Photographers: You Have Impact

Douggie, Hantsport, Nova Scotia

RE: Why We Do What We Do (note: I originally wrote this in May, 2017)

In addition to creating photographs of penguins, swirly green particles in northern skies, diamonds, filter-blurred oceans, and random rocks, I take photographs of people. Lots and lots of portraits of people.  

Young people, old people, beautiful people, interesting people, heavy people, black people, awkward people, middle-aged people, sexy people, long-haired people, creative people, sleep people, baby people, boring people, pregnant people, and everything in between.

I’ve gotten paid for many of these photographs of people, but many - if not most -  of the photographs I shoot of people…I don’t.  I just do them.  Photographs, I mean.  Of the people I find interesting.  Because…I have to.

Much of it, I admit, is selfish.  I love the thrill of the chase.  The unknown.  Taking a random face that the universe has aligned to put in front of me, scoping out the surroundings around me, and trying to fit them together.  Like a puzzle.  With a bunch of tiny, impossibly hard pieces like emotion and angles and light and contrast and colour and structure and storytelling. 

I photograph to come up with a photograph.  That seems obvious, but it should be stated.  It’s my purpose.  To come up with an image that impacts me and hopefully impacts others.  If it doesn’t impact me, I don’t have a hope in hell of impacting others. So I shoot until I feel something.  And then repeat.

In the blind self-centred world of a photographer creating for themselves, it’s easy to forget that what we do impacts others.  Of course it does - how could it not?  But that’s often not the primary reason we pick up the camera, as much as we would like to think it is.  We pick up the camera to satisfy the voice in side, primarily, or to try to make a paycheque, or to try to convince ourselves that somewhere and sometime, we might be considered artists.

However - whether we know it, strive for it, or like it…we have impact.  Our photos create reactions in people.  They look at them and they feel either boredom, intrigue, excitement, repulsion, love, and so on.  We’re bombarded by images in our current day with the abundance of social media, but yet…we still love looking at images.  By “we” I don’t just mean photographers.

Once again - it’s easy to forgot in this bombardment, and in our own internal artistic processes (and sometime selfishness) that our images have impact.  If not always on an “audience”, sometimes profoundly on our subjects.

Twice in the last two months I’ve gotten notes from subjects that have surprised me.  And inspired me.  And reminded me why we do what we do.  For they’ve both come from people that (I would have thought) confident.  Two beautiful, strong people.  People that on the exterior have that special look.  Special abilities.  But their notes have reminded me that people aren’t always as strong and confident as their exteriors betray.  I should know better, myself.  My own confidence isn’t nearly what I would have social media project.  But yet I expect others to pick up my own slack.

The first note is from the man in this photo.  Douggie.  I think he said he was 6’ 6”.  Cut.  Built.  Brick shithouse.  Nice.  Good-looking.  Has everything going.  Seemingly.

A note that caught me surprise.  On Facebook.  After a day of portrait modelling for a group of photographers just trying to do better.

I never like how I look in photos.

Like ever.

But you….

I have dealt with self esteem issues all my life... and I actually broke down a bit at the very end in the basement. No one saw it cause it was dark. 

Anyway I'm just proud to see that for once in my life I have self worth, and all the shit I've been going through has come with a positive outcome. 

Thank you so much. You don't even know how much it means to me.

WHAT?  This guy…this guy?  Wow.  But, how?  Yet….it is what it is.  We judge many books by their covers, and their covers don’t always show what’s inside.  Far from “always”.  I would venture to say rarely.  

Another note, about six months earlier.  A few details have been changed for identity protection:

Hey Dave, 

I just wanted to send you a quick note to say thank you! 

You have no idea what working with you has done for me and my self esteem. I was always such a shy and slightly awkward kid and this is something that I've carried with me into adulthood, I didn't grow up with great self-esteem or confidence.

I didn't ever think that I was overly pretty, I was just always 'average'. 

Before meeting *****, I was in a really bad relationship that totally rocked my self image and self esteem, it's taken me a really long time to build this back up (***** has been a huge part of this and has worked wonders with his damaged wife!) but I also thank you for helping me. 

As you and I work together more and more, it gives my self esteem and self image such a huge boost!  I never in a bagillion (yup, that's a word!) years that I would be asked to model for a magazine, then ********* contacted me because one of their designers had seen a shoot that you and I had done, the designer told me that she had wanted to work with me since she saw our first shoot!! 

After our last shoot this past weekend, I was contacted by ***** asking if I would model for the catwalk show...they asked me because they saw the last photos that you took of me. I never would have imagined being asked to do that...ever!! 

Thank you so much Dave, you have no idea how life changing working with you has been for me. I look forward to working with you in the years to come! 

Reading both these notes…well, they made me cry.  Like hide-in-case-someone-sees-me-tears.   

Because I myself forget at time that images have impact (even though I know deep down they do).  I just create.  Because it means something to me.  But again and again and again examples like these spring up….and they always manage to surprise me, even though they shouldn’t.

Because we, as photographers, have impact.

Repeat that.

Aloud.

Because we, as photographers, have impact.

It’s up to us to follow the path of inspiration that each of us feel, individually.  And we’re all drawn to different things.  But the next time you’re feeling down about yourself, your images, your path….

Remember that.

We, as photographers, have impact.

Whether it’s a photograph that makes someone feel good about themselves, a beautiful image of a far-off mountaintop that gives someone hope, or a photograph of a moment in time that can’t ever possibly be replicated (but somehow you, as a photographer, have captured)….

You have impact.

Dimitri


PORTRAIT SERIES: Dimitri Petkov - Ottawa, Ontario.

This was photographed as part of a portrait demo a year or two back.

Shooting Dimitri "badass" or "epic" seemed a little to easy....Dimitri is both of those things, naturally. I wanted to shoot something a little more vulnerable; something with a little more feeling. I learned over a couple days of being around Dimitri that he's a fascinated, multi-faceted guy. He's got a look that stops traffic, but he's a person, first and foremost.

Living The Quiet Irish Life

So, this is pretty exciting....

Erin and I have worked really hard these past couple years to be able to be in a position to allow ourselves to do something we've wanted to do for years, now. Which is to take our children out of school (with their teacher's support and blessing) for an extended trip and homeschool them and travel together as a family.

We left on New Year’s Eve and will be gone to Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and the Azores for over two months, living and working and exploring together as a family.

Excited is an understatement!

The kids are going to do schoolwork, daily, as Erin and I do our own “stuff” abroad (we’re co-writing a book along with a friend; the kids will also keep daily journals), and we'll hike and explore and enjoy Irish and Spanish and Portuguese life as we go!

So....this. I'm very proud that we've worked hard to allow this to happen, and I have to say I'm ending 2018 feeling happy, healthy, and feeling a lot of love.

If you want to follow along on our journey I’ll be positing to my behind-the-scenes Instagram account ( @DaveBroshaBTS) and Erin to her account “@ebrosha”

A Faroe Island sheep - because it’s as Irish-looking as I have without actually having started my Irish photography yet.

A Faroe Island sheep - because it’s as Irish-looking as I have without actually having started my Irish photography yet.

100 Images From 2018

It’s the time of year when many photographers look back on the year that’s been and to a certain degree reflect on what they’ve done, where they’re going, what themes and storylines emerged in their work.

I, as throughout my whole career, spent my 365 days shooting a mixed bag of passion projects, travel, commercial, editorial, portrait, and wildlife work. I thought about presenting a small series of collections, each on the theme….but my theme, for better or worse, is “photography”, not genres within photography, so I’m just going to stay on point and present my mixed bag.

I have no clue if these are my “best”. They’re just images that I like, from across time, place, and subject. They are memories and feelings and experiences. They are me, and they are my year.

I hope something within resonates.

Dave

PS - a huge shout-out to two of my incredible sponsors, Sigma Canada and Strobepro Lighting. Every single one of these images was taken on a Sigma lens, and I can’t say enough about their line-up of lenses and what a great company they are. All of the portraits that used introduced lighting were all taken with Strobepro goodness - their products have transformed my work.

On Perfectionism

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This is my barn.

My barn is old. It’s dusty.  In places, it’s broken.  Parts of the foundation are cracked and crumbling.  Some of the siding has come off in places and the paint is peeling.  Inside there’s darkness where I wish there was light and the space—as many who have sat inside the barn and listened and learned while various speakers and educators have shared their stories can attest—could use some fresh, cold air whereas currently it’s often hot and sweaty and dank.

It’s got its flaws, undoubtedly.  But I love it.  Hard.  So much.  As do most everyone who passes through its doors.

They love the fact that something so old (it’s anywhere from a 100-150 years old) is still proudly standing.  They love the old wood.  The colour tones.  The atmosphere inside and the sense of history and pride that obviously went into building it.  The place has an unmistakable vibe—the same vibe that first struck Erin and I when we walked through its old wood doors when we were looking around Prince Edward Island for a house to buy—a home to call our own and raise our family.  Walking through those doors we just looked at each other and knew, this was it.

In short, the place has character of the most unmistakeable kind.   It’s flawed, but it’s pretty much perfect.

As I walked around my barn the other day looking at the old beams and wooden pegs (parts of the barn were built so long ago it was built entirely with wood, and not steel) and parts hodgepodged together and the crumbling stones of the foundation it got me thinking about what we consider “good”.  What we consider “perfect”.  It got me thinking about the nature of “perfectionism”.

Personally, I think the word “perfectionist” is one of those words that I avoid using at all costs.  Why?  I’m not afraid to say it….I think when you say “I’m a perfectionist” it sort of means that you think your work or that thing you do is, well, perfect…when you “put it out there”.    

First, who wants to be perfect?  Perfect, to me, would be a boring place. Imagine a place where you think what you’ve done is perfect.  If it’s perfect, why move on?  Why learn more, soak up more inspiration, continue down the long and probably very gruelling path of trial-and-error.  Why listen to others?  Why pick up books and watch and study and observe?  I mean, what you’ve put out there is….perfect.

I’m being a little sarcastic, but I do think I have a point (such is the nature of writing….you tend to always think you have a point….even if everyone else disagrees).

The nature of being “perfect” aside I’ve been thinking long and hard lately about some of my favourite images of all time.  Some of my favourite artists.  My barn. The funny thing is…a lot of what I love about all of them is the imperfections, rather than the perfections.

I have Annie Leibovitz’s great (and massive) book “Portraits”.  I love sitting down to it and flipping through her often-brilliant work.  It completely surprised me, however, during my first deep dive to how many of her classic portraits are a little bit soft:  a little missed focused.  Light not at all where I would put it the way I’ve been “trained”.  Some of the lighting I would consider “wrong”.  But the portraits…still have a feeling.  A vibe. A mood that’s unmistakable.  The same with Steve McCurry’s large coffee table book: many were shot on film and represent magic moments and there’s a lot of technical issues that we could spend days nitpicking.  But man oh man….what a brilliant collection!  I also have a book that’s a collection of what the editors think to be the “100 Greatest Photographs In History”.  This collection?  I think it’s at about 100% consistency for each and every photo being “imperfect” in some major way.  But the collection as a whole is brilliant, built up with a group of photographs whose power comes from the emotion, heart and soul of the photographer—and moments they’ve captured as a result.

My barn is far from perfect.  Lots of crooked angles in it that would make a master carpenter cringe.  Lots of “let’s throw this together with that and see what happens!”  It’s evident, throughout.  It’s far from perfect….and it’s perfect as a result.  And guess what?  It’s stood the test of time…probably the most important consideration with something created out of heart, soul, and hard work.

So worry less about being “perfect”.  Worry more about putting yourself into the images you take.  To conveying emotion and capturing soul.  Ten years from now you won’t give two shits about the fact that your image was perfectly sharp.  You will care immensely about if the image made you feel enough, be proud enough, compel you enough…to keep looking at it.  

Slow Motion + Freeze Action.... Together?

Dougie Rain, Alberta.

Dougie Rain, Alberta.

Slow Motion + Freeze Action....Together?

Often we're taught that we have to have our portrait subjects 100% sharp, and admittedly as a photographer, I tend to strive for either great overall sharpness (unless I'm going for a complete abstract motion blur image, like a person walking down the subject and appearing somewhat "ghosted").

However, there are times when you can not only add a cool creative effect to your portraits but also convey a sense of movement or environmental condition by combining sharpness and motion in the same image. 

In this portrait of powwow dancer Dougie Rain, I set my shutter speed to a somewhat slower shutter speed (1/60-seconds) so that I would capture movement in his feathers, which were being blown around quite strongly but some pretty heavy duty wind gusts. However, Dougie himself is sharp because (A) he's not moving and (B) my flash, which is directly primarily towards his face, helps "freeze" him in place, even if he's ever-so-slightly moving with the 1/60-sec shutter speed.

There's no magic formula to achieving this effect, and your exact shutter speed depends on how fast the motion component of your image is (i.e. 1/60-second might show motion blur with something moving really fast but not with something that's moving only slightly), and you may run into limitations with how slow you set your shutter speed to capture motion depending on how much ambient light is in your scene. On a bright sunny day, for example, trying to set your shutter speed for 1/10th of a second may be impossible unless you're using dark ND filters.

Depending on how slow your shutter speed is, too, you may find yourself in tripod range to keep your overall image sharp.

I use this technique quite a bit, because I love the dynamic feeling it gives.

End Of An Era

Since 2009, one of the clients that I’ve probably done the most amount of work for has been the EKATI Diamond Mine, located about 300 kilometres north of Yellowknife, above the treeline in the dramatic Northwest Territories Barrenlands.

I’ve spent countless days up at this mine, and have been extremely proud of the photography that I have created highlighting many of their great workers over the years.

Well, all good things must eventually come to an end - especially as you evolve and grow - and due to my own personal time constraints and having less and less availability to offer, I decided this past month to finally end my contract after almost a decade run.

It’s been such a pleasure working with the people of EKATI, and I have to say I’ll miss my trips up there!


Misadventure: The Royals

Note: this originally appeared in Photo Life Magazine.

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One of the most memorable assignments occurred in 2011 when I was asked to be the official photographer for His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, and Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton’s three-day visit to northern Canada.

This was a pretty high-profile task, and one that I was excited to shoot. It’s not every day that you get to spend documenting two of the most famous people in the world.

I handle stress pretty well, and never really let the pressure of any assignment get to me, but this assignment started out with one of the most stressful moments in my entire career in photography.

The evening the Royal Couple was due to arrive, my first tasking in my role as official photographer was to take a formal portrait of William and Kate, along with a number of dignitaries. It would be done in a secure hotel meeting room, and would be their first order of business when they arrived from the airport: briefly meet all the dignitaries and then sit down, with me directing, while they all posed for a portrait.

I was given about 90 seconds for my image.

*********

Earlier that day, I had spent a couple hours setting up for this 90 seconds. I brought in all my equipment, including studio lights, light stands, modifiers, cameras, lenses. I carefully set everything up and then did what any photographer worth his salt would do: I tested.

I tested everything, multiple times. The angle of light. My camera settings. I even had 10 hotel workers take ten minutes out of their day to come and sit in the seats that would later be filled by the Royal Highnesses and the dignitaries.

Everything was perfect.

Fast forward to 20 minutes before they were due to arrive. Again, I tested everything. Again, everything perfect.

Then, I hear Prince William and Kate Middleton arrive. A cheer goes up down the hallway. I’ve been instructed to go down the hallway and take some frames of them greeting hotel guests as they arrive in the lobby. I scurry down the hall and catch my first glimpse of them. I fire off 40 or 50 frames and then return to the meeting room.

They arrive behind me in the room, and shake hands with the small crowd of dignitaries. I wait at the end of the line, where I’m to direct them to their assigned chairs, and then, gulp, tell them the process.

My voice cracks, but I get it out. I tell them all that I plan on taking about ten images, total. I want to keep it way less than 90 seconds. I figure I can have the photograph I need in less than 30.

I put my camera up to my eye, compose, and fire.

And fire. And fire.

By frame four I get the sick feeling that something’s wrong. I’m not seeing the tell-tale flash of light out of the corner of my eye.

My flash is not going off. My heart sinks.

The very last thing I want to be doing, now - now, of all times - is to troubleshoot. I have 90 seconds. This is one of the biggest moments of my career to date. And I feel absolutely sick to my stomach.

I keep it cool. Okay, just a hiccup. Shoot some more. My radio wireless triggers are bound to kick in. They’ll be okay. I press the trigger. No light. I press it again and again and again. No light. They’re not firing.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to take a look at the images and make sure I captured one with no one blinking.”

This is what I tell the group, who are waiting patiently. They have no clue anything is wrong. William and Kate turn to each other as I turn to my camera.

I hit the play button with dread. I know I’m doomed. My nausea is getting stronger.

I look at the last image I took. Black. With no light from the studio lights, the exposure is completely black.

I flip back to the image before. Black again.

Flip, black.

Flip, black.

Flip, black.

I’m dying.

I’m already making excuses in my brain. My brain has turned to mush.

Flip, black.

Flip, black.

Flip, light.

Wait, what?

I see an image appear on my screen. It’s the group. The group in front of me.

On the first frame I took, the studio lights went off! My heart’s pounding. But that doesn’t really mean anything. It may have went off, but what are the chances that ten people will have given me perfect expressions, with no one blinking.

I zoom into the image, quickly and furiously scanning all the faces.

Prince William’s look is perfect. As is Kate’s. Of course theirs are. But what about the others? I look at each and every face, and perfect, all.

I nailed it.

“Thank you all for your time, I have what I needed.”

********

Over the next two days, it was all a fun breeze. Everything went perfect. Exhausting, thousands of frames, but all pretty much perfect; nothing in the next two days compared with that stress of that first 30 seconds, thankfully.

PS - I still don't know what happened with my lights that evening. As soon as they left the room, I tried firing them again. And of course, they fired perfectly.

The Insomniac's Sunrise

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This is not your typical sunrise image but it’s one of the sunrise images I’m most proud of.

First light, Antarctica peninsula earlier this year - probably about four in the morning. Everyone still and sleeping.

I couldn’t sleep and went and sit on a rock on the edge of the water and just sat, alone. And listened to life. Ice cracking, penguins sleeping. Gentle whisper of the wind. The occasional pod of seals would swim by.

Eventually, light made her appearance and kissed me good morning. This is the sunrise that gave me all the feels.

Slices + Abstractions

There’s always work I do that doesn’t fit neatly into a box. It’s work that isn’t quite this…and isn’t quite that. But it’s work I love: scenes I see and moments that deserve my attention. So here’s a small post with some of those images. I’m going to call it Slices + Abstractions. Because that sounds properly pretentious….

The Power of Now

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One of the things that I see most photographers of all levels struggling with has nothing to do with f-stops, mastering lighting, seeing, creating, competition, making a living, or any of the countless other “stress” factors that photographers seem to worry about. Rather, a trend that I notice time and time again—and I’ve admittedly fell victim to this trend myself frequently throughout my career—is the failure to simply recognize that things, in this moment—right now—are actually far better than you give the present moment credit for.

What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example.

Let’s take a fictional photographer—a fictional photographer that many of you may see bits and pieces of yourself in. I see parts of myself in this photographer as well. Let’s call this photographer Apollo.

Apollo wasn’t born a photographer. He was born a person who grew up with diverse interests and friends and a great deal of uncertainty about his place on this planet. At some point he discovered that he enjoyed photography and that made him happy. He liked the feeling of clicking the shutter and seeing his creations appear on the screen. They weren’t all winners—he had far more duds than masterpieces but he didn’t really care. He simply enjoyed the process of using this piece of technology to express a little sliver of his soul in a completed image. Those images brought out an artistic side in him that he never knew he had; he felt like they gave him some degree of purpose and the moments in which he was behind the camera and lens, creating, he felt more peaceful than most other times in his life.

But then something happened. He looked around and saw other photographers doing their own photography thing. These other photographers were creating their own images and sharing their own little slices of their souls. He saw that his images that he was creating didn’t really measure up to theirs: the other photographer’s images were clearly stronger. This made Apollo feel bad and his self-worth went down.

Not one to quit, he used this fact—that others were better than him—to push him to try to better himself. He said to himself “if I spend 20 hours a week on my photography instead of 10 hours a week” I’ll definitely get better and then I’ll be happy. So he did: he shifted around his life and found an extra ten hours a week and pretty quickly, he started seeing the fruits of his labour: his photography skills improved vastly and he got better and better.

A funny thing happened, however. Even as others were recognizing that Apollo’s photographs were getting stronger and stronger, Apollo still wasn’t happy. Sure his photographs were stronger, he thought, but when he looked around and saw that other photographers were getting in magazines and having exhibitions of their work and he wasn’t…well, that made him sad. “If only I could have my work published and have that big exhibition, then I will be happy!”, Apollo mused.

Fast forward a year. Apollo sent out countless portfolios to countless magazines and made meetings with various art venues. It took a lot of doing….a lot of frustration and cursing all the rejection notices that arrived monthly…but Apollo finally got his break. A magazine agreed to publish a small photo essay of his (and even gave him the cover!). The next month one of the most prestigious galleries in his city agreed to a weekend showing of his work: his first major exhibition!

At the exhibition, people sang his accolades. His work looked beautiful hung up and behind glass. At one point on opening night, someone approached him with the magazine that he was just in: they wanted him to sign the cover that he photographed.

Apollo signed the cover, but he was distracted. He was a little upset, truth be told, because he had just heard that his camera manufacturer choose a photographer he knew to be part of their sponsored team. He didn’t have a sponsor, and this made him sad.

A year later, after thousands and thousands more images that he crafted to perfection and through a lot of grim determination, Apollo got sponsored. He wasn’t enjoying creating these images as much any more because he wasn’t getting as many Facebook likes as he once did because social media algorithms kept changing, but he finally got a free lens in the mail, so that was something. His friends in the photography world were so proud of him but still Apollo wasn’t happy: he’d be happy, he thought, if he could just get onto National Geographic’s team. “They’re obviously flawed if they don’t choose me…look at the work I create!”.

********

The point of the above is pretty obvious. We, as humans, tend to live in states of being stuck in the past (“I could have been happy in life but I never had the money to go to photography school, so now I’ll suffer the rest of my life saying ‘what if’”), or looking ahead to the future as the elusive cure to being happy (“I’ll be satisfied when xyz happens”.).

Neither mindset—living buried in the past or placing happiness as a conditional future state objective—is a healthy way to live, generally, or to approach your photography.

Why? Because all you have is NOW.

What is now and why is important to recognize that you have it better than you think you do? Because you do. All we have is now: life is a series of moments that unfold one after another after another after another and if you constantly tell yourself that you’ll never be satisfied with the current moment unless something in the future happens? Well…you’ll never find happiness. You’ll never be satisfied. You’ll never find peace. You’ll never appreciate just how much you’ve accomplished and how talented you really are. How FORTUNATE you are (imagine how many people in the world would love to simply afford to own a camera, let only worry about whether you get 250 likes on an image on Facebook opposed to 10).

If you’re always looking to the “next big thing” as that magical place where happiness and contentment resides, you’ll never find happiness and contentment, because as soon as you hit that place—that goal—you won’t recognize the moment for what it is (beautiful) ad you’ll be looking for the next thing as the magical place where happiness and content resides. It’s “all retch and no vomit” as the great Alan Watts preached.

Truth be told, you’re doing pretty damn well. Right now. In this moment. You truly are. You’ve accomplished, I’m sure, a lot in this life already. No matter where you are on your photographic journey, you’ve made some pretty incredible gains. Maybe you finally understand the exposure triangle. Or maybe you’ve sold your first print. Or maybe you simply enjoy being outdoors and photographing images that make you happy. Lock onto and appreciate that—all of that—because that’s what it’s all about.

Appreciate the power of NOW. That’s not to say don’t have goals, of course. Goals are a great thing: they motivate us and keep us moving forward. But please don’t attach your happiness to a future state: happiness and contentment is here, right now, in this moment. You just have to recognize it.

People often ask me something to the effect of “what is your ultimate dream in photography….cover of National Geographic?”. My answer is pretty much always the same: “to be able to do ten years from now what I do now…and to just enjoy the ride”. And that’s the God-honest truth. I have goals, but I don’t feel a pressing need to do anything in particular with my photography other than enjoy it. To not only not hate it, but to always have the same satisfaction being behind the camera as I did when I first started out. I picked up the camera because I loved creating. I loved knowing that I had an artistic side and that this was my medium. I want to hold onto that feeling. Forever.

End note: for some great reading on this subject, I highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”. I read this book about a decade ago and I can emphatically state this book has changed my life like no other book I’ve ever read.

When Mermaids Rise (AKA: The Power of Silhouettes)

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It’s no secret that I’m a light junkie. My “fix” is to stop whatever I’m doing when I see light that makes me excited and jam it into my soul. I feel the high, the adrenaline, the rush. I let it drip down my veins and bring me clarity—a moment of truth before it disappears and I feel a funk, a weight which brings me down until the next high, which is usually just around the corner.

It’s not quite as melodramatic as that, but I do take my light seriously. When you surround yourself with enablers, it can be a serious combination.

I photograph weddings in addition to the 25 other things I’m passionate about shooting (I missed the memo that said you’re only supposed to be passionate about shooting one thing). And while I understand the advice that’s often given to photographers of “only shoot and display what you love,” I think it’s too often summarized as “only shoot one thing and shoot it well.” You’re in charge of your destiny, dammit. If you love something, do it. If you happen to love 25 things, you may be accused of being scattered, but the main question to ask is, “Are you happy making the photographs that you create?” We all shoot for different reasons and if you’re primmary goal is your own happiness with each click of the shutter, then walk your own path. Ignore other people (including me).
Rant aside, back to my addiction.

This light junkie is happiest when I have enablers, those people around me who appreciate that photography is a pursuit that involves an opportunistic element and when the light’s nice, there’s no point just sitting there looking at it when you can be creating in it.

I photographed Sam and Christine’s wedding in Antigua and this image was made a day or two before the ceremony.

All I had to say in the months before the wedding was, “Just give me a willingness to get wet and slightly uncomfortable, and the opportunity to create” and they were in.

Christine bought a pre-wedding dress that cost just a fraction of her “real deal,” giving us the opportunity to create something special without the worries associated with damaging her real wedding dress before the big day.

This image was photographed towards the end of the day, creating one of my favourite photographic elements: silhouettes. I find that silhouettes can be extremely easy to create after you’ve had a little practice and know the right light conditions that can make for a nice silhouette (more on that to follow).

What, to me, is the power of a silhouette?

To me, the power of silhouettes is that they make for great stories. Because they’re almost always anonymous, they draw the viewer into an image to imagine possibly being in the scene themselves. An image featuring a silhouette is no longer a textbook portrait as it’s not about that specific per son; it’s about the mix of pose, or moment, and light to create a mood. It’s storytelling. If you could see into the shadows of the person, you would lose the anonymous nature of the silhouette. And sometimes you don’t want that; sometimes anonymity is a great thing in photography.

You can shoot a silhouette at mid-day by putting the
sun (or some other bright light source, such as a window if you’re inside) behind your subject, but I find the strongest silhouettes are usually when the sun is really low, or perhaps gone altogether. The 20-30 minutes post-sunset is one of my favourite times for creating silhouettes. The sky is usually still dramatic and colourful, but there’s not enough light present to spill into the foreground where it can bounce around and light the nearside of your subject.

When Mermaids Rise was photographed moments before the sun disappeared completely behind the horizon. I love how the rich, warm light spilled across the ocean surface and shimmered into perfect separating highlights. She’s only standing in ankle-deep water and the waves are gently lapping in and around her, but it gives the impression that she’s walking on water. She started in a more static pose but then we got more creative. She would move one way and if the light didn’t look right and I yelled loud enough, she would move back the other way until it was beautiful and I would yell, “There, that’s it...don’t move a muscle!”

As often happens in these shoots I stumbled upon my favourite element entirely by accident. In this case, it’s Christine holding the sheer part of the dress backwards, which allows it to pick up the rich light and create a moment of magic. I didn’t direct her to do that—initially she was just trying to avoid it from becoming completely bogged down in the waves. But as soon as I noticed the effect it was having, I was in full-on junkie mode.

A few silent whoops of happiness on my end and for the next five minutes I was in heaven.

How Do You Find The Time?

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One of the things I’ve heard most in my career is “how do you find the time to do all the things you’re doing?” - especially before I took the plunge to go full-time and was still juggling a 40-hour per week job and a family and, well, life.

One thing I found, early on, is that you have to take time to nurture your passions or else:
(A) they won’t flourish
(B) you are left feeling dissatisfied

Dissatisfied, that is, because you know you love this thing and you know you want to get better at it. NOT doing it leaves a hole.

“But”, you might say, “I don’t have the time I need to let that passion flourish. That’s my problem. I KNOW I could be a great photographer/guitar player/painter/singer/mountain climber/friend if I only had the time. I just don’t have the time.”

Well, at the risk of sounding like a used car salesman…you DO have time. We all do. We have more time than we think we do. Time is there. We all have the same amount, every single day. 24 hours come, 24 hours go. It’s how you use the time that counts….but I think you already know this, inherently.

I used to make excuses. I used to struggle with time. But then I started looking at how I used my day - my precious time (because it’s one of our most important resources) and I realized just how much time I wasted. There were the not-so-fun time-suckers that I couldn’t avoid, of course (my job, chores, errands) and “great” time commitments (family/friends), but it was the other moments that I looked long and hard at.

For me, I realized how much time I spent watching television and movies. Sitting in front of a TV and - at least a decade ago before the advent of Netflix - and channel surfing. An hour would turn into two which would turn into sometimes four or five hours per night. With this kind of habit, too, comes other bad habits: junk food and inactivity.

About a decade ago, I made a change. TV wasn’t going to rule my life anymore. I was going to make a hard change. “Even, I thought, if I made a small change a cut out an hour of that time and did something productive with it…”

Rather than just that hour, though, I pretty much started turning the TV off. For long stretches. Sometimes days and weeks at a time. It's not uncommon, now, for me to go a straight month without watching TV.

Imagine if you even had an hour, per day, to dedicate to your passion. Let’s say that passion is photography (go figure). An hour, admittedly, is not a lot of time…but it’s a start. Those initial hours, for me, didn’t mean always using the time to go out and actually shoot (more on that later) but I started using those initial hours to dedicate myself to the learning process. Books. Blogs. Researching techniques. Looking at images and being inspired.

I became hooked…addicted, even. I found that this extra time I spent “book” learning (or internet learning) translated to real gains when I had shooting time. I went out more inspired, or with more purpose. I had ideas I wanted to try. My former TV time became inspiration time.

Around the same time, I also started doing some “hard dedications” to shooting time. What that meant, for me, was to make a sound commitment to myself to set aside creative shooting time. To the stage of actually setting this time aside in my calendar weeks and months in advance. Every single month I would ensure - and still ensure - that I have in my calendar AT LEAST TWO blocks of time dedicated for creative shooting. Whether that’s a sunrise down at Canoe Cove or a creative portrait session…I bet you if I went back through my calendar for the past ten years I would find 99% of the months have at least two of these creative times set aside.

Why is it important blocking these off in advance? Well, if I actually leave it to a given weekend…life happens. The morning comes and you lose yourself to the weekend shuffle. Or laziness. Or a wine night. When it’s in my calendar I almost ALWAYS stick to it.

TV probably doesn’t take away as much time for most people as it once did with attentions shifting more to smartphones and Facebook and the internet….but what if, in the evenings, you promised yourself even for one day a week to not pick up your phone for an entire evening and instead do “Passion Time” with those minutes/hours (you know as well as I how much time these things suck)?

I know not every person is the same and we all have different commitments/obligations (family/work/sickness/stress) but I’m willing to be that almost every single person has more time than they give themselves credit for. It’s about shifting how you use that time.

For me, my new obsession is the guitar. I’m loving it. And despite being incredibly busy I am actually finding time to practice. Not as much as I’d like, mind you, but when I’m hanging out with the kids, or wake up and have my morning coffee, I usually pick up the guitar even for 10 or 20 minutes. Not a lot, but enough that almost every day I find this 20 minutes. And I’m seeing progress as a result.

In short (after a long essay, here): find the time. Look at your time-suckers or your non-productive time. We all have it built into our lives. Look at it, long and hard, and make choices. Do you really need 3 hours for Netflix or could you spend only one hour a day watching something and spend those other two hours (or even 20 minutes) for your passions? I bet you could.

Footnote: I still love binge-watching Netflix like most people. But it's in very dedicated blasts. It's time, too, that I hold dear...because, like, Game of Thrones....