Capturing Coastlines: A Q&A with Josh Asel

Take a look at life through the lens of conservation photographer Josh Asel, whose stunning images of coastal environments inspire and support action to protect the natural world.

Josh Asel has always been connected to the coast. Growing up in California, he learned to swim before he could walk, and soon discovered a passion for diving. Now, as an award-winning conservation photographer, he works to share the beauty of the coast with others. 

We chatted with Josh to find out more about his career path, his favourite experiences in nature, and what his ideal travel destination would be!

Note: Starting in June 2021, Josh will be donating 30% of sales to Pacific Wild! You can view his photography here.

Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?

I was actually trained as a fine artist for my whole life. But one day, when I was 24, I picked up a camera, took a picture of a simple dove flying by, and felt the most intense rush of destiny that instantly changed my life. From that moment on, I knew wildlife photography was what God created me for, my reason for being. The next day, I dropped out of college and got my hands into anything where I could photograph and also help wildlife. I quickly realized that I could change the outcome of wild lives and environments with my images, so I then dedicated my work to conservation photography in order to protect Threatened, Endangered, keystone, and bellwether species and created my own organization that promoted wildlife conservation in California.

Why did you decide to focus your photography on the ocean?

My family are ocean people through and through. Any one of us is either a surfer or diver. I was swimming before I was able to walk and so eventually when we moved and grew up along the coast, I found peace and great adventure in diving. It might sound strange, but diving also sometimes brings me close to death and challenges my fears, which is what humbles me, gives me respect, and grows my heart bigger for the ocean and nature in general. Because of these experiences, and being that salt water is in my blood metaphorically and literally, that’s why my photographic specialization is, and will continue to be, coastal and ocean environments.

Do you have a favourite memory of a moment spent in nature?

That’s a hard one! Maybe working directly with California condor biologists for a capture and blood-testing day in Big Sur, where I was allowed to actually touch one of North America’s biggest, most Critically Endangered birds. There was another time though when I was on a trail run in a forest and a deer came blasting out of the woods about 20 meters in front of me with a mountain lion not far behind. The mountain lion failed, then stopped, looked at me, and disappeared to the other side of the ridge it was standing on. Naturally, I didn’t have my camera, but I waited to see if anything else would happen and the doe’s little fawn came walking out and called for its mother. It appeared that the fawn also made it, as I didn’t see the king of that forest again.

Where would you like to travel next?

Oh, 100% it would be the wildest parts of British Columbia. There are many beautiful and challenging places I want to get lost in, but I won’t ignore the call my heart has for that area.

Even though I’ve never been to the Great Bear Rainforest, I see it and it calls to me like destiny does. The coastal wolves, the orcas, the sharks, the whales, the mountain lions, the towering forests that almost step into the ocean… they all have captured my imagination and I can’t wait to be there.

What inspires you?

There’s a lot that inspires me, David Attenborough, the book “The Alchemist”. But what inspires me the most is nature itself. Nature is perfected chaos, and to me it’s also more beautiful and grand than even the most incredible creations humans have to offer. Wildlife sustains natural ecosystems, which keep us all alive; there cannot be one without the other. The more I dig into how nature is connected, the more I see how the threads of this mysterious creation are all connected and rely on each other, which delivers a never-ending well of appreciation and awe. It’s also a constant reminder that there are many things bigger than myself.

Photo by Joshua Asel
Photo by Joshua Asel