I have experienced the mesmerizing trance of watching the northern lights dance across the Greenlandic sky, the paralyzing fear of ascending a jungle tower in a downpour, and the fascinating wonder of discovering the entire world within a drop of dew. Though separated by many years and thousands of miles, these moments all share the common thread of nature, and I have climbing and photography to thank for putting me there in first place.

Moving outdoors

It was by chance that I found climbing, the sport that first pushed me into the outdoors and sparked my interest in photography. Growing up in the flatlands of Ohio, I was a rule-abiding homebody who clung to the familiar — an unlikely candidate to become a well-traveled professional rock climber. I spent my early years scaling man-made walls in dusty indoor gyms, and the far-away outdoors were absent from my climbing experiences. But soon enough, my stubborn desire to excel at the sport led me west to Colorado, where I was introduced to two new loves — the outdoors and photography.

LOVE AT FIRST CLIMB: Payne's love of photography began when she discovered climbing. After mastering indoor gyms, she quickly made her way to West Colorado where she her inner-passion was awakened.

Embracing nature

The draw of having real rocks to climb initially took me outside, but I was somewhat blind to the beauty surrounding them until I picked up a camera as a way to pass time between climbing attempts. Soon, my eyes were opened to the small and large wonders around me. From a tiny water droplet to a sunset igniting the sky, photography allowed me to more thoroughly explore familiar areas and acquaint myself with foreign landscapes. The feeling of discovering a beautiful subtlety of a favorite spot or seeing the light hit an unfamiliar land quickly became as exhilarating as finally mastering a difficult move on one of my climbs.

LOOKING CLOSER:  Payne has been able to appreciate the sheer beauty of what she's seen through the photos she's taken. “In the chaos of everyday life, I am grateful to have both ways to experience the outdoors.”

Climbing takes me to spectacular places, and photography gives me a deep appreciation of their insane beauty. In the chaos of everyday life, I am grateful to have both ways to experience the outdoors. Nature puts the brakes on my racing mind and reminds me that, in a world gone mad, the beauty is still out there. Keep looking.