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Blood, Sweat, and Shutter Speed:
A Tour Through the Hard-Earned Career of a Baja Photographer

For a fourteen-year-old who was obsessed with surfing, it was the perfect job. Every morning of summer break, Drew would get up early, pull on his wetsuit, and hit the waves. Then, he’d head over to the pier to clock in at Huntington Surf and Sport. It was a simple enough gig, sometimes a bit slow. He passed the time giving pointers to tourists and chatting up the locals who came in. On his lunch break, he surfed. And then when the time came every evening, he would clock out, grab a bite to eat, and then hit the waves again around sunset. Life was good.

Why stray from a schedule so ideal? When Drew graduated from high school, he kept the surf shop job, and moved into management for a number of years. He continued surfing every morning and evening, getting more and more entrenched in the culture. He even started saving his pennies so he could travel to new places to surf, getting entrenched in surf culture even more.

Drew’s life at the surf shop was perfect until it wasn’t. Ten years into managing the store, he began to struggle to afford to live in the city where he worked. On top of financial anxieties, Drew’s mind became a little restless, too. He was no longer being challenged by the life he’d set for himself, (unless you count making rent a challenge.)

He needed something bigger to build for. It was time for a change.


Bad Roads Bring Good People

He didn’t realize it then, but Drew’s years at the surf shop were preparing him for something bigger. It wasn’t as much his time in the shop, but out of it.

Throughout his youth, Drew had done as much traveling as possible to experience new waves. By 25, he had traveled enough to develop a real taste for place. His favorite surf destinations were the ones that made people around him say ‘Don't go there!’

“When you’re a young man — or a young human, really — with a certain personality type, there’s nothing more alluring than a warning. I once went to El Salvador in the middle of heavy protests just to go surfing.” – Drew Martin

But it wasn’t just about teenage rebellion. Drew was quick to discover that part of the magic of rough places is that they include a built-in crowd filter. The less advisable or harder to reach a place is, the more passionate you have to be to make the trek. So, everyone you meet there, including the locals, will be as passionate as you are, maybe more. It’s this filter at work behind the adage: bad roads bring good people.


All You Need to Do to Start is Start

At first, photography wasn’t a potential career, but just a way for Drew to document his memories of travel, friends, and surfing. He began with a hand-me-down camera from his dad — an old Canon AE-1. Digital cameras hadn’t yet popped off, so he began by learning about film. Film has a notoriously ruthless learning curve. The first roll Drew ever got back from development came back completely black.

Was this the challenge he was looking for?

He began to do some research. Instead of surfing before work, after work, and on his lunch break, Drew began spending that time reading photography blogs online and exploring the marshland across the street, chasing birds with the AE-1. Slowly, he got the hang of tracking focus and frame, nailing exposure, and more.

“I started to meet people who were shooting surfing for a living. Things started to click. I began to see photography as a way out of the single room I’d been working in full-time since I was 14. I knew if I could figure out how to make as much as I was making at the surf shop, that was enough to leave.”

It wasn’t an easy first six months. Surfing had been his whole life up until that point. But he knew he had to commit to photography if he was gonna get good at it. Good enough to submit to a magazine, maybe. Good enough to get paid for it. Good enough to quit the surf shop and begin a journey toward something else. Something bigger.



No Plan is the Plan

Today, Drew is a highly sought-after adventure lifestyle photographer, appearing in countless magazines and capturing brands like Canam, Harley Davidson, Dometic, Nomad Wheels, GoFast Campers, and BFGoodrich Tires in their best and truest light. Over his career, Drew has built a portfolio of immersive work that beckons the viewer into a world of sand, dust, sky, and waves. Along the path, he’s learned a few things.

“I’ve found in my years of shooting that there are recipes to set yourself up for success. Having an efficient production, strong work ethic, great location, solid crew, exceptional talent, and top-notch equipment are all musts. With the right support, I’m free to explore and create on the fly. I treat my shot list like a scavenger hunt, and almost every time the result is better than what we planned. It’s not unlike how I live my life. No plan is the plan.”

When you surround yourself with people, environments, and equipment that you can trust to deliver, you create the space required for great work to emerge. One of the biggest pieces of “top-notch equipment” in Drew’s kit is his 2019 Toyota Tundra. Topped with a custom camper supported by a custom tube cage, Drew’s Tundra is a workhorse beefed up just enough to be dangerous in any driving condition. The first upgrade he made was a new suspension and BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires.

Drew never imagined himself as the guy with a new truck. But after one too many breakdowns on the way to and from family trips, he pulled the trigger and hasn’t looked back since.

“You can be as reliable as humanly possible, but if your vehicle's not, then you're not.”


Blood, Sweat, and Shutter Speed

With a camera in his hands and a responsibility on his shoulders, Drew abides by three golden rules to deliver hard-earned, photographic excellence:

  1. Go with the flow. Flexibility is a huge asset on a shoot, especially in the face of unpredictable elements and weather conditions. As a photographer, it helps you see unplanned opportunities when they arise, makes you a better problem solver when trouble pops up, and generally helps you keep production moving no matter what.
  2. Overprepare. Expect the unexpected. Have a plan A, B, and X. Make it a habit to pack backups of key items, bring extra snacks, and pack your bag like you’re landing on another planet and you have no idea what the weather will be like. Drew calls this “packing from 0-100.”
  3. Remember, it’s a job. Even though shoots can be tantalizingly fun, keep in mind that “photographer” is a job title. Having a strong work ethic is requisite to being any good. This attitude is just as important away from set. One example of this is having a quick turn-around time to get people their images. Another is consistently being the first one up, cracking jokes, and motivating the crew at 3 or 4 a.m.


By following these golden rules, and leaning into his years of travel experience as a young surfer, Drew has been able to create images for himself and his clients that beg the question “How’d they get that?”


Building for Escape

Taking a ride through Drew’s impressive portfolio, a few common themes emerge. One is his enduring love for the endless sights, sounds, and textures of Baja, California. Like a brother to him, Baja has been in Drew’s life for as long as he can remember. It’s followed and nurtured his career, his work, and his life.

“Baja is an obsession. It’s my favorite place on the planet. It’s like a drug. This year, I’ve been very busy with work, which is great, but anytime we see a little hole in the calendar, we try to squeeze a trip in there to get our fix.”

At age 25, Drew walked out of his stale surf shop job and set his sights on building a different kind of career for himself. It’s a project worthy of the years he’s dedicated to it. As he’s aged, started a family, and traveled even more, Drew has also learned the all-important lesson that it’s essential to work to live as much as you live to work.

Today, Drew is building to escape. Whenever they can, he, his wife, and their young son drive their Tundra down to Baja to surf, camp, fish, and enjoy everything else the peninsula offers — together, off the clock. Just Drew, Sarah, Walker, and Uncle Baja.


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