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Interview with Joshua Cripps

Joshua has some truly amazing landscape photos in his portfolio. The images he has supplied for this interview will certainly give you a boost in inspiration. However he also provides probably the truest advice for going pro that I have come across since starting this site. If you can brush of what he says then just maybe you have what it takes to break into this industry. As always we love comments to please leave a comment below.

Joshua Cripps

Joshua Cripps

Tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Josh Cripps and I’m a nature photographer lucky enough to live in California, one of the most beautiful and geographically diverse areas of the world. When I’m not out shooting I climb on rocks, hit balls over nets, and eat a lot of Mexican food. I say “monkey” more than just about any other word. I wish I was three inches taller. I have two cats and two houseplants. Warm, sunny weather is the greatest thing ever even though it makes for shitty photos. And once in Mongolia I spilled hot yak’s milk on my shoes which over the next few weeks began to smell so bad a group of people who couldn’t even speak English asked me to throw them away.

What made you get into photography?

Math. Or more precisely: too much math. I studied engineering in college and by the time I was done with my undergraduate degree my head was so burstingly full of equations, coefficients, and Planck’s constants that I couldn’t take it any more. I decided to take some time off and explore the world a bit more, so I saved up a bunch of money and bought a one-way plane ticket to New Zealand. Past that I had no plans. Over the next 19 months I wandered my way around the planet, from New Zealand and Australia to Southeast Asia, on through Mongolia and Russia to Europe, and from there to points in the Indian Ocean. This trip really opened my eyes to the wonder and beauty in the world and gave me a rich appreciation for the magic of a passing moment. It also helped me define a philosophy by which I try to live my life: The most valuable currency we possess is time, the only thing worth spending it on is experience.

Unfortunately, in the real world more practical currencies dominate and after 19 months straight of traveling, I was broke as a joke. So I came back to the US in the summer of 2005 and got a job doing the only thing I was qualified to do: helping design communication satellites for Boeing. And while it was a good job, I lived in a tiny cube and my skin got so pale it was almost translucent. But Boeing was a fantastic company and I used the ample salary and vacation time they gave me to continue my adventures around the globe, managing to visit some pretty amazing places, like South Africa in 2008, New Zealand again in 2007, and Alaska in 2006.

It was right before that trip to Alaska that a fateful thing happened: my simple point and shoot camera broke, so I shelled out for my first DSLR. And that was when the photography bug bit hard.

How did you get started?

I got started terribly. Like many novice shooters, I had a pretty good eye without really understanding what I was doing, which meant I made the classic mistake of assuming that with a killer camera I would automatically take killer pictures. So I headed up to Alaska with visions of grandeur. I twiddled my aperture this way and took a shot, I pushed my shutter speed that way and took another. Then I bumped my ISO, zoomed in, and took six more pics while spinning in a circle. In short, I had no idea what I was doing. And despite the amazing scenery I encountered on that trip, my photos were damn disappointing. No, worse than disappointing: they were downright shitty.

But as an engineer, I have an incredibly analytical mind. I see a problem and I have to understand the problem, the reason it is a problem, and the solution to it. I began to approach photography from this state of mind. When I open my aperture up, what happens to my photo and why, and what effect does it have on the viewer? Why does this composition work better than this one? Why should I use a filter in this situation? Why should I include this little rock and exclude that one? Why, why, why? Well, pretty soon I found that I really began to understand photography and the process of making good images. Of course, as my images got better, the more fun I had and the more I wanted to shoot. The more I shot, the better I got and the more I wanted to do it. It was a positive feedback loop, to use the engineering term.

In 2008 I tried my hand at selling prints at a few art shows, and to my surprise I actually did ok. This turned out to be bad news though because I decided to leave my stable engineering job to pursue photography full time, and then the housing market tanked and the global recession began. Whoops. Yes, my timing is amazing. But here I am, three years later, and I’m still hanging on by the skin of my teeth.

What sort of photography do you mainly do?

I’m almost exclusively a landscape photographer. This is my bread and butter, it’s what I love to shoot the most, it’s how people know me, and it’s what I sell. But lately I’ve been getting more and more into portraiture and I’m hoping to turn that into another revenue stream.

What gear are you using?

At the moment I’m shooting with a Nikon D7000, which has the best dynamic range of any Nikon I’ve ever used, even better than my previous D300 and D300s. I also use a Tokina wide angle lens for my landscape work, a Nikon 70-200mm for the few times a year I feel like chasing animals around, and a 50mm f/1.8 for my portrait work. As far as accessories go, I have an Induro carbon fiber tripod, an Acratech ballhead which I absolutely swear by, and a collection of Lee grad-ND filters.

Whats your favourite lens and why?

By far my most used lens is my Tokina 12-24mm f/4. It’s my workhorse that I use for 95% of my landscape shots and so I can say without a doubt that this lens has earned me more money than any other. But perhaps my favorite lens is my 50mm f/1.8. It’s so dang sharp, so dang fast, and so dang cheap you gotta love it.

How are you marketing yourself?

Poorly. :) I know I should be SEOing the crap outta my website and hustling to get my name out there as much as possible but I have to admit that I am kind of lazy with this sort of thing. Ok, that’s not exactly true, but I should probably put more money and time into marketing than I do. I’m on the net in places like flickr, facebook, 500px, and google plus, and this has been a fantastic way to build a fan base and connect with other photographers. In fact, it’s how I met my business partner, Jim Patterson, with whom I teach landscape photography workshops (you can find us on the web at www.SeaToSummitWorkshops.com – how’s that for marketing? ha!). In addition, I submit images to contests and magazines, and that has been good for getting publications and a little more street cred. But my favorite way of marketing is person to person at art shows. When you are on hand to speak to people directly about your work you can engage them more completely and more personally than possible through any other means. This is how I generate the bulk of my print sales and also how I get a number of workshop sign-ups. In the future once I’ve built a solid portrait/commercial portfolio I plan to use this personal approach to go door-to-door to businesses in Santa Cruz to seek work.

Whats your favourite photo you have taken?

By far my favorite photo is one I took earlier this year at Lake Tahoe. For me it just has every element I look for when trying to create the “killer shot”: a compelling composition, water (both reflective and transparent), intricate textures, a wide array of complementary colors, snow-capped mountains, nice light, and the list goes on. As soon as I clicked the shutter on this one I was excited about it. In fact, I wasn’t just excited, I was jumping for joy and shouting at the top of my lungs, which is part of the reason I titled this one “Breathless.”

The other images here are favorites as well for other reasons, either because they’re an unusual view, have killer light, or they’re just from one of my favorite places.

Advice for new photographers looking to go pro?

Yeah, if you figure out how to become a full time pro, tell me the secret! …..The best thing you can realize is that thinking you can “go pro” just like turning on a light switch will leave you disappointed and bitter. I’ve been waffling between full time and part time photographer since 2008 and I can tell you that making it work as a full time shooter is the toughest thing you will ever do. If you have a family or kids, don’t try to go pro. If you like to shoot more than you like to market, contact clients, do accounting, update websites, do art shows, and promote yourself, don’t try to go pro. If you don’t have an established fan base, don’t try to go pro. If you don’t like financial insecurity, don’t try to go pro. If you’re convinced you can make it work because your friends have said “you should sell these photos!” don’t try to go pro.

Here’s the thing few people, including myself, realize when they are just starting out. It’s a huge leap to go from selling a few prints or taking pictures of a friend’s wedding to actually creating a stable revenue stream capable of supporting yourself. Yes, people do it all the time but it takes years and years of hard work to get there. And it’s not enough just to be a good business person. You have to be an outstanding photographer to boot. With the explosion of digital photography in the last few years, competition has gotten tougher and tougher and the value of images has gotten lower and lower. But if you are a bad ass mothershooter, and you put in the time day in and day out, success will be yours. At least, that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.

Visit Joshua Cripps – website, workshops, flickr, facebook, 500px and g+

Author Tristan

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