Born in Exeter, Devon, England, Cornish has produced a significant body of work for the National Trust. Working mainly with 5x4 cameras, his images of locations in the United Kingdom and around the world have been featured in photography magazines, including Amateur Photographer and Outdoor Photography.
Cornish has also authored several books of his images, teaches landscape photography, and co-owns the Joe Cornish Gallery in NorthallertonNorth Yorkshire. The gallery also displays other photographers' work in temporary exhibits as well as selected artists working in other media.
In 2008, Cornish was given an Honorary Fellowship by The Royal Photographic Society. These are awarded to distinguished persons having, from their position or attainments, an intimate connection with the science or fine art of photography or the application thereof.