Photography is a powerful instrument to relay information, emotion, and expression. Detroiters looking to attend local events, discover new shops, and sightsee our neighborhoods, rely on photographers to capture and deliver the pinnacle of what’s happening. These photos provide a window into Detroit and encourage us to explore the sights and sounds the city has to offer. They say “a picture is worth 1,000 words” – and many local photographers, like Joshua Hanford, are giving Detroit’s homegrown artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs another vehicle to express themselves.

Detroit Proud caught up with local photog Joshua Hanford to discuss his Detroit-rich portfolio. Sneak a peek behind his lens and get to know one of the guys behind the flash as he fills us in on how he explores and delivers the landscape and spirit of Detroit.

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Click HERE to view a gallery of Joshua’s Detroit-centric photography.

Tell Detroit Proud readers about how you first became interested in photography.

From a young age, I’ve had an interest in cameras and camera technology. By high school, I had developed the reputation of the “art kid” and was lucky enough to attend a high school that had one of the best art programs.  My junior year, one of my art teachers received a donation of a high-end film SLR (single-lens reflex camera). She showed it to me and let me take it home to use it. I bought film and started photographing friends and places. I taught myself how to manually expose images, and I was hooked. The balance of technical and creative skills required was just the outlet I was looking for. My senior year came, and the same art teacher who loaned me that camera, gave it to me. It was her “investment in my future,” she said.

When did you turn photography into a career?

Late in 2008, I bought my first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera).  I hit the streets shooting everything I could. I started a blog called DetroitExposure with a friend. We photographed Detroit underground music, arts, and culture, and it was wildly successful. By 2009, I had decided I wanted this to be my career and I was going to learn every facet of this business. I figured I’d at least learn something and shoot every style if I liked it or not.

Bethany Schorb - Cyberoptix Tie Lab

Bethany Shorb of Cyberoptix Tie Lab creates…and Joshua captures her in motion. Photos were used to promote Bethany’s art and high-fashion works. (credit: Joshua Hanford)

How do you approach a shoot?  Are there differences in photographing music acts vs. portrait shots?

Man, I don’t want to give away ALL my secrets. I always try to approach a shoot as its own entity. Yes, it might just be clothing or something simple, but you have to always consider your audience and/or client.

My photography has been used for everything, from building brands to being used to break up wall space. A lot of my work is “for hire,” so step one for me is to find out where the photographs will end up. That’ll give me an idea of who’s viewing them and why. From there, I can develop a setting and/or aesthetic. People who enjoy photographs of musical performances are not necessarily the same people who want to look at photographs of engaged couples, so I approach them separately.

You have become an in-demand wedding photographer. What’s it like shooting wedding and engagement photos in and around the city?

Detroit weddings are the best. Detroit is a beautiful landscape that can offer a wide variety of unique and visually stimulating settings. In short, there is something for everyone in Detroit. We are lucky enough to have some of the most diverse elements a city can offer. We have all four seasons. You can have a hot, sunny summer wedding or a snowy, winter wonderland wedding or colorful autumn wedding. You can plan a black-tie event and get married in The Guardian or set up tents and picnic blankets and get married on Belle Isle. Whatever your dream wedding is, chances are you can have it in Detroit. Sometimes the most difficult part is trying to cram it all into tight schedules.

Detroit Proud

Winter Wedding Wonderland (credit: Joshua Hanford)

What are some local companies and musicians you work with?

I work with a very Detroit-centric bunch. I’ve been lucky enough to be the official photographer for Pure Detroit and some of their other companies for a number of years now. The owners are so kind to me and really support me and care about what I’m doing. Vera Jane and Stella Good Coffee are some of the other companies I work with under their camp.

The Crofoot in Pontiac has been like my second family for the last couple of years. Dan, Blair, and Kristen are so dedicated to my success and I’m dedicated to theirs. They are so much more than just a venue.

GRiZ and Freddy Todd are some huge Detroit OGs that I work for often. We’ve cultivated awesome friendships and partnerships over the past couple years. It can only continue to grow. Those relationships have spawned many others with talented artists like Muzzy Bearr and Ex Mag, and so many more.

I’ve shot for other awesome Detroit artists like Obie Trice and Jaws That Bite, I Prevail. It’s hard to remember everyone, but I’m regularly humbled by the willingness of all these artists and companies who choose to work with me.

Is there a shoot that stands out as one of your favorites?

This is a hard question. I feel like I learn something every time I shoot, so they’re all valuable to me. I would venture the shoots that matter most to me are the ones that start lasting relationships.

If I really had to narrow it down, one of them I would say was my first shoot with GRiZ. The mood was just relaxed from the start. I had never REALLY met this world-famous musician, or spent any significant amount of time with him. I didn’t know what to expect. But armed with my two favorite assistants and a half day, we made the most of it and got some great pictures.  That one shoot was the beginning of a great friendship and great partnership. It’s something I value very much.

El Cap - Sneaker Customizer Extraordinaire!

El Cap – Sneaker Customizer Extraordinaire! Detroit’s ElCappy is famous for designing custom sneakers. (credit: Joshua Hanford)

Any star-struck moments while working?

They say, if you work in the music industry you’re not really allowed to be a fan. That it implies bias. But I think it’s very possible, even beneficial to work with someone you’re a fan of. It’s motivating.  Fandom doesn’t have to mean there is a lack of professionalism. I really feel that excitement for what you do only adds to the work. Especially if you apply the energy onto what you’re doing.

I’ve had a number of opportunities to photograph Maynard James Keenan, he’s the lead singer of Tool / A Perfect Circle / Puscifer. I’ve been a fan of his bands from a young age, and shooting him was a very euphoric moment, especially considering he’s a man who notoriously makes it difficult for anyone to photograph him while performing. I met him after a show, and he shook my hand and thanked me for shooting the show. That was a star-struck moment.

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What makes Detroit a unique place to photograph?

Detroit is unique because it offers so many different things. With its rich history, cultural diversity, good, bad, beautiful ugly, warm, cold…it has it all. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you’re not looking very hard.

Real Name. No Gimmics.

Detroit rapper Obie Trice poses for his press photos at Red Bull House of Art. (credit: Joshua Hanford)

We’re in an enhanced age of digital photography – pros & cons?

Digital is often under attack for it’s “ease”. My generation is unique. I started shooting early enough to experience some professional film photography first-hand, before big studios made the switch, but I’m confident that I’m the last generation to experience that. I love film, and film does provide an aesthetic that’s very difficult to replace. But it’s being replaced. Digital photography is an entirely different workflow.

We might not have to develop film or spend time in the darkroom, but that’s replaced by new challenges like storage, for example. It’s expensive to build reliable systems for backing up and safely storing your work. Also, the public expectations have changed.

Everyone wants instantaneous results. Just being able to view it immediately doesn’t mean it’s ready. Professional photographers work really hard to perfect what they give you. It takes time. Also things that were acceptable in film are no longer acceptable in digital. We are expected to fix these things. A slightly strange expression in a photography…Swap the head in Photoshop!  A bird messing up your background…take it out in Photoshop! “Well you can just Photoshop it” is a phrase I hear daily, and it makes me want to put my fist though my perfectly color-corrected monitor.

We can find a lot more freedom in digital, but there is such thing as too much.

How as social media expanded your audience & professional opportunities?

It’s benefited me a lot. I’ve been hired for jobs simply because of my social media. But I don’t fully depend on it, by any means. Word of mouth, taking good photographs, and networking properly is the best thing a photographer can do for himself or herself. I don’t advertise my business in magazines or on the Internet, I would rather have awesome publications write something about me.

Evil Things

Behind the scenes at a video shoot for The Black Angels’ song ‘Evil Things’ at St. Agnes in Detroit. (credit: Joshua Hanford)

You recently passed out food & hygiene products to Detroit’s homeless, tell us about that experience.

What an awesome experience. A close friend of mine, and fellow photographer Steve Pham started this a year or so back with his own money and decided to use the video to start a small donation pool. The money donated was used to buy the food and hygiene products that we gave out that night. During the experience, you really get an idea of how grateful people are for the smallest of things. Pizza’s great. Everyone loves pizza, but the other products are actually more helpful, I think. The winter is hard enough when you have a warm home and bed in Detroit. Imagine it without those things. So we provided some products to give them even the slightest relief from the cold.

In your free time, where are some places in and around Detroit you like to hang out?

In my free time, I mostly like shooting in the city with my friends. We can be found anywhere, but when it’s time to grab some food, you can usually find me at Red Hots Coney Island in Highland Park or Green Dot. Russell Street Deli or Mudgie’s are also some favorites. Grabbing drinks at The Bronx. But for hanging out, I usually like to visit my friends’ shops all around Detroit. My buddy Eric (aka ELCAPPY) has his store down on Broadway, and I like to visit my friends over at Inner State and 1xRun in Eastern Market. My friends Cort and Grant have one of the nicest apartments and best views of the city, so that’s always a fun stop to hang. I just really enjoy spending time with people who love art and create it themselves.

Motorcity Casino

MotorCity Casino Hotel. Visit for more photos!(credit: Joshua Hanford)

Detroit hosts many annual events – do you have a favorite event to shoot?

Considering my portfolio, it’s easy to tell I love shooting Movement. This year will be my 8th year in a row shooting the festival. I used to photograph it for Red Bull, but I joined the Paxahau team a few years back, and we’re like a little family. Everyone knows everyone and respects everyone. It’s like we’re all relatives coming together for the holiday that is Movement. I work with Paxahau to bring you the best Movement photographs every year. Doug, who heads up the photo team, is an amazingly hardworking guy and cares about everyone on the team.

I really want to shoot the Grand Prix. I’m usually booked that weekend every year, but I want to make it a point to get on the photo team soon.

What’s next? What upcoming shoots do you have booked?

Currently surrounded by a lot of editing. This tends to be the slow season where I get on top of all the editing, but it’s proving to be anything but that this year. I’m working on an upcoming documentary for GRiZ we expect out in a month or so. I’m also working on shooting some awesome high fashion stuff for 1701 Bespoke. We have a meeting coming up to discuss it.  They’re, in my opinion, the best suit and tux makers in Detroit. I send any groom I can to them. I say, “You want to look good? Go there, they tend to be the best-dressed grooms I have all year.”

ZelooperZ in Brush Park

Danny Brown protégé, rapper ZelooperZ, poses for a portrait shot in a historic Brush Park mansion. (credit: Joshua Hanford)

Want more see more of Joshua’s portfolio and follow his activity? Check him out at the links below:


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