Jose Mostajo has quite the story to tell. A relative newcomer to photography, he started out pursuing a medicine career. He quickly realized his creative interests, exploring music for a few years before stumbling upon photography.
Through a series of trips that took him to some of the most inspiring locations in the US and across the globe, Jose realized his true passion.
But how does someone go from pursuing a degree in medicine to being all-in with photography as a career?
Jose’s journey to photography
You don’t just wake up one day, after years of schooling, and decide to become a photographer. For Jose, it took a few years to find his drive and passion to make photographs.
“I actually went to school for medicine. I left that, and was a musician for about four years. After that, I started to pursue photography,” said Jose, referencing his first time picking up a camera in 2016.
“It was not something I had planned — I had never played around with a camera before. At the time, I had just moved to Norway. I was working on music, but the surroundings were so pretty. I started going on hikes, and that kind of made me want to capture what I was seeing a little bit better,” he said.
“I just started to really dive into [the photography world], and it kind of just spiraled from there. Instead of working on music and then taking photos, I would wake up and go take photos. And when I had time, I would work on my music.”
Eventually, Jose made his way back to the US, in Nashville, TN.
“There, I started to meet photographers and gravitated toward going on photoshoots, shooting the city, people and also the outdoors.”
The trip that changed it all
I’ve often longed to take a cross-country road trip and see the sights. For Jose, he did just that, and it changed him forever.
“A friend was moving to Alaska, and he had asked me if I wanted to join him,” said Jose. “He was a photographer as well, so on that drive from Nashville to Alaska, we stopped in national parks and anywhere we could. We would just take photos. The whole nature of that trip really inspired me to find a way to make this my life. That was a very pivotal point in deciding that I needed to find a way to make photography work somehow.
“That led to a backpacking trip throughout South America for a year. I went full force — there was no turning back. It was definitely scary. Since then [in 2018], I’ve just continued to travel and work on my photography.”
How Jose works his locations
As someone who enjoys photographing landscapes, I often find myself struggling to find a new scene or location. For Jose, it’s taking a step back and finding the intention of the location, paying attention to patterns and different elements around him.
“I guess it’s just finding something about [the location] that catches your eye. It’s something unique or different, whether it’s patterns in the rocks, or if there’s certain symmetry between the mountains or reflections. When you start researching locations, you start to look for these things that just grab your attention,” he said.
“It’s not just the mountain — it’s the combination of the mountains that create a big jagged kind of look. Or, the lake is a certain color and you really want to capture that. It’s always finding the little things that look different.”
What motivates him
For Jose, it’s all about finding new opportunities, new locations and developing new experiences.
“Very recently, when I got to Peru in July, my plan was to do certain hikes that I had my mind set on. But I had the opportunity to do some climbing and hiking into mountain peaks. That was something that I hadn’t expected to be photographing.”
“You know, three in the morning, hiking on snow and ice and getting to catch sunrise, surrounded by these white peaks. So to me that was pretty incredible. It’s kind of fueled me to continue doing it.”
Bringing depth and mood to his photographs
If you take a look at Jose’s body of work, you’ll find that he has a certain style that brings in depth and a dramatic mood to his photographs. But like most of us, he starts his process with a simple photograph, only thinking about the final outcome once he gets to his computer.
“I’m not doing anything [while shooting] too intentional. I just want something very neutral that, when I come back, I have all the information available to process in my own way,” he said.
“I’ve always been drawn to contrast and punchy [photos]. So I tend to do that, bring some contrast and add dehaze a little bit to get some texture back. I don’t want my final image to look flat. I want it to be very dynamic to make you feel like you were there.”
Lightweight, compact gear makes it easy to travel
As a Tamron ambassador, Jose relies on his Tamron lenses to get the job done. But when he first got into photography, he used Sony native lenses, before discovering the benefits that Tamron brought to his photography.
“The best thing about my Tamron lenses has always been their size and weight,” said Jose. “One of my favorite combos is the 17-28mm f/2.8 and the 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6. That covered pretty much everything I’m going to need in those kind of places. They’re both pretty small and pretty ight, and I can fit those and my camera body in my backpack, plus a drone. The quality is great, too — I never feel like I’m sacrificing image quality for that size and weight.”
“I was so tired of having my camera on a strap that would slam against rocks. Or if I tied my shoe, it would get in the mud. So having the camera just sit there and have my hands be free has been awesome. I always have a [Peak Design Capture Clip] in my backpack. It’s very easy to access.”
Jose is especially interested in what Tamron has announced as of late, which gives him a different view on locations he might otherwise not pay much attention to.
“I’m stoked with all the new [lenses] that Tamron is coming out with. They’re pretty innovative with their focal lengths,” he said.
“Right now I’m trying out the 150-500mm. I’ve never used a lens like that before — it’s a learning experience to be like, ‘whoa, that’s zoomed in!’. It’s been fun to get my process down but right now I’m trying new things. Trying a telephoto and thinking of photos differently, where maybe it’s cloudy and I wouldn’t shoot with a 28-200mm. But 500mm will give you something. I’m trying to challenge myself to continue to keep growing. And we’ll see what my photos look like in a year from now.”
Advice for travel and landscape photographers
As someone who has traveled to more places than I could imagine in a short period of time, it was interesting to me that Jose’s advice was all about standing back and giving yourself time.
“When it comes to travel and landscape photography, always give yourself more time than you think you need. Just because conditions — you can never really predict them. You can use all the apps in the world, but you can never really know what you’re going to find once you get to the location. Even when you get there, sometimes you see the photos, but it might take you a little bit of time to walk around and find the composition that you’re happy with,” he said.”
“Just be patient when you get to a location. I went to a lake a few days ago, and it was super cloudy. There’s like a mega peak that’s right behind the lake that I wanted to take a photo of, but I couldn’t see it. So I literally just sat there for three hours, just looking at this mountain. Eventually it showed and I was able to get the photo that I wanted.”
For Jose Mostajo, he has clearly taken advantage of the opportunities presented to him. He has done what a lot of us strive to do — see the world. And he does so like so many of us, with his camera in tow.