Nepal. October 2018. The Himalayas, always home, always in my mind and heart. Photo credit: Nina Raab

Nepal. October 2018. The Himalayas, always home, always in my mind and heart. Photo credit: Nina Raab

Hello, 你好-neih hou/nĭ hăo, hola, bonjour, नमस्ते-namaste, བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས,-tashi delek, kia ora, こんにちは-konichiwa, สวัสดี-swaddee, שלום-shalom!


My name is Jonathan. 

Storytelling is a worldwide tradition that holds the ability to inform and transform. As a visual storyteller, I capture beauty and create purpose and impact-driven content from where I travel, live, and serve.

I am a Hong Kong-born, California-raised, earth and climate science-educated, permaculture-minded, dumpster-diving, food-saving-opportunivore, and camera-equipped traveling documenter and content creator who frolics in the mountains, cycles everywhere with a burning passion to co-create a more beautiful world we know is possible.

Life in the last decade has taught me the power of stories, the goodness in people, the resilience of communities, and the wisdom of the earth. I believe that we humans have much more in common than we've been led to realize, and that food and stories bring people together, and that everyone is a student and can be a teacher. However, we live in a bizarrely inspirational yet despairing time in human and earth history. It's perhaps easier than ever to spiral downwards with the myriad of attention-grabbing and tragic headlines in the mainstream channels, and forget the prevailing forces of good, resilience, and beauty that surround us even more often. Photography to me has evolved to not simply be about immortalizing moments in time, but a medium and channel through which beauty and humanizing, vital stories can be told and reshared.

My intentions moving forward are taking part in systems change for a more harmonious lifestyle with our natural systems at an individual to societal level, bettering my skills in documentation and storytelling to inspire a necessary (and I believe ongoing) paradigm shift and collective action, while balancing that into a simple life that cultivates spaces and moments of tranquility, as well as awe, of wild places.

One of the best ways to get to know me better and to support me is via my Patreon page

Services Offered:

  • Documentary, wedding, nature, and time-lapse photography and videography, including aerial-drones

  • Video storyboard for short videos

  • Stills and video editing and production

  • Enlargements and printing (advice)

  • Photography lesson and workshop (1 on 1 and small group)

  • Speaking/storytelling on travel, community, sustainability, and places & people I've had the opportunity to visit, live at/with, and meet

Contact me to chat about your needs and vision!

I am sure that those pictures will leave my children with very good childhood memories in their future lives. When I showed my children the pictures, they laughed and saw it again and again.
— Zhi Qiang
I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Jonathan recently and I can honestly say he is one of the best photographers I’ve ever worked with. Super-talented, hard-working and fun to be around - Jonathan also has the magic ability of being in the right place at the right time. I can totally recommend him for any photography work - let him share his vision of the world with you!
— Graham W.

About Me, continued:

Since 2009, my interests, curiosity, and zest for our world have taken me to various regions of north and central America, south and southeast Asia, as well as New Zealand & Australia for learning, collaboration, and sharing in all forms -- from planting native woody and fruit trees alongside the indigenous Emberá people in Panama, to singing songs, sharing meals with children and their caretakers in Thailand while hearing about their sexual/physical abuse history, to harvesting barley in Ladakhi villages high in the Himalayas, to sharing knowledge and experience with land regeneration and organic food production in rural New Zealand. I have come to realize more and more the common threads that unite us rather than divide us, and with that, the solutions we can all take part in individually and collectively. 

Two notable mentions of collaborations are the Beacon Food Forest (, an open-harvest, urban permaculture-inspired food forest in Seattle, Washington state, and Conscious Impact (, a grassroots organization rebuilding in a rural Nepali village following the devastating 2015 earthquakes through earthen building materials & techniques, capacity building, youth empowerment, and communal decision making & living. 

Between September 2017 and April 2018, much of that time was spent in Christchurch, New Zealand, learning about the effects of the 2010 & 2011 earthquakes, and how the community has responded to the crisis while dealing with trauma and shortcomings. My recent and current projects and collaborations stemming out of this time align closely with my passions and values - they spread knowledge, share stories, build connections, put purpose-people-planet equal to or before profits, challenge and break down old paradigms, build resilience, heal, unite, and empower individuals, communities, and society at large. I wouldn't have it another way.

Many people ask if I've gone to school for photography and/or film. I am primarily self-taught, and started as a young teenager. I often credit my mom's automatic film camera as well as my cousin's Sony Mavica floppy disk digital camera in the late 90's that captured images at a whooping 0.3 megapixels(!) for having developed the initial interest. When the consumer tech jumped to 2 megapixels in 2000 or 2001, in the form of Canon's ELPH S110, my sister bought the camera (for herself), but I ended up using it much more than she did. While in high school, my parents bought me the Canon S50 point-and-shoot camera with full manual functions. That exponentially opened up my photographic world and what I was able to capture. After working and saving up in 2005, I picked up my first DSLR, the Canon 350D/Rebel XT, and since then it's been a cascading rush of learning and improving. My first paid gig came a year or two later, and after more than a decade now, it's still a happy long-term relationship. 

Since graduating in 2010 from University of California, San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography with a degree in Earth Sciences and Environmental Systems, I have worked in the realms of community development and environmental education locally and globally while doing photography continuously. Between 2015 and 2016, whilst living in Seattle, Washington state, I was actively involved at the Beacon Food Forest, a community-driven, open-for-all, food-producing garden and forest in the city. I love that place. I had the opportunity to serve on its Site Development and Steering Committee for a year, and together with my neighbors we did some radical things to bring folks of various backgrounds and social-economic levels closer in a safe space that (re)connects people to one another, to food, and to nature. To this day, I still leverage their Facebook page with a large online community to spread inspiring projects, innovations, and informative truths about communal, local, and organic food production. I believe in the immense power of using social media for good. 

In response to the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in April and May 2015, I have spent much time in the village of Takure in the Sindhupalchok district with the organization Conscious Impact, where I've lived and rebuilt alongside locals and international volunteers while documenting the collaborative work. Together with the Conscious Impact team, we have leveraged social media to spread the word, tell stories, and continue the funding for the rebuilding project. Besides the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, I haven't found a better, more meaningful way to use photography and social media for social and environmental good alongside selfless individuals with the common goal to help and serve others. Definitely check out their website, Facebook page, and Instagram @ConsciousImpact to check out the latest project and community updates from the team working on the ground, and possibly how you can get involved! 

I love bicycles, cycle touring, backpacking, wilderness, and am fascinated by big mountains, as well as the wisdom, culture, and way of life of indigenous peoples all around the world. Traveling has added tremendous global perspectives and knowledge I wouldn't have gained from formal education. Through my work and travels, I have spent time with the indigenous Emberá, Guna, and Ngäbe-Buglé peoples in Panama, the Sechelt/Shishá7lh FIrst Nations of coastal British Columbia in Canada, the Ahka people in northern Thailand, and the Ladakhi, Spitian, and Sherpa peoples of the Himalayas, and recently the Māori people in New Zealand. I have deep, profound respect for their wisdom and connection to the earth and its natural cycles.

Sometimes I like to geek out on gear, especially outdoor gear and lenses. But over the years I have slowly learned that it's still first and foremost the photographer and her/his vision, the time and place, then lastly the camera/lens. The camera helps create the image no doubt, but just as you wouldn't complement chefs for their *amazing* frying pan or wok for their gastronomic creations, why are so many people fixated to ask the photographer the camera that they use? A quality camera only takes quality images if you bring it with you AND gets utilized. Having the foresight, the patience, and often local knowledge are some of the numerous factors that go into the creative process of capturing an image that will be remembered forever. The best camera is quite often the one in your hand. 

Note that this site may not yet have my latest work, past and recent. Social media is a good bet to see some of my newest captures. Connect with me via Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, and LinkedIn.

I've had some great opportunities in recent years to present my work and stories of places and people I've been and crossed paths with, namely in San Diego, Panama City, Seattle, Kota Kinabalu, and Christchurch. A few recent presentation/talks have been recorded/recapped: with Upstream Daily during the Social Enterprise World Forum in September 2017, at PechaKucha Christchurch in September 2017, for Ministry of Awesome's Coffee & Jam in December 2017, and with Steven Moe for Seeds: Talking Purpose Podcast in January 2018.

Wanna buy a print or two? #subtledreamPrints is now available! Discounts on prints are available by subscription-based support for me on Patreon. Not only would you get discounts (10-60%(!)), you’d be supporting me and my ability to create content and support socially and environmentally-minded individuals and organizations.

Get in touch for commissioned work, printing, licensing, and collaborations to discuss your needs and/or vision. :)

Jonathan’s ability to share the energy, beauty, and love of a moment through film and photo is truly something cosmic.
— AJ K.
[Jonathan] is really gifted, he shoots pictures not only with his professional skill but HEART, he doesn’t mind to get all wet or dirty as long as he gets the best angle or distance for the pictures, I am very satisfied with Subtledream Photography and definitely will refer to my family and friends.
— Dennis T.

Me, in photos:

Photo credit: friends and strangers from all walks of life. Notable mention: Graham Wynne ( top left.

To look in Jonathan’s camera, is like looking into his heart - for that is where he perceives the world from. Always finding a way to capture expressions of the ‘love bubble’ that is the scenery of his own existence.
Merging simultaneously with his camera and his surroundings, he has the rarest talent; to make every being feel like they are a miracle - perfect in their own unique way. Rather then noticing a photographer, his undivided attention encourages all to be more of what they already are. To notice the bright colors of life unfolding around, and shining its light straight back in true freedom of expression.
— Inga P.
Jonathan is an amazingly talented photographer, who not only captures the essence of the subjects in his pictures, but truly makes every effort to connect, learn, and better understand them. He has the biggest heart for all walks of life on this planet and is able to capture the beauty of the world seen through his eyes. I’ve had the great opportunity of doing a photo shoot with Jonathan and it was one of the funnest shoots I’ve ever done. I highly recommend his work to anyone who crosses paths with him. He will bring out the best in you and everything around you.
— Cynthia L.
I have a senior dog that I’d been meaning to do a photoshoot with, so when Jonathan told me he’d be in town, I jumped at the chance to book a session with him. I’m so glad I did! The photographs and prints that I got from him were STUNNING! Aside from being tack sharp and well-composed, they also demonstrate Jonathan’s knack for capturing moments perfectly (no small feat considering how difficult animals can be to photograph). Stellar images aside, Jonathan is professional, punctual, and fun to work with. I definitely recommend him and his work!
— Lesley P.
Jonathan has photographed my family twice and each time was a wonderful experience! He is fantastic with kids, he gets their attention, and of course he works his magic and gets the most beautiful photos. Jonathan is great to work with. I don’t know how he does it but he always has amazing photos. He is able to capture scenery and light at just the right times. I am never disappointed with Subtledream Photography, and will definitely work with Jonathan again and again.
— Lyric A.
Everyone thinks their wedding is the best wedding ever but thanks to the stellar skills of Jonathan Lee, we have proof that ours was in fact historic. This camerasutra made us shutter with his tree climbing, dance floor shuffling, and child entertaining to capture every moment of our wooded wedding. Never negative and always keeping focus, Jonathan was there in a flash to encapsulate our day from angles that other photographers wouldn’t be daring or skilled enough to master, all the while, offering smiles and laughter and wooing our family and friends— he really clicked with them. Looking back at our wedding photos and getting to see our special day through Jonathan’s lens is my new obsession.

If you are looking for some exposure to an incredible artist (who appreciates a good photo pun) then you really oughta give Jonathan a shot. He can offer just the white balance between a friendly experience and professional stunning photos for your special moment!
— Jennifer G.

More testimonials and reviews via my Facebook page.

The best camera is the one in your hand.
— not me, just simple truth

Instagram @subtledream