Klean Ambassador and photographer Ernesto Sernas gives us a look at the outdoor space through the eyes of a first generation freelance photographer. Advocating for participation from the BIPOC community, his passion for the outdoors began unexpectedly and has transformed into an art form he hopes will inspire others.
Photography has changed my life. In the years since I first picked up a camera, I've met some incredible people who have challenged, inspired, and motivated me to pursue my passion. The outdoors is where I feel most at home and for me, it’s inherently tied to my work as a photographer. Whether it’s being on the road or experiencing some hidden gems with friends, I’ve been trying to find ways to make a career out of photography while having a meaningful impact on those around me.
It took years for me to come to terms with my desire to pursue it professionally. After being fortunate enough to attend a four-year college, my decision to turn to freelancing after graduating was followed by raised eyebrows and suggestions to "take the safer route" instead. The unorthodox career path I set my eyes on also raised worry from my immigrant parents, who had a much different idea of what work looks like and the idea of security over risk. Nevertheless, I knew that if I didn't pursue it wholeheartedly now, I'd one day regret not trying it sooner. There's a quote I read when I first started that said, "A year from now you'll wish you would have started today" and this really put things into perspective for me. I decided that from that day forward I’d work hard at making this career a reality.
Some weekends we would head to Big Sur, Yosemite, and the Eastern Sierras but other times local hikes took the prize, including a trail most locals still don't really know about that I found on Google Earth with vague input from another photographer friend (I still keep that hike to myself).
I was born and raised in Los Angeles and one of only outdoor activities I took part in growing up was occasionally biking with my dad along the coast and days at the beach. The concrete jungle didn’t lend itself to many encounters with nature as I would one day realize. It wasn't until I moved away to Santa Barbara for college that I truly experienced the outdoors and my love for documenting it began. I met adventurous friends who enjoyed hiking, surfing, camping, and taking pictures. I was hooked. In those four years, my photography style evolved into what it is today. I traveled near and far with a camera in hand, often in good company.
I then leveled up to an Oregon road trip, living out of a car for a week in Arizona, and a week-long trip to Utah. Throughout all those adventures, there was one thought I kept going back to: I wish more people could see these places for themselves. People like myself who come from minority backgrounds. I felt incredible privilege for having the opportunity to experience those places first hand and hoped that people would be inspired to visit them through my work.
I've always strived to bring new people with me or invite friends who wouldn't normally go hiking or camping hoping to share a bit of what I love to do with them. The one thing I always try to convey whether it's through my work or the way I present my adventures is that spending time out in nature doesn't need to be super technical, complicated, look a certain way, or even be expensive. Even walking to a nearby park or to the beach is an excellent start. It's often these misconceptions that deter some people from wanting to try things out for the first time (myself included). I also have my close friends to thank for letting me borrow gear in the past which allowed me to be better prepared for outdoor activities. And just like them, I hope to do the same for others trying to get outside.
My focus for the last few years has been to share images taken during my hikes, road trips, and other outdoor activities I do along with a few of the experiences that go along with them for everyone to see. Our heightened awareness for the work still yet to be done regarding inclusivity in the outdoors has led me to try to understand my place in the outdoor industry specifically and what role I want to play in it moving forward, given my latino background.
I'm a newcomer, I know, and I have loads of experience yet to garner. But the decision to ask myself this question now rather than later will hopefully allow me to create and work with purpose moving forward. There aren't many people who look like myself in this industry, especially at the top and that is something I hope changes as time goes on. I want my photography to inspire others who look like me to spend time outdoors the same way some of the best photographers in this outdoor industry have done for me. Whether it's for work or enjoyment, the outdoors should be accessible to everyone equally. It's there for all of us to enjoy.
We all have a different upbringing and varying experiences being out in nature, but diversifying the discourse that takes place regarding "being outdoorsy" and what it looks like will make it more inviting to newcomers. This along with more representation for BIPOC in marketing to show that anyone can participate in outdoor activities can have a long-lasting impact. This is why I'm incredibly thankful to Klean Kanteen for giving me the opportunity to talk about my experiences and the value I hope to provide moving forward. I hope that by playing a part in creating a more inclusive industry, Klean Kanteen can continue to includes stories from a diverse array of individuals and to inspire people to get outside, appreciate these places, and in turn want to protect them.