Embrace the Right Light: Interview with Mak Crist
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KÜHL chats with photographer, Mak Crist, to get acquainted with her work and inspiration.
Written by Sam Brown.
Makayla Crist is an outdoor lifestyle photographer based in Bozeman, Montana. Her goal behind the camera is to capture people doing what they love in the places that inspire her work.
As KÜHL’s head lifestyle photographer, she’s committed to telling our story the only way she knows how: perfect light, exquisite composition, raw emotion, and grit you can almost feel in your teeth as you sift through each and every image.
Beyond the Maker
This series from KÜHL goes beyond getting to know an artist's work and inspiration. We dive deeper into their origin stories and struggles to learn how they cope with failure, critics, and success, yet still find time to do the things they love. Born in the mountains, raised in the studio—these are their stories.
EMBRACE THE RIGHT LIGHT – MAKAYLA CRIST
You can’t scroll through Makayla’s portfolio without feeling the desire—no, the need—to quit your job, cram a few essentials into a duffle bag and hit the road.
Makayla, or Mak, as most people call her, is an outdoor lifestyle photographer based in Bozeman, Montana. Her work has the brisk realism of a southwest winter breeze that’s on its way to the dry, spring desert – startling at first, but gentle and relaxing, eventually.
She finds the best way to connect with the landscapes that inspire her work are through the people who immerse themselves in wild places every day – whether that’s from the seat of a bush plane at 4,500 feet, in a dusty woodshop, or behind the dust clouds from a trio of old dirt bikes climbing higher into the backcountry.
Born in Idaho, and raised in Montana, the west and the adjectives associated with it define her approach on life—vast, steep, beautiful, rugged, risky. Growing up, she joined her dad on hunting and hiking trips and knew early on that she wanted to build a life around these landscapes.
WORKING WITH KÜHL
Mak spent the last five years earning her position as head lifestyle photographer at KÜHL. She started from the bottom and has earned her keep. Even before this relationship began, Mak’s goal was to deliver authentic content with purpose. As she honed this talent, she got connected with KÜHL who saw themselves in her imagery—KÜHL and Mak share a common goal and there are no shortcuts for our intentions.
Mak loves working with KÜHL because we trust her. She sees herself and her values in the company and feels proud to represent a brand that’s as obsessive about the details yet doesn’t forget about the purpose – to have fun in the places that make us who we are.
Mak is a skilled observer, quietly taking in the scene as it unfolds before her. Her background afforded her unique opportunities to learn the importance of soaking it all in.
She was homeschooled with three siblings until she went to high school. She found competitive swimming in high school which set the foundation for the hard work and hustle her career demands.
After high school Mak went to college at Rocky Mountain School of Photography. This program gave her the skills and confidence to pursue photography as a full-time career. Yet, after graduating she took to the trail, packing on the miles on popular long-distance hikes.
COMMITMENT THAT DEFINES HER
In a saturated market where everyone and their stepmom is a “photographer,” Mak chooses to ignore the static and noise. She didn’t even let the bias of succeeding in a male dominated industry sway her relentless drive to share her art.
Mak’s pensive reflection and intent for her craft is hard to miss as you scroll through her work. There are no accidents, every click of the shutter is calculated. This approach is far from the “shoot from the hip and hope for the best” mentality that some outdoor photographers lean on when they’re in the field.
Success didn’t come easy. It never does. And it never will be. Mak admits that she’s grown a lot as a photographer in the past few years, but the hard work never stops. In the beginning she was very hard on herself, even mean sometimes. But she’s learned to give herself grace and find a lesson, however small it may be, every time something doesn’t go according to plan.
She feels no need to keep up with the constant content churn to feed eyeballs on social media. Photography is her art form. She scrutinizes over every image and every pixel before she shares it because without discipline you dilute your art. She has intentionally slowed down her entire process, not just to enjoy the ride but to prevent burnout and stay on her creative track.
BEYOND THE SHUTTER
When Mak is on set, the photo shoots aren’t large, orchestrated events. Mak typically shows up with a few lenses in hand and rarely asks the talent to pose. She reads the light, observes the talent, knows the terrain and trusts the process.
She takes a documentary approach to her work and typically lets the talent guide the story. She feeds off their energy and genuinely loves watching people do what they love.
Mak’s living her dream, so when we asked what the future looks like, she didn’t have a great answer. The trajectory of this dream rides on hard work and always will. She wants to continue capturing people’s stories and showcasing who they are, what they love to do and how they do it. Kuhl is happy to support her every step of the way.
SHOP MAK'S LOOK