Josh started with AM in 1991 while he was in college. After working in accounting, traffic and technology, he eventually ended up behind a camera - which turned out to be a perfect fit. We spoke with him about how he came into his profession and the processes he uses to find his most incredible shots.
AM: What’s your background in photography? How did you get started in your line of work?
JOSH: I started at Ackerman McQueen on January 3 of 1991. Not too long after that, I hooked up with Michael Ives. It was just a curiosity for me at that point because I had no formal training in photography, not even a high school class or anything. So, Michael was kind enough to show me the basics. He loaned me one of his old cameras, and I just started experimenting – and that was probably in ’92. So, it evolved from that to a full-time hobby when I moved to Colorado in ’96, and I would shoot stuff that Angus (AM Chief Executive Officer) asked me for. And it just kind of went from there. I would say it has been a gradually evolving passion of mine for the past 20+ years.
AM: What would you say is the majority of the type of work you are shooting?
JOSH: As far as work goes, almost everything I’ve shot in the last five years is all time-lapse related. Almost every frame of photography – of which there have been well over a million in the last five years – have all been towards the end goal of a time-lapse.
Outside of that, sometimes I’ll be out on the road and I’ll see something that interests me that has no application for work that I’ll shoot, but it’s just whatever I stumble onto at that point. And a lot of that stuff I’ll forget about, see six months later and think, “Wow, that was interesting. I should look at those files.” Some of Angus’s favorites from me over the years is stuff that resulted from those types of happenstance shoots.
AM: What kind of planning are you doing before you even leave the house?
JOSH: There’s a lot more than you would think. The very first thing I’ll do is general research on locations. For instance, last year I shot in NM, UT, CO, WY, MT, all the western states. And so I would try to make a general route that would keep me from hopscotching all over the west, and once I got a decent route, I would look for locations along that route. Then I’d get into the micro details to find out how the light would hit each location – and I’d be doing that for weeks before I would arrive there. There’s a lot of pre-planning that’s mostly done on the computer. And discovering those details ahead of time just gets me a little more prepared, even if it’s only knowing exactly where and when the sun is going to set.
AM: But then after all that planning, how many times do you get out there and nature happens and your shot is busted?
JOSH: Oh, very often. Think about it. How many times do you just see a magical sunset – not that often. Many times I would discover what I knew would be a homerun type of shot if the light and weather cooperated. Occasionally I would decide it was worth it to wait out 2 or 3 days of bad weather to see if things would work out. Occasionally it was worth the wait, but sometimes I never got it, and I’d just have to move on.
But then every now and then, I’d show up and see what I thought had potential, and then it would blossom into something way beyond what I gave it credit for. Sometimes you get lucky.
AM: What about the physicality of it? You’re not just pulling off on the side of the road for planned shoots.
JOSH: There are certain things that I weigh before setting out. Getting out of sight of the vehicle opens up a whole new world with possible problems in security. And after all my equipment was stolen in San Francisco in February of 2015, I became very security focused.
So when I’m out in a remote area, even when I’m out in the middle of nowhere, I still always have that nagging fear in the back of my head – “Well, is it worth it to leave everything behind and go chase this?” And then, when I’m able to convince myself “Yes, it’s worth it to take that leap” then I am willing to do whatever it takes to get to where I need to be. It may be a couple miles, or it may be a couple thousand vertical feet up the side of a mountain to be able to see in the valley on the other side.
There have certainly been times where I’ve carried way more equipment than I should have, times where I prayed that I was going to get out there without breaking a leg. I’d go out there and shoot and then I’d be trying to find my way back after dark. I remember one time in Pennsylvania, I was picking my way back over half a mile of moss-covered rocks in an icy creek. I told myself I’d never do it again – and then I did it a week later.
AM: What is a story of an extremely interesting and worthwhile shot?
JOSH: The process of filming the eclipse required an incredible amount of planning and preparation; it was equivalent to at least a month on the road of normal shooting. Even with all of the advance preparation and weeks of research, I still had to find the right location and then get lucky on the weather. After three days of driving 4WD roads on BLM land, I ended up in south-central Idaho, a place called King Mountain. I arrived the day before the eclipse and spent the next 24 hours testing and calibrating the tracking mounts, cameras, etc.
There were fires burning in the area, so I had to be aware of which way the smoke would drift during the 4-hour event. The sun was high in the sky during totality, so I needed a location that would allow me to use a super-wide-angle lens to keep the sun in the frame for the static shot, yet still look like a natural landscape in the finished footage. King Mountain ended up being the perfect location and all of the planning paid off. I approached this shoot as a once-in-a-generation event. I put a ton of work into it and it paid off; the final results were definitely worth all of the effort. After further reflection, I believe it was a once-in-a-lifetime shoot and quite likely one of the most focused efforts of my career.