BOONE, N.C. — Daniel Gajda ’20 understands how rewarding it is to get paid to do what you love — the Appalachian State University graduate has turned his passion into a career, working as a professional freelance photographer. He had the opportunity to put his skills to practice last summer, photographing the 2020 Sport Climbing Olympics, held in Tokyo in 2021 due to COVID-19.
Gajda, who earned a Bachelor of Science in commercial photography from App State, specializes in photographing rock climbing.
“When my friend took me to the climbing wall, I was instantly hooked, and I’ve been climbing for five years now,” he said. “It cemented my mindset of becoming a commercial photographer and making climbing a big part of my career.”
Photographing the Olympics was a “bucket list item” for Gajda, he said — “it happened much sooner than I ever expected it would.” After a 15-hour flight from the U.S. to Japan, he had 24 hours to set up his equipment and learn the layout of the venue.
Since the Olympics, Gajda has continued to shoot climbing competitions and aims to pursue more commercial work, specifically with companies in the outdoor industry. He credits his commercial photography degree with setting him up for success.
“App State’s program focuses on the business side of photography, which is huge,” he said.
Discovering his passion at App State
Despite his interest in photography, Gajda didn’t consider it as a potential career path until college.
After a semester as a recreation management major at East Carolina University, he changed his major to commercial photography and transferred to App State.
“I love Boone, and there’s a lot of climbing and outdoor recreation opportunities here,” said Gajda, who was a member of the university’s Climbing Team.
Chip Williams, associate professor of commercial photography at App State, said Gajda had natural talent and drive as a student.
“Daniel’s focus on the specific work he wanted to create and his career objectives, even as a student, was remarkable. He knew what photo and media markets he wanted to work in and he was already shooting at a very high level for the national and international climbing competitions his senior year. It was obvious to me he was going to achieve his career goals quickly because of his focus and vision,” Williams said.
As the world begins to emerge from the COVID pandemic, Gajda is diving back into photographing the sport he loves and has taken his freelance photography business to Salt Lake City.
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About the Department of Art
One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Department of Art at Appalachian State University prepares students to explore art, identity, expression and creative problem-solving while challenging them to go beyond their previous limits by discovering new connections to culture. The department offers degrees in art and visual culture, art education, graphic design, studio art, photography and graphic communications management, with minors in art history, studio art, photography and graphic communications management. Learn more at https://art.appstate.edu.
About the College of Fine and Applied Arts
Appalachian State University’s College of Fine and Applied Arts is a dynamic and innovative group of seven academic departments, bringing together a variety of perspectives, experiences and real-world education to provide unique opportunities for student success. The college has more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate majors. Its departments are Applied Design, Art, Communication, Military Science and Leadership, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, and Theatre and Dance. Learn more at https://faa.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.