Behind the scenes exploring the artistic process of John and Samantha Photo & Video with the dynamic Inspire team featuring four legged stars The Toronto Human Society at Bright Lights Event Venue.
What was the vision for the photoshoot?
We have loved working with Inspire through the last few years. When they reached out to us to ask if we would consider photographing their team in the Bright Lights space, we were honoured. Brittney told me that her vision was to capture the quirkiness of the Inspire team in a really stripped-back way: no professional hairstyling, little makeup, and a really simplistic wardrobe plan. Their props were going to be simple and sweet, and really focus on what makes each of their team members totally unique. On our end, a shoot like this takes me getting into the headspace of the team I’m working with so that I can best reflect their vision. Not hard, considering that my personal style is really simple, laid back and ..well, whatever the opposite of “flashy” is. I consider myself a very matte human being: I prefer rich tones to glossy ones. I felt connected to the theme of the shoot already.
How do you prepare for a photoshoot like this?
Lately, to find an artistic headspace for myself, I have been working through John O’Donohue’s book of Irish blessings and I came across a blessing that I felt was perfect for this team. I shared it with them, to help them understand that I wanted to really reflect the bravery and boldness that comes with authentically being yourself. I believe that poetry and writing really helps me to connect with visual arts; my goal when shooting is to capture emotion first, beauty second. I think that if true beauty comes from within, we really need to honour what’s going on inside. It was important to me to really drive this point home with the ladies before pulling out their props and digging into what makes them unique.
Honestly, I didn’t want to run the risk of going through the motions as a photographer trying to get a cute shot of a cute girl running a cute business. Running a business takes grit and heart and really thick skin. It’s messy and beautiful at the same time. I really wanted the shots to reflect what it takes, not just what it looks like.
What were your thoughts when including Humane Society dogs in the shoot?
Yes, let’s talk about those dogs! I’ll say it… I am not a dog person! (But I should say, our family owns a dog, and we adore him.)
I was a little nervous when the team shared their ideas with the pups – I think the ultimate vision would be to have a shot of the whole team and all of the dogs just piled in a big group hug and snuggling and loving the best of life. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to capture that kind of snuggle fest.
What were some considerations for photographing Rescue Dogs?
How it all went down was so different from what I had envisioned. The truth is, rescue dogs need a little more love and attention than model puppies. Some of them have anxiety, some need space, some aren’t good around other pups or fast movements, bright lights or loud people. These are the dogs who need new homes and these are the types of dogs I got to work with. I have to say, this made me love these guys: these are dogs with deep character, with backstories that are a little sad, and with so much hope ahead. They were a pleasure to work with, but they needed the respect of a quiet room and some space, and this made us all take a deep breath and focus on the dogs. It was a beautiful addition to the shoot and I’m so thrilled the Humane Society let us work with these wonderful animals who really do need homes and love and a bright future ahead.
What was your favourite part about creating mini-environments within Bright Lights?
Bright Lights is a little brighter than I thought it would be! You guys have nailed it on the natural lighting front. Bright Lights sits in a 2nd storey space and you could walk right by it on the street without ever knowing you’d passed it – so I thought the interior would be a little darker, like tucked-away venues can tend to be.
I was so surprised to find how much light can really come in to the space, especially in late winter! First of all, the Greenhouse lends itself to a few different vibes. With Brittney’s bread shot, I went with a really Tuscan feel, taking advantage of the natural wood panelling that sits near the front of the room. But for Erika’s embroidery photos, I felt like the space near one of the windows was really cozy and hidden and was able to play with the greenery in the room. I was also able to play with the door frames, take advantage of the hanging greenery from the ceiling, and the beautiful blank wall space.
The bridal suite area is small but intentional – I can only imagine how fun it would be to photograph a bride in there. We opened up the garage doors to let the fresh air in, and it felt like we were hanging out right in the middle of the city streets.
I also loved letting the light in from the two garage doors at the front of the space: we just pulled the curtains right back and took advantage of letting the sun shine in. This lent to a really bright, airy vibe while the team blasted the Backstreet Boys and had themselves a dance party.
There is an obvious appreciation for cinema in your photos. How does working in video, film and photography as a creative team strengthen all aspects of your work?
I am a photographer and John, my marriage partner and business partner, is a cinematographer. When we work together, my goal is to allow him to get an amazing video shot without having to re-create or re-do the shot that I just took. We always try to keep our subjects moving, connecting and feeling natural – so re-doing shots and re-creating moments to get one shot for photo and one shot for video really isn’t in our style. What this has meant practically is that my photos look more cinematic; I’m focusing on either a really great environmental portrait or a really beautiful close-up shot because he is, too – I’m making space for great video alongside great photo. I love standing back and letting moments happen so that we get a candid video look, but shooting photo all the way through this gets a really natural vibe with the photos as well. I’m always talking with the subject, laughing with the subject, and engaging in conversation while shooting. This gives the photos a feel that looks like a still taken from a documentary, and I love that.
What choices have you made as a creative team that you feel have translated to very concrete strengths in your creative professional products?
As a creative team, we have chosen not to allow something that appears glossy or alluring – but is without meaning or content – to take the lead focus in our work. What I mean is, if it isn’t meaningful to someone, it isn’t going to make a truly great photograph, even if it makes a beautiful photograph. We spend a lot of time on shoot days or wedding days really getting to know our couples and finding what is meaningful to them so that we can bring that forward. I’ll find often that when a wedding is over, the couples don’t choose the most Instagrammable photos as the ones they want to print: they’re printing the ones of the bride’s Grandmother holding hands with her Grandchildren, they’ll choose the crying ones, the laughing ones – not necessarily the cityscape rooftop ones or the ones of their shoes lined up on the marble floor. Don’t get me wrong, we take the beautiful shots – but they will always, always, always come secondary to the meaningful shots. The concrete strength that has emerged in our professional photo and video product is that we are always looking out for the real, true moments and connections. We’re keeping an eye on the conversations going on, the gifts being exchanged, the new inside jokes being formed – and we’re photographing or filming that, and it brings a fullness of meaning and emotion to our clients after the work is done.
You are very adept at including many different perspectives into your shoots. There is the direct gaze looking into your subjects and the softer less direct composition, almost as if you happen upon seeing something quite randomly. This diversity creates a rich experience for the viewer. What are your thoughts on this?
That is such a gift for you to say! I love helping our subjects feel comfortable and safe when photographing them, setting up a beautiful pose and then chatting, laughing, and really connecting. I move around a lot. I like to try shooting from different angles and perspectives because it helps me to feel comfortable, try new things, and helps the subject forget that they’re being photographed: I’m chatting and moving, and happen to be photographing. This loosens things up for them and me and lends to the diversity in the final images.