“It only takes one image to change someone’s life, to start a fire in their body, and to inspire them to learn and push for change in the right direction.”

We speak with photographer, Josef Saddington about how he has combined his career with a passion for exploring that has taken him around the globe, embracing photo opportunities in the unlikeliest of places. 

Josef’s work is about so much more than a beautiful picture – although his images always are. Every frame is a spellbinding tale of the moment as it is, connecting people and places in a way that, even if he’s not always conscious of it, establishes the true heart of people and place. 

When did you begin photography, and how did you make a move into professional photography?

My journey began in college when I got my first camera – a Nikon D3000 – which I used to photograph the other people in my class and not much else. However, I started taking photography seriously at 22. I had just spent the better part of a year travelling through Asia, a trip that eventually led to me living in Australia, where I settled in Tasmania. I was hit by the huge realisation that I had seen some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and the images taken on my phone camera didn’t do them any justice. After buying a Sony A6000, I was able to use my work as an asset to travel –– whether it was through my travel blog website, selling prints, or landing random jobs along the way. 

It was your landscape photography that first caught our eye – how did your style evolve? Do you approach portraiture differently from the natural world? Or is there a common thread?

I always feel like there’s a great deal of luck when it comes to landscape photos. There are so many factors that make up a great shot, most of which are out of our control, like the lighting and the weather. My style hasn’t evolved too much over the years but what has changed most noticeably is my desire to get out and shoot. I’ve learned to let my photos be the by-product of adventure rather than going out specifically to take photos. That way, I enjoy it more. It’s easy for photography to become a chore and to get tired of it, so allowing myself to enjoy the moment more and shoot for the fun of it often gives me better results. 

The natural world is there, it’s motionless, and it’s waiting for us to capture it. When it comes to portraiture, the moment is within the person, and it’s my role as the photographer to bring it out of them. It’s impossible to approach them in the same way. Building a rapport with someone and making them feel comfortable enough so that you can stick a camera in their face is a difficult thing. Just like in everyday life, you don’t like everyone and vice versa. If there isn’t a good relationship between them and me, it’ll show in my work. With landscape photography, you only have to deal with yourself and what’s in the viewfinder. 

What steps do you take to manage your environmental impact as a photographer? 

Regrettably, I probably fall into the category of the people who “could and should do more”. Over recent years I’ve taken more personal steps to try and be more conscious of my actions, as well as keeping up to date with what’s going on globally. As far as my photography is concerned, I’m proud of the awareness that I can share through a visual medium. I love to research the subjects and places that I take photos of, not just to educate myself but also to add some weight to the images when I post them. It’s easy to snap a photo and leave it to float around the internet, but to bring some context, information, and a lesson along with it really makes me feel like I’m making more of an impact. 

Photography has had a long history and relationship with conservation – what changes have you noticed since you started? And what do you hope your photos show for the future? Has your work evolved in parallel with these changes? 

Probably the most obvious change that I’ve noticed has got to be the sheer volume of information. There’s so much to learn –– and even more to do. Thankfully there are people out there dedicating their whole lives to conservation. Not only that, it’s amazing to see so many creative people pulling together, collectively, whether they know it or not, to showcase what’s going on in the world, and obviously, with more awareness comes more change. Photography plays a huge role in that. It only takes one image to change someone’s life, to start a fire in their body, and to inspire them to learn and push for change in the right direction. As for me, I just hope I can keep up. There’s plenty more out there for me to capture; I hope I can be a part of it, and at the very least, some of my work with making a difference to someone. 

Your outdoors portraiture is exceptional, invoking a very visceral sense that anyone and everyone belongs. Is that intentional and, if so, why is that important to you?

Everyone belongs. It’s that simple. And what better way to acknowledge and celebrate someone – and their history, culture, story– than capturing them as their true selves? I wouldn’t say that it’s a conscious intention of mine to evoke such emotions. Still, it is definitely very important to me that I respectfully and authentically capture who the subject is. To travel to new lands and experience what they have to offer would be an enormous insult if we didn’t celebrate those who call it their home. 

You’ve photographed in some amazing locations – where would you like to go next and why?

Latin America is where I want to spend more time. I think I’ve spent almost two years there in total, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the incredible experiences that are possible there. The ancient history alone blows my mind, but the fact that most countries still practice their oldest traditions is something that I want to explore more of. I was a part of some amazing moments in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, but Peru is where I want to return and truly immerse myself. The mix of cultures, the kind people, the food, the Andes, the Pacific coast, it’s all stunning! 

In these places, you’ve captured many indigenous/local people. With people becoming more aware that we need to be including everyone in climate change and social conversations, what role do you see photography playing? 

With the media, and more specifically, personalised social media, it’s very easy to get tunnel vision. It’s common for people to see the impacts of climate change and how it affects them locally and forget that this is a genuine crisis for every single person on the planet. Photography and videography have a huge role to play in highlighting just how global it is. It’s vital that we are able to see that people just like you and me are also fighting the same battle. It’s a global effort and therefore needs global recognition. 

Capturing a moment in time is a unique and special skill – what are you looking for ‘in the moment’? 

Well, firstly, the basics. You have to think about the key elements of a good image, such as composition and exposure. The latter is less important these days as you can fix almost anything in post-production, but a poorly framed shot will never work. 

Since I travel so much, it’s rare that I’ll shoot the same subject twice, so I’ve gotten pretty good at adapting to new situations. I’ve actually grown to prefer going into it without any expectations and simply seeing what comes of it. If it’s a landscape or somewhere natural, I prefer to take a bunch of photos. Over-shooting is a blessing in that situation because I’ll thank myself in the future. I purposely look for angles that other people might not have thought of because there’s not a lot worse than taking a photo that a thousand other people have taken too. It’s also important to me that I can immortalise the moment and the feelings that I’m experiencing. 

And finally, if we were still using film and you’d come to the last frame of the roll, what photo would you always make sure you’d taken?

Funnily enough, I shoot a lot of film! Every frame is precious; it took me so long to get out of the habit of taking photos that might look good as a digital image but, once developed, just looks naff. Patience is a true virtue, and I try to make sure every frame is at least half-decent. Although, I’m pretty sure that of the dozens of rolls that I’ve shot, they’ve all had at least one photo of my cat on them… so that’s my answer! 

To see more of Josef’s wonderful photographic work, visit his Instagram and website

Of People and Place, first published in aetla 02, available now