Selective Focus: John Keefover

John Keefover poses with the Northern Terminus sign after completing his thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail.

John Keefover is the Duluth-based nature photographer behind the photography business Keefography. This June, Keefover thru-hiked the Superior Hiking Trail, sharing photos, videos and journal entries along the way. Keefover used this adventure as an opportunity to raise funds for the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.

What inspired this photography trek/fundraiser?

The inspiration for thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail probably came from an Isle Royale National Park backpacking trip last year with a few other guys. Hiking across the island was my longest trip I had done at the time. Before that I had done many overnighters, multi-day trips and some weeklong ones as well, but that was my biggest test. It was incredibly fun and has since created a drive to keep pushing myself to hike farther and longer and continue to dial in my backpacking kit.

The SHT is a great option for those looking to get into long trails because it doesn’t require as much of a commitment as the bigger trails like the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or Continental Divide Trail. It’s also very accessible for us here in Duluth with the trail running right by my home! I love the idea of exploring local areas. Chasing the iconic and famous locations elsewhere is great and all, but making something unique in your own backyard is so much more rewarding to me.

As for the fundraising aspect, I wanted to make this hike about more than just me hiking in the woods. It gave it more of a purpose to create a fundraising opportunity out of it. I’m so thankful to those who have donated to the fundraiser, especially after hearing how appreciative Wolf Ridge ELC was to be a part of it! We raised $1,725 for them!

Milky Way over Wolf Lake at Wolf Ridge ELC

Had you ever thru-hiked the SHT before, or was this your first time?

I’ve hiked many sections of the SHT as dayhikes, overnighters or section hikes before but not the whole thing. I wanted to challenge myself to hike its entirety in one go as a thru-hike. In doing so I got a tremendous sense of accomplishment and confidence and am eager to tackle some of those bigger trails I mentioned earlier! Maybe I’ll do the SHT again in the opposite direction!

Sunset over Wolf Lake from the SHT

How does hiking with the intent of taking photos change your perspective? Or do you always hike with your camera?

I don’t always bring my camera on every trip. In fact a couple days into the SHT thru-hike I decided to leave my camera behind! I love photography, but sometimes with a camera it’s hard to disconnect from the drive to create images and instead be in the moment. That being said, on dedicated photography trips I often go to specific locations that I have pre-scouted in person or using maps that are best for certain weather and lighting conditions. I generally have an image in my head before I press the shutter button.

Hiking in new places is also super fun and exciting because you don’t know what to expect. Setting expectations for yourself can sometimes lead to disappointment though if you don’t get the conditions or composition you were thinking about. When hiking with a camera I’m always thinking about compositions like a curve in the trail, woodland forest scenes, waterfalls, overlooks, wildlife, lifestyle shots and whatever else looks good in my eyes.

Section 13 just before sunset

How did you get into nature photography?

I got into photography back in middle school some twenty years ago. Back then I was taking pictures of my friends skateboarding and just goofing off. We used to explore our local woods in Hibbing and would take road trips up the shore. I always loved capturing those memories.

Seven years ago I moved to Duluth and got right back into it. Duluth is the perfect hub for the outdoors and landscape photography with close access to the North & South Shore, the BWCA, and the UP over in Michigan as well. Photography is a great tool to help get me outside. It puts you in beautiful locations during amazing conditions that creates not only striking images, but also memories I’ll never forget.

Self portrait during the thru-hike

Blue blazes and wildflowers

Why did you choose Wolf Ridge ELC for your fundraiser?

Wolf Ridge ELC is a great local nonprofit and resource in the area. The trail actually passes right through their campus, so it felt fitting! They offer a wide variety of classes and experiences to kids and adults alike focusing on environmental science, cultural history, contemporary environmental issues, personal growth, team building, and outdoor recreation.

Before the hike I met with Peter Smerud, the executive director at Wolf Ridge, and in that short interaction you could tell he had tremendous passion for what Wolf Ridge represents. He proudly told me that Wolf Ridge was one of the first environmental learning centers and has since inspired many other ELC’s in the country and around the world — started by people who were once students here in Northern Minnesota. It is important to teach the next generations why the environment is so important and how to protect it for the future.

Standing on top of the ridge above Bean and Bear Lakes

Where can folks keep up with your work?

@keefography everywhere. I’m most active on Instagram & Facebook and occasionally post vlogs to YouTube as well. On my website you can find some of my portfolios, read hiking or photography blogs, and order prints and merch.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here

Read previous post:
Guide to Duluth-related Blogs in 2022

Birding, broadcasting, micro-agriculture, astronomy and motherhood are just some of the topics Duluth-area writers are blogging about. Every two years...