Freedom to Move: “A Wild Mind Sounds Pretty Good to Me”

Joe Riis is the best photographer I know. I’m biased—I get to hang out with, work with, and count some of the best National Geographic photographers as my friends. But Joe stands out. It’s partly because of his work, which speaks for itself, but it’s also because of his character and how he chooses to live his life. It makes him a solid person and it makes him a damn good photographer.

Pronghorn antelope in western Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration, this herd of 400 pronghorn form the longest land mammal migration in the USA.
Joe Riis at camp in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming; Photograph courtesy Joe Riis

Joe and I have known each other for seven years. We met on a project organized by the International League of Conservation Photographers in southeastern British Columbia—a photography project designed to result in a portfolio of images strong enough to drive mega-scale conservation efforts. The project worked. The team of photographers knocked the assignment out of the park, conservation groups got down to business, and a mine was stopped. A few buddies and I made a film about it, and Joe—and his quest for an image—became the central character, and his work the theme. Seven years later, we’ve circled back to where we began to tell a more significant story.

Pronghorn antelope in western Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration, this herd of 400 pronghorn form the longest land mammal migration in the USA.
Tracking migrations in all seasons; Photograph courtesy Joe Riis

Yeah, Joe makes amazing pictures. Some of the very best, actually. You want to know his secret? He does it old school—he spends an incredible amount of time learning animal behavior, hiking huge distances through the most rugged terrain, and waiting—a lot. He’s got the kind of passion that is above a desire to make good pictures. He’s got the kind of motivation that can only come from the desire to protect something that you know and love. Joe knows these animals, appreciates their place in the world and is driven to help protect them. To do it he has to learn from them. And make pictures to help tell their story.

And that’s the story that we wanted to tell with this film.   Not just the story of a photographer making images, but the story of a National Geographic photographer who thinks and feels a lot like you and me. He wonders whether it’s all worth it, whether he’s capable of balancing a demanding career and romance, whether it’s all worth the sacrifice. And you know what? Just like you and me, he doesn’t always have a good answer.

Flip past his images and strip away the iconic yellow border, and you’ll find the Joe I know. I hope you’ll take a moment and get to know him. I’m glad that I did.

Next: Watch how Joe Riis sets up his camera traps to get incredible wildlife images.

The Adventurists blog series “Freedom to Move” is sponsored by Toyota TRD Pro, which provided a vehicle for this adventure.


  1. Greg Norman
    Port Lincoln Australia
    July 23, 2015, 4:05 pm

    Amazing efforts by Joe, I believe he’s made it to exactly where he needs to be, a Nat Geo photographer and out in the wilderness bringing pics to the many who don’t get to see it or even have the time to acknowledge the very fabric of life on earth. Kudos to you Joe, incredible efforts…………… 🙂

  2. Betsy Browning
    Carbondale CO
    July 23, 2015, 7:12 pm

    I loved this…just got home from work…ok day…but this video made my day !! I love what Joe is doing…please continue, but I get what he says about all the other things…do it now..dont wait. But continue your wildlife work…it must be helping. I love the photos….OMG they are beautiful. ! Thank you.

  3. Nathaniel Sayago
    Philippines, Cebu
    July 24, 2015, 4:38 am

    Amazing work Joe! You made me open my eyes and see the real meaning of photography. And absolutely inspired me the importance of wildlife. It seems that people nowadays are no longer seeing the big pictures of these animals. But definitely with your pictures, hope someday we all get intact with these species and mother nature. Salamat Joe!

  4. Hugo
    July 24, 2015, 5:05 am

    What a charming dude. Inspirational outlook – nice to hear there are some wild hearts all over the world. Relevant work and dedication to it are cornerstones of conservation – keep it up!

  5. Lowell Leland
    July 24, 2015, 11:34 am

    Love seeing these migrations documented. Too many of these mass migrations are being threatened and many, removed or stopped completely.

  6. John
    Yukon, Canada
    July 24, 2015, 7:55 pm

    This guy is living my dream, I am at the delicate stage of my photography now where I am in doubt, I’ve been doing my work ( Self taught ) And I haven’t gained much out of it, and I am never happy with my own work, I’ve always been unhappy with my photography, but I still strive to get better.

  7. Ruhi Ayangil
    July 25, 2015, 6:07 pm

    Great job, amasing. Thanks for your invaluable efforts Joe, made us more closer wild life. Congragulations.

  8. Thea
    Boston, MA
    July 25, 2015, 7:34 pm

    A great documentary under the backgrop of breath taking landscape.

  9. Sue Melius
    Sioux Falls,SD
    July 27, 2015, 8:01 pm

    Beautiful work Joe.