Although photography has long been a hobby of mine it's taken quite a while for it to become a obsession and profession. I feel like my life has been a complicated plot to a book. So many of my passions and decisions had nothing to do with planning to be a professional photographer but these decisions were perfect to lead me to where I am today. By far the biggest part has been falling in love with my wife and combining her talents with mine.
Perfect trajectory for a kid to become a Photographer in Banff and Lake Louise
I've been a photography enthusiast for years. When I was a teenager I had a darkroom in my parents house. Before that, father was dean of Visual and Preforming arts at Red Deer College which gave me access to technology and equipment which very few tweens had at the time. At night Dad would take me to the dark room and we learned to develop film and make prints together.
The other thing I had access to which was very unique in the late 70's was a computer. It was a Pet Commodore. It was fascinating. I remember waking my parents up in the middle of the night asking them how to spell "directory", a key command to make it work. They told me to go to bed but I bugged them enough to get it out of them. Computers were even more frustrating back then but learning on rudimentary systems laid and excellent foundation for understanding how computers work.
When I took my first computer class at Chestermere High (east of Calgary), I was years ahead of the curriculum. I would play games and even edit the games to make a "boss key" or "teacher key" in my case. I went into the game code and created a screen that looked like the material we were working on in class. If I hit a the boss key the screen with fake school work would come up. This worked for a while until the teacher engaged me and tried to get into a menu. I came clean and told her what I did and she just walked away. What could she do.
In my high school years I always had a dark room and kept using the Pentax ME camera. My father had decided to go back to university and I no longer had access to the collage equipment but by then home computers were almost ubiquitous and our family was renting a big house. One of the rooms was perfect for a dark room. I didn't have the same cutting edge equipment but I had what I needed to make prints.
Bad times for photography, great times to be a ski bum.
So I was 18 when my family moved to Ft. McMurray. There is a small ski hill there and in no way did it challenge me but it was a ski hill and I loved to ski. Since the hill wasn't much of a challenge decided to become a volunteer ski patroller to make the experience more interesting. In fact first aid is every bit as much of an Adrenalin rush as ant chute in the Rockies. I got a job at the hill as a liftie and rental technician. The small hill had one paid patroller and the volunteers would do the evenings and weekends. On my second day of work, I was summoned to the patrol hut to help the paid patroller. He had fallen and sliced his face open with the edge of his ski. I got a promotion to paid ski patroller.
Now being 18 and being the only patroller at the hill was one hell of a lot of pressure. The experience and confidence I got from that was outstanding. It gave me the mindset that would lead to me saving 2 lives in accidents and fires I came across. I also discovered that the more immediate pressure I am under the better I perform.
Leaving the fort for an adventure
After winter I got a job at the post office. Everyone told me what a great job I had but I hated it. Delivering mail was fine but being inside sorting mail sucked. I did it for 4 years and then asked for a 2 month leave to do a 3000km canoe trip from Ft. McMurray to Inuvik. They refused which was a blessing.
I quit the miserable job and did the trip anyway. It was a crazy thing to do. I was going into real wilderness at times 100 miles from anyone. I was lost in the biggest freshwater delta in the world and I'd go weeks without seeing a piece of garbage or any sign of humanity. I took lots of pictures but many were lost because of exposing the film and water damage.
Moving to Banff - Great times to ski and fly fish, bad times for photography
When I got back from my epic canoe trip, I did what any responsible person would do. I cashed out my post office pension and moved to Banff. Using the pension money was dumb but moving to Banff was the first really good adult decision I made. It was skiing in the winter and fly fishing in the summer. I paid the bills by driving a taxi. This also really helped me get to know the people and the area. I learned every address and every weird spot anyone would go in the Banff area.
I skied a lot. I fished a lot. I really got to know the Canadian Rockies. I would go off for days by myself exploring new lakes. It wasn't about catching fish, I just wanted to see new places.
Unfortunately my photography didn't progress. It wasn't because of a lack of interest, it was the timing. It was obvious that digital photography was going to be the future but it was expensive and the quality was worse than film. The turn of the millennium was a death and rebirth of photography. It's just in the past few years that digital photography has blossomed and I've been able to get excited about it again. Although some people find the cameras complicated, the basics of photography hasn't changed; the main settings are the same as they were with film.
Who needs Astronomy? A good photographer does.
Driving a taxi at night in Banff National Park was a heck of an experience. After dropping someone in Lake Louise or Jasper I would stop in the darkest places and watch the night sky. This got me interested in Astronomy. Well, seeing it and hearing it. While driving alone I would listen to Astronomy Cast, an amazing podcast that challenged my beliefs and completely changed the way I see the world. I ended up buying the biggest telescope in Banff National Park and I would spend nights alone in the dark basking in the glory of the universe. When I was really deep into it, I could think of any planet point to it any time of the day or night.
I'm not as immersed in Astronomy now and I sold my telescope for photography gear but a lot of what I learned was really helpful for photography. It's second nature and it's almost subconscious how it helps me plan where to shoot but I can give a good example from my taxi driving days.
A couple from India got in my taxi and wanted to shoot the sunset at Vermilion Lakes. I told them that I didn't think they would get a good sunset picture there because a mountain would block out the sun. They insisted that they wanted to photograph the sunset at Vermilion Lakes and I took them there. It was as I had predicted. The sun was way behind Mount Norquay and it was pretty but not much of a sunset.
The guy said, "I don't get it, I have this picture here of the sun setting over Vermilion lakes."
"Are you sure it isn't sunrise?" I asked.
"I'm pretty sure."
"Was it taken in winter?" I asked, "In the winter the sun sets to the Southwest and would be over the lake."
He showed me the picture on his phone and it was taken in the dead of winter. I could understand how that wouldn't be considered by someone in the tropics; The sun shifts a bit but pretty much always sets directly west down there.
I hadn't thought about the sun and how it relates to photography at Vermilion lakes before that day. It was my intimate knowledge of Astronomy and the local area which allowed me to quickly imagine the position of Earth, Mount Norquay and the sun.
This kind of thinking comes into play so often when it comes to photography. Other than right around the summer and winter solstices, the sun and moon's angle changes every day. To complicate things the changes each day are greatest during the equinoxes and very, very slight during the solstices.
Being a pilot helps my photography too
More specifically being a glider pilot helps. I could go on about how being up above the Rockies helps me find my centre and how all of my worries are left down on earth. It's true, that it's a big psychological help.
The practical way it helps is my deep understanding of weather and the micro climates of the mountains. Keeping a glider in the sky all day is hard. You have to read the clouds to understand where the air is rising and sinking. You also have to know if the weather is going to overdevelop and create dangerous conditions. This helps my photography in that by reading the sky I can predict what the conditions will be like in different shooting locations.
The weather is very dynamic in the mountains and if you hire someone from the parries to come out to the mountains there's a chance you'll get lucky and the weather will randomly be good at the time and place chosen to shoot. Hey you can't control the weather and you can only go so far to get around it but my local knowledge and my understanding of weather will greatly improve the chances.
The perfect partner; My weaknesses are Marcela's strengths
My wife, Marcela and I are very different people. My time with Marcela has been the best time of my life. I love her so much and it feels like everything has fallen into place.
When we discussed starting a photography business, I wasn't keen on sitting in front of the computer, endlessly editing. She said that she loves editing photos and that could count on her to do it. I was sold. I knew I could get good pictures and she could make them look amazing. At the time I didn't realized how much she would help during a shoot.
Taking great pictures is a massive undertaking. Sure you can get some lucky shots everyone has taken a picture with their phone they are proud of. Consistently getting great shots requires such a mix of art and logical thinking that I don't know how so many photographers do it solo.
I like to say Marcela is the director and she is in charge of the shoot but we really are a team that knows each other intimately. We can bark commands at each other and even sometimes physically push each other to where we think the other should be. While she looks at the larger scene and tells me where to go, I see through the camera and I will tell her where to position the remote flash and lights.
When we are shooting we are greater than the sum of our parts. Marcela has an artistic sensibility that is far beyond anything I could do alone. I've really come to appreciate all the time she has spent on studying fashion, hair styling and art. On the other hand while she can take good pictures, she appreciates how I know every feature of the camera and how I can turn her ideas into high quality images. She leaves it to me to operate the camera.
In the end what really puts us ahead is our drive to be the best. When we see a photo done by someone else that we think is good it drives us to be sure we are better. It would be nice to celebrate photography by other people and we do if it's street shots or another genre we don't do but more often it makes us work hard. Marcela will obsessively study how to get the same effects and she will make sure she can do it better. She has become a photo processing genius and I am so lucky to have her for this.
Everything coalesces to be an expert Banff photographer.
Although photography has long been a hobby of mine, it's taken quite a while for it to become a obsession and profession. I feel like my life has been a complicated plot to a stopry. So many of my passions and decisions had nothing to do with planning to be a professional photographer but these decisions were perfect to lead me to where I am today. By far the biggest part has been falling in love with my wife and combining her talents with mine.
Understanding love and being in love is that final element that makes our wedding photography shine. After all weddings are all about love.