In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind the Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
Forgoing a night of sleep for a three-hour nap in a car to capture the perfect sunrise photo is a regular day on the job for Caroline Foster. As the creative force behind the @wilderness_addict Instagram account, Foster combined her passions for photography and the great outdoors and turned them into a wildly popular Instagram page with 279,000 followers, as of publication. The New Zealand native admits it’s not always easy, but Foster sure makes hours-long hikes to snap the perfect photo sound like a dream job.
When Foster began her Instagram journey, she had no idea she’d be turning a hobby into her career. It all started the summer before her 2016 graduation from New York University (NYU) with a masters degree in clinical nutrition. In June and July of 2015, Foster went on a couple of trips which would wind up changing the trajectory of her professional life. "I traveled out to Montana, to Glacier [National Park] and Banff [National Park], and I was posting a lot of those photos on my personal account," she says.
My passion for travel and the outdoors got reawakened.
Prior to her vacation, Foster was immersed in the New York City social scene, and her Instagram grid reflected that. After accumulating a stockpile of hiking photos from her trip to Montana, she made a switch. "My account kind of changed from me and my friends at the club or at dinner to all these outdoor photos." Foster wanted to house her outdoorsy photos somewhere separate from her personal account, so she started the Wilderness Addict Instagram account in September 2015. She found that getting back to nature during her grueling final year of grad school was a welcome change. "My passion for travel and the outdoors got reawakened," Foster says. "I found myself looking forward to that next trip. As soon as I got back, I was trying to plan another trip to Montana."
It didn't take long until Foster's passion for nature turned into an Instagram commodity. "I think within the first week I had 1,000 followers, so then I was like, 'People actually like this,' so that encouraged me to keep shooting," Foster says. By November 2015, a couple months after starting the account, her following grew to 10,000. "I got invited on my first fully paid trip in early January , which was only like three or four months afterward." As of publication, almost all of Foster's international trips are sponsored. Before the coronavirus pandemic, she was traveling internationally by plane an average of three to four times per year.
After graduating from NYU in May 2016, Foster focused most of her free time on planning her next trip while she also applied for jobs. But she hit a snag. "I had a big two-week road trip I planned around the Pacific Northwest and Montana," she explains, and the trip would have conflicted with an important job prospect. "I’d already booked it, and I got a job offer, a very good job offer in New York, and they pretty much said to me they wanted me to start right when that trip was," Foster says. "They gave me an ultimatum, like 'If you want this job, you need to cancel that trip.' And that was a turning point for me."
Ultimately, Foster decided not to take the job, worried she'd always be "living for [her] next vacation." Shortly after deciding to leave New York, Foster relocated to Montana in June 2016, securing a job there as a hospital dietician and wellness coach. "A lot of people were very surprised with that decision," she says, including her parents who've since become her biggest supporters.
In Montana, her work allowed her the flexibility to travel often, but as Wilderness Addict took off, she was ready for more. By early 2019, Foster left her job to pursue photography for her Wilderness Addict Instagram account full-time. In the summer of 2019, she moved to the Alberta province of Canada, which offers plenty of photo opportunities, like shots that capture the peaks of the mountains reflecting off crystal clear lakes. Beyond her international trips, she tries to keep the rest of her travel within a five-to-eight hour drive of home.
While Foster took one photography class in high school, she's mostly self-taught, and her stellar shots are thanks to YouTube tutorials, as well as plenty of practice and experimentation. "The first year I had my Instagram account [I used] a combo of smartphone and [digital] photography," Foster explains. Since then, she's been shooting professionally using digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.
Her best advice for photographers looking to snap the perfect nature photos is to focus on the lighting. "The light is something you've got to consider. It's often hard to get good shots with daylight, so [take] advantage of the early morning and later in the evening," she says. Foster also advises against rushing through to get a shot, and suggests taking your time to find unique perspectives. "You can get in the moment sometimes, and you just keep going and then realize you've taken so many photos of the same thing — especially if it's a really pretty sunset or something — you just get lost in it," Foster says.
[It's] great because I get to do what I love, but at the same time I'm making a living off of it.
Her dreamy photos may make her job look like it's all fun and games, but Foster puts in the work. Her posts range from a quick, spontaneous shot with light editing, to a single post taking up to an hour of editing at the computer. But the experience of being out in nature, taking photographs, is the best part. "If I go on a three-day trip, it's often packed full of sunrise [and] sunset hiking, and I might take like 1,500 photos," she explains. "Out of those 1,500, there might be five that I identify after going through."
Barring a pandemic, Foster usually takes one trip per month during the year, and she's quick to differentiate her getaways from a typical vacation. "People look at it like I'm just full-time vacationing, but there's a lot of sitting on your laptop, emails, hours and hours of editing, all that work," she explains. "It's not that relaxing 'sleep in [and] going to lay by the pool' kind of thing."
The summer of 2020 has been different, though. "After the pandemic hit and travel restrictions followed, I had several major job cancellations, including a large tourism job which had been scheduled for June," Foster explains. But she got creative, sharing highlight videos of her travels on her Wilderness Addict TikTok account, which as of publication has 774,000 followers and 10 million likes.
Staying put is a strange feeling for Foster, whose workload in the summer months usually keeps her especially busy. "In the summer, the sunset is really late and the sun rises really early, so I might get like three hours of sleep," she says. But things are starting to turn around, as Foster is set to get back to a normal schedule with "several jobs lined up over the next couple of months."
Despite the busy nature of her "vacations" and settling for naps in the back of the car, Foster is pretty happy with where her hobby-turned-career has landed her: "I get to do what I love, but at the same time I'm making a living off of it."