Recently, I had the chance to sit down with none other than Jessica Santos, @missjessbess on Instagram. She is an incredibly talented artist and photographer, and recently became a Sony Ambassador! It was an honor to get a chance to pick her brain.

1. How did you become interested in photography?

I’ve always been interested in photography but didn’t dive into it until about two years ago. In fact, I went to college for graphic design, not having any idea what graphic design was, I just made this my degree because it had two photography classes in the curriculum and they didn’t offer a photography degree at the time.

2. What motivates you?

For me it’s all about the adventure and the experience, do I want to capture something beautiful? Yes. But it’s far more important to me to take a breath and enjoy the scenery I’m in. I frequently get to locations hours early so I can find composition and then just sit and enjoy the moment.

3. Who inspires you?

Ryan Dyar’s work is my biggest inspiration as of late, but I also love the work of Ted Gore and Mark Adamus.

4. Who do you follow online and why?

Joshua Snow, he has amazing work, and after taking a workshop of his last year, I really love watching what he creates. John Weatherby also has some killer shots, and always seems to capture the best light! Marlon Holden is also another one of my favorites to follow; he’s always capturing such great natural phenomenon.

5. What are your views on social media? 

Has this helped your passion?  Which social media channel do you feel helps photographers? I love social media, I love being able to connect with a community, what I like to call “my tribe” through social media and mutual interests. I also love following along with stories, honestly, 70% of my social media time is spent watching everyone’s Instagram stories. Instagram has definitely helped fuel my passion, aside from the inspiration I see daily, I find that the ability to share a story elevates your images, how you capture that image and the journey it took to get there is a very integral part of landscape and astrophotography. It really helps us as photographers connect with our audience in a more unique way.

6. What are your personal goals in photography?

As far as daily goals go I’m always striving to elevate my compositions, in every photo I take the composition has to be on point for me to even edit it, I’ve been really working hard at challenging myself in this way. Overall goal is to within the next year start teaching workshops, I love when I can help a fellow photographer capture or render something that they had in their mind, giving back to my audience is the biggest reward.

7. How did you become part of the Sony Alpha Collective/Ambassador?

I think its a combination of consistent quality of work and sharing your passion for the gear you’re using. I started with Sony on my photography journey and love the brand and the community they create. So I think that shows through my stories and work. Beyond that, I applied a few times and kept progressively showing better and better work and finding my community online.

8. What’s your favorite Milky Way gear?

Definitely the Sony A7Riii for the camera body, my go-to lens right now is the Sony G Master 16-35 f/2.8, but I also love playing with different focal lengths, so the Sony G Master 24-70 f/2.8, Zeiss 18mm Batis f/2.8, and Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 are always in my bag.

9. Do you have any formal training?

I do not; all my formal training is in graphic design. I am a graduate of what I like to call YouTube University.

10. Do you have a favorite location you’d be willing to share?

I think it’s no secret that I’m in love with Death Valley. My favorite location changes from season to season but it is always in Death Valley.

11. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I hope to be teaching workshops full time and traveling the southwest and even farther working on my own photography as well.

12. What are your post-processing techniques?  You have such beautiful tones with your images, especially how you use the pinks and purples. 

I will do basic edits in Lightroom and then take the image into photoshop from there for dodging and burning, sharpening, and Orton glow effect. I find that using photoshop and luminosity masking, I gain more control in regards to what I want to have the effect and what I wish to stay the same. I have a color balance photoshop action that I created, and I use this on every image to bring out the pink and purple tones, it adds a slight magenta tone that I manipulate depending on the image.

13. You like to shoot the foreground and sky separately. Using 20 images at high ISO (10,000 to 16,000) for the sky and then stack them.  Not many people do it that way, especially with Sonys.  How did you come up with that technique? 

It is certainly not necessary to do things this way, especially with the light sensitivity of the Sony cameras. However I find that with taking the images at such a high ISO allows me to see more of the light, detail, and color in the Milky Way core as well as allows me to have much shorter shutter speeds (so no star trailing) while still capturing all that detail. Then stacking these images removes almost all of the noise that the high ISO introduces. I also find that I like to combine the stacked images with a blue hour shot, and this gives a more even light to the foreground.

Jessica’s favorite shot. We can see why! The composition is phenomenal, and her sense of color is extraordinary.

14. What is your favorite photo that you have taken?

This one from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (see above). Taken on a trip up north with my sister,  I was precariously placed out on these rocks with a little seal friend watching me the whole time. 

15. What’s your all-time favorite photo by another photographer?

A full panorama of the Milky Way over an arch out in Alabama Hills taken by Derek Sturman. (See below.) I just love the composition in this one, and its an unexpected location, really the only photo I’ve seen of this arch at night.

This fantastic panorama by Derek Sturman is one of Jess’ favorite shot by another photographer.

16. Do you have any crazy stories or misadventures you’d like to share?

  1. On my most recent trip out in Utah, we put ourselves in some sketchy situations hiking wise. The night before I had twisted my ankle and while walking back on slick rock, I ended up sliding about five ft. down a cliff, luckily landing on a ledge below before sliding completely into the canyon. It’s pretty important to know your limitations and have a healthy respect for nature, I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of anything (except maybe bugs), but I do respect the fact that sometimes there are situations where I should do things differently.
  2. I recently went on a trip out to my favorite dunes in Death Valley. I had been here plenty of times before and have an app that tracks me without cell service, so I don’t get lost. Well since I had been here four times in the last week alone, I didn’t turn on my GPS app, thinking I know the mountains that I need to head back to, because I park in the same spot every time. Fast forward to the walk back I head towards the familiar mountain peaks, and get back to the main road only to look around and see that my jeep was nowhere to be found, I walked a mile or so up the road and my Lumecube died (my brightest light in my pack) and still no jeep. Eventually, I found it about a mile south of where I first hit the road but learned that no matter how well I know the place, I should always turn on my GPS tracks.

17. Do you have any advice for anyone new getting interested in nightscapes and milky way photography?

To anyone getting into Milky Way photography, spend a night watching the stars, the best thing I’ve learned is the ability to know the constellations around the Milky Way.

Secondly, to test out different methods of shooting, whether it be single images, tracked, stacked, blended, etc. find what works best for you and your aesthetic. Finally, master the art of manual focusing at night, learn your camera and lens, and find out where the focus point is during the day, this will save you so much time in the field.

18. Have you ever felt any photography “burnout,” and if so, what have you done to work through it?

I’ve always been up for a good adventure, so Whenever I am feeling a burn out I like to do a scouting mission, find a place that I haven’t explored and that I haven’t seen many photos of (if any at all) and go for a good adventure to find something new. I find this helps spark my creative process and whether or not the scout is successful it motivates me to get back out there and create.

19. What other genres of photography interest you? 

Mainly my interests are centered around landscape and astrophotography, but I do also enjoy the travel and adventure photography categories.

20. How did you get involved with Milky Way Chasers?   

I met Tracy Lee (the owner of Milky Way Chasers) at the end of The Great Milky Way chase last year and continued to chase the Milky Way with her and eventually she asked me to be a moderator. I had been in the group for a while and loved reading the stories behind the photos as well as looking at all the beautiful inspiration. I like that this is a great community or night sky chasers and it’s wonderful to see all the passionate photographers work.

21. Any parts words or thoughts for our readers?

Remember to never lose sight of the experience, too many times we as photographers are too focused on the photo that we are taking that we forget to enjoy the journey and experience the scene we are photographing. The adventure is so much more important than the final product. The more that you enjoy a scene and experience, the more this will shine through your work.

We’d like to thank Jessica Santos / @missjessbess for taking the time to answer our questions. We really appreciate her doing that!

You can find more of Jessica’s images on Instagram: @missjessbess

kdk 1/13/20

Marybeth Kiczenski
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