Max Lowe first picked up a camera as a freshman in high school, and his career kick-started in 2012 when he was awarded a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant.
Max’s passion turned into an unconventional day job that took him all over the world, allowing him to pour his creative talents into photography, documentaries and branded film projects.
Today, we’re catching up with Max on his photography, from wild landscapes, to animals and people from different cultures—gleaning insights on his path and what he has learnt along the way.
Max, you’re from a family that’s deeply rooted in the outdoor community. Tell us a little about this and how your environment has influenced your development in outdoor photography.
Growing up in a family of artists and mountain climbers, I knew from a young age that whatever I ended up doing with my life I wanted to be able to incorporate the things I grew up learning to factor in, from adventures in the outdoors to traveling to remote and less-traveled places across the globe. Picking up a camera in high school and carrying it through college, I found a way to build different perspectives around the things I was doing which gave me unique access to the world.
A solo road trip down Highway 1 from Washington State to Los Angeles last fall. Shot on my Nikon Z7 with a 24-70 mm 2.8
What are three things that people might not know about you?
I play the violin, which always seems to surprise people — I have played since I was a little kid. I am 6’ 5” — real tall — got it from a mom and dad who both had super long legs. And I really love cooking.
The Young Explorers Grant is sought after globally, how did it feel to be selected and what did you learn from this experience?
Receiving the YEG from National Geographic was definitely one of the foundational moments of my career. When I received it, the news really caught me completely off guard. I knew that it was hyper-competitive and I figured it was a long shot that my project would be accepted. So when I received the news—while I was actually traveling in India— I was blown away to learn that I could then head to Nepal to work on my proposed project documenting social and cultural change with the Sherpa people. I think that receiving that grant gave me the confidence to believe I could tell stories on a global scale, and it was from that juncture that I started working more strictly as a photographer and filmmaker.
Shot while traveling in Nepal last summer, the south face of Ama Dablam catches the last evening light as clouds part for a brief moment. Shot on D850 with 70 - 200.
Can you share some thoughts on the winter season that was abruptly cut short? Were you working on any big projects that have been put on hold, or have you found opportunity within the COVID pandemonium?
The day that the lockdown and quarantines dropped I was actually skiing at our local mountain, Bridger Bowl, and they decided to close early, as the other nearby mountains had chosen to do earlier that day. I think it was the first time in my life that the lifts stopped spinning before April. I had planned to do a few more Stateside ski adventures which were halted and the feature-documentary project I have been working on for the last year had just finished, so all of a sudden I was forced to just be still and home for the first time in a long time. This pandemic has meant a lot of different things for people across the globe, but as my family and I have remained safe for the time being, the forced slow-down has been a pleasant readjustment with regards to pace of life. Covid has provided a new perspective that I would like to try and learn from going forward.
What’s it like on location shooting wildlife? What are the main differences between shooting outdoor athletes and wild animals?
Shooting wildlife is a whole different field of work, and one of the most challenging for sure, in my opinion. When you are interacting with a human subject, for the most part the line of communication makes for a broad realm of understanding for you to traverse and take advantage of. When you are interacting with a wild animal, and doing so in the way National Geographic demands of its photographers—in that they try their hardest not to alter the animals’ natural behavior — you're completely at the whim of the wild. Thus, it takes time, extreme patience and if you want to create unique artistic imagery, some pretty bold and creative foresight to set yourself up for the right shot.
Pictured here is a Northern Saw Whet Owl in her burrow. Shot on Nikon D850 with 300 - 500 5.6
Can you tell us about how you mitigate risk while shooting wildlife? (We’re particularly interested to hear how not to get eaten by a polar bear.)
It totally depends on the wildlife scenario you are navigating, but generally you should always act like you are part of the environment, not just a visitor in it. With the polar bears, it was a bit of a different experience because they have been known to actively hunt and kill humans if they can manage it, so while we were on the ground in Churchill [Manitoba, Canada] we had to take extra precautions to ensure we always had a quick escape into an enclosed structure or vehicle.
A polar bear making its way across the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Shot on Nikon D850 with a Nikkor 300 - 50
Which foreign cultures captivated you whilst working, traveling or exploring?
I have truly reveled in all the different foreign cultures I have been lucky enough to experience, but I would say the culture and people of Nepal have been my most beloved. I have spent a lot of time in the country and have made some very close friendships with the Sherpa people of the Nepali Himalaya, and I think being able to do so has definitely made me feel almost a part of that world and less of a visitor.
What draws you to storytelling and photography in the outdoor space?
It’s been less of a draw for me and more of a natural adoption in the sense that I grew up finding passion in the outdoors via my parents’ guidance and our shared stories. As I came to the point where I felt I needed to find something of my own to define how I moved through life, storytelling in the world I already knew was an obvious thing to grab onto.
One of the simplest and sweetest things about growing up in Montana is getting to see the stars on a regular basis. This image was captured one summer night on a camping excursion with my brothers. Shot on D850 with a Nikkor 12 - 24 2.
What FW gear have you tested out on location and also ripping around off duty?
This year I was riding in the Manifest 3L Jacket and the Manifest 2L Bib while on mountain, and then loving the Manifest Quilted Hoodie and Root Pillow Fleece while off mountain.
How has the COVID pandemic made you think differently about your profession?
Recent events have definitely made me think differently about the privilege and freedom I have been lucky enough to hold in recent years, traveling around the world for my work. I have been home in Montana for the longest stint of time since well before I started trying to craft a career around storytelling, and it has been a bit scary not knowing what my future career might look like. But it’s also been eye-opening to see what time and a dose of stillness can do for you if you embrace it. Going forward— and hopefully coming out of the pandemic before too much longer— I would like to try to better balance the line of work/life, and work with more intention and focus on projects that I see will have an impact beyond just working for work’s sake.
Some of my favorite people looking out over one of my favorite little corners of Montana on a beautiful summer evening. Shot on Z7 with 24 mm 1.
What have you learned in the past weeks of Black Lives Matter protests?
Living in a mostly white community, I have always felt insulated from a world of racial diversity in some ways, and the past weeks have opened my eyes to just how broken our social system here in the U.S. truly is. I have learned that to break the system as it stands, we can’t be complacent. We can’t say it isn’t our fight - just because a system works in your advantage doesn’t mean you can sit idly by while others are deprived. To live in an equitable world, we all must feel like we live under the same roof so to speak. Ours is becoming more and more of a global society, and as the population of our planet continues to increase, we have to mend these rifts and inequalities, or they will in the end lead to our collective demise in my opinion.
Thank you for reading Max's insights on his photography career so far. We're giving away a Manifest 3L Jacket, like the one Max wears on his winter shoots. If you want to be in with a chance to win, head over to our Instagram to take part in the giveaway before 6:00 PM CET on Thursday July 2nd 2020. Good luck!