Nature’s Chronicler: Joe ‘Camera Jesus’ Gall’s Captivating Journey

BY Ashley N. Littles


When picturing the sweeping majesty of the Great Lakes, many envision serene sandy shores kissed by gentle summer breezes. Yet for Joe Gall, affectionately dubbed ‘Camera Jesus,’ the enchantment is found deeper — beneath the water’s shimmering surface. An award-winning photographer, director, and producer hailing from Detroit’s suburbs, Gall transformed his passion for underwater exploration into a profession, capturing tales told by ripples, reflections, and rays of light.

Gall’s introduction to the world of photography wasn’t through the serene beauty of nature but the high-octane world of BMX. But this adrenaline-filled foundation instilled a unique perspective, “Growing up amid BMX and skiing, I honed the skill of capturing momentum. Translating that energy from land to water was a thrilling pivot. The stakes are different, but the thrill is the same.”


Few photographers have the innate ability to capture the ever-evolving essence of nature quite like Joe Gall. His work, reminiscent of a National Geographic documentary, intertwines his love for the outdoors with a deeply rooted passion to chronicle the shifts in the natural world. But where did this connection start?

“Nature has a raw, unaltered beauty,” Gall said. “When I worked alongside the iconic Keith Ladzinski from National Geographic on the Great Lakes story, I had an epiphany underwater. Exploring Lake Huron’s shipwrecks and ecosystems, I saw first-hand the transcendent beauty most overlook, especially around Michigan. That project was a game-changer for me.

“Regarding how I prepare for ventures and keep Michigan’s heritage close to me, I’m drawn to Shinola’s 10,000 Mile over-the-shoulder bag; it’s the ideal size for carrying my essentials during a spontaneous trip to the beach or a motorcycle. It will keep my belongings dry and secure and allows me to be fully present in the moment.”


Gall’s adventures are not without risk. Whether hanging precariously from helicopters or delving into action sports, he’s mastered the delicate dance between exhilaration and safety. “Every risky shot is a calculated one,” he says, “. With the right pilot and trust, hanging from a helicopter is just another day at work.”

During his career as a photographer, a particular project pushed Gall out of his comfort zone. “I found myself in a hot tub at Kelly Slater’s wave pool with Tony Hawk. As conversations flowed, I shared my dream of trying heli-skiing, being a skier from Michigan,” Gall recalls. “Tony, ever the opportunist, revealed that someone had just dropped out of a heli adventure he had planned in Alaska for a new K2/Birdhouse snowboard collaboration. The chance to photograph this was mine if I wanted it.”

Without hesitation, Gall grabbed the opportunity. But little did he know the myriad of preparations ahead. “The avalanche training, donning my first pair of powder skis, and realizing I was about to ski on some of North America’s largest mountains was a whirlwind of emotions,” Gall says.

The sheer beauty of being airlifted atop a snowy peak was initially overwhelming.

Still, this thrill was soon marred by tragedy.

“We heard about the second helicopter that morning—it had crashed, taking five lives with it. The operation halted for investigations.” As Gall shares this story, the weight of the memory evident. Once resumed, Gall and his companions constantly dodged adverse weather and avalanches, but the mission was clear: capture those once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Determination was evident, even as he faced personal setbacks. “On one run, my ski tumbled down, vanishing into a crevasse at a glacier’s base. And in a turn of events on my last run, both my arms dislocated from their sockets,” Gall recounts, demonstrating the sheer unpredictability of nature and the lengths photographers like him go to for the perfect shot.

Despite these adversities, the entire endeavor vaulted Gall up a steep learning curve. “It was a lesson in adaptability, resilience, and the audacity to venture beyond one’s comfort zone for those magic moments,” he reflects.


Gall, of course, tells most of his stories behind the lens. But the stories behind those photos are equally compelling. Consider this vignette about his travels abroad:

“I recently shot a documentary project where I photographed an illustrator from the Dominican Republic. To truly capture the inspiration behind her art, we ventured into the depths of a coral reef in the ocean, where I documented her snorkeling in a secret off-the-grid location. On the other hand, I also had the opportunity to work for an athletic company on a campaign with the world’s most famous rugby team in New Zealand. After we wrapped, I stuck around to climb an active volcano to get the perfect establishing shots. Regardless of the client or project, my favorite moments are when I have my camera outside. Even if it’s not a paid assignment, I am committed to delivering the most authentic and high-quality content. I believe in letting the natural surroundings and genuine interactions guide my work without over-directing the subjects. This ensures that my clients receive compelling and genuine imagery that truly captures the essence of each experience. I often find myself saying, ‘No plans are the best plans!’” Joe muses.

Gall’s versatility shines through, from intimate underwater moments to grand aerial views. “Each project is a canvas,” he adds. “Whether capturing the shimmer of an active volcano’s surface or the vibrant hues of a coral reef teeming with marine life, authenticity is key, and sometimes, the best moments truly are the unplanned ones.”

Gall captures Higgins Lake. Michigan’s 10th largest, this 9,900-acre jewel is nestled in Roscommon County.


Gall also tells stories closer to home:

“One of my earliest Michigan memories was from a childhood escapade when I was 8. The setting was our family cabin nestled in the pristine Upper Peninsula. Encircled by my cousins, the playful atmosphere soon took a daring turn. They challenged me to brave a night aloft a tree stand strategically placed above a bear bait. This spot wasn’t a stone’s throw away but down a serpentine trail about a mile deep into the dense woods from our camp.

With boyish audacity, he took on the challenge.

Armed with only a flashlight and a can of Raid bug spray (a parting gift from Grandpa, humorously intended to fend off bears), he ventured into the forest. To many, it seemed like a fleeting bout of courage, assuming he’d retrace his steps back to the cabin once out of sight.

Gall, driven by a mix of bravado and naivety, persisted till he reached the tree stand.

“Everyone thought I would turn back at the yard’s edge, but I kept going until I reached the tree stand. I climbed up, laid down, and within five minutes of being there, I was startled by the sound of two enormous black bears fighting each other beneath my tree in the pitch darkness. Luckily, I had no idea that bears could climb trees, so I falsely believed I was safe. It turned out to be a long, nerve-wracking night of terrifying sounds and glowing eyes in my flashlight because I refused to leave the tree until sunrise.”

Fast forward 30 years, and the baton of legacy has been passed.

“I’ve inherited that very cabin and a trove of memories.

In a nod to that audacious night, come next Autumn, I’m laying the groundwork for a specialized bear photography camp.

It’s a chance for enthusiasts to capture the raw beauty of Michigan and create their own daring tales from 10-thousand miles of Michigan lakefront and beyond.


To Gall, Michigan remains more than just a location—it’s an anchor. “Everywhere I go, the Great Lakes call me back. My adventures, from my daring childhood bear encounters to my deep-seated love for Shinola’s 10,000Mile Collection, are all anchored here,” he emphasizes.

As he prepares for his upcoming fall photography camp and dreams of his gallery on Detroit’s essence, it’s evident: Joe Gall’s journey is one of perpetual evolution, forever seeking the next captivating frame.

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