We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Onley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashley, how do you think about risk?
Risk is something you have to learn. Taking risks is scary – we’re always taught not to do things that seem too “risky”. I had always loved photography, but always worked conventional jobs. When I took my last semester of college to study abroad, I realized that decision, dropping my life to take off for another country for half a year, was quite the risk. I didn’t know what would be waiting for me when I got back – and it was probably the best decision I have ever made for myself. So I started wondering: what’s the worst that could happen if I just did that thing I wanted to do, took the risk and chased what made me happy? A few years ago, I started doing freelance photography work on the side. It turned into a plethora of other fun projects, evolving into a podcast, web design, and content creation. My freelance work was eventually taking up so much time that it was another full time job, so I decided to take that risk one more time. I quit my 9-5 and tried doing what I loved full time. It allowed me to travel to get the content I needed, and I spent a year flying back and forth across the country, living out of my car on hiking and backpacking adventures, and getting paid to do the things I really wanted to be doing anyway. It was all terrifying – I had no idea if it was going to work, if I’d be successful, or if it was sustainable. But taking that risk is so important. It’s important to be curious, to see what you’re capable of, and even if it’s NOT successful, you will never look back and think, why didn’t I do the thing? Why didn’t I take the risk and see what would happen?
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I love telling stories. Photography and writing have always been my passion, and getting to combine the two for work has been a dream. When I started working with breweries to shoot their beer out in the wild, it wasn’t just a photo shoot, it was an event. I would recruit a friend for a backpacking trip, and we’d carry the beers up to a mountain top and watch the moon rise. I try to make the photographs reflect the adventure, and the fact that there are stories behind the moments that were captured. Working with a clothing company a few years ago, I put together an interview with their head designer for my podcast, and when a friend and I had to roadtrip up to do the interview, we wore the clothes on a waterfall hike so we could shoot them in their natural habitat, close to where they were made. Freelance content creation and photography is always a hustle. On top of that, it’s competitive. I love getting to know a brand before I shoot for them so that their voice and their stories can be part of the work, and come across in the photographs. Just getting your work recognized and sought after over anyone else’s is a challenge, especially with social media showcasing so many talented creatives. For me, it’s all about talking to people. I love to make connections and spend time getting to know the people whose work is inspiring my work.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The Pacific Northwest is one of the most amazing hiking spots in the country, but I love the city of Portland, too. It’s a foodie town, so eating your way through the city is a must. The food trucks around the city are pretty quintessential Portland – the trucks on 12th and SE Hawthorne are always a good choice, and there’s a great food truck pod called Piedmont Station in northeast. There are a handful of coffee shops that are always pre-hike coffee stops for me too: Woodlawn Coffee in NE, Good Coffee (multiple spots around the city), and Presso Coffee, also in NE. As for hiking, if someone were coming into town to visit, the Columbia River Gorge is an absolute must. Not only is it home to the tallest waterfall in Oregon, Multnomah Falls, but there is so much hiking just 30 minutes to an hour outside of the city. A quick run up Angel’s Rest, or Hamilton Mountain on the Washington side, with a stopoff in Hood River at Full Sail Brewing for lunch is the perfect PNW day.
For hiking and views, it’s only about a 3 hour drive outside of Portland to Mt. Rainier National Park. Winter or summer, that place is always beautiful. In the winter, Paradise is a great snowshoeing and sledding area, and in the summer, the road opens to Sunrise, which is one of the most beautiful parts of the park. Because of snowfall, Sunrise is only accessible for a few months out of the year but boasts some of the best views of the mountain and tends to be a bit less crowded.
After all the hiking, drinks are definitely necessary and Portland also has some great bars. The Lightning Bar Collective owns a few of my favorites like the Bye and Bye and Victoria Bar. Downtown, Pope House Bourbon Lounge is great if you’re a whiskey fan like me, and the Multnomah Whiskey Library is a hard-to-get-into but very classy spot for drinks as well.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to shoutout Daniel Fauss – my BFF and adventure buddy, @danfauss on IG. He is the most underrated but incredible photographer I’ve ever met, and one of the first people I knew who dropped everything to try his hand at freelance work to get to do what he loved. Grateful to him for letting me drag him around the country on photography missions once we both had wide open schedules.
Kevin Butler, Dan Fauss