Colby Brown

Travel and Humanitarian Photographer

Colby Brown

Colby Brown is a professional photographer, photo educator and author based out of Denver, Colorado. He specializes in landscape, travel and humanitarian photography. Throughout his work one can see that he combines his love of the natural world with his fascination of the world’s diverse cultures. Each of his photographs tells a story of life on this planet.

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“I bought a one-way ticket”

Colby Brown may be the most forward-thinking, business-savvy, independent-minded guy in travel photography today. Past clients include National Geographic, The Sierra Club, The Red Cross, Sony, Toshiba, Canon, Phase One, and Wacom to name a few. He helped found a non-profit dedicated to rebuilding Haiti. He’s an author, educator, family man, and entrepreneur. All of it was carefully planned, but, at the same time, everything Colby is today began practically by accident. If there’s such a thing as a "normal" way to become a world-class photographer, Brown did the opposite.

Already a dual Canadian/U.S. citizen at birth, Brown seemed destined for travel. He began touring the world at 17 and kept taking semesters off for globe-trotting until finally graduating with a minor in Business and a major in Emergency Administration and Planning. Why such an odd, niche degree? Because everyone around him seemed to be getting jobs that had nothing to do with their majors, so why waste the time? Why not study something that could help people? His humanitarian roots were already showing.

After graduating, the only thing Brown wanted was to keep traveling. He tended bar, waited tables, and saved nearly all his money by owning nothing and staying with friends. Up to that point, the only camera he’d owned was a 4.1-megapixel Kodak 6490. Brown knew that he wanted to keep traveling, but he had to do it responsibly rather than continue to mooch from friends and family.

Colby recalls, "Basically, I just said, ‘Hey, I want to be a photographer.’ I mean, why not? I bought a bunch of books and started teaching myself while I travelled around British Columbia taking lots of really horrible photos."

Every day, he would review his work, using his own critical eye to study why every 99 out of 100 were horrible and what made that one percent exceptional. He would question the psychology behind the images, the composition, the exposure. Over time, his own creative vision emerged. Colby knew what he liked, why he liked it, and where to look for improvement.

After almost half a year of this self-instruction, Colby woke up one morning and decided to go to southeastern Asia, because he’d never been there. He bought a one-way ticket. The woman beside him on the plane was a rock climber from Wyoming en route to her wedding, but her photographer had backed out at the last minute.

"Five months after picking up my first digital SLR," says Colby, "I was able to convince this woman to hire me. My first paying gig was shooting a traditional Buddhist wedding in the middle of a rural village in southern Thailand, surrounded by local tribes. It was incredible. But most importantly, it gave me the confidence to say, ‘Hey, maybe I actually could make this happen,’ even if I was just figuring things out as I went."

"It comes down to the professionalism and build quality that the hard drives project and demonstrate compared to all other hard drives."

“It’s always been the process”

While Brown is quick to criticize his early work, he claims that, even then, photography soon became an outlet for him wholly unlike the "girls and sports" interests of his youth. Photography gave him a new sense of perspective ranging from the practical to the metaphysical. He describes the creativity and sharing of photography as "addictive" and "cathartic," but he never developed the aesthete’s discrimination between art and business. For Brown, these are two sides of the same coin.

"The photo industry has a tendency to fixate on final results, whether it’s these big, iconic images or the gear that we have. But for me, it’s always been the process of creation, as much about capturing a scene as processing it. I think a lot of artists go into the business side of things with a somewhat negative attitude, but it’s really about personal relationships and treating people like gold, so to speak. It’s about connecting, finding more creative fusion, and taking advantage of opportunities."


This search for fusion and opportunity has taken Brown in some unorthodox professional directions. For the first six years of his photography career, Brown was a wall-to-wall Apple user, just like nearly all creative pros at his level. However, he increasingly grew uneasy with Apple’s direction on iOS and found it "limiting." Another big problem with Apple was that seemingly every photographer relied on iOS and OS X. Meanwhile, Google’s Android was rocketing in popularity despite being ignored by the photo community. This gave Brown an opportunity to start talking with people at Google, and soon he was dialoging with product line vice presidents and consulting for them. He even helped Google refine the HDR functionality for Google Glass.

With one contrarian door blown open, others followed. After finding Windows ME and Windows Vista “not a pleasant experience,” Brown was hesitant to give Windows another shot. But with one of his larger sponsors having just released a Windows-based tablet designed for creative professionals, Brown doubled down and built himself an Intel Core i7-based PC for a quarter of the price of a Mac Pro at the time. He embraced Windows 8 has "and has grown to absolutely love it." He even notes its stability as one of its strongest suits, which is contradictory to the Windows of the past.

“Nothing but incredible experiences”

Colby Brown is the only SanDisk Professional ambassador we’ve yet discovered who uses Windows systems and Android devices rather than platforms from Apple. Admittedly, this has made him "feel like the black sheep of the photo industry at times, especially near the top end of the spectrum." Clearly, the creative professional market tends toward Apple. This is even evident in SanDisk Professional storage products, which ship from the factory pre-formatted under HFS+ for out-of-the-box Mac compatibility.

That same drive plugged into a Windows system won’t be recognized...immediately. However, as Brown quickly discovered, preparing a SanDisk Professional drive to work on a Windows system requires only a handful of steps listed on the included instructions, and the change can be done in under two minutes. It’s a slight inconvenience but one Brown is willing to accept in order to use the Thunderbolt storage products recommended by so many of his friends and colleagues.

"I've always heard phenomenal things about SanDisk Professional from a customer service standpoint," he says. "Also, it comes down to the professionalism and build quality that the hard drives project and demonstrate compared to all other hard drives. I have a drawer full of external hard drives, regular and rugged. Most of them work decently here and there, but anytime you get into any serious situation, they’re not built to truly handle my travel workload or the extreme locations I work in. I’ve had nothing but incredible experiences with the SanDisk Professional stuff — not one single issue. To me, it relieves a huge burden not having to worry about the hard drives I’m putting in my bags."

Brown notes that he relies on SanDisk Professional drives for the same reason as any other brand on which he comes to rely: efficiency and effectiveness. "Whatever makes me a more effective and efficient photographer, creative director, or entrepreneur, those are companies that I want to work with and the products I want to use," he adds. Because now that he has a young family to care for and at least five months out of the year spent on the road, every increase in efficiency and effectiveness means more minutes playing with his son or planning his next bold (and probably contrarian) move as a creative visionary.

SanDisk Professional Ambassadors are leaders in their respective fields who use SanDisk Professional products in their day-to-day work lives. SanDisk Professional Ambassadors are compensated for their participation.

SanDisk Professional external hard drives serve as an element of an overall backup strategy. It is recommended that users keep two or more copies of their most important files backed up or stored on separate devices or online services.

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