When Andrew T. Kearns first downloaded Instagram, he was inundated with nature photography. One photo, in particular, stuck out.
It was of a spectacular shot of a peak in the Columbia River Gorge. “I have to hike there,” he said to himself. Three and a half years later, after an invitation from a friend, he found himself on the ridge as the sun rose over the gorge. He snapped a photo — his favorite — but admitted that no picture could ever do the scene justice.
Andrew’s adventures in the Pacific Northwest are documented beautifully on his Instagram account (@andrewtkearns), which has amassed nearly half a million nature-loving followers, but the beauty of the PNW wasn’t always as accessible to him.
Born in Kentucky, Andrew hopscotched with his family through the Midwest during his childhood, living in Ohio and Kentucky for extended periods of time, eventually relocating west to Oregon, and then settling in Washington state, the place he has called home for the past eight years.
Though he’d been perpetually fascinated by design and recognized that he possessed an innate creativity, Andrew didn’t pick up a camera until he realized there was an introduction to digital photography class offered at his high school.
As a graduation present, he received his own personal camera from his family. It’s a gift that has kept on giving.
In 2015, he abandoned graphic design work for his growing love of photography.
Now, he travels extensively, shooting freelance work for travel companies and adventure brands. The thrill of getting a great shot hasn’t left him, he says, adding that he can’t remember the last time he felt his work was, well, work.
Andrew largely credits his success in the creative field to his family’s move to the Pacific Northwest. He viewed life in the Midwest as too systematic: school, more school, job, retirement. He saw himself as a deviation, and felt liberated by the free-spirited, creative mindset of cities on the west coast such as Seattle and Portland.
Living in the Pacific Northwest has also sparked a love of outdoor exploration in Andrew, who can often be found running, hiking, summiting peaks, or traversing the coast in his Toyota Highlander, which he has outfitted especially for camping.
His vehicle is the perfect match for the gnarly, twisting highways in Washington that lead to hidden hikes with mystical views. Highway 2 and I-90 are his favorites, because the terrain is unique and punctuated with sharp summits, and it offers a never-ending variety of views.
When questioned about photographing the PNW, Andrew noted that he has a couple of favorite locations. Though he can often be found in the mountains, he enjoys shooting the coasts of Oregon and Washington. He likes that there is a lot of space on the coasts — figuratively and literally. It’s a blank canvas of a landscape with large, silhouetted rocks, a great place to experiment with composition and creativity.
But he’ll venture beyond the Pacific Northwest, too. He was invited to winter in Montana last year by another fellow photographer. After a few weeks in the snow-laden state, he decided that sunshine was more his style and headed to the Southwest to shoot with other outdoor photographers. This free movement is what liberates him and helps produce the best of his shots, though he always feels the pull of the Pacific Northwest and is planning on putting down roots in Seattle sometime soon.
Eventually, Andrew made it to the place that inspired him: the Columbia River Gorge. To finally hike the series of trails that led to the scenic overlook was a major accomplishment. Though the hike may have been tough, getting the perfect shot wasn’t.
Andrew remembers glancing at his friend who was scaling the edge of a jagged rock outcropping as the sun rose. He was almost a silhouette against the early morning glow. He lifted his camera and clicked the shutter.