In Search of Community

I’ve been thinking lately about community, and projects.

So much of this blog and other assignments for this course have been focused on photography, and looking at how to get myself back on track in the business of being a photographer. Mostly what I’ve been thinking about has been how to build back some of the momentum that I had previously before I moved away from Toronto, how to go about getting my name out into the world. It was in thinking about the Future Trends Discussion assignment that it kind of clicked for me.

In that assignment I mentioned how I thought that for brands to succeed on social media with younger audiences, they were actually going to have to start to think smaller and more focused, less like advertisers and more like members of a community. And I realized that the same goes for me: I need to find a way to connect with my current community. I need to find something perhaps a bit more meaningful to throw myself into. I need a project.

In 2014 I was still living in Toronto, and dating this woman who was a social worker. She worked for an organization that assisted newcomers and immigrant families in getting themselves settled in the city. Every year they held a festival in the park next to their centre that offered free food, games and entertainment, and much to my amusement and horror, she volunteered me to operate a photo booth that year. It was an incredibly hard and exhausting day — over the course of 3.5 hours, i shot 270 images of approximately 200 individual groups. It was also an incredibly fun day. I really found my groove interacting with the crowds, wrangling the children, telling jokes to keep everybody smiling. And despite the chaos of the day, I think I managed to grab some really great images. And I think it really added to my portfolio to be able to show great images, taken for a great cause, of such a diverse group of people.

Which is why, in 2015, I let her volunteer me to do it all again.

Selections from the 2014 Grange Festival Photobooth.
This is the layout I used to write about it on my Facebook page.
Selections from the 2015 Grange Festival Photobooth.

By 2016, however, we had moved away to Ottawa, and I lost the connection with that group and project. I don’t know all that many people in this city, and I don’t have any particular connection to a given community right now, so I’ve been at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed. I’ve been looking at other examples of these kind of projects for inspiration, events like Help-Portrait, or the 10×10 Project.

It also doesn’t help that portrait photography is a bit of a close contact endeavour generally, and in our new pandemic-riddled reality that is going to make things rather difficult. But I will keep looking.

I’d love to hear where you find your community, and what ways have you found to give back to them. Let me know down in the comments.

FACEBOOK: How do you contribute to your community, when you are not entirely sure who your community even is.

TWITTER: Help! Photographer in search of a community in search of a photographer.

The Career Path I Never Travelled By

Back in 2009 I was starting to zero in on the kind of images I really liked to make: portraits and fashion photography using off-camera lighting. I had been experimenting with off camera lighting for a little while, having purchased my first flash the year before. In the latter half of the year, I even flew down to Atlanta, Georgia, for a photography and lighting workshop with Zack Arias, a photographer I had been following for a while. And that’s where I met Glyn Dewis.

Glyn is a man who knows how to hustle. When I met him he was just starting into photography same as me, but whereas I was just dipping my toes in and trying to see what’s what, Glyn already had a pretty strong vision for what he wanted to do with it. He was there not only to do the workshop as a photographer learning about lighting, but also to take notes and gather ideas for doing his own workshops. I remember at the time thinking that that seemed maybe a little overly ambitious for someone who was really only just getting in to photography. I think in my mind, the kinds of people who gave workshops were photographers who had been in the business for years and years. It just seemed so out of reach.

I wished him luck, though, friended him on Facebook and then headed back to Toronto. Things I had learned at the workshop definitely improved my lighting game, and it began to show in the images I was producing. But while my work was getting better, and as much as I enjoyed being a photographer, and would have loved to make it a more full time endeavour, I didn’t really know how to do that. Or maybe I just didn’t have the hustle.

Meanwhile, I started seeing more and more updates from Glyn in my Facebook feed. He already had an incredibly distinct voice as a portrait artist, and was cranking out great work. If I had been paying better attention, I really could have learned plenty from Glyn about utilizing social media to build up a career. He started blogging about his shoots, and has always been incredibly generous about giving behind-the-scenes insights into how he was achieves a specific look or effect.

In the years since I first started following Glyn, I have watched him grow his brand again and again. He went from doing his own workshops in his hometown of Oxford, England, to speaking and giving workshops at photography conferences around the world. His work has been featured on a number of magazine covers, and he has even published several best-selling books. He hosts a regular podcast, posts on his various channels multiple times a day, has been lauded for a recent photo project he launched photographing the UK’s remaining World War II veterans, has sponsorship deals with a number of photography-related companies…


My career in photography never did come about, but that’s because I have just never really known how to promote myself like that — I don’t have that kind of hustle. Glyn does, and it has been utterly fascinating to watch, and to very occasionally wonder: what if I did?

Check him out.

Who’s hustle game do you really admire, or feel inspired by, even if you know you might not be able to achieve it yourself?

Facebook: Learning to admire the ones who can start off with the same toolset, and just leave you in the dust.

Twitter: This week: admiring the ones who make it work, even when you can’t.

Moving at the Speed of Social Media

There was a time when it seemed like I had enough time to try all the things social media had to offer.  Every week there was a new app to check out, a new site to join my friends on, a new experience to be had. I jumped on to Livejournal, Friendster, MySpace, VSCO, Tumblr, Snapchat, Google+, 500px, Behance, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and on and on. I designed sites and blogged with WordPress, and then took the time to teach myself Drupal, just to see if it was any better.

However, life got a bit busier, days got a little fuller, and finding time away from all my various screens became a little more precious, and gradually my interest in blog-tweet-posting all of my thoughts about the latest thingamabob faded away. The last Facebook post I made was about the birth of my son a year ago. The last tweet I sent out was on July 13, 2016. I haven’t been active on Model Mayhem since around 2012, and Flickr, once a site that I gave hours of my day to, hasn’t heard from me since July of 2010.

I moved from Toronto to Ottawa in 2016, started a family, took a job that I wasn’t all that interested in in order to help support them. Flicking around on social media became a lot less imperative, especially since most of my contacts were no longer in the same city as me and I wasn’t using it as a way to arrange meet ups any more. That part doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it might. What I am realizing now, however, is just how much momentum I have lost in my professional life by letting all of these things slip away over the past handful of years.

I worked pretty consistently to build up a reputation as a photographer from 2010 through 2016. I went from practicing on myself and my dog, to photographing friends, to actually getting paid work. If I had kept pushing along that path, I think I might actually have been able to make photography my full time gig. But the combination of moving to a new area where I had no connections and didn’t know the landscape, along with my waning interest in promoting myself online, fully derailed any chances of that.


A little over a month ago I made the decision to finally leave the job I wasn’t interested in, to stay at home and care for my son for the next handful of months, and to take some classes to help rejuvenate my resume. And then, when I am ready, to put myself back in to the market as a photographer and graphic designer, to get back in to the work that I did, and loved, before moving here.

Needless to say, the landscape has changed quite a bit since I dropped out of the social media day-to-day. A number of the sites that I used to rely on for exposure have lost a great amount of significance, or closed up shop all together. A lot of the ways that I knew how to push my work out in to the world, don’t really work any more. So I am left with the task of starting somewhat from scratch — I now live in a city where I don’t have access to the vast number of personal and professional contacts that I once did, and getting back online to get my name out there and my work seen is all the more crucial. 

Social media didn’t stop when I did, it kept rolling on, evolving and changing. Many of the sites I knew have dropped away, new sites have cropped up. The landscape is vaguely familiar, but at the same time, quite different. And if I really want to get myself and my career back on track then I guess I’m going to have to learn to evolve and change right along with it.

Facebook: What happens when life gets in the way and you really can’t move at the speed of social media any longer?

Twitter: How do you get back on track after dropping out of the social media rat-race?

How Social Media Helped Make Me a Photographer

I dabbled in photography twice in the 90s — first for a course at university, and second as part of the graphic design program at Seneca College. Both times were using film cameras, and while I really did enjoy the process of taking pictures, I really didn’t know what to do with them once I had them. Once you factored in the constant costs of processing and printing film, it became kind of hard to justify if they were all just going to sit in a box on a shelf in my office, never to be seen again. So, each time, my excitement for the medium faded and the camera was put away again.

I bought my first digital camera in 2004. I was art directing a new independent magazine with a couple of friends, and needed an easy way to get images for some of the articles without having to hit up all of my photographer friends for too many freebies. I tinkered with this new toy off and on over the next year, enamoured but again not entirely sure what to do with it. And then, I discovered Flickr

Flickr first launched in February of 2004, but I didn’t join until early the next year. Flickr began its life more as a image storage site, which was handy enough, but it was the more social features of the site that really helped me bloom as a photographer. First was the ability of other Flickr users to comment on your photos, which made it easy to get feedback. Next was the ability to “follow” other photographers, and to maintain a curated stream of their images, all the better to keep an eye on people whose style I appreciated, or wanted to emulate, so I could learn what I could from them. Considering that by 2013 Flickr had 87 million registered users who were uploading over 3.5 million new photos every day, that was an absurdly large pool of inspiration to draw from.

But one of the greatest features of the site, in my opinion, was Groups. It seemed like there were groups for almost every conceivable photography niche — Night Photography, Night Photography in Spain, Night Photography of Ducks in Madrid Taken on a Tuesday — and if there wasn’t a group for it already, you could make one. You could join a group, upload images to the Group Photo Pool, engage other members in the group Discussions. For a photography nerd such as myself who didn’t know many other photography nerds in real life, it was heaven. And being a member of various groups pushed me to take more photos, and to experiment in a lot of ways that I might not have just on my own.

Some early experiments, trying to find my voice. Photos by me.

The next big step in my journey as a photographer was beginning to use off-camera lighting. In my estimation, the images of people that I took in my early days were okay, with the occasional gem. Unfortunately, those gems were a often hard to come by, and it seemed like they were very dependent on specific circumstances that I wasn’t always able to control. In portrait photography, I was a really big fan of Annie Leibowitz and Mark Seliger, and what specifically drew me to their images was the control that they had over everything. It was that control that I was in search of.

Which led me to The Strobist. The Strobist is the blog of newspaper photographer David Hobby. David uses his blog to teach about lighting, and how to achieve fantastic-looking images without spending a whole lot of money. When I first came across his early posts about lighting, and how to put together a setup on the cheap, I knew that this was definitely the place for me. So I began to experiment on the most available subject I could find — myself!

Photos of me, by me. Primarily for me.

After a long while of practicing on myself, my dog and a handful of my friends, I felt I had fine-tuned my technique at least enough to move up to subjects that had a bit more polish. This is about the time that I discovered the final piece of my puzzle — Model Mayhem. Model Mayhem is a portfolio website for photographers, models, makeup artists, hair stylists, etc. Accompanying the portfolios is an incredibly robust search function that allows the user to narrow focus down to fairly specific criteria. There is also a Casting Calls section, an area for users to post call outs to the rest of the site for whatever it is they are looking for: photographers looking for models, models looking for hair and make-up stylists. Once I had set up my account and filled out my portfolio, I started browsing the Casting Calls and managed to meet up with a few pretty spectacular models who were game to experiment. Being able to get together with other creative people, and to work together to bring a combined vision to my photographs — not to mention the practice of doing all of this with the added pressure of an audience — was really quite instrumental in allowing me to hone my craft.

Feeling much more comfortable with my camera, with lighting, and with strangers. Photos by me.

I have a bit of a mixed relationship with social media. I have been a Twitterer since 2008, yet have only mustered a measly 18 tweets in total, the last one being in July of 2016. I have been on Facebook since 2007, and while I have in general been much more prolific there, I still have not updated since the birth of my son a year ago. But, while I may be a little blasé about social media’s place in my social life currently, I absolutely do credit it for guiding me in my passion, and I honestly don’t imagine I would be half the photographer I am today without those three stepping stones to guide me.

Feel free to comment below and let me know what sites have helped to guide you to your passion.


The three websites that made me a photographer (no guarantees that they will do the same for you, though): [ link]

The three websites that made me a photographer (no guarantees that they will do the same for you, though): [ link]