Introducing Joseph Michael Hoff

And so the stable grows by one more. 

Please help us give a warm Backcountry Journeys welcome to our latest addition, photo guide Joseph Michael Hoff! 

For those of you on August’s Glacier National Park (standard) tour, you’ve already met Joey as he “shadowed” that trip. You know how much this guy can eat, and how much fun and knowledgeable he is, as well. For those of you who weren’t on that Glacier trip, lets get to know him quickly, why don’t we? 

Hey Joey! Its really great to have you as a part of the Backcountry Journeys team! For starters, what do you prefer to be called, Joe, Joseph, Joey?
Joseph is on my birth certificate. Joey is how I’m introduced. Joe is what everyone who knows me eventually calls me.

Tell us about where you are from and about any other places you have lived… What was your favorite spot along the way, and what about it was most impactful for you?
I was born in North Texas in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex. Colleyville specifically. I lived in New Hampshire on a nine-acre lot with no fences when I was five years old for 18 months before I moved to Southern California where I really “grew up.” The trees and space in New Hampshire, mixed with the myths of Johnny Appleseed and Davy Crockett likely turned me into the part-time vagabond, photo-obsessed life-long-learner I am today.

Where did you go to school, and in what direction did you focus your studies?
I returned to Texas and ultimately to the arts at TCU, in Fort Worth. I accumulated the credit hours for a degree in Studio Art: Photography with a minor emphasis of study in Graphic Design and Art History. It was too little too late when I realized that you could not double major, or double minor, within the same school of college. Oh well, I dug in even deeper and used every additional credit hour to soak up as much relevant study within the arts as possible. It was the best I have ever performed in school, and it was the most enjoyable.

What did you do following school?
While in school I found a part-time job at a local specialty running store and as well as a job vending Nike licensed school apparel at the School Library and at football games (I photo-documented and visually merchandised product). Upon graduation, I kept both of these jobs in order to stay in Texas and to participate in an art collective called HOMECOMING!! Not dissimilar to a band, we made art instead of music. Thanks largely to my cohorts we found great success and support in and out of the Forth Worth area. We worked with private art supporters, The Forth Worth Public Arts, and climactically a month-long installation at the Dallas Museum of Art. All this and running a couple of marathons kept me plenty busy and entertained.

At what point in your life did you find photography? What were you doing at the time and what about photography attracted you most?
I was fortunate to go to a high school that offered honors art studies, yet, I did not find photography until college. I struggled early on in college and desperately wanted out or to transfer. To get out of this funk I fell back into art classes, knowing I had found great success with them previously. Immediately I found a love for school and an appreciation for who I was, and where I was. I stayed in Texas and started to aggressively pursue graphic design. I hoped nothing more than to validate my passion for the So Cal action sports scene. I wanted to be a designer or photographer. Capturing the skating, surfing, or mountain biking scene was the penultimate creative pursuit. Growing up I read skate, surf, and mountain bike magazines and knew some lucky fool was behind the lens going to exceptional places with exceptional people. My interests transferred to trail running but maintained the same root of interest… even to this day, really. Intro to Photography and Studio Photography was a requirement for graphic design students and BOOM, my life changed. Dick Lane, renowned Texas photographer and student of Jerry Uelsmann, Luther Smith, another renowned Texas photographer, and master of color digital printing changed my whole understanding of art, image-making, and photography. All of a sudden I was a photo student.

Can you talk a bit about your growth as a photographer? We have a handful of guests here at BCJ who would consider themselves ‘beginners.’ Between your days as a beginner to now, what would you say has been the biggest factor in your growth as a photographer?
I only grow because I wake up every day as a beginner. There is never enough to learn, a lens, a style, a method, etc. I recently learned new things about myself, my tendencies as a photographer, and my abilities in post-production just a week ago on my first BCJ trip. I shadowed in Glacier National Park. A dedication to life long learning is single-handedly the most important tool any of us have to wield. Continuing to appreciate the “magic” of light is important. Embrace curiosity and you will always be a student. Everyone should experience alternative process, darkroom, or “traditional” photography at some point. It will show you the magic of the medium and inspire curiosity. There is something very special about what we do as “ambassadors of light”. Most of our light has traveled all the way through outer space to illuminate the world! We have a responsibility to grow and improve our ability to share how precious each photographed moment is. Beyond curiosity it takes imagination! Imagination is single-handedly the most important part of growth. I have yet to walk up to a vista without saying, “what if? How cool would it be? Wouldn’t it be sweet if these things lined up……” You often won’t find the answer you are looking for, but imagination and curiosity are always rewarded out there. Early photographers were certainly curious about the limits of the medium. With the luxury of technology today, we are able to focus our curiosity on the world! Set out to please your own interests. Don’t take the image you think is right, take the image that you feel is right. It should tickle…. or hurt. Written on the back of an early design piece by Gustav Klimpt he quotes Schiller (another artist of the time) reminding himself, “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad.” 

That is a really cool answer. This perspective on things is really awesome, and something that photographers should re-read once or twice, and maybe even sit with a while and think about how they apply thought (outside of settings) to their images. I love it! You have experience in outdoor education, which could certainly help explain your thoughtfulness. What attracted you to that work, and what have you most enjoyed about it so far?
Making a living off the images that I have created has proved difficult and less than fruitful, at least not enough to make a living, yet… I have always worked to integrate my need to make images into my profession. Sometimes I’ve had other jobs to support this interest and at other times I have been able to use teaching photography as my main focus. I started teaching photography to high schoolers to share the gift and to keep learning myself, to be frank. Outdoor Education is no different. I never found a way to get sponsored climbing, or running… or get my images on the cover of Nat Geo, or Rock and Ice, or in Backpacker, but I DID find a way to share my passions. I now get paid to expand my own and others’ ability to appreciate and learn about traveling in the outdoors. The catalyst for my career in outdoor education has been a means to spend time with people I care about in places that matter while hauling my camera and gear to the places I always wanted pictures of in the first place.

What is it about the ‘Outdoor Classroom’ that makes learning so special?
The outdoors are the great equalizer. We are all students out there. We are all hungry, cold, tired, and empowered by our ability to overcome the challenges of the outdoors. We can learn with each other instead of having to learn from someone. Students want to be there. Practical, experience-based learning is largely the way humans have learned until the past few hundred years. When you spend time in an outdoor classroom that really starts to resonate.

How do you think that experience translates to being a photo guide with Backcountry Journeys?
Again, people choose to be there. They want to learn. It is tangible the way the outdoors impacts people. I can watch someone’s eyes glass over as they bask in the breaking light of an early morning sunrise, I can see them smile and I can feel their warmth. We can’t bottle it… but taking pictures of it together is DAMN NEAR the closest thing we will ever have to that. Backcountry Journeys gives photographers more than just destination photo documentation, it equips them with the ability to make images that look the way it felt feels to be in the field. That is super powerful! It’s an amazing job.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your career?
My life feels like a vacation gone awry, and that’s pretty neat. And, I don’t think there is anything more special than sharing moments. The reward is so much more immediate when you get to help someone get a shot and achieve their goal. The look on a person’s face after they were able to make something special happen is unlike any image I have taken on my own and with far less uncertainty. Smiles and hugs are the best receipts.

How did you get connected with Russ and Backcountry Journeys?
My mom has been following BCJ since they started and always talked to me about them. She knows every guide bio and often asks questions about the people in the company that I don’t even know the answer to. To be real honest I never thought a whole lot about it until I saw a job posting.

What are you looking forward to most about working as a photo guide for Backcountry Journeys?
Experiencing new places with new people and capitalizing on that opportunity. Portfolio development and a continued commitment to being behind the camera may be the most exciting thing about Backcountry Journeys.

You’ve already worked a BCJ trip, with me, up at Glacier National Park. How did that go for you? Was there anything specific that you took away from that trip, or anything that left an impression?
Glacier crushed me. It physically hurt it was so beautiful. Like math, early in school, I could feel my brain stretching trying to understand what was in front of me. I was blown away by the dedication and service provided by the lead guides on this trip. I also felt a significant pressure to learn the trip areas that I will be spending time with because the guides’ ability to respond to conditions having familiarity with the area radically changed the image-making opportunity. As a photographer planning to travel on my own, it inspired me to do my research and rely less on the serendipity of conditions and places lining up.

Where are you off to next? Anything specific about the next adventure that excites you the most?
I will be spending time in Alaska and look forward to growing the skillset I’ll need up there. 

Do you have a particular image in your portfolio that you would label your ‘favorite’ for whatever reason?
This photograph is definitive of one of the largest decision points in my entire life. 

Joseph Michael Hoff

Do you hold it in higher regard because of the technical aspects of the image, or maybe for other reasons like how it came about, or how you were feeling when the moment happened for you?
It represents my first effort to make outdoor photography my career and lifestyle. It documents the first trip I took in 2014 as a NOLS student. I invested in their program to learn lightweight backpacking techniques which afforded me the weight and space to carry a Canon 5D Mark II, and a 24 – 105mm lens, and a tripod for 110 miles through the Wind River Range. It signifies my first commitment to testing my grit with outdoor and landscape photography. It has effectively gotten me to the job that I have now with Backcountry Journeys, five years in the making.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges in landscape and wildlife photography?
To set yourself apart in an image-saturated world it takes a concerted effort to learn about the places where you spend time in order to get the best image available. It takes a great understanding of the environment and animals to give yourself the chance to view them and often a commitment to trying to go places off the beaten pathfinding views few others are willing or able to see. Some of my favorite images are in remote places that require and advanced knowledge and performance in backcountry travel, rock climbing, and mountaineering.

Would you say that you prefer landscape or wildlife photography? What makes the one more special for you than the other?
Wildlife photography is nearly as fun and exciting as fishing and it feels the same. You could always be fishing but you aren’t always going to be catching fish. The bigger and more difficult the fish the better the reward and that is true to image-making. You can take photos all you want but you won’t always have the right conditions in the right places and with wildlife available being at that time. On top of the rarity of simultaneous conditions being able to cycle through camera settings or lenses at the drop of a hat to capture the moment seems near impossible may be one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve found in life.

As a teacher, what would you teach beginner photographers to be most concerned about when working to develop their skills?
Take advantage of the endless amount of shots that can be taken on a memory card. No matter the camera, digital is so advantageous for image-makers. TAKE TAKE TAKE. Buy a tripod and read your manual. Once you know how to wield your tool with precision it doesn’t matter what brand or if you have a mirror or not. As long as your learning and enjoying yourself then that’s all that matters.

Thank you, Joey! Having already had the chance to work with you in Glacier I can vouch that you are a fantastic addition to the Backcountry Journeys team.

Your take on life, and on the learning process is refreshing. Your skill and desire to teach more than settings, but also to take more of a global approach to what we are all out there doing is one that I feel will be very much appreciated by our guests. There is much more to these Backcountry Journeys tours than simply getting out of the car and snapping images, and you will help to bring those more cerebral aspects to the forefront. Welcome!!

Kenton Krueger







Kenton Krueger grew up and spent the first 33 years of his life in the corn country of Omaha, Nebraska. After studying aviation at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Aviation Institute, he “conned” his way into the newsroom at the award-winning Omaha World-Herald where for 3+ years he wrote and photographed news articles on a variety of topics such as community events, travel and even mixed martial arts for the sports department. Yet something was missing. While on backpacking trips to Grand Teton and Grand Canyon National Parks in the mid-2000’s he was quick to realize that the wild lands of the western United States stoked a fire in his heart as nothing else could. This realization led to a relocation to Flagstaff, Arizona, and he hasn’t looked back. He has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, a former pilot, newspaper photographer, and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.


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