Josh Cripps - Expectations or Reality?

>>> Click image below to see Josh's video interview.


I think a lot of people struggle with exploring a vision of their own. I struggled with that when I first got started.  You come to photography with this huge set of expectations and you see photos, for example of Tunnel View. You’ve seen a million photos of Tunnel View and when you finally get to it, you have all of these expectations.  If your expectation of the classic wide angle shot doesn't mesh with reality, then it’s easy to get really frustrated and disappointed.

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That is a huge hurdle you have to get over as a photographer—the expectations. When you do, the scene starts to speak to you and it tells you what there is to photograph rather than you telling it.

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A few years ago, I did a backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth Lakes. I specifically did the trip in early July because that’s when the High Sierra get these great monsoon thunder storms. I’m telling people about this trip and of course my mom is like, “why on Earth are you going into the mountains during thunderstorm weather?” 

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I got really fortunate with the conditions because every day, like clock work, around 1 PM you would see these puffy clouds begin to build up in the sky and then you would hear the thunder start to crash and boom. Around 2 PM, the first little drops would start to fall and around 2:30 it's pouring, it's hailing, the thunder is just crashing and booming…

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One day I was hiking towards Thousand Island Lake, and I stopped at Island Pass. The afternoon thunderstorms started to roll in so I pitched my tent and crawled inside right as the first hail stones started to fall. I actually went to sleep, and when I woke up around 5 o’clock in the evening the thunderstorm had stopped. I unzipped the tent and looked out and RIGHT THERE in front of me was just one of the most incredible, beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. 

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This tarn was completely glassed over with massive cumulous clouds streaming over the crest of Banner Peak and Mount Davis was reflected just perfectly in this tarn. 

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I thought back to my mom asking why I was doing this…that’s the reason RIGHT there. That’s the reason you do anything: why you suffer through the horrendous mosquitoes, brutal ascents, and thigh-shaking descents. In that minute you sit there and think, “This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life and it's just for me.”

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The first country I ever visited outside of the U.S. was New Zealand and it really grabbed hold of me. In fact, I visited three times just for fun even before I was seriously into nature photography. Prior to a dedicated photo excursion there in 2012 I had seen some pictures of a particular tree which is now very famous, but at that time wasn't really on the international landscape map. And I wanted to photograph it. I decided to plan this trip to go in their autumn so that I could capture a golden Wanaka Willow growing out of the lake. I had completely pre-visualized this image how I wanted it 

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I booked my plane tickets thinking if I’m even a couple days late the leaves will be gone, and if i’m a couple days early the leaves will all be green. When I finally found the tree at Lake Wanaka it’s just perfect—the leaves are as golden as they could possibly be. The only problem was that the sky was pure blue and there was nothing interesting going on. After I set up and put my 10-stop neutral density filter on, I take a couple of snaps and they look pretty good. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it was close enough so I started packing up my kit. 

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I chatted with a couple of tourists for about 15 minutes, and went to pick up my backpack and noticed some slow-moving white clouds in the distance. I waited about 10 minutes and sure enough these huge puffy white clouds are filling the sky and flowing overhead above the tree.

I quickly set up everything again and take the photo. Right there on the back of my camera after the first 60-second exposure pops up is THE image. It was the picture I had in my mind for the past two years and it just appeared right there on the back of my camera! Well that’s never going to happen again, and to date, that is one of my most favorite photos I've ever taken.

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Every photo starts with one question. Standing here right now, what do you see about this scene and what about it speaks to you? You may have come to Tunnel View thinking, “I’m going take a picture of El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks with Half Dome in the background.” But, in the moment they're covered up in fog and you can’t see anything but Bridal Veil Falls snaking down through some clouds…if that’s what you see and that’s what speaks to you, that’s what your photo should be about. 

It’s not about trying to take some “photography shoehorn” and leverage it into your preset expectations.


For more of Josh's work, see

Watch the complete interview in the video at the top of this page.