If you spend time with Tiffany Nguyen during the week, it’s probably because you’re getting a root canal or a filling.

If you have plans with her on the weekends, however, you’re going to want to bring along your backpack, probably some hiking poles, and maybe even your passport.

Tiffany, whose spectacular adventure photography populates her popular Instagram account (@tiffpenguin), works full-time as a dentist in her home city of Los Angeles. She loves exploring the wondrous landscapes around the world and capturing them through her lens, but it’s only one of her passions. Dentistry is not just an occupation; it’s a calling.

In fact, while she was growing up, Tiffany was never that interested in photography.

You wouldn’t believe it after scrolling through her breathtaking Instagram feed, which is flooded with enough striking landscapes, humbling mountain ranges, and vast wildernesses to inspire even the most reclusive among us to lace up some hiking boots. But until a few years ago, taking photos didn’t even interest her. When her friends pressured her into getting an Instagram account after graduating from college, she was averse to it — the last thing she wanted was another social media platform to keep up with.

When they finally convinced her, Tiffany began exploring and discovering travel accounts that featured exhilarating locations and inspirational cities from around the globe. These weren’t the average travel photos she might stumble across on a travel agent’s site or a tourism board’s flyers. Seeing these images made her feel like she was there. The captions inspired her, placed her in the mind of the travelers, and, most importantly, made her want to get out there herself. She drafted a travel bucket list, and, as tends to happen, it grew and grew.

The list was only a fantasy, a dream. Not only did she lack experience — her family rarely traveled growing up, and when they did, it never involved exploring the outdoors — but she didn’t know when she would find the time. She had just finished dental school, and was about to start working at her father’s practice. She was used to being busy, and her schedule wasn’t about to clear up.

The time wasn’t right. But, she realized, the time would never be right.

There would always be work and appointments and other commitments filling her calendar. If she really wanted to make travel a part of her life, she would have to make time; she would have to make it a priority.

So she did.

For her first journey, she traveled to Yosemite National Park, an outdoor paradise whose grandeur immediately attracted her and still draws her back regularly. She was struck by the park’s majestic qualities — its sprawling forests, towering rock walls, and glinting sunsets that painted everything in lush reds and oranges. She’d dipped her toes in the wonders of the outdoors and needed more.

On weekends and days off, she continued exploring, expanding her horizons and journeying to other parks. She hiked, camped, and climbed; everything that had once been just an idea, something reserved for professional explorers or Instagram adventurers, was now a part of her lifestyle. She even started snapping pictures with her iPhone, and after her friends noted that she had a natural eye for photography, she graduated to a larger camera. She hoped her high-quality images would inspire others in the same way she’d once felt inspired herself while scrolling through various travel feeds.

But, throughout it all, she never felt the need to turn her passion into a career. Other bloggers and photographers, entranced by wanderlust, often quit their jobs and packed their lives into a suitcase in order to live life on the road. But Tiffany liked her job. She enjoyed her life. She wanted to continue with dentistry — as she saw it, restoring teeth and hiking trails weren’t mutually exclusive passions.

Though it was her love for the outdoors that led her into the field of photography, today, Tiffany has graduated to shooting a comprehensive variety of travel experiences and regularly sharing images from cities and countries all over the world. However, she still maintains a balance between dentistry and photography, two activities that, for her, complement one another. When she’s on the road, she’s able to break away from the monotony of her office. There’s no routine, no agenda. She goes wherever the trail leads her, or, if she likes, strays off the beaten path.

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Yet when she’s traveling, there is still something missing. She thinks about her patients, wonders what they’re up to. She longs for that human interaction. In the same way traveling helps her escape the predictable, returning to the office offers a welcome retreat from the wilderness.

Once, on a trip to Iceland, Tiffany caught a glimpse of the Northern Lights. She’d been out late shooting the sunset and stayed to witness the dance of the aurora as its bright curtains of color swayed across the starry sky. She’d seen photos of the phenomenon — this was the type of shot that had — years ago — instilled in her a desire to travel. But every photograph paled in comparison to the true experience. No lens could capture what she was seeing.

She snapped a photo anyway, took a moment to marvel at the ethereal waves of light, then found her mind drifting to her office back home.

Tiffany Nguyen is a dentist and adventure travel photographer from Southern California. She strives to tell stories with her photography by capturing every detail of the natural landscapes around her and imparting her work with a sense of life. Tiffany is always looking for new places to explore and document through her lens and hopes to inspire others to get outside and explore more. 

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Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.

1 COMMENT

  1. She’s cool and her work is fantastic.
    This part though: “But, throughout it all, she never felt the need to turn her passion into a career. Other bloggers and photographers, entranced by wanderlust, often quit their jobs and packed their lives into a suitcase in order to live life on the road.”
    You could’ve just skip to “But Tiffany liked her job. She enjoyed her life.”
    I wonder why we always need to compare one to the other. No right or wrong way.

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