Josiah Q. Roe has been featured on countless outdoor and adventure channels, including Ritz Carlton magazine and the U.S. Department of the Interior. When he isn’t romping around grabbing shots for retail brands in the mountains or deserts, he serves as an associate editor at The Outbound Collective AND product designer for lots of high profile powerhouses. I recently had an awesome opportunity to pick his brain and bit, which means you get to know more too.
Where are you from and what about that place has inspired your work?
I’m from Northern California and the place I’d most consider home is San Francisco. It’s moody and melodramatic, a cool grey city of a thousand breathtaking views.
In many ways it is because of San Francisco that I got started in photography; I would be on a hike or a trail run and would come across this amazing vista and wanted to capture it. And then I would do the same hike a day later and it would be just as beautiful but completely different. The City is enchanting in that respect.
What is one thing about your photos that says the most about you as a person. Dig deep!
I hope that my photos serve as a hopeful, joyous companion to the truism that our time on this planet is limited.
Your photos always feature people enjoying themselves in nature. What is the single thing that touches your soul about nature and why?
I don’t know if there is a single thing about nature that touches my soul, only that nature does touch my soul. I think that desire to explore gave our species a particular evolutionary advantage, so whenever I’m “out in the Big Nothin'” I get that jolt of dopamine and serotonin, and so I want it more and more.
I guess that makes me an “exploration dealer” when it comes to my photography.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process you’ve gone through (or that you are going through) to find your photographic style? How has it evolved over the years?
People tell me I have a style but I really do have a difficult time identifying what that is. Photography for me is so personal; how can you really, truly know yourself when your perception of yourself is altered by yourself?
There’s the craft side of taking a photo – scouting, setting up the shot, planning, styling, composition, etc. which varies in complexity from image to image, with fully staged commercial productions on one end of the spectrum and then simply pulling off the side of the road to capture a desert sunset.
I’m constantly learning and adding to my “photographer’s toolkit”, but with everything I try to only use my brain to structure and organize the shot, and to go with feeling and my gut, to trust that, to be present and inside the moment and myself.
If there’s a single element I’ve become more aware of, it’s that I’ve evolved toward the embrace of vibrant color. I want my photos to have a taste to them, to evoke synesthesia, because the moment I tried to capture did for me.
That iconic green van must have a story. Tell us a bit about that!
It’d been a dream of mine going on a decade to buy a Westy and travel the world. Life is short and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark and all that. So, I sold all my property, waited for the right van to come along. When I saw this ridiculous Lime Green Van pop up online I pulled the trigger and drove from SF to Colorado Springs with my father and bought it.
Since then I’ve had it modernized in several key ways, with a new 1.8 turbo engine from Stephan’s Auto Haus in Sacramento and all kinds of awesome bumpers, grills, and storage from Mike and the awesome crew at Rocky Mountain Westy in Fort Collins, Colorado.
I call her Barb the Barbarian and she’s my second favorite subject to shoot after my girlfriend, Brittany. I’m never happier than when the three of us are together.
There isn’t anything I dislike about vanlife and exploration other than the loneliness that comes from being away from the people you love. Well, that and going without a shower for a few days.
You’ve recently begun using Lensbaby, but have been intrigued by the look for a while. What initially interested you about Lensbaby lenses?
I love, absolutely love learning new things and the Lensbaby lenses allow you to accomplish some really unique looks that you just cannot accomplish with traditional lenses without a lot of editing in post, if at all. My goal is always to try to get the photo as close to final in the camera with as little time editing in Lightroom/Photoshop as possible, and my Lensbaby lenses get me closer.
What initially drew me to them was coming across other photographers’ work using them and wondering just how in the hell did they pull that off? It was a puzzle I started trying to solve, to deconstruct. Now I keep a couple Lensbaby lenses in my kit at all times, and when I see a shot that works for those lenses, they’re right there.
What’s your favorite lens so far and why?
Hands-down the Velvet 56. It kind of cracks me up that most people think of it as a portrait lens with some fun soft-focus / blur effects, but I really enjoy it stopped down to add a glow and almost an impressionistic shimmer to landscape shots. It’s definitely a lens that has pushed my manual focusing with moving subjects, and I love it for that. When you get it right, the results are like nothing else.
Have they changed your perspective on your travels at all? How have they transformed your work?
They’ve certainly added an extra dimension to the ways in which I think of shot composition, almost as if there’s another, Lensbaby angle on the shot that I can take. It’s particularly true in the minutes just before and after the “magic hours” of early morning and evening, where you have slightly more direct light than you might typically want, but with the Velvet 56 you can “glow it all out” as I call it.
Can you tell us a little bit more about The Outbound Collective, and the role that you play for the company?
The Outbound Collective is the online magazine, resource, and archive of outdoor adventures throughout North America and the world. Essentially anyone can submit a write-up with photos of an “adventure”, like specific trail run or river to kayak, and then it can be published. It’s a great way to find out about stuff to do outdoors in any given area, and they have an incredible community of Explorers and users that I’m proud to be part of.
I serve as something like an Associate Editor for The Outbound, working closely with tourism boards to generate content on their behalf for local outdoor adventures that are then published on The Outbound. It’s a win for tourism boards because they get better coverage, and it’s a win for readers of The Outbound because they get more information about outdoor adventures to do in a certain area.
Why is it important that photographers not get too fixed in their ways? What makes experimentation so crucial to an artist’s growth?
I keep learning and challenging myself because I want to communicate clearly, and I hope that developing my skills will enable me to do so. I do not know if that approach lends itself to the creation of great art, but neither is that my objective.
I am not an artist, but simply someone with a pathological need to experience something beautiful and to share that experience with others.