Kenna Foster

Kenna owns the adventurer’s spirit and has a deep love and respect for nature.  She dives, surfs and works as a whitewater rafting guide.  No wonder she wanted to be a mermaid as a child.  Kenna is pursuing a career as a photographer and has been the recipient of numerous awards; including being given Honorable Mention in the IPA International Photographer of the Year Awards.  Meet Kenna.

1. What is your idea of adventure?

First off, I have to say a big friendly hello and thank you!  And… I have to clarify something.  To say I “surf” is a stretch, though a kind one…  Not living on the ocean, it’s more a case of me occasionally subjecting myself to a rather washing-machine-like experience in the name of trying to learn to surf! It’s sometimes quite an adventure! Speaking of adventure, on to answer the question… J

Adventure is that thing that excites you, then makes you fall asleep easily, and with a smile on your face at the end of the day.  It’s different for everyone… as it should be.  If going for a big hike somewhere near home makes you feel that sense of “Yeah!  I got out and DID something today,” then you shouldn’t feel like you’re not adventurous because you didn’t summit Everest.  Everyone has their own “comfort bubble,” and sometimes in life bigger adventures are feasible than other times.  Big Adventure, I think, should be something that challenges you—pushes your boundaries a bit more (whether physically/mentally/etc…).  For me, the really important thing about both big and small adventures is that they make me feel like I’m really living life… using the time I’ve been given wisely.  I never go to bed after an adventurous day wishing I’d cleaned house or watched TV, ya know?

2. Did you really want to grow fins and become a mermaid as a kid?

ABSOLUTELY!! When I was a young child and found myself in one of those "make a wish" moments, I'd often wish I could turn into a mermaid.   I remember one specific instance while on a family vacation-- standing on a bridge looking at an absolutely swollen, steep, torrential roar of water and wondering... if I believed hard enough, and jumped in with absolute faith, could I turn into a fish and get to play in that water that was so off-limits for a human?  Luckily for me (and the family vacation), the power of logic or fear prevailed and kept me from jumping in. 

3. How did you get into being a whitewater rafting guide?

Heh heh…  For our senior class trip, we went on a 2-day rafting trip on the Salmon River in Idaho. I went in wishing we’d gone somewhere more exotic (being from Idaho)… and came out thinking, “WOW!  I wanna do THAT!”  However, I had worked very hard throughout high school to earn academic scholarships to Pepperdine, so that change of direction seemed impossible at the time.   Ten years later (after realizing corporate office world was not a good place for me), I ended up working for CA State Parks monitoring/enforcing the rafting outfitters.  After one summer of that, I knew I had to join them—they were having a lot more fun than I was!

So… I started driving big, rubber boats full of screaming people through crashing waves and holes on a cold, rainy, day in March of 2005 and haven't had my fill of it yet!  Apparently (fortunately), neither have the screaming people.  It’s ironic and fitting that you found me... I work primarily for a rafting company (Mariah Wilderness Expeditions) that is not only owned by a woman, but does many big women's trips every year

4. Have you ever dumped all your clients in the water?

In rafting, the saying goes, “There are those who have… those who will… and those who will again.”  ;)  I think it’s been several years now for me, so I’m probably about due!  Haha  There are some rivers when, with expertise/experience, the likelihood of an unforeseen dump-truck or flip goes down to almost zero but I learned early on from those more wise and experienced than I, that you NEVER make an absolute promise!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say,  “I never _____,” only to have it happen that very day!  It’s like the river hears you or something… and humbles you!  It’s very important to always maintain respect for the river… any river.

5. Is being a rafting guide more about skill or strength?

Both, really, but skill will definitely take you a lot further than strength alone.  Rafting IS exercise, but a good, seasoned guide will often make it look easy.  In certain situations, just to pull off the move(s) to run the rapid, takes physical work paddling… flat water takes paddling too.  But skill makes for less work overall— there are many spots where a couple of well-timed strokes at the right moment can prevent a frantic fight later.  And, I don’t care HOW strong you are, the river IS stronger.  There will always be spots that just have more raw power than a human can match, so it’s important to work with the water, rather than to try to fight it.

6. Why would do you recommend whitewater rafting as an adventure for women?

Because it’s FANTASTIC! I recommend it to everyone is physically able to do it!   Besides being very exciting, it is often stunningly beautiful, and leaves you with a real feeling of accomplishment… and you will sleep amazingly afterwards! Some rivers are more dangerous or strenuous than others, but we’re lucky where I work—there is a stretch that’s doable for literally almost anyone!  As far as the more extreme runs— men and women both run them.  Good physical condition is important for higher class runs, because they are rigorous work, very jaunting, and chance of an ejection/swim goes up, but I don’t think the river discriminates between sexes. Haha  Again, skill plays a huge role in being able to read and run a river.  Being properly prepared and going with someone reputable and experienced is obviously a key trip consideration as well.

7. What is the importance of a ‘family vacation’ in the outdoors or wilderness?

You mean besides the fact that it recharges your very soul? Actually, there is another extremely crucial need that outdoor/wilderness excursions fulfill.  They facilitate a MUCH greater appreciation of nature and the beauty of the outdoors (thereby giving people a more *personal reason* to care about conservation).   I used to teach at Outdoor Science School, and I think I learned as much as I taught.  One of the most valuable lessons I learned was how much more conscientious students became about the effect of their actions on the environment, after they had really SEEN and experienced the beauty and powerful feeling of a more wilderness area.  Most students came from cities and knew, in theory, that you should recycle and not waste water, but really had no concept of where their resources came from... or how incredible and valuable the places that wield those resources are.  I learned that someone who has been inspired to truly love the outdoors, and understand the relationships in nature, makes a much better steward than someone who just knows what he or she “should” do for the environment.

8. At what age did you pick-up a camera and begin shooting?

The first time I remember being serious about taking photos and really trying to get a specific scene, color, and composition to turn out exactly as I wanted, I was about 12.  My wonderful grandmother took me to Yellowstone and I wanted so badly to capture the stunning beauty of the thermal pools, the awesome majesty of the falls, the other-worldly experience of the geysers… and I wanted it all to look JUST like what I saw.  I remember standing on a rung (I was short then too!) of one of those wooden rail fences around the thermal pools-- getting just the right angle, and waiting for the mist to move “just so,” while my Grandma coaxed me to speed it up because there was a lot more park to see.

9. What is your favorite subject matter?  Landscape, portrait, action?

Landscape (and nature in general) is definitely where my passion lies, though I do shoots for other subjects as well.  The bulk of my work is driven by a desire to give something back for the most soul-rejuvenating gift I've known-- Nature's Splendor.  There are times when a scene or object of natural beauty will literally bring tears to my eyes as I photograph it.

10. What do you find rewarding in photography?

For years, I didn’t see a reason to share my photography with anyone other than friends, family, and maybe a coworker. It was more of a documentation tool—a way to always have and remember the beauty I’d seen somewhere. That was reward enough.  That is, until I discovered that I might actually be able to help foster a greater love of (and respect for) those beautiful places. I realized the value of sharing my visions of our world when viewers would respond to locally-shot photographs exclaiming, “Wow! Beautiful! Where is THAT?” Surprised, I would share the location, sometimes a place they passed frequently.  Thus, I realized the opportunity to introduce people to some aspect of nature that was previously "a stranger" to them.  Of course, sometimes it also serves as an opportunity to "own" an amazing nature experience they loved having, and hang it on their walls as a pleasant reminder.  That's equally rewarding to share.

11. Who is your favorite female photographer?  Why?

I am a member of a fantastic group called fPOE (Female Photographers of Etsy).  Our first book was just published—a dynamic collection of photographs from 58 of our members from around the world.  I am so honored to be part of it, and part of such amazing talent and ambition!  Surrounded by all that talent (plus the many other incredible photographers I’ve met, or admired from afar), it would be impossible for me to choose one favorite.

12. What is your best advice for a new photographer?

Get to know your camera… well.  That involves doing something we all hate to do—diving into that owner’s manual (even if it’s a point-and-shoot).  It will be worth the time spent when you find out that there often IS a way to get that shot you’ve been trying for.  As far as someone pursuing it professionally, I would add that probably the easiest part of being a professional photographer… is taking the photos. 

13. Who is your favorite female book character and why?

I really don’t do well with that whole “favorites” thing—I have a hard time picking what food I want to order if we eat out at a restaurant.  Honestly, I can’t even tell you my favorite color, though it’s pretty obvious from my photography that I am a HUGE fan of vivid color!  Haha  So… I’m sorry to not provide a character, but honestly, I would be just picking someone I liked for this question.  She really wouldn’t be a true favorite.  But this  also makes me realize… it’s been too long since I read a novel.  I’ve been reading motivational books, “learning this or that” books, psychology, spirituality, quantum physics, you name it… but not novels.  It’s time to hunker down with a good cup of tea and a novel… written about a heroine.

14. What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?

I think her best advice has come to me not through words, but through example.  She has taught me that life is hard, and sometimes not fair. “Sometimes you just have to put your head down and push on.”   I have seen her “put [her] head down and push on” through some very tough situations in life… times when some people would just quit trying.

I have also seen her take on amazing opportunities (though they were daunting, hard work). I think I got my sense of adventure and independence initially from my Mom.  She embraces new adventures, and fears little.  For example, when I was very young, she boldly moved far away from her family and hometown to pursue dreams in New Mexico.  She became the sole, year-round caretaker of a Girl Scout Camp.  She was responsible for the whole huge property, as well as the care & safety of the herd of horses (including training them to assure they were able to be ridden by Girl Scouts).

In winter, this meant she was alone with a young child in the woods, snowed in, and a couple miles from the nearest plowed road.  We would cross-country ski in and out.  I think many people (men and women alike) would have found all that a bit too intimidating, and therefore would have given up the wonderful opportunity that came with it.  Because she faced the fears and challenges of that life, she was able to have me at work with her, providing me with a wonderful childhood (and acres & acres of “playground” for all the adventures my little mind could conjure).

15. Tell us about your ultimate dream adventure?

I really LOVE to travel, so my dream adventures always include a great deal of experiencing other lands and cultures. I have many dream adventures, many of which I’ve had since I was in elementary doing my first book reports. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work my way around a fair number of my “dream adventures” so far. In the U.S., I roadtrip/hike/backpack and explore our stunning parks & wilderness every chance I get.  As far as experiences abroad, by backpacking and working along the way, I’ve been privileged to:  take in the air & views atop the huge monoliths upon which the Northern Greece monasteries are built; paraglide from high in the Swiss Alps; dive the Great Barrier Reef; hike  stunningly scenic; jagged peaks in New Zealand; submerge myself in Italian culture, art, & architecture for a couple months; “slither” my way (literally on my stomach) through caves 150 meters beneath Budapest; and tour the gorgeous green hills (and a couple ancient castles) in Ireland.  I “WWOOF’ed” a bit (worked on organic farms), worked at backpackers, and did odd photography jobs… even picked bananas in Australia for a while to continue on.  But… I did much of that on my own, and now I’d really like to be able to share some of those awe-inspiring places & experiences (and many more— Fijian beauty & culture, the majesty of Nepal & its amazing people, the tranquility of Bali, Iceland’s ultra-dramatic beauty, Thailand’s wonders, too much to list in South America, and much more) with my wonderful and patient partner, Jhon.  My sister and I also have big plans & dreams for many of those places. I would very much like to photograph those wonders… something I couldn’t really do properly back then.

 So… I guess my “ultimate dream adventure” is to spend my lifetime traveling this magnificent world—appreciating its many-splendored marvels, and sharing them with others… that they, too, might appreciate and care for our biggest treasures.

16. What is your motto in life?

I have two, actually, and do my best to remember to live by both:

      • Whether you look for the Good in everything and everyone, or the Bad in everything and everyone, you will ALWAYS find what you’re looking for if you look long and hard enough.
      • Your whole life can change at a moment’s notice… and the moments you notice can change your whole life.