Interviews

Joshua Cripps

Official Nikon photographer for their D750 campaign and proud co-founder of Sea to Summit Photography Workshops, Joshua Cripps shares his special view of this planet though his lens with over a million followers.  His work has been featured in magazines like Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography and is a regular contributor to Visual Wilderness


Welcome to intrepid.photos Josh!  You describe your youth as growing up on granite and the smell of pine trees? Can you elaborate on that a little! In particular do you think your upbringing influenced your photographic style?     

Sure thing! I grew up in a small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills called Sonora. For most of my childhood we lived within spitting distance of the Stanislaus National Forest and my parents were really good about encouraging us to spend time outdoors. As a family we were consistently camping and hiking, and every summer we spent time up in the higher elevation landscapes along Sonora Pass. That’s where my first moments clambering around on granite were and where I started to build an appreciation for nature.

But it wasn’t until I went away to college at USC in LA that I got a great perspective check. Growing up in the woods feels completely and utterly normal and banal….until you’re not in the woods any more. Living in LA, surrounded by concrete and cars and freeways, I realized just how much I needed to be in the mountains. That’s what helped drive my interest in hiking and backpacking, especially in the High Sierra.

Just as they tell writers to write what they know, I tell photographers to shoot what they love. When I finally got into photography in my mid-20’s I had already built this deep, beautiful connection with the Sierra Nevada, so it was only natural that my photography would become an extension of that.

You spend a lot of time in the California’s Sierra Nevada. How did you end up making Mammoth Lakes your home? Was it driven by photography or other life goals?

As I mentioned, I have a particular affinity for the High Sierra. For years all of my backpacking trips centered around trails off of Highway 395 and out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. And for many of these trips, Mammoth Lakes Ranger Station was where I needed to pick up my wilderness permits. So I developed this very positive feeling toward Mammoth; Mammoth was the cool little mountain town where you picked up permits for awesome backpacking trips. How could you not love it?

And as time went on and my interests shifted from merely backpacking, to backpacking and photography, to teaching photography, I came to realize that Mammoth is not only in an incredible location, but it’s also a great little town with a good local community that’s full of passionate, outdoorsy people.  So in 2015 when I was feeling a little itchy toward making a location change (I was back living in my home town at the time), I thought: “why not move to this cool town, in an amazing place for photography, full of young, active people who want to live an outdoorsy lifestyle?” And even though I’ve only been in town since September 2015, I can say this place feels like paradise.

 What does a typical photo expedition involve and how many expeditions would you go on a year?cuyoc-peru

 Man, I hate to sound so cliché, but there’s really no such thing as typical. Every year is different, and so is every trip. For example, 2016 is heavy on the international travel. I spent three weeks in Chile, six weeks in New Zealand, and couple of weeks in the Dolomites in Italy in July. And even though those are all international trips, each one is totally different in character.

It was my first time in Chile, for example, and my goal was simply to lay the groundwork for future photography trips. Unless you are extremely lucky or follow a well-trodden path it’s hard to scout a new place and come home with killer photos, because inevitably you’re in the wrong spot when the nice light hits, or you find an amazing location when conditions aren’t great. I prefer to explore areas that aren’t iconic, which means a lot more scrambling and bewilderment, and so my goals for Chile were simply to poke around some lesser-known spots and find places to come back to shoot. In three weeks of traveling (entirely by bus or ferry) I had four total days of good photography and maybe have 4 or 5 shots I ‘m happy with.

New Zealand, by contrast, was a chance for me to return to a place I know very well, and get a bit deeper beneath the surface. I spent as much time as possible in the backcountry, exploring areas I’d previously marked on my mental map. Since I knew I’d be trekking a bunch, I brought everything I needed to be happy in the wilderness for a couple of days at time. Which meant my pack was heavy on camping and camera gear, and light on just about everything else. And because New Zealand was a very photo-centric trip for me I tried to give myself every opportunity to shoot: renting a car so I could travel independently, paying for guides and excursions to get to unusual places, taking bigger risks with the weather, etc.

My trip to the Dolomites will be an entirely different beast altogether because I am joining a workshop there led by my friend Erin Babnik. Even though I know first hand that by spending a little time and doing a little research I could easily set up a great trip on my own, sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do all the heavy lifting, especially when that person is already a Dolomites expert like Erin is. So for this excursion, I’m going to enjoy turning off my brain a bit, let Erin handle all the details, and just have fun shooting a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Then after the workshop I’ll spend another week or so exploring on my own.

What equipment do you take on a shoot?

Whatever it takes to get the job done! If I’m in the front country I bring my whole kit, including multiple bodies, all my filters, and every single friggin’ lens I own, even a tremendously crappy one I bought for 99 bucks that doesn’t even have a lens cap. When I hit the trail I do pare things down a bit, but exactly how much depends on how far I’m hiking and how much other gear I have to carry (once you add crampons, an ice axe, a shovel, rope, and extra clothing to your backpack you start to wonder just how good that iPhone camera is after all). But I’d hate to miss a photo just because I decided to shave half a pound off my kit, so when I go trekking I still bring one camera body, a carbon fiber tripod, my ultra-wide prime, a 18-35mm wide zoom, (usually) a 50mm prime, a 70-200mm f/4, extra batteries, and a handful of filters. It’s not tooooo heavy, and honestly, if you eat enough chocolate you don’t even notice the weight.

fave-the-reason

Where or do you get your photographic inspiration from and do you follow any other photographers that you particularly admire?

 I draw most of my inspiration from the landscape itself. One of the beautiful things about traveling and exploring is the exponential cascading effect it has on being inspired to continue traveling and exploring. When I am photographing a place, I always see new angles, new locations, new mountains, new lakes, and new rivers. And this is what keeps me brimming over with ideas for places to go and things to shoot.

In terms of people there are so many outstanding landscape photographers these days that I couldn’t possibly list them all, but there are a few standouts that spring to mind. In general I am drawn to adventurous photographers who are pushing themselves to explore and find new locations. Guys like Paul Nicklen, Jimmy Chin, Paul Zizka, and Cory Richards are endlessly inspiring. In more of a pure landscape sense, Marsel Van Oosten is one of my favorites; he doesn’t rely on super technical processing wizardry like a lot of today’s landscapers. Instead he just goes out, finds amazing locations in sweet conditions, and produces solid solid imagery.

But of course my greatest admiration goes to the late, great Galen Rowell. When I stumbled across his work I had no idea a photo could paint the landscape in such a magical way. And ever since, his compositional style, his drive, and his pure joy in the experience of the outdoors have all been things I try to emulate.

fave-wanaka-dreaming

You have been featured in major publications such as Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography. Is publication something that you have actively pursued or has it developed as a natural consequence of your work?

My efforts at publication have followed somewhat of a bell curve. In the very beginning I dreamed of publication, but of course my images were crap and I knew it. But as I started to improve I saw publication as a way of validating what I was doing with a camera. It seemed to me to be the way to show I could hack it. So I began to actively pursue publication by submitting to contests. I was fortunate enough to win a few magazine contests, and that led being published here and there.

And as good as publication feels (it is really cool to see your name and photos in print!), as I came into my own as a photographer my need for that validation waned. I began to shoot more and more for myself, to fulfill my creative vision, and as a consequence I stopped aiming for those publications.

Which photo is your most popular photo and why do you think people like it?

There are a lot of ways to interpret “most popular” so I’m going to talk about my best-selling photo, which is this photo of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite. In order for a photo to do well it has to resonate with people. And that resonance usually happens because people have been to the spot in the photo. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me Cathedral Peak is the place where they first learned to backpack, or it’s where their family hiked to every summer, or it simply embodies the beauty of Yosemite National Park. It’s a place that holds a special significance for a lot of people, and for that reason I think it’s done well as a print.

fave-cathedral-peak

 

Which photo of yours means the most to you personally?

There are four photos that jump out instantly at me. The first is that shot of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite. For me that photo represents the turning point in my career when I went from somewhat haphazardly shooting, to actually consciously creating the shots I wanted to see.

Lake Tahoe has many beautiful places along its shores, but for me Sand Harbor is at the top of the list. The way the white granite boulders merge with the beautifully clear, turquoise water is simply incredible. On this night I was shooting a sunset that started off without a bang. In fact it was so boring I began to pack up my gear to leave. But as I turned around to head back to the car, the clouds to the northeast began to light up with beautiful pink and purple hues. Tearing my camera back out of my bag I set up a composition which highlighted the clarity of the water, the white granite, and the reflection of the beautiful light show happening above the mountains in front of me. With the beauty of the scene, and a complete lack of any wind, it seemed as though Tahoe and I were both left breathless. *Please visit my profile to learn more about me and my photography* ----------------------------------- Tech Notes on this Photo ----------------------------------- Nikon D300s Tokina 12-24 mm ISO100 - To help stretch out the shutter speed f/10 - as always I started out at f/8 since that's the sharpest spot on my lens and it helps me defocus scratches, drops, and dust on my filters/lens. In this case I wanted to increase the shutter speed a little bit to help smooth out the water as much as possible. Turns out there wasn't much difference to the smoothness in the end, but this shot at f/10 had the best light. 6 sec 12 mm on a crop sensor Lee 3-stop, 2-stop, and 1 soft GND Filters, handheld at a very slight angle to help darken the horizon on the left. Post-Processing ---------------------- In Raw Converter (Nikon Capture NX2) - Processed single raw file twice, once for the majority of the image, and another time at +0.3 ev to blend in to upper-right corner to remove some darkness there - Global contrast for added pop - Slightly darkened and added contrast to the sky to add oomph - brightened and added contrast to darker rocks on left - slightly darkened a

The second photo is from Lake Tahoe and is probably my personal favorite shot.  It’s the result of an evening when all my planning and pre-scouting got tossed right out the window and I was forced to spontaneously adapt to changing conditions. And I ended up with an image far better than I could’ve pre-envisioned.

My third meaningful image is this shot of the now famous Wanaka Willow. It was the first (and only) time in my photographic career that the vision of a shot I had in my head was actually realized in a photo. Usually the photos you picture in your mind’s eye come out completely different in real life thanks to the vagaries of Mother Nature. But on this singular occasion everything clicked into place as perfectly as I had imagined.

Finally, another photo from the Sierra Nevada. This shot simply captures everything I love about photographing in the Range of Light: soaring mountains, innumerable beautiful lakes, and ponderously swirling clouds.

What would you like your viewers to take away from your work?

I want people to realize that each of my photos is a representation of a real moment that I experienced. Yes, the mountains really looked like that, the sunset really was that color, and that shaft of light actually did fall on just that one spot. There are magical places and experiences all around us if you just begin to look for them. I also hope that people will in some way realize the beauty of our planet and the fragility of its resources.

If you could pass on one critical tip or technique to someone, what would it be?

Use a tripod! Sure, a tripod is a clunky pain in the ass, but if you are striving to nail your composition or achieve technical perfection in your images a tripod is a life saver.

Are your compositions pre-meditated or developed on the fly?

Yes. Generally speaking I always compose on the fly. I try to let a scene speak to me and tell me what there is to shoot, rather than imposing my preconceived expectations and compositions onto the scene. But if I find an amazing composition when the light isn’t quite right for that shot it goes into my quiver of useful ideas. Then when conditions are better I’ll go back and shoot it.

What clichés in photography do you try and avoid?

This will make me sound like a total snob, but I actively avoid iconic locations. It has nothing to do with their beauty; after all, the places are iconic for a reason. But I personally don’t find much artistic satisfaction in photographing a spot that has been shot a million times. At that point photography becomes less about personal expression and more about who happened to be there with the best weather. I think about it a little bit like cover songs:  If I cover a Beatles song I know I will have a great time singing it and I will produce a song that everyone already knows and already likes. But whose artistry am I expressing in that situation? Ultimately I’d rather record my own music; even if it doesn’t turn out as good as my Beatles cover, I can take pride in my own creation.

Can you elaborate on your post production workflow?

For me, post production is an extension of the image-making process. I am actively trying to showcase certain features of a landscape that I find striking. My philosophy mimics caricature: simplify and exaggerate. Meaning that when I compose in a certain way to highlight part of the landscape, I will then attempt to further highlight that element in post. For example, if I love the contrast a shaft of light is making on a mountainside, I will enhance that contrast further in post. If I love the purple color of a flower, I will make it more purple in post.

But in more specific terms, my post workflow involves importing raw files into Lightroom, and doing as much development of the images as possible there. In fact, the only reason I bring an image into Photoshop these days is if I need to blend exposures, or do highly-tuned local adjustments.

What locations are on your wish list for an extended photographic adventure?

Oh man, how much time do you have?? As I mentioned previously, the thing with traveling is you are always discovering more places to travel, so the list is truly endless. But at the moment my current wishlist looks something like this (in no particular order): Wyoming’s Wind River Range, The Cirque of the Unclimables in Canada, Tatsenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in BC, Madagascar, New Zealand (again and again and again), more places in the Andes, South Georgia Island, China, and and and……

You are the co-founder of Sea to Summit Photography Workshops, can you explain what takes place in one of the workshops?

mono-lake-mw

When Jim Patterson and I founded the company in 2010 we both agreed that we wanted to teach the fundamentals of good photography and finding your own vision. We both felt that was far more important than simply hand-holding students into creating a good image. As a consequence we developed a three-pronged approach to teaching where we discuss: 1) The philosophy of art, photography, and vision; 2) Theoretical knowledge the participants can take with them to create their own beautiful photos down the road; and 3) Specific and practical tips, tricks, and approaches to photographing the present scene. And I’m happy to say we’ve seen many past students really come into their own as photographers using this approach.

Our workshops are all location-based, and they’re set in amazing landscapes that we know intimately. We could teach this stuff in a classroom, but it’s 100 times more fun to be out actually shooting in some incredible places. We currently run workshops in Death Valley, the Eastern Sierra, Yosemite National Park, the Palouse, New Zealand, Olympic National Park, and we should have a trip to Iceland coming online soon.

Finally, I want to mention that on our workshops emphasize fieldcraft and the process of capturing great photos while out shooting, thus giving you the best possible platform to start from for post processing. We keep our groups small, 8 participants maximum, so that everyone gets plenty of attention. And all the instruction is done on a 1-on-1 basis, which means photographers of all experience levels are welcome to join us.

You are quite active across all forms of social media including Youtube. How important is social media in your strategy of deriving an income from photography related activities and what recommendations would you have for someone starting out in the industry?

I have a true love/hate relationship with social media. Part of me loathes it because I find that social media tends to create conformity in art, rather than celebrating diversity and individual artistic vision. I also don’t like the idea that if I’m not constantly online consuming content I’m missing out on something. But on the other hand I find social media incredibly valuable for making all kinds of connections, whether they’re personal or business. In fact, a lot of my income stems from social media, either directly or indirectly. For example, fans of my Facebook page will sign up for workshops or purchase prints. And increasingly I’m using YouTube to generate passive income in the form of ad revenue and tutorial sales from my website, as well as create a rich photography community.

For a photographer just starting out in the industry my advice is simple: shoot what you love. As my friend John Barclay would say: shoot what makes your heart sing. When you find that niche that you are passionate and excited about, that passion shows through in your photos, which makes people excited about your photography. And when other people get excited about your photography, that’s when amazing things start to happen. That’s exactly what happened for me in the past and what I’m sure will continue to happen in the future. Spread your love and it will come back to you in wonderful ways!

You also need to realize that running a successful photography business is not as binary as flipping a lightswitch. Success can be simple but it certainly isn’t easy: it takes persistence and consistency, and being just too dang stubborn to quit. And rarely does it happen overnight, so stick with it and have faith.

Do you think adventure photography has a conservation role in an increasingly electronic world?

I think adventure and landscape photography has a vital role in conservation as more and more people embrace imagery, exploration, and showcasing the beauty of our planet. Unfortunately, I think the wrong message is currently being broadcast. Many of the leading photographers on social media seem to focus on portraying their lives in as cool a way as possible, and I believe this focus on appearance over all else leads to terrible behavior. One only has to look at the recent spate of head-shaking incidents in Yellowstone to see that people aren’t thinking about the consequences of their actions, but only the images they’re trying to capture.

I would love to see more photographers step up as role models and examples for conservation and preservation. In fact, I’m so happy you brought up this subject because it forces me to acknowledge that I certainly haven’t done enough to actively promote conservation and good stewardship of our planet. I’m hopeful that my images will help people begin a relationship with the beautiful places of the planet, but I want to be more active in encouraging that relationship to develop into one of conservation.

stirling-falls-nz

Anything else you would like to pass on to the readers?

Be excellent to each other, and….party on, dudes!

Where can people go to look at your work and get in contact with you?

You can find my work online at www.joshuacripps.com and on social media at facebook, instagram, and youtube.

 

All photos in this article remain the copyright of Joshua Cripps and have been reproduced with permission.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Top