Being a lifestyle photographer is harder than it looks. Not only are you trying to get the right textures and colours consistently in your pictures, but you’re also trying to catch every moment as they come unpredictably, and tell those stories as best you can within the frame of your camera – while still enjoying the experience. Though it might look like no work and all play, the reality of lifestyle photography is more challenging behind the lens than one would think. You will get tired and distracted. You will miss things, and among many other issues, your plans will often fall apart. You will have early morning starts that bear no fruit as the sunrise is nothing more than a dumpy grey blue, and the immediate scenery offers nothing interesting. Hiking lifestyle photography is a series of ups and downs where a number of things can go wrong, but hopefully you’ll catch a few winners along the way.
On my latest trip, my friend Louise and I stopped at Qualicum falls on our way to Tofino. Before we started our hike, I opted not to haul my tripod around. This meant that I was going to have to compensate by shooting with a bigger aperture and reducing my depth of field, which posed a problem shooting under the canopy of trees where the light was significantly darker. A lot of photographers will mull over their shots in the moment trying to figure out how they could have improved them. But if you’re like me, the solutions don’t always come until you’re munching on Cheesios and pounding coffee after coffee in the car, several dozens of kilometers down the road from your hike.
Sometimes you’ll get a rise and a new sense of encouragement when you come to realise new ways to take your photos. Other times, you’ll see all those plans be swallowed whole by the sea. When we finally got to Long Beach, Louise and I really started to get into the feel of the ocean and the wind, but it came quickly to an end when the unusually high winter tides caught me from behind and filled my boots with frosty November seawater.
Timing is everything, and sometimes you get it totally wrong. Tofino is north of the 49th parallel, which is pretty far north. When we took one last stop to watch the waves crashing on the rocks, it didn’t occur to us how early the sunset would be. Before we had a chance to see the town in daylight, the sun had already set at 4:30pm and squandered our plans to shoot the town that afternoon.
One lesson I learned from this trip is that you have to take into consideration the reality of the conditions of the area. Louise and I spent the rest of the night planning our nest day in fine detail as if our previous shooting had gone exactly as planned. But lo and behold, when we woke the next morning, the rains were so heavy and the sky was so dark that there was little for us to do.
We made the most of what we could in this sleepy surfing town when the rain broke for about 45 minutes. Walking around the marina gave us a glimpse of the rustic thriving fishing industry. And the appearance of a refurbished Winnebago revealed the new-age hippie vagabond counterculture that defines this town. Surf shops, swag shops, and coffee houses give this town its structure, and the pervasive craftworks fill in its details. Seeing all this as we walked down its streets almost made me regret not focusing on the artisan culture than of the storms.
But no matter how much time we tried to outwait the storm, it always seemed to come back. I was able to get one winner of a portrait on a beach, and another of the sun breaking through sky beyond some rocks in Ucluelet, but inevitably the rain always returned. Unfortunately, this ended our trip sooner that we’d hoped. And as we drove home along the Pacific Rim Highway, up and down steep hills with their sharp corners in the dark hum of the rain, a few thoughts became clear. Lifestyle photography is hard. It won’t come easily. The moments are fleeting, few, and far between. Some trips are more likely to produce winners than others. But if you think of photography as a game, you have to accept that you simply can’t win them all.
– Ben, indieroad blogger.