My journey through school

March 13, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up was difficult for me.  I'd wanted to be everything from a hairdresser to a restauranteur.  When the time came that I really had to decide, I couldn't make up my mind so I decided to go to college and get a Business Administration diploma.  I figured it was very versatile, so it would buy me some more time before I needed to really figure out what the adult version of me would do every day.  I started off majoring in accounting, until I realized that I hated accounting (which will seem funny to those that know how much I love numbers).  It wasn't until one night filled with a bit too much alcohol and bratwurst that I finally knew what I was supposed to be.

I remember being at Oktoberfest at the Convention Centre during my second year, talking to someone I knew from a committee I was on at college.  He was telling me about the program he was in - photography.  I don't know how I hadn't realized there was a photography program, or that being a photographer was a career path, but it hadn't even occurred to me until then that I could have done that.  Twelve years later and I could probably show you the exact spot I was standing in during that conversation.  It was a moment filled with hope and devastation - I finally knew what I wanted to be, but I wasn't anywhere near doing it.  The next time I went home for a weekend I told my mom about what I had found out. We figured that I was far enough into my current program that I would not be able to quit now, but if it was something that I really wanted, I could always go back to school later.

Fast forward twelve years and I had done everything from managing a restaurant to payroll.  The job I was at was ending, and I had to decide what I was going to do next.  I figured I should make some lemonade out of the lemons I'd just been handed, and decided it was time to finally do what I'd always wanted to do (but had been too afraid to try) - be a photographer.

Since I knew that I learn better when I can do things hands on, I figured I needed to go to school rather than try to learn from the internet.  I'd heard of Prairieview from a couple of sources - the classes offered through the WAG as well as a friend whose daughter had graduated from the diploma program a few years ago.  I was still paralyzed by fear and it took a couple of weeks to finally send my application in.  I had every excuse in the book "I need to wait until I have more money," " I need to wait until I have my new camera," "I need to wait until I've learned how to use my new camera," "I need to wait until I've taken better pictures with my new camera" and so on. I'm pretty sure I was holding my breath the whole time that I was filling the application out and most definitely while I sent it.  Luckily I didn't have to wait long because I had an email back within 10 minutes saying that they would like to set up an interview.  Now I actually had to do this.

Looking back at the pictures that I brought to my interview, I can't help but wonder how Ross let me in - I'm going to have to guess it was based solely on my dazzling wit and sparkling personality.    Nothing was white balanced, the only design element I knew anything about was the rule of thirds, and I had no clue how to use the camera.  I honestly would sometimes spin the dial and try taking a picture to see what it looked like, and if it was bad, I'd spin to another mode and try there.  I knew what I liked to see in a picture, but no idea how to actually achieve it on purpose.


Interview picture - Dad on his motorcycle
Interview picture - Lily
Interview picture - Eddy


Interview picture - apple blossoms

Luckily, I had chosen the right place to learn.  Within a month we were learning about shutter speeds.  I went from all action being frozen or horrible ghosting to being able to plan for the effect I wanted.  I was delighted!  I now understood how other photographers got images where everything was blurred except the subject, and vice versa.

Out for a spin


Water Droplets
Stopping motion
Star trails
Star trails


Motion in traffic

The next months were a blur (hehehe) of learning about depth of field, histograms, all kinds of design elements, film and don't even get me started on the digital techniques we were learning.  Prior to this, I had never even heard of Lightroom and all of my experience with Photoshop was working on a Christmas card I'd made a few years earlier.  Since I had no idea what I was doing, every time I made a mistake I had to start over from scratch.  So I knew how to do that one card verrrry well by the end.  Now here I was being able to fix white balance and catalogue and keyword all of my photos.  I was in OCD paradise!  Since starting school I actually created a new catalogue and uploaded every digital photo I had from before school.  Just because.

During the school year, my sister and I went to Las Vegas to go to a Tragically Hip concert (why see them in Winnipeg when tickets are cheaper in Vegas).  I brought along a few assignments to shoot, since I was already tired of snow (little did I know I still had over 4 months of it ahead of me).  Ross gave me a driving tour he'd done last time he'd been there, and we spent one whole day driving around so that I could do my assignments.  It was amazing!  I can't wait to go back another time, for longer than 2 days and rent a car and just explore.


Exploring shutter speeds in Valley of Fire State Park


Landscapes in Red Rock Canyon


Moon over Valley of Fire




In the second half of the year we started learning more about lighting, one of the main reasons why I knew I had to do this in a school instead of being my own professor.  I needed to be able to use the equipment to know what I was doing.  And since there's no way I could afford studio lights, I needed to go somewhere with them.  I also am the type of person who needs to be able to ask questions (because I'll always have a lot).  Learning about studio lighting and product photography has been great with the instructors that we have.  They don't want us to just be able to do things, we are taught WHY we are doing things, so that later if we're trying to figure out a set up, we'll have the knowledge to be able to do it on our own.  This works great with my learning style, since I need to understand why things are done.

Product Mimic assignment: we had to find an image and copy the lighting.  Top image is the one I chose to copy, bottom is my version (with plenty of help from Dorothy and Paolo)
Product mimic lighting set up


It's hard to believe that it's been 9 months since I finished school.  I feel like I still have so much to learn, yet I know that I am miles ahead of where I was when I started.  I don't think that I would know how to use my camera on automatic anymore, or take a picture without worrying about my depth of field.  I can't drive home without using the aerial perspective to judge the distances of farms from the highway.  I think about how I would have lit a movie or a tv show differently, or how I know who the bad guy is because they're using split lighting.  Some days I wish I could turn it all off, but I like the new way that I'm seeing the world.  If it helps me to be a better photographer, and will push me to continue to improve after I've left school.

I'm not going to lie, I couldn't wait to be done school, yet I was terrified to finish.  There is a certain safety with being in school and continuing to learn.  Learning new things is what got me through the different stages of feeling like I don't know what I'm doing - and there were many stages.  I can't count the number of times that I felt like I should just put the camera down, and that my creative was broken but it always came back.  Sometimes all it would take was leaving the tripod behind for a day and going out and taking pictures of whatever random things I could find.  Other times it was grabbing the tripod and going out to catch my 7th sunset in a row. Or it would be learning a new technique that would make all of the others click into place.

Even more than I miss learning everyday, I miss the opportunities I had while in school.  I've always wanted to learn about film development and how to work in a darkroom and I had that chance there.  I could spend days in there, and am already planning on setting my own up in my house.  

Another opportunity that I had that I never would have had otherwise was getting a photo pass for Winnipeg Jets games.  I don't think I'd been as nervous as I was for that first game in a long time.  Even my interview was nothing compared to that.   I got to go to three Jets games, sit through three of Claude Noel's post game interviews, and it was a part of school?  That is still unbelievable for me.  By the third game I wasn't as nervous, but still had just as much fun.


Wheeler's empty netter


Acknowledging the crowd after another win


The road ahead towards the end was interesting.  I chose to major in Portraiture.  My true love is landscapes, but  I needed to learn all that I could about portraiture from our excellent resources while I could.  Landscapes can be my secret (well not so secret)  love - what I do for me, because you always have to have something that you shoot for yourself.

Flash portrait
Sunset panorama


I'm so grateful for all that I was able to learn, the wonderful teachers who taught us, and the amazing friends that I have met.  I could not have picked a better group of people to spend 10 months with.  We have become a family, which is very important when you're pushing along at such a fast pace.


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