LP:  Whether it's photography or some other sort of calling that people have, what advice do you have for folks to pursue their dreams?

KW: Well, I would say particularly in this day and age, it's like you just need to have the perseverance and the trust in your ability that one day things will get there. And it's hard to say, not everyone's going to find that same success, but I think if you really are truly passionate at photography, probably the main thing is to always have a passion project on the side.

Do whatever it is you have to make ends meet. I have heard speakers, whether it's world-class photographers, even actors, those who still work in Starbucks or they still work, I don't know, as a producer, you name it. Sometimes if you can't make a full-time income out of that profession being photography, which it is awfully difficult these days, it's like, that doesn't have to be your answer though. You just find whatever means it has to get you there. And then as long as you can find a way to make your passion projects happen, I think that's crucial because it just keeps allowing your creative flare to be engaged, and who knows where it leads you. It's quite the crew.

LP: So do you have a viewing party plan? Is your mom ready to watch?

KW: We'll see. I was ready to be here in the States for the next month, but obviously I'm going to go home now for the week. So I guess I need to maybe chat to a few buddies and maybe we'll get a few beers with you and party.

LP: Have you had a chance to see any of the other episodes?

KW: No, but I'll be here for Dan Winters world premiere, so I'm super excited to see that in a few night’s time.

LP: The team behind the show is legendary in it of itself. What was it like to be the subject as opposed to the one executing their version?

KW: It's interesting because I've been fortunate to be in this position a couple of times through my career. I guess years ago when I was first… When I had a brand who got behind me, they warned me, it's like, "You're going to have to get good at being on the other side of the camera." Which I think became a very crucial lesson. But yeah, it's interesting because there is a part of me that's like, "Oh, I'd love to be behind the project." And because that just a total different… Well, a creative engagement, but to be in front, it's definitely a privilege I'm so thankful that I was given. And I mean, they're world-class team as you say, so it was cool. It was quite an easy team to work with. Whereas I've been in situations in the past where things don't quite marry up, but this time it's probably one of the easiest teams I've had the joys of working with.

LP: What do you hope people take away from the show?

KW: I hope they… Actually, you know what? What I hope they take away from is realizing that being a professional photographer still has what we're looking for, the credibility. I mean, I think our industry has suffered, particularly when social media came on the rise. And I think a lot of people unfortunately, have discredited photography and what goes into it to a great image. So I hope there's a bit of a reset in the brain for a lot of people of realizing, "No, no, to become a great photographer. It does take that time, skill, and dedication. It's not just a social post."

LP: Well, and that's what's interesting is watching the show, we're so numb to seeing photos because we all take pictures on our phones.

KW: Yeah.

LP: But you see the artistry behind the quality of work you've done and the other subjects, and you realize, "Oh no, this is different." This is thought out.

KW: Yeah, I mean, like anything, it's just… I mean, think about music. I love music, but I say I wouldn't call myself a professional. It's just, as you said, it's the dedication that we put into it to craft this and to come up with these ideas or images, or for simply those who are more photojournalist. And they'll go and put themselves in those situations again and again until they can bring forth those stories that really matter.

LP: When you do take pictures of your friends, are they nervous about all that? Do you art direct it all the time?

KW: Nope. No, not all the time. No. I'm careful about that. I try… Around friends and family who know me well, it's easy. But yeah, some friends might get a bit nervous, but sometimes that's when I'll do so on the phone because then it sort of lowers their guard.

But when I'm home, there's a lot of times I switch off. I think it's good to take a break from the camera and leave it be, and then when I'm switched on, because when I'm switched on, I'm present in a different way. So yeah.

LP: Well, congratulations. Your show's great and inspiring, so thank you so much for your time.

KW: No worries. Thank you.