Never wanting to feel boxed in by one genre of photography, Canadian photographer Dave Brosha has built a portfolio with an impressive range of skills and creativity, mastering every type of photography he challenges himself with. From landscape to documentary to creative portraiture, every image exudes a true sense of respect for nature, a gratitude for his life of travel, and a profound, unabashed love of photography. Each location’s natural environment is the thread that ties his work together. He captures stories from each location’s rich history by weaving in their visual essence.
Beyond his love of photography, Dave is a family man who hopes make his children proud and inspire them through by living out his dreams. Spending nearly 240 days a year traveling, often hitting the road with his family, he has a great outlook on life. He’s always looking to better his skills and challenge himself as he circles the globe and simultaneously holds workshops to impart his knowledge to eager students.
We were grateful for the opportunity to catch up with Dave for a Behind the Lens look into his journey.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey into photography?
I hate to use the cliche “I didn’t find photography, but photography found me” but that kind of rings true. In 2002 I was living in about as remote and extreme place as you can image: up in the Canadian High Arctic. I had moved up with a little 2MP digital camera but it became the world for me. I always knew I had an artistic voice but didn’t quite know how to express it. I couldn’t draw, sing, play guitar, or paint, and that, well, disappointed me. When I went out on the tundra surrounding the tiny village I lived in with my little camera, I felt like something came alive in me. Like it was meant to be.
By 2004 I was taking photography pretty seriously, pouring myself into reading as much as I could about it, buying photo books to soak up inspiration, and—most importantly—shooting all the time. I went from mediocre to bad to okay to the point where I felt like I knew what this tool—the camera—was all about and how I could translate the little visions in my head to a real image. It felt great to finally have a voice.
What are some of your interests?
I’m guessing that I would come across as too much of a photo-nerd if I said “Photography.” It’s truly a passion and it is a huge part of my life, even aside from my paid client photography. I get anxious if I’m not creating. However, outside of photography, I have many interests. My family are my first and foremost. I have three beautiful children and an incredible wife. Spending time with them makes me feel complete. Besides my family and photography, you’ll find me in my happy place exploring the outdoors, listening to music, writing, traveling, or hanging out with good friends.
Where do you call home?
I’m a bit of a nomad, having lived in many places in Canada (and outside Canada) but just recently, after living close to twelve years in the far Canadian north, my family and I moved to the tiny, super scenic, beautiful province of Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada. We’ve only been there since just before Christmas….but it’s home.
How would you define your style?
That’s a tough one. I’m the guy who rebelled against the notion that you had to pick a genre or specialty and stick to it. My landscape buddies call me a portrait photographer. My portrait/conceptual friends call me “the landscape guy.” I shoot weddings. I photograph diamonds and underground mining as one my specialties. I’m a mish-mash melting pot, so I guess I prefer the simple “creative artist/photographer.” I will say, however, that my style is heavily influenced by the outdoor world. I don’t have many portraits I truly love that aren’t connected, somehow, to outside.
What keeps you inspired?
I’m one of those people that can soak up inspiration easily, and I never lack inspiration. I love the internet for how it’s opened us up to global inspirations on a daily basis. I can see what cutting-edge photographers are doing a world away. My own photography—like, I suspect, many—is built upon the inspiration of dozens of photographers. But really what keeps me most inspired is the passion I feel to create. To capture. To make my children proud. To surprise myself. To not compromise.
How much planning goes into a shoot?
Different photographers have different styles: some sketch out ideas, considering every possible variable, and then create the image they pre-envisioned. I’m for the most part the opposite. I do some planning; I usually know the location and the wardrobe and the general theme or motif to a shoot…but from there, I let inspiration hit in the field. I find myself hugely inspired on location by what’s happening, in the moment. A unique slice of light, or a cool geographic feature that I stumble upon. I bet you 75% of the time my favourite image out of a photoshoot is not the image I went into a photoshoot thinking I’d create.
How do you find your models?
When you’re first starting out, it’s tough. You’re nervous and awkward and scared to approach people. But you ultimately do. They don’t know who you are, but the odd one will give you a chance. And then you stumble upon people that love creating as much as you….and you stick with them. Your name spreads, as does your creative voice. Your work gets stronger. And then you hit a point where people approach you, repeatedly, because they believe in you and your work and give you their trust. And then you feel bad because you want to shoot with so many people but just can’t.
What qualities do you believe make an incredible portrait?
I have evolved in my thinking over the years. As a newbie I thought it was about technical perfection, following the rules and getting things sharp and lighting at the “right” angle (whatever that means). Now, I shoot with usually two words ringing through my head—emotion and/or compelling. Does the portrait evoke emotion? Does it hook you in and give you pause and make you look a second time, and then a third? That’s compelling. It’s an amazing feeling when you shoot a compelling portrait. It’s all subjective, of course, but I believe truly compelling is a very difficult thing to capture but one of the most incredible challenges you can give yourself as a photographer. I’ve photographed over a million images in my career. I still feel like I only have 5-10 images that may fit my own definition of compelling.
What is your favorite time of the day to shoot?
I’m not sure I truly have one. I love so many different genres of photography, from creative portraiture to straight-up landscape to astrophotography, and they all have their magic time for creating. So I’ll take an easy answer: whenever inspiration hits.
What’s a must have in your gear bag?
I’m not a huge gear geek but I would say these days I couldn’t live without my Canon f/2.8 16-35MM wide, my f/1.4 35MM prime, and my Canon f/1.2 85MM prime. With these three lens and the patience to wait for the right light and moment, I feel like I could create forever.
How much post processing goes into a completed photo?
It all depends on the project and concept, of course, but I try to spend the effort in the field to get my lighting/mood right so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time in post. While I’ve had 3-5 hour post-processing projects, I would say that vast majority of my portfolio was processed in less than two minutes. I love Lightroom and Photoshop, but I don’t love spending needless time on an image. I make quick decisions in post, and stick with them….for better, or worse.
What challenges have you faced while creating?
My biggest challenges over the year have been environmental. Working in the far north has its advantages (unique terrain, beauty) but a lot of conditions to overcome. For a decade, I lived in a place where winter occurred the larger chunk of the year and it was not uncommon within that winter to have temperatures hitting -40°C (or colder). You either learn to shoot in it or sit inside, bored. So extreme cold, wind, clouds of mosquitos, frostbite, wildlife…you name it, I’ve faced it up here. But I’ve been blessed to have a circle of extremely creative people who I have collaborated with that also haven’t let the environment be a negative factor. I’ve had subjects lying in flimsy dresses on an ice road at -30°C, up to their necks in five-degree weather. It’s done carefully, of course, with a eye to their safety….but most northerners seem to embrace the conditions around them rather than shy from them. I appreciate that.
You seem to be an avid traveler, what are some of your favorite places you’ve photographed?
You’re on to me. Travel, yes. Love it, so much. True story: before photography, over a decade ago, my wife and I had a bottle of wine or too many beers and had a heart-to-heart where we asked ourselves the question: “If you could do any job in the world what would it be?” We both answered, without hesitation, “to get paid to travel.” And now, years later, it’s the reality of our lives. I spend, on average, 240 days a year traveling. Every week I wake up somewhere new. In those travels I’ve met so many great people and seen so many incredible sights. Trying to pick a favourite would be impossible, but I will highlight three incredibly beautiful places:
(1) The Arctic – expensive, cold, and sometimes bleak. And also, to me, where I found my voice as a photographer and a place that I’ll always jump at the chance to return to. A place of incredible beauty, both of land and people.
(2) Nepal – from the culture to the scenery to the overall sense of spirituality in the country…it’s one of the world’s special places.
(3) Egypt – I spent about a month there between 2012-2013, exploring the country while on assignment and was taken aback with pretty much every facet of this historic country. Incredible place.
What message do you want your photographs to convey?
I think the main message I try to promote in my photography is beauty. Beauty of place, of spirit, of soul…of a moment. But not all beauty has to come from “happy.” I have a lot of images that I feel convey beauty but through contrast, or darkness, or moodiness.
What is your favorite thing about being a photographer?
The fact that every single day in my world is different. I used to work a desk job, which I didn’t mind, but there were so many repetitive elements. In my world, now, I could never, ever possibly complain about boredom. But even more than every day being different, for me, are the people—making connections with people across the world through my craft, seeing people’s reactions when you capture or create a portrait of them that hits them deep within. That’s a high, and one that I’m addicted to.
What are your plans for the future?
People sometimes ask me, “what is your ultimate goal in photography?” I don’t really have a lofty goal like shooting for a particular publication, or getting exhibited in any particular gallery or museum. My goal? To be doing what I’m doing now when I’m 50. When I’m 60. I have so much fun at what I do, and if I can have this daily adventure, this daily creative process as part of my life, while still being able to support my family and travel….well, that would be success, in my mind. There’s countless photographers out there, but only a small number stay relevant with their body of work and appeal over the span of decades. I want to be one of them. If I stay true to my creative spirit and continue to work my ass off, I see it as a possibility.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
There’s no magic path to being able to do this for a living, or to be known for a style. But of the younger photographers (not that I consider myself old) that I see “making it”, I would say they share a few common traits: an incredible work ethic, the ability to get over the fear of creating what is unique to you (and not just a rehash of what you think may be popular), and the knack for getting themselves “out there.” Live, eat, and breath this world of photography, and want “it” bad enough, and good things will happen. People will eventually take notice.
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