I am super excited to share this month’s Photographer of the Month interview with American landscape photographer Joshua Snow. I’ve been following Joshua’s photography for a long time and I’m always blown away with his constant high-quality imagery. Enjoy this interview and be sure to visit his website and social media to enjoy more of his work.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you got started with photography?
It’s an honor, thank you so much for having me!
Well, I am 32 years old and currently based in Moab, UT, home of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and one cool place! When I first picked up a camera in 2012, I was writing articles for angling magazines. It was my ‘thing’ at the time, and I spent a lot of time traveling only to fish.
I was also pushing the scales at over 400 pounds and was sort of in a fight for my life. My partner and I began hiking the nearby gorges of the finger lakes area of New York where I spent most of my life. It was then that I was beginning to fall in love with taking pictures of the waterfalls and lakes. By the spring of 2016 I had been taking trips specifically for photography and had mostly hung up the angling bit; after a week’s visit to Utah, I packed up my little family, walked away from my engineering career and moved here weeks later, set on creating art!
Nowadays though, after building a camper van this spring, I spend a lot of my time wandering, which has been really fun!
“Dramatic” and “Epic” are two words that come to mind when thinking of your images. How would you describe your style and what is it you look for in a scene?
That is a really big compliment; thank you!
I really don’t know how to describe my style. Painterly? Immersive? Colorful, intriguing? I think those could be good descriptors. I really try to convey what emotions I may have been feeling at the time or during post-processing and want my viewer to feel it and feel as though they’re standing beside me.
When I get a chance to get out and explore for me, especially in places I have never been, I am looking for uniqueness first and foremost. Even in popular or frequently photographed locations, I search for new and unique compositions.
I always try to be in a great place, usually spending several return trips or lots of time scouting locations and watching the weather. I very much love the desert and its variety of useful and effective foreground elements such as cacti, great geology, or shapes and lines in the rocks. Although, I have a special affinity for mountains, too, as most landscape photographers do.
I am always looking for patterns, shapes, layers, mimicry or symmetry between sky and land, or even within the land, incoming or outgoing bad weather or atmospheres like fog or cloud inversion. It all starts with being captivated; by something that makes you want to take a photo. Your viewers will feel that.
You’ve openly spoken about struggling with being ‘dangerously overweight’ and how photography helped you get into shape and do things you couldn’t have done before. What advice do you have to others who might be in a similar situation or that have physical limitations to reaching certain destinations?
Definitely, and to be honest, I have always struggled with being overweight. Even now I have packed on some weight from all of the driving and poor eating habits this year; it’s a never-ending cycle for me.
I’ll spend the next few months getting back on track and healthier for next season’s adventures.
That being said, you have to start somewhere. No matter how embarrassed you feel, or how hard it is, being healthy and able allows us to see and experience amazing things. I could barely move from my bed or my office at work, I was lazy and lethargic.
When I found photography, I realized that being in nature was what I needed. Even now I occasionally forget about the healing powers of it.
If you’re able, just reflect on yourself, think about the things you can’t do and let that motivate you to make changes; think of the images you could capture.
For those that are limited outside of their control, of course, some places could be impossible to visit. However, there are endless, incredible locations throughout this world that can be viewed without the same degree of effort and could even be in your own back yard.
How has being based in Moab, often called paradise for landscape photographers, impacted your photography and what’s your approach to stay inspired and find new opportunities in the local area?
Funny you should ask this. Moab is great, and I love the town but I don’t find myself out there much when I have ‘me’ time.
The truth is, I am rarely here and when I am gone, I always miss it and think to myself “I can’t wait to get home and go explore”.
About 70% of this area is still unexplored by photographers, and that’s exciting. Each time I am home though, I feel like I am either catching up or planning trips elsewhere. There is just so much to see out there, and I just can’t sit still for too long. I think though, that we all want what we don’t have, it’s human nature. Time away from where you spend most of your time can help reinvigorate your attraction to a location and re-inspire you to go back with a different perspective.
How important do you think it is to live near picturesque landscapes if you want to succeed as a landscape photographer?
Had you asked me this question three and a half years ago I would’ve said its paramount but as time has gone by, I find that I spend less and less time here in Moab and more time elsewhere.
I was certain that living here or anywhere picturesque or popular was going to accelerate my career in photography. Sure, it helped with becoming a business; doing local workshops, etc but my goal was never to just be in business, it was to be in business because of my art.
Looking back though I am not sure if it was living here or how stubborn and driven I am that has brought me here, to this place. In 2018, my first full year self-employed, I felt like I never left Moab, but in 2019 I have spent a combined 6-7 weeks in Moab, so nowadays it’s not as important.
I have tried to structure this business in a way that I don’t have to rely on Moab to stay alive so that when I eventually find the place I want to put roots into, I can still work as an artist. However, I think that if you have the means to simply visiting these places, getting to know them well, and capturing them uniquely, that it’s not as important to live in a certain place; although it definitely helps!
Social media and the internet have made it possible for all types of creatives to not only find ‘their thing’ but make a living doing it, which is really great.
What are your thoughts on post-processing and how important is it in your workflow?
It’s no secret, and it’s pretty evident that I really enjoy taking things to another level in post-processing. I LOVE strong, bold and punchy colors and dramatic light and spend lots of time working it out.
I have always been a little different and although I am drawn to a few modern landscape photographers’ work, I really enjoy the paintings of the mid to late 1800s by Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt and a few others who were masters of light and color.
I aim to create unique imagery and have strived to reach a point in my work that sets it apart from all of the other artists and photographers out there, forging a style that is all mine. As a result, I tend to approach my work in a painterly way, shaping light, accentuating colors, and working with complementary color schemes.
In short, post-processing is essential to creating the images I share. I want people to really ‘feel’ when they look at one of my images.
You work a lot with ultra-wide-angle lenses and have become a master in strong compositions. What are some important elements landscape photographers need to consider when setting up their wide-angle compositions?
Great question! And thank you!
Wide-angle lenses are great for really exaggerating certain elements of a scene and help your viewer feel immersed as a result. I tend to use this distortion to my advantage by using a low camera position to allow my foregrounds to feel larger and in your face.
For example, a 6-inch-tall flower with a diameter of maybe an inch can look immense if you’re low and close enough to it. This allows us to be really creative with what we squeeze in the frame and it doesn’t always have to be the most interesting thing to be interesting as a wide-angle foreground.
A change in perspective can change everything but these lenses can also have some negative effects on the landscape toward the center of the lens, a side effect of the lens known as pinhole distortion.
So, I am frequently working with different focal lengths and blending them back together in post-processing to try and counteract it, bringing back the size and presence of distant ‘things’ that appear larger to our eyes than the lens.
What are your top 3 pieces of advice to someone who wants to take their photography to the next level?
- Don’t be afraid to learn as much as you can, don’t be too prideful to know that you need to keep learning. More knowledge is always good, it allows us to push our boundaries and find our own unique styles. We cannot do what we don’t know how to do.
- Explore and find uniqueness. Although there is stock in mimicking an artist or style you love, by shortening the learning curve, its important to veer off and find your own way. The journey will help you learn about yourself.
- It’s important to have a person or a group of people whom you respect and cherish that you can bounce your images off and get honest feedback from. This is essential to growth and I will be the first to admit, the feedback isn’t always easy to take and you will frequently disagree. Being objective to your own images will help you in receiving the toughest criticism and applying it to ensure that you and your work improve.
What’s one piece of equipment you always have in your backpack?
I think I could come up with a different answer if you asked me this a few times but aside from the essentials like tripod, remote, lens cloth, batteries and memory cards, I never leave home without a circular polarizer! One large enough for my widest lens that can be used on all of my smaller, longer lenses.