I love being a photographer, I am happy when I'm shooting, I love looking at photographs, thinking about them, learning about photographers, the whole shebang. However, like probably a lot of people who engage in creative work, it's easy to get into a rut. It can be hard to get inspired, or push yourself further, to do better. To be completely honest, sometimes it can be hard to feel like your work has any purpose and you're left with a lot of existential feelings about your life (that might just be me). I heard a photographer say on a recent podcast, that photography is essentially meaningless, so just enjoy it for what it is, which is my aim here. Now, this is not to say photographs aren't important - I've seen photographs bring a lot of joy and happiness to my clients and they'll have and enjoy them for years to come. What it is meant to say that is that ultimately a photograph is not inherently meaningful (photographs aren't not saving lives or fixing climate change) and you're not breaking ground simply by clicking a shutter. So don't make too big a deal out of being in a rut - just go out there and do it.
To challenge to myself, I thought it would be fun and good for me as a photographer to start posting my favourite photographs from each month. These will range from personal photographs, photographs from weddings, family shoots, even cell phone images, if they really speak to me (there are actually a lot of photographers doing really great work on mobile phones, here's one example). I will also talk about why I like the photograph and that will also range as well - they might be personally meaningful or something that I feel proud of compositionally or technically.
THE ONE RULE:
Let me know what you think - always happy to hear feedback if you've got it.
I feel like this image is classic Liz. A picture I didn't quite mean to take, but one that when I saw while editing, I thought that same thing I often think, "oh, there's something there." She was shaking her hair out to put it back up, and like a lot of images, it looks like more than it maybe is. But for me, that's what I think is so cool about photography - finding something magical in mundane actions or movements.
Posed images are never my go-to favourite images. Lots of clients love them, of course, because they're nice to have. I have many of my own family - but I never gravitate toward them while editing. This image of these two sisters, though, there's something about how the younger sister is resting her head on the older sister's shoulder, it just seems so comfortable and natural. I loved it as soon as I saw it.
This one has absolutely no artsy stuff for me to talk about, really. It's just my dad blowing out the candles on his birthday this year.
I photographed a wedding in June that offered a challenge while photographing the bride and her bridesmaids getting ready - the space was fairly cramped, all the rooms emptied out onto one small square of floor outside the bathroom at the top of the stairs, and it was relatively dark. Shooting really close, but also really wide, is something Viara and I do a lot at weddings, because there's so much going on at times. You can read a bit more about that on the Our Style page at Quirky Love. I love the layers you can achieve with a wide angle and I liked here how it captured three people, all in various positions, but with one face in good focus as a grounding point for the image.
What can I say? The food was really good at this wedding and we all ate A LOT. I also love a good visual joke. Sleeping lady and parent chasing running kid? I will always take that picture.
Viara and I are (at least we like to think) sort of known for the attention we give to wedding parties. I don't mean the bridal party, I mean the drunken, lively dancing after the dinner. We stay WAY later than the average photographer and we enjoy the energy and surrealism of the images we achieve. In the above image, I really like the symmetry that's happening with these two faces lined up in profile with similar expressions. Also, the initial puzzle of the image: I know they're dancing. But perhaps if you didn't have any context, you might not know they were dancing and it might just be a picture that takes you a few seconds to figure out. I love a mystery in a picture :)
My far-more-adventurous-than-I-friend Caitlin suggested a few months ago that we go on a trip. In my twenties I traveled quite a bit, with time spent in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. But I hadn't been on an airplane in 6 years before this month. I am not one of those jet set destination photographers. And I'm just fine with that. I love photographing the people around me and clients who are a drive away.
Unbeknownst to me, Las Vegas offers cheap flights and good deals on hotels to draw people in for gambling. A reason companies have conferences there - they can save money and their attendees can see the sights in their off times. We got one of those cheap flights and then promptly left Las Vegas for a road trip into the California desert. So, my first time stepping foot in famous Cali, I saw not a spec of the Pacific. Also just fine by me. The desert is a magical place.
Caitlin really planned our road trip, driving first through Death Valley, which terrified me, then fascinated me. You lose all radio stations, cell phone coverage, and sense of time and space as you drive down into the Valley. Your ears pop constantly and when you leave your car, the silence is overwhelming. No birds, no other cars, no people, nothing. It looks like the surface of Mars. Or at least, what I've come to think the surface of Mars looks like.
We stayed in Airbnb trailers with outside fires and saw wild donkeys called burros that wander around everywhere. We met a coyote who seemed calm and expected food from us, which depressed me (don't feed wild animals!). We experienced the 42C heat at noon in Palm Springs, while browsing a vintage market in a parking lot. After spending lunch time in a parking lot in the aforementioned heat, we then found the Palm Springs public pool, which saved us (or at least, definitely me).
I scratched my knees on cacti in Joshua Tree, Caitlin took a motorcycle ride with some French tourists in a cactus garden, and we heard stories about something called a vinegaroon from our host in 29 Palms, CA. We accidentally came upon part of Route 66, whose signs have all been painted on the road, due to what I learned is to prevent the inevitable theft of the free standing kind. We relaxed in the tiny town of Nipton, CA, pop. 40, for an evening, which consisted of a store, a restaurant, an RV park, and the Airbnb cabins where we stayed. We attempted to swim in part of Lake Mead, AZ, but it was too cold (yes, it was), and saw a herd of big horned sheep mingle with the kayakers. On our last night we walked the weirdo strip in Las Vegas (both of them - I didn't realize there were two) and in the morning ate for the third time at a really good vegan restaurant before heading back to the airport.
A whirlwind five days!
After having been interviewed for the CFRC radio show Depth of Field by Rachael Hunter-Brown (the show's Facebook page is here and the full interview can be found here), I got to thinking about faces. I realized in the interview I spoke a lot about "seeing something there" when editing family shoots and portrait shoots. Well, what exactly is that something?
Often a look or an exchange between two people makes or breaks an image. And often those looks, whether it's a serious gaze leveled straight into the camera lens or a micro-interaction between family members, are what I'm looking for while I'm editing. As I've said before, the technical and compositional elements of a photograph come into play while editing. The image has to be exposed properly and visually appealing. However, if I feel a person's face is interesting or powerful, that will supersede most other elements. I'll always include strong expressions in my final edit because I believe those images will end up being the most important to the client. They are to me, that much I know.
The type of expression on a person's face can be contentious. As a photographer who works a lot with families, there can be the expectation that all images should be of a family smiling and staring into the camera. For me, those aren't the most interesting images and you can read about the way I photograph families here - we don't do more than a few minutes of group pictures, then we get on to the good stuff. This means that not all the images that I deliver to a client will be images of smiling faces. Because a smile does not always make for an interesting image. Sometimes it can, but not always. I certainly deliver grumpy faces, confused faces, bemused faces, all the faces - and that's because it's more interesting and it's more diverse. It's fun to remember those moments and it's what happened. Honesty is key for me.
I look for facial expressions and moments of emotion that are arresting - that literally make me stop in my tracks while editing. Above everything, I'm looking for real emotion, whether it's a comical face, an expression of love between family members, or a look that says something that's hard to define, but makes me feel something. My ultimate goal is to make others feel those same feelings when they look at the image. If they do, then I think I did my job. After all, visual mediums are all about sharing and communicating.
The work below is a collection of images that I feel highlight the importance of expression in photographs. Not all smiling, not all perfect, but photos that evoke emotion.
My super reliable and photogenic model-friend Gytha made time in her busy travel schedule to stop by my house for an hour this week. Canadian-born, Icelandic by citizenship, currently Kent, England for university. She truly is one of those "citizens of the world" I keep hearing about. It seems like she's absorbing and loving everything life has to offer a 22 year old living abroad. And doing it with the self-assured maturity of a seasoned mid-lifer.
She's up for anything, even when that anything is "I'm not sure what we'll shoot, probably just experiment." We chat and she tells me about her busy and exciting life.
So, double exposures. Nothing new. Defo been done before. I had an instructor at university who, when presented student images for critique, would say "Well, it's been done before, but it hasn't been done by YOU before. So keep going."
Sometimes double exposures are a happy accident (but only if you're shooting film. The images below are digital, which means I meant to do it) and other times they're a cliché. These aren't accidents and I can't tell yet if they're cliché, but it was fun, and I liked making them. Really, that's all that matters to me these days. Doing something I like and making something that brings me a bit of joy. It doesn't have to have a lot of meaning, I just have to like doing it.
I hope you're doing things that bring you joy, too.
This wedding landed in my lap. Or maybe Quirky Love landed in theirs. I'm not sure, the only thing I know is that I drove home to Kingston that evening thinking I'd been a part of something out of the ordinary.
Cristal and Nathan married at Sandbanks Provincial Park, well after the park had closed for the season, when the colours of leaves had already well changed. Cristal and her family have a close connection to the park, and the whole event took place at Maple Rest Heritage House. Their daughter walked down the aisle with Cristal, with Cristal's mother and niece in tow. After the ceremony, the guests and wedding party walked the dunes together, enjoying one of the last warm days of our summer-like fall.
Cristal's sister took great care in creating a beautiful and intimate dinner setting, complete with candles and lace. There was a bonfire, marshmallows, and even pre-cut sticks for your roasting pleasure. The atmosphere was as warm and as welcoming as I have ever seen.
Cristal, Nathan, and their family members and friends were so friendly and chatty, I had to remind myself that I wasn't actually related to anyone there. "What a wonderful start to married life," I kept thinking. Of course, Cristal and Nathan already had a life together, but this symbolic day represented another jumping-off point, one that represented the co-mingling of two families and groups of friends. A true celebration.
Congratulations, Cristal and Nathan: To Wonderful Starts!
So you've seen my wedding work, you've seen my family work, and you've seen my creative portraits, but what you may not know is that I also shoot professional portraits and head shots. If you're looking for a Linkedin portrait, a new image for your website, business, or you just want a nice professional picture of yourself, I'm the lady for you.
On location in natural light is my speciality, and I'll bring my camera and the reflectors and diffusers I need to shape the light, you bring a your smiling face and a go-get 'em attitude. Click on the images to visit the websites of those featured below. Kingston's got some talent!
Headshots and professional portraits: $200 - 30 minutes, natural light, location of choice, approximately 30 images
(Kingston only, travel fees may apply outside of Kingston)
I can count on one hand (and have fingers left over) how many photography contests I've entered. I'm not entirely sure why I haven't been motivated to submit to more. Perhaps it's fear, or stubbornness, I'm not sure, but it just hasn't been my thing.
Recently, my friend and co-photographer at Quirky Love, Viara said that she was entering a family documentary photography competition and that I should enter it as well. I thought, 'why not?' I'm a family photographer and I certainly lean heavily towards documentary in terms of style and method.
So, I gathered up ten images that I felt (and still do feel) proud of and that were representative of my work and submitted to the contest. You can see them below. If you follow me here or on social media, these images will be familiar to you.
I didn't win anything, nor did any of my pictures get culled into the final 100 in any category during the live judging. One of Viara's amazing images was selected for an Honourable Mention. That's a big deal. There were 6,500 images entered from all around the world! I super pleased for her and I am sure it won't be long before she's winning all the top awards.
This whole thing just got me to thinking about contests, why I hadn't entered many of them and what not winning is like. Here's what I've realized: not winning any prizes in a photography competition is not as bad as maybe I thought it was going to be. And the benefits of entering a contest are huge: you study your work hard, with a critical eye, giving consideration to why you think it's a strong image and it can push you to continue to produce the best possible work. I love the images that I submitted. The families mean something to me, the images are special to me, and they speak to me in a very personal way. No contest will change that.
I'm going to continue to enter photography contests that I think are worth it (like the one I speak about in this post) - ones that prioritize photography as an art and award those who use composition, technique and creativity in their photography. I'll enter these contests not because I think I'll win (although, of course winning is awesome!) but because I think it'll keep my on my toes and help me become a better photographer and a more expansive and expressive artist.
If you want to be a photographer, you've got to get good at a variety of technical things - understanding light, knowing how to use your equipment, and having knowledge of the principles of photography, things like aperture and shutter speed. However, there are other less tangible things you've got to master, at least that's what I believe, to make good pictures of people.
You have to know how to make people feel relaxed.
Here's what I've learned so far: most regular people, most of my clients, and me included, are not naturally comfortable having their photograph taken. In fact, I've found that some people aren't just a bit awkward - they actively dislike being photographed. Now, obviously if someone has booked me or any other photographer, they're trying to get some nice images of themselves and their family and friends. BUT they might still be nervous, and in my experience, that's generally the case for almost all clients.
As a photographer, People have to feel at ease with you. The best environment for photos is a relaxed, non-judgmental space that is familiar to the client. And as a your photographer, it's my job to make you feel like this whole photo shoot business is a piece of cake. Because it is.
Here's how I do it. I talk a lot. I have a conversation with people, because that's what people do when they get together, they shoot the breeze. So, our session will feel like we got to know each other, had a laugh, and then it will be over before you realized it had begun. Now, don't think this is me not working hard, or not doing my job as a photographer: that's definitely not the case. I'm talking with you, I'm chatting with your kids if there are kids around, and I'm concentrating on the technical and compositional details required to make excellent photographs.
Making my clients comfortable during a shoot is just as important as the resulting photographs. In fact, comfort is required for good pictures, period.
And at one of my shoots, I guarantee you'll have both!
Each person is different and therefore every portrait is different. Making a good connection with a person you photograph is THE most important part about photography, at least I think. And practice makes perfect.
Last year, and I don't remember at what point, I offered someone a 30 minute shoot in town. They didn't want a lot of images and they were interested in a sort of quick and dirty but fruitful photo shoot for their family. Almost as a joke I decided to call it a 30 in 30 because I gave them 30 images.
A year later, it's now one of my favourite things to do! These shoots are so fun, so quick, and result in dynamic, beautiful images. Honestly, I could do these forever and be thrilled about it. Below is a selection from recent shoots. Hit me up for a booking - the days are longer and the rain has stopped!
Here's what people are saying (you can also check out my Facebook reviews for more):
"Whatever you paid that person, it was worth every penny!" - Friend of client upon viewing gallery
"Liz - I keep obsessively reviewing these photos! I find new faves almost every time!" - Karen
"The photos she took really captured who we are as a family and her eye for the candid is stunning" - Amy
As I've said in a previous blog post, if you're looking for family photos where everyone is looking at the camera and wearing matching shirts - this is not going to be the shoot for you. But that's okay! There are a lot of other great photographers out there for you!
Check out the main 30 in 30 page for more information!
Places I've been, people I've seen.