Savannah Pitts lives life on her own terms. By pursuing her dreams of adventure photography, serendipity is bringing her success.
The 19-year-old has photographed such highprofile sporting events and companies such as the X Games, Dew Tour and Freeskier Magazine. She’s been skiing since age three and held her first camera not too long after.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve always had a camera,” Savannah said.
She started playing with an old Polaroid when she was very young, and later was given a Nikon D90 in her middle school years. It was her first digital single-lens (DSLR) camera. Between that spark of interest plus older friends who were photographers, Savannah was influenced to do the same. But it wasn’t until she spent a day on Schweitzer Mountain photographing skiers with a friend that she decided to marry the two passions.
“I had always been an art kid and to tie it with skiing – that’s the dream,” she said. “I was 14 or 15 when I started shooting – I was constantly living this adventure – playing with light and creating an image, and it was mine – I was instantly in love.”
And her adventure continued. At just 17, she met another influential person who would change the course of her life to where she is now. At the suggestion of her older sister, she contacted Patrick Orton, a fellow young photographer from the Sandpoint area who had found success doing action photography in various places outside of Idaho, including Canada and Colorado.
“I had gotten discouraged because there are so many photographers, and I was afraid of not getting out of Sandpoint,” she said. Her sister encouraged her to look at Orton’s Facebook album. She told Savannah that he was from Sagle and was now making it as a professional photographer, venturing out for months at a time on various photo shoots. Savannah messaged him, and Orton invited her to go out and shoot when he got back from a trip.
“That was the second biggest moment [in photography] for me. We shot by the lake – I wouldn’t leave his side,” she said.
Over countless outings, Orton taught her everything he had learned and encouraged her to pursue the same career path. Sadly, Orton passed away last year at age 24, leaving Savannah without her teacher and a good friend.
“When he died, it was a shock. He was my mentor, my guide and my big brother – my inspiration had gone. I didn’t want to shoot or anything for about a month,” she said.
But at his memorial, the inspiration returned. The service was set up to hold about 200 people but more than 500 showed up from all over to pay their respects and remember Orton.
“He lived a short time, but he inspired so many people. [I realized] you have to find what makes you happy and do whatever it takes to make you happy,” Savannah said. “He taught me to love with an extremely open heart and that others like me would find me. I realized that I had to go on for Pat.”
Out of that tragedy, Savannah started the Lion Heart Project on Facebook. The project shows the art she creates in memory of Orton, and is where she began to dedicate her life to the pursuit of what she wanted. The site is filled with her photography and street art. She was motivated to graduate a semester early from high school and moved to the skiing mecca of Colorado to pursue photography last summer. The adventure has been lonesome and trying at times, but her hard work and relentless dedication to her craft are paying off.
Savannah had given herself three years to “make it” in Colorado, but within eight months, she accomplished her goals. It was not easy, to say the least.
“I had five dollars in my bank account … I moved to Breckenridge and lived with friends [but] moved around a lot. It was rough. I ate once a day but also shot every day,” she said.
She attributes her rise to success to several key people, among them, the staff she befriended at the Slope Style ski shop. They would pass her name along to anyone who entered the store, and some of them were professional skiers.
“I finally got a taste of what I’d been chasing for so long. It didn’t matter that the money wasn’t there,” she said.
One of her assignments was to cover a movie premiere sponsored by Phunkshun Wear. She went beyond the standard photos expected of her and shot the entire event. After, she stayed and helped put away chairs even though she was not being paid for any of it. It was while putting away chairs that she met the CEO of the company, Jay Badgley. He stopped her and asked why she was doing that.
“[I said that] my dad had always told me to help out. He asked me what I wanted. [I said] I’m trying to make a name for myself, and that was all I wanted. He said he’d give my name out and has followed through 100 percent,” she said. “He pretty much set me loose.”
Badgley introduced her to the staff at Freeskier and also gave her a contact to photograph the X Games and SnowSports Industries of America (SIA). And the work followed. For SIA, she had one day to shoot their event, and she made the most of it in spite of having idiopathic arthritis. She skied with the athletes and shot all day, finishing the shoot with swollen knees and pain in her joints. “I met even more people – it made a huge difference.” It wasn’t until she started getting the bigger jobs that she had wanted for so long that she finally recognized the potential that Orton had seen.
Savannah accomplished her goal of shooting the pros and having her photos published in Freeskier’s equipment guide. She recently finished a photoshoot for Level 1 Productions, another dream of hers, in Colorado before returning to Sandpoint. She is now adding to her goals by setting her sights on California and the skateboarding world. She wants to continue photographing athletes but also wants to pursue other creative ventures, such as skateboard design and tattooing.
“I’m proud of where I’ve gotten in my photography. I now see what Pat saw. I see my possibilities,” she said.