Inside this issue
Seven Years in the Desert
A Photographic Journey
Jon Norris is a landscape photographer offering one-to-one and small group workshops, online photography mentoring, and fine art prints for sale. He specialises in guiding and leading workshops in Joshua Tree National Park. For Jon, landscape photography is about the overall experience and isn’t just about the gear or capturing the image. His approach is to Explore. Experience. Create.
One of the most personally rewarding aspects of moving to California eight years ago has been my discovery of, and growing fascination (some would say obsession) with, the incredible desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park.
I have always been passionate about the outdoors, hiking, and exploring the hills and mountains of the UK and Europe.
I was born in the UK and spent 25+ years working in aerospace engineering (15 years while living in France and Germany). I'm now a recovering engineer and divide my time between marketing and photography.
I started taking photos at the age of 14 with my trusty Soviet-era Zenit 10 SLR camera, teaching myself the fundamentals of photography via countless rolls of poorly exposed black and white 35mm film. In my late teens, I progressed to slide film and loved Kodachrome for its rich saturated colours.
In 1996, we moved to Toulouse (France), staying for five years before moving to Munich (Germany) for 18 months, then back to the UK for four years, before living in Hamburg (Germany) for eight years.
As my career progressed (and consumed more and more hours), and during the early years of having a family, I had minimal opportunities for 'creative photography.' My photography was mainly family snapshots to document my daughters growing up and our family holidays together.
My photographic hiatus ended when we moved to Hamburg. I became good friends with another photographer, who gave me the encouragement I needed to make more time for my photography. Hamburg is a visually interesting city, and I took many photo walks around the city, taking urban and abstract images. I was hooked on photography again!
As I’m on the wrong side of 50, when I started my engineering career, I spent about 10 years drafting engineering drawings on film using pencil or ink. These 2D drawings represented 3D objects, and that gave me good spatial awareness, a sense of perspective, the use of leading lines, patterns, etc.
Many of those things carry over into my photography - especially in terms of how I interpret a scene in terms of lines, shapes, and textures.
I’m also very organised and methodical (to the point of obsession) and, being technically minded, enjoy the technical specifics of using camera equipment.
From 2010 to 2014, several events shaped my photographic journey and where we now live.
In 2010, we had our first trip to Joshua Tree National Park. My wife and I were staying in Palm Springs, and on a whim, we signed up for a 4WD trip to Joshua Tree. It was only a half-day, but I remember being fascinated by the desert landscape and vowed that someday I'd go back.
A turning point for my photography was attending my first (and to this date - only) photo workshop in 2011 - a landscape and seascape photography workshop in Dorset (UK). This workshop was a game changer for me for three reasons:
- I used a tripod for the first time
- It was drummed into me always to trust the histogram
- I started using filters
Later in 2011, I transitioned from engineering to publishing and then marketing (that’s a story in itself). Once in my new marketing role, I took, on average, 30 long-haul trips per year (~400,000 miles annually) to the US, the Middle East, Australia, and Asia. During each work trip, I tried to fit in a half-day or day to explore and take photos.
After my frequent visits to the US West Coast for work - company visits, exhibitions, conferences, etc., I decided to take a job in the US, and we moved to SoCal (Lake Forest, OC) in August 2014.
Visiting Joshua Tree (appropriately) in 2014 reignited my passion for time spent out in nature and highlighted that I needed to improve my work/life balance significantly. It also triggered my transition from urban and abstract photography to landscape photography.
I started visiting Joshua Tree more frequently as I fell in love with the place - the desert - the landscape - the climate - the trees, and flora. I started spending more and more time in Joshua Tree - and now typically spend two weekends per month there.
I have always been passionate about the outdoors, hiking, and exploring the hills and mountains of the UK and Europe. So when I moved to the US, my approach was no different. When I first started visiting Joshua Tree, I did a lot of hiking and made it a point to always walk on different trails, to get the lay of the land and build my knowledge of the park.
This approach has got me to some great locations that the majority of visitors will never see, as many don’t stray far from the road. For me, it unlocked the potential for Joshua Tree images.
Joshua Tree is an International Dark Sky Park - measuring 2 on the Bortle Scale - so is an excellent location for dark sky photography, such as star trails and photographing the milky way. I had never taken a dark sky photo before visiting Joshua Tree.
Joshua Tree is one of those places that doesn’t have an abundance of ‘classic photography locations’ - so it doesn’t see the typical over-saturation of me-too images of the same places. The fact that you have to work harder to find good images is a big part of the attraction for me.
I started Jon Norris Photography in 2018 as I wanted to share my love and passion for Joshua Tree while helping others learn and improve their landscape photography. I run one-to-one and small group workshops and provide online mentoring.
In 2021 I became a business member/sponsor of the Joshua Tree National Park Association - JTNPA (the official non-profit partner of Joshua Tree National Park). JTNPA supports natural and cultural resource preservation and educational activities. In January 2022, I became a volunteer for the JTNPA desert institute and help lead educational field classes on photography, wildlife, and geology. The volunteers attend each of the classes to support the instructor and ensure the welfare of the class attendees while out in the Joshua Tree desert.
I’m delighted to say that from Spring 2023, I’m also going to be an instructor for the Desert Institute, teaching two weekend photography workshops - a Fundamentals of Landscape Photography course and then an Advanced Landscape Photography course.
Joshua Tree National Park has profoundly impacted both my photography and me personally. It's my happy place, and I love getting off the grid and spending time exploring and experiencing this special place.
I'm delighted to be showing my first exhibition, 'Seven Years in the Desert,' at the 29 Palms Art Gallery from Aug 31 to Sep 30, 2023. I hope that you'll join me for the artist reception that's being held on Sat, Sep 2, from 4-6 pm. Gallery hours are Fri-Sun, 11 am - 3 pm. You'll find the gallery at 74055 Cottonwood Drive (at National Park Drive), Twentynine Palms, CA 92277.