Hey, Bryanna! How’s it going? Tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to this season?
Hey! I’m doing great! This last season has been a bit crazy but in all the right ways. I spent some time travelling with the Surf Sister crew, spent as much free time on the South Island shooting and then the rest of the time with my nose in my books studying school in Victoria.
What are you studying right now? What’s your plan after school?
This time in school I am studying Holistic Nutrition at Pacific Rim College in Victoria. I have always been someone that can’t just focus on one thing, so I like to believe whoever said you can only have one career was lying. I can’t wait to move to Tofino permanently and focus on both making people feel good and look good in and out of the water.
How did you first get into photography? At what point did you realize you wanted to pursue shooting surf?
My relationship with photography has been interesting, to say the least. I actually decided out of high school I wanted to work for National Geographic and that I was basically going to save the world with my photos. I did a two-year photojournalism program at Loyalist College in Ontario, after working in Montreal for journalism publications. After a year and a half in journalism, I realized it wasn’t for me so in the middle of the night I booked a one-way ticket to Hawaii and decided maybe surf photography would be my thing.
Obviously, when I got to Hawaii I realized I needed to learn to surf before I could actually be a surf photographer. I got a bit carried away with surfing and travelling and it hasn’t been until the last year that I have picked up my camera again, and as soon as I did, I knew exactly what I was ready to shoot; surfing.
It has been a really beautiful circle of things coming together for me to get to the point where I can really focus on surfing. I feel so privileged to combine both my passions.
Beside surf photography, what do you do for work to pay the bills?
I am a part cheerleader and part lifeguard, also known as a surf instructor at Surf Sister Surf School in Tofino. You can catch me out there with the ‘pink tide’ at Cox Bay all summer long.
In addition to teaching surfing, I also shoot weddings and other happy things like engagements and maternity photos.
Where are you originally from? What brought you to the coast?
I am originally from Ottawa, Ontario. After leaving the photojournalism industry I travelled for three years, in different countries people would continue to tell me to go back to Canada and live in Tofino. So, as soon as I got back I knew exactly where I was headed.
Do you consider photography a hobby? Or would you like to make it a career?
That is hard to answer. It has been a career in the past and I can see it being a career in the future. Right now, I am just having so much fun with it I want to see where it goes.
Off the top of my head, you are the only female to really pursue surf photography on the coast. Why do you think that is?
Not that it is necessarily hard, but there are physical risks not only to the shooter but also to camera gear when you are shooting in the water. To me, I think that is the best part and is what makes it so satisfying for me when I get a photo I like, but I can see it being intimidating to anyone, male or female.
With my background in journalism I love the challenge of working in chaotic conditions, so to me swimming in the cold water against pounding waves with surfboards flying at my head while trying to make art, just makes sense.
In a male dominant industry, how are you going to separate yourself as an up and coming female photographer?
I do know I will be focusing mostly on female surfers. There are such incredible female surfers not only in Canada but worldwide and I think that the female surf industry has become ridiculously sexualized. My ultimate goal is to celebrate female surfing. When it comes to longboarding I think females have an upper hand, their grace and elegance on a longboard is hard to beat. Men might generally paddle into gnarlier waves but they can’t often dance on a 9”5ft log like so many of the women in Tofino can. I want to capture that.
I think my photos might end up a little bit artsier, it is mostly because I love light, I love light so much and I get really excited about working with different types of light. That being said my style is always changing, I was taught to “shoot tight, crop tighter” but now I like to shoot loose and gets artsy as hell.
What advice do you have for someone just picking up a camera?
Shoot only what makes your heart race and gives you butterflies in all the right ways.
You recently invested a water housing, how’s that been going?
It is so much fun. I never thought I could have that much fun with my camera, but it is also so much swimming. At first, it was definitely challenging, but I think once I realized that my wetsuit would prevent me from drowning, it is actually way easier than I thought it would be. I can deal with 85 set waves to the head, but I haven’t gotten used to swimming in the rips yet.
The housing itself has taken some getting use to. The first night I tried to figure it out I thought I was going to throw the thing at the wall. With some guidance from fellow photographers I feel like I have started to figure it out, but every single time I get in the water I feel like I learn something new.
Who do you normally surf with when you’re shooting?
I love surfing and shooting with all my Surf Sisters here in Tofino, we have so many talented girls in the water that are having a lot of fun. I just want to show them all off.
When I was on the South Island this winter I went out with Ben Murphy and Stephen Lawton, their level of stoke is contagious and I really enjoy all their fancy turns and airs.
Name one male and one female photographer you take inspiration from.
As for male photographers I love Chris Burkard, especially his surf stuff. I get a good kick out of Russell Ord from Western Australia’s photos, his photos are so crazy they make me cringe. I feel like if he can survive triple overhead slabs of water in Western Australia I can survive waist high waves at Cox Bay. Seriously, though, check out his stuff! It is nuts!
As for females, I love Joni Sternbach, she is a female surf portrait photographer that is totally true to her style. I can respect that.
Do you have any exciting plans for the summer?
I am working on growing gills, so I want to spend as much time in the water as possible. Between surf instructing, surfing and taking water shots I think it is possible. I think I will only come out to eat and sleep.
Where do you see yourself in five years? What about fifteen?
I am just trying to survive the next fifteen minutes.
Do you have anything you’d like to check off the old photo bucket list?
That damn barrel shot. I know it sounds like a small feat, especially for all the killer male photographers here in Tofino. But I want it! I want to get in there and get that shot, or at least have the opportunity too. It would be next level if there was a female in the barrel!!
Who has helped you along the way?
What a big question!!
I had a really tight group of friends in college and we would push each other, spending every minute shooting and encouraging each other to improve. Sometimes in ways that were nicer than others.
I had a photo dad in the news industry, the Montreal Gazette’s senior photographer John Mahoney took me under his wing. He is such a rad photographer and person, he was always so encouraging and insightful and never questioned my abilities even though I was one of few female photojournalists in Montreal at the time.
Then there is the Surf Sister crew, I don’t think I would have ever had the guts to pursue water photography if I didn’t feel like I had 25 super rad chicks to back me up. I have never felt so inspired and encouraged as I have at Surf Sister. I feel so privileged.
My roommate Emily actually was the first person to paddle out with me and my water housing, which was a really big moment for me. If it weren’t for her I would probably still be waddling in the shallow water.
Oh and my family and friends, they are the best. They have never doubted me and have encouraged every crazy idea I have had.
Who are three of your favourite people to shoot with?
I can’t pick favourites but I can tell you that Shezza at Surf Sister has been super encouraging when it comes to shooting surfing, she is always up for getting more shots and going on adventures and I can super appreciate that.
Another fellow Surf Sister Nora. We have a lot of fun collaborating for Surf Sister either here in Tofino or when we are travelling. She is the most critical photo editor I have ever met. I think we make a really good team and she will defiantly tell me when my photos suck, which I really value.
Then Ben and Steve are my main dudes, and I swear they are probably the only guys I will ever put my fins on for.
Any last words?