Adventure enthusiast, graduate student travels as photographer while balancing studies

Karl Onyiye Ndieli, graduate student in architecture, travels the U.S. and some places abroad taking photos for social media. (Photo Courtesy of Karl Nedieli)

Karl Ndieli, graduate student in architecture, wanted to find a way to document his life, so he turned to photography. Three years ago, Ndieli started a photography project on social media, which has since gained several thousand followers.

“Honestly, it all started on Instagram,” Ndieli said. “It started because I wanted better selfies of myself, in all honesty. So I got a camera, and I wanted to preserve intimate moments with friends, look better on Instagram and document what I was doing. Slowly I started finding an audience.”

Currently, his Tumblr has over 55,000 followers from 160 different countries. His Instagram has 25,500 followers and counting. Within these two social media platforms, he said he captivates two different audiences.

“They are two different groups of people, and I think the ones on Tumblr came about because I posted a selfie with a cat on my head,” Ndieli said. “It went viral a little bit and Tumblr is weird about cats. I got like a quarter of a million reposts, and that’s how I was able to build an audience and continue to post frequently.”

Student life

Ndieli said he is just beginning to understand the power behind photography, but his focus stays on architecture.

Juggling graduate school and photography, Ndieli said he is able to travel and take photos because of his work and budget. He leaves immediately after class on Fridays to meet up with his friends in Colorado and take photos throughout the weekend.

Ndieli makes money for his trips by selling stock photos for an online company, who will give him an assignment, such as getting a photograph of a girl holding a cup of coffee. He said almost all of his money goes to funding his photography trips or getting equipment.

“My parents are helping me a little bit with college and I owe it to them to complete my degree and be successful in my field because it’s a different culture,” Ndieli said. “I’m from Nigeria.”

He said if he could live comfortably off of photography, though, he would.

Life as a traveling photographer

Most of the pictures Ndieli takes are landscapes across the United States and from places abroad he has visited. He said his style of photography changed after a year and a half of work. First, he documented himself as the center of his photos, but since then has shifted to taking photos of the places he has been.

“The camera slowly turned away from myself,” Ndieli said. “It slowly went from documenting me and the things that I have done, to documenting the places that I was at. I still like to show scale and me in those places, but I like to put myself far in the picture to distance my personal (self), so you know it became less of a personal photo diary to more of me showing people places.”

A few experiences that have influenced Ndieli’s work have been studying abroad in Italy and interning in San Francisco, California.

The opportunity in San Francisco opened a door for Ndieli to network with other photographers and further develop his skills as a photographer.

“The photography community is very peppy and very active so I got involved in that as well,” Ndieli said.

Through social media, Ndieli has been able to network with others, go on adventures and take more pictures in nature. Last Thanksgiving, he traveled from Boulder, Colorado, to Canada with a group of photographers that he connected with on social media.

Ty Newcomb, a full-time photographer based out of Boulder, Colorado, is one of Ndieli’s friends he met through social media.

“Since then, we have traveled over 8,000 miles on the road together, exploring many different states and places I never dreamed of being able to visit,” Newcomb said. “We have together, gotten road trips down to a science that allows us both to take 3,000-plus mile journey’s on a monthly basis basically.”

Ndieli’s younger sister, Kathy Ndieli, junior in industrial engineering, said although she does not have the same passion for photography as her brother, she sometimes serves as a model when he needs someone to fill in or cannot find someone in time.

“I’m super happy that my brother has found his passion and creative outlet in photography,” Kathy Ndieli said. “When Karl shows me his pictures, I find them interesting, but because we’re basically interested in opposites, it gets a bit tiring when he shows me his editing process. Although I haven’t gone on any of the fun trips, I’m doing so this summer. But he collects key holder and bag pins for me. I also keep up with his adventures by watching his Snapchat.”

The road ahead

Ndieli’s upcoming projects include going to Rocky Mountain National Park, hiking at Chasm Lake and a road trip from Colorado to Washington, through Oregon to California and then back to California. His biggest project will be going to Tasmania, Australia and New Zealand.