Joseph Hall (Joe Shutter) - All eyes on Iceland
Posted on October 09 2020
Born to British and Brazilian parents and raised in London, Joe now spends his life immersed in the wild and isolated lands of Iceland and Greenland, shooting stunning landscapes, leading photography tours and expeditions, inspiring others to do the same. With the effects of climate change becoming ever more stark, Joe’s work capturing the environment around him is more poignant than ever before. We chatted to him about his perspectives and his ‘life in the cold’ and discovered why his Billingham bags play such an important role.
Can you tell us more about yourself and where your photography journey began?
I can identify very clearly where my photography journey began: right at home in London, and from a very early age. I grew up surrounded not only by my father’s immense collection of National Geographic Magazines (started in 1970 and continues to this day) but also by his own photography, which adorns our walls.
It was striking, dare I say pioneering, imagery for the time from South America, Africa and South East Asia from 1970s to the 1990s. Along the way, he would tell me stories of how he took the pictures and how the people in the photos would sometimes only pause for only a brief moment, allowing him to snap the shot. This was the definite spark for my own interest in photography.
Do you have an ‘idol’ in the world of photography? Who and why?
My number one photography idol is my father, who started my journey, and to whom I will be forever indebted. Nowadays, my biggest photography icons are those I perceive to be making the greatest difference with regard to addressing the climate emergency that we are experiencing - Paul Nicklen being chief amongst them.
Joe Shutter with the Billingham 25 Rucksack in Iceland.
Did you study photography or have formal training, or was it something that developed over time?
I have never studied photography formally. My upbringing sprouted into a casual interest, which became more serious with time, then I got a small break from there and it was off to the proverbial races.
Why did you choose to follow a career in landscape and adventure photography?
My photography ‘break’ was not actually in landscape and adventure photography but in concert photography. I found myself photographing Iceland Airwaves (a music festival in Reykjavik, Iceland) for a magazine one year, and this very much felt like jumping in at the deep end.
Concerts are very difficult shooting environments. Firstly, it’s very dark. Secondly, there’s a lot going on. I feel that my initial lessons from my father stood me in very good stead: look and wait for the right moment. Sure enough, they came. There were some hard lessons in those early days.
Joe in Bilbury, Gloucestershire with his Billingham 445 and Barbour jacket.
You are known as ‘Joe Shutter’ – how did this nickname arise?
Joe Shutter is an evolution of the original name that I gave myself when, for a brief moment, it looked as if I would pursue concert photography: The Show Shutter. When I looked around and realised I was in Iceland and that I had all of this amazing scenery around me, the re-brand actually came to me quite naturally. Many believe that it’s my actual surname!
When and why did you decide to move to Iceland to pursue your photographic career? Apart from the natural beauty of the country, what drew you to work in this rather cold environment?
I moved to Iceland originally to start a Masters in Environment and Natural Resources. Halfway through the second and final year of the Masters, I got my break shooting at Airwaves.
The idea was to return to London. Life had other plans, however, and some projects relating to my master’s thesis came up, which kept me in Iceland a little while longer. It was during this time that the entire rethink about what I wanted to do with my photography came about.
Joe Shutter with his Billingham Weekender and Land Rover Defender.
Is it particularly challenging or complex to capture glaciers, waterfalls and snow-covered scenes? Can you tell us more about your techniques?
All shooting conditions bring their own set of challenges, the cold being no different. The biggest challenge is sometimes feeling your fingers in order to be able to operate the camera.
From an artistic or a photographic point of view, I would say that an application of the basic principles of landscape photography (colour contrast, shape, form and leading lines) set you up very nicely to start with. I do very much enjoy using telephoto focal lengths, 135mm being the most common I would say. From there on in, it is a question of trial and error.
Can you give us more insights into your photography and its significance in capturing the damage created by climate change on the planet?
The angle on climate change that my photography has taken in the last year could be viewed as the next step in my photographic journey. A raised general awareness of the climate emergency in the popular consciousness, combined with my destination workshops in Northeast Greenland, makes clear that things are not as they should be: we encountered huge amounts of ice in the fjords and a tragically thin polar bear.
Ice in the Fjords - Photo by Joe Shutter.
Most photographers have a personal favourite photograph. What would you consider to be the most notable or outstanding picture you’ve ever taken and why?
My favourite photograph, and perhaps the photograph that has done the most for me and my photography is that of Opal under the ice arch, taken during my sailing expedition in Northeast Greenland in September 2019. This was equal parts planned and unplanned: there was no way for us to know that this tremendous iceberg carrying an arch (the great Øfjord) would be in the right place at the right time. The planned element of the shot was that we got off our two-masted schooner and into a small zodiac inflatable raft. Our incredible captain brought Opal round for the perfect line up, and our first mate helped to get the zodiac perfectly aligned too. This was itself the beginning of an exhilarating shoot where Opal set sail and we were able to capture her whilst weaving in and around in the zodiac. This was truly an unforgettable experience.
The Opal Under the Ice Arch - Photo by Joe Shutter.
What is your preferred photographic equipment?
I have always used Nikon photo equipment. This is in partly due to the legacy equipment from my father, who also only shot on Nikon, so there were lots of lenses and bodies to play with, all film and manual focus.
I still use all the old gear from time to time, but now I shoot Nikon Full Frame DSLR (D850) and Nikon Full Frame Mirrorless (Z6). I have also gone one step further with the mirrorless setup and added the Z7 to the lineup. The Z6 and the Z7 together with a 24-70 and 70-200. They can easily be carried in my 445 with plenty of room to spare and without breaking my back on long hikes in the Icelandic highlands.
Joe with his Nikon D850.
Do you also shoot video? Tell us more.
I increasingly shoot video, and the addition of the dimension of time is becoming more and more important. The Z6 is great for video, which is the reason I bought the camera in the first place. I also got the Atomos Ninja V and the Nikon Apple ProRes RAW upgrade. I have been shooting all summer in Iceland with this set up and it's been great!
A shot from the DJI Phantom 4 Pro - by Joe Shutter.
What’s in your kitbag currently?
The full arsenal of kit is:
Atomos Ninja V, SSD drives, Gripper batteries
50mm f1.4 AiS MF
55mm f1.2 AiS MF
24-70mm f4.0 S Line
105mm f2.8 macro
70 -200 f2.8
Ice Arch in Greenland - Photo by Joe Shutter.
If you could take one piece of equipment with you to an important event or trip, what would it be?
Only one piece? It’s a tough one. I would have to go with absolutely the most versatile lens I have, which is the 24-70mm. This really is the Swiss army knife of lenses.
Which is your favourite Billingham product and why?
For me, it’s all about the 5 Series. Since the 1970's, my father has always used Billingham bags, which is essentially since the company came into existence! It is practically the only camera bag he has ever owned. I now use his old 445. I love the 445 because I can get a good amount of kit into it, and I can strap it up for a hike with the backpack harness and waist belt, and of course expand it a bit with Delta Pockets when I need to carry a little more. I can even get my 15” MacBook Pro in there, at a stretch! This makes it an extremely versatile camera bag.
Joe in Bilbury, Gloucestershire with his Billingham 445.
Before the Weekender, I always found myself using the 445 for clothes and other travel essentials. Now I don’t have to make that choice, and the colour combination of the Khaki Canvas from the 445 and the Sage from the Weekender looks really nice too. I also have the large backpack in Burgundy/Chocolate leather, so you might say that I’ve got the holy trinity when it comes to packing lots of gear, breaking up the weight (necessary with all the extra video gear) and having a bag for my other essentials.
Joe Shutter with the Billingham 25 Rucksack in Iceland
What exciting developments do you believe we will see in the world of photography in the future?
The amount that cameras can do is always increasing, and it’s not just improvements in low light sensitivity, either. The internal video recording is improving, with some cameras doing 10 bit 4:2:2 internally now.
The iPhone 7 Plus brought us ‘portrait mode’ with computational bokeh, and with the rise of mirrorless cameras, photography is becoming increasingly digital. More and more, I think we will see the computational elements brought in alongside the optics to improve features that already exist, as well as introducing entirely new ones - things we may not be able to even imagine at the moment.
Joe uses the classic gear too.
What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in photography today?
Shoot what you like. Look for gaps. What do I mean by gaps? Gaps in understanding equate to opportunities to tell a story, and that is the primary quality of a good photograph. Look for amazing people doing amazing things. Look at what challenges they face, understand their mission. The photographer interprets and presents, and the final result is a picture, but there’s often a lot more to it than that, much more than people realise.
What’s next for Joe Shutter? What are your next big projects or adventures?
Whatever I had planned for 2020 got thrown to the wind in the pandemic. Still, I did my best to make the most of it. I managed to get to Iceland in July 2020 and I have been out as much as possible this summer. The summer is coming to an end now, and it is growing chillier. Winter is coming and I am looking forward to it.
Moving forward, I very much wish to continue teaching. Out of all the areas of photography, I enjoy teaching the most: putting together an awesome group of people, having an unforgettable adventure and forming a group of lifelong friends sits right at the top of my list of favourite things in life. Besides that, I am always working on new projects, big and small.
In that vain, I plan to return to Greenland, and make it bigger and better than before. Watch this space!
Photo from Greenland - by Joe Shutter
What can readers expect to find on your social media channels?
On my social channels and website you will find principally imagery from Iceland and Greenland. Increasingly, I am shooting in locations in the UK and really trying to tell some stories, sharing insights wherever possible.
A wild Arctic fox hunts for Sea Urchins on the shores of the Westfjords. Photo by Joe Shutter.
What was the subject of your last Instagram post?
My last Instagram post was of a secret and very beautiful location in the Icelandic highlands that I hiked for hours and hours to reach. It was getting late so I didn’t have a lot of time, I sent up the drone and grabbed a few angles on the ground. We managed to return to the car just before it got dark.
Joe and friends showing the driving conditions in Iceland.
Where can people come and see your work or meet you? Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions, talks, tours or workshops?
Greenland 2021 is very much on the cards and this will be a unique experience, bigger and larger than ever before. Next September, we will be assembling an amazing group of people and chartering 3 two-masted schooners for an epic expedition. After a really tough 2020 for everyone, we wanted to make a trip where people could do exactly as they wanted, photography or not. That is why we called it the “Laid-Back Expedition”.
We sail for 8 days around Scoresbysund, Northeast Greenland with a sail back to Iceland and this certainly is the adventure of a lifetime. Our sailing dates are 8th-18th September 2021. You can find all the information about the expedition on my website.
A photo from Joe Shutter's last trip to Greenland
What do you get up to when you’re not out taking photographs? What’s your biggest passion or hobby?
Over the last 18 months, I have been deeply engrossed in a complete renovation of my new apartment. In fact, it’s not finished yet, and I’m still working on it! I have the bathroom and the kitchen and the garage left! It’s been amazing to do things exactly the way that I want for the first time in my life. It’s been hard, but I have enjoyed every minute of it, and learned a tremendous amount along the way!
Joe in Bilbury, Gloucestershire with his Billingham 445
Joe Shutter can be found at:
Web site: https://www.joeshutter.com/
Online shop: https://www.joeshutter.com/shop
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