On paper, photographer Dalton Johnson is technically California-based, but his home base is wherever his van takes him. Whether that’s the coast or the mountains, Dalton lives and breathes the adventure life every day.
His latest endeavor brought him to Baja California in Mexico to shoot a project for Big Agnes, an outdoor company that specializes in tents, sleeping bags, and gear. This was his first time working with the company, but he had been talking to the client about working together for some time, so when they finally landed on a concept, he was all-in.
We talked for about six months going back and forth and wanted to find a project that would broaden the mindset of what Big Agnes represented.
The location was Baja, Mexico — you couldn’t pick a more ideal location!
Dalton specializes in outdoor photography and has shot many adventure and surf brands, including Patagonia, Kleen Kanteen, Surfline, Coalatree, and Santa Cruz Waves. His experience shooting this type of content, combined with his raw visual style, made him a natural choice for a company whose tagline is “20 years in the dirt.”
Big Agnes didn’t want clean, pretty-looking photos; they wanted the kind of images that capture the actual experience of making the road trip to Baja, camping out on the beach, surfing all day, and sleeping wherever the night takes you.
Both the content specialist and marketing director told me they liked my rawness and encouraged images like “waking up from a night on the beach and clearing gunked up eyes.”
This was Dalton’s umpteenth trip to Baja, California, and he knew the area well — he was ready with a game plan from the moment he arrived. He would visit local brothers Juan and Carlos to get surfboards and head out on the water — the rest was history.
Dalton, who is an avid surfer himself, enjoyed shooting in the ocean almost every day. The extra time out in the water allowed him to experiment with different angles and gave his images a new perspective.
This allowed me to try out different angles I typically avoid because they are “risky.” My favorite memory was one of the first nights out in the water. We shot until well into the dark, but the sunset was mind-blowing!
While the images look like his time on the water was action-packed, surfing (and photographing it) takes some patience. As the waves come up and the lineup approaches, you have to be ready to find just the right moment and quickly move when you do.
Challenges included: sand — a lot of sand. Other than that, mid-day lighting and waiting for swells to come into the picture.
After a few days out on the water, the waves dried up, and as Dalton scrambled to scout new locations, he realized his routine had prevented him from really getting to know the locals and what the area has to offer.
My greatest lesson from this trip was letting go of the plan.
Once Dalton accepted that there were no waves to be had, he looked for inspiration in familiar places he had previously overlooked. The lack of swells allowed him to slow down and reconnect with old friends like Juan and Carlos. Dalton had met the two brothers many years ago, but over time they just became a stop on his journey, and it took five years for Dalton to truly reconnect with them.
We first met because they invited me to a fish feast. All the food was freshly caught by friends, and they shared everything. Fast forward to this year; we had a similar dinner, but this time with Juan’s son and wife and Carlos’s pregnant partner.