When I asked professional adventure photographer Ian MacLellan about his favorite shoot, I did not get the answer I expected.
“We were actually less than an hour away from Boston. One day after work, we [me and a couple of ice climbing enthusiasts] met up [at Auburn Ice Canyon in Worcester]… it was a surreal experience, all being so close to the city,” MacLellan said. He explained that the shoot comprised of repelling down into the canyon—which is located in the vicinity of a suburban neighborhood—after dark. “It was so freeing, it is so cool to find those strange little places,” MacLellan said.
MacLellan, a Massachusetts native and alum of Tufts University, describes himself as an atypical adventure photographer. Despite his scruffy beard and grizzly appearance, MacLellan explains that he does not spend all of his time climbing, bumming around the country and documenting his experiences along the way, as most photographers do to start out. “I like living out of my car sometimes, but not every single day,” MacLellan said jokingly.
Growing up, MacLellan described himself playing outside, whether he was running, climbing or skiing. “I was never a crazy athlete as a kid or anything, always playing or running,” MacLellan said. While at Tufts, he started climbing more seriously and cycling. MacLellan said that he studied Geology, which he described as a unique Tufts outdoor experience, providing him with a lot of traveling opportunities and field trips. “Throughout that whole experience, I was documenting everything,” MacLellan said.
MacLellan has always had a passion for outdoor photography. He explained that his work as a photographer has given him access to so many communities he otherwise would not have been able to experience. “I love to explore other people’s sports and follow stuff that I don’t do,” MacLellan said. His work as a photographer has really involved him with the New England ice climbing community, as well as working with dog sledding and other extreme winter sports. “Doors [to different adventures] open as a photographer,” MacLellan explained.
MacLellan described one such opportunity, in which he and three other climbers went on a canoeing and climbing hybrid trip in Quebec. The river that they were navigating was extremely isolated and could only be reached by floatplane. “It was a wild experience,” MacLellan said.
When MacLellan is not out on a trip or an extended shoot, he is working on his portfolio, specifically a project he has named Days in a Year 2015. “As a professional photographer, there are times when you’re working everyday, and sometimes not,” MacLellan said. The project, which can be found on his website, documents different portraits, experiences and adventures for every day of the year. This is the second year he has done the Days in a Year project. “[Days in a Year] is a good way to drive myself to get out every day and do something… it’s a good excuse to go get in my car and go outside and go hiking or climbing,” MacLellan said. He explained that the project has inspired him to do other projects and portraits—it makes him carry his camera everywhere. “[Days in a Year] does not only record the high points, but also a more realistic view of my life… it’s a nice record to have,” MacLellan said.
Beyond his professional shoots and his portfolio, MacLellan uses Instagram and other modes of social media to market his work. MacLellan explained that social media in the outdoor industry has both hindering and beneficial implications.
“It’s so troubling how involved people are with their phones whenever they are doing anything… it takes people out of the moment,” MacLellan said. He gave the example of people taking out their phones to capture the perfect image of a sunset or on a mountaintop. “In most ways, social media hurts adventures,” MacLellan said.
However, he said that using Instagram is a great medium to connect different groups of people. “It’s great to see places where people go, it’s great for inspiration,” MacLellan said. He even said that social media is a way to get weather and conditions updates, especially for adventurers in the New England area.
MacLellan emphasized the importance of making personal projects. He explained that whether you are a photographer, a writer or just like being creative, having your own projects are a great way to stay motivated and inspire your next professional shoot.
If you are interested in checking out more of MacLellan’s photography, check out his website here, as well as his Instagram, @ianmaclellan.