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Confessions of a Shutterbug

Photography has been my sidekick since high school. Starting out, I did what a lot of young photography dudes did in the 1960s and ‘70s: worked for the campus newspaper and yearbook, shot folk festivals, music concerts, auto racing — whatever was going on. I didn’t realize that photography was something you could do for a living, but it was fun. I became one of those shutterbug hobbyists that seemed to have a camera permanently slung around their necks.

In my 30s I thought being a writer-photographer sounded interesting so I went back to school to study Journalism. But I got the broad hint that hyphenated titles like writer-photographer were mainly for freelancers. You could either be a staff reporter or a staff photographer but not both, unless you wanted to work for a tiny newspaper, where you might also be asked to deliver the paper and scrub the floors. Things are very different today, but that was the 1980s. I was a better writer so the choice was clear.

Ironically, it was only when I moved back to Lethbridge in 2003 and started picking up freelance work that I finally realized my old dream of being a writer-photographer (in this very magazine). I also found myself at a curious intersection of writing and photography. I became a columnist for a photography magazine, so photography became what I wrote about for more than a decade.

Digital photography was new, so the research I was doing for my columns doubled as my education. I had a leg up on the digital part because I’d had a long career as a tech writer. I had access to the latest cameras and printers and software as they hit the market — and I was getting paid to play with all of it. I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I wrestled the strange beast called digital workflow. And took tens of thousands of photos. In the process I became a much better photographer.

Eventually freelance photography assignments were responsible for about a third of my income. It was a mix. I did architectural photography, news photography, event photography and an unheralded niche called photo illustration. I’ll admit that I’ve done a handful of weddings for friends and family, but it’s probably my least favourite type of photography. Too much pressure to get every shot right the first time. Zero margin for error. It takes a very special kind of photographer to handle a wedding assignment properly, and fortunately, we have some exceptional, award-winning pros in our community.

Now I just shoot for my own pleasure. What is it about photography that’s held my interest over the decades? It’s like a puzzle you can’t put down; but can never fully solve either. Every time you pick up a camera, you’re challenged to find the best technical solution and, at the same time, the best artistic solution. It’s a whole brain workout where the possibilities, obstacles and rewards seem endless.
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