OFFBEAT recently had a chance to sit down with OFFBEAT contributor and Prince Edward Islander Stephen DesRoches to pick his brilliant photographer and web designer brain and learn more about his photo journey. Turns out, he is a fountain of knowledge and as down-to-earth as they come…
What are some tips that you would give to a beginner photographer?
Study but don’t compare. Ask questions but don’t copy. Think about why instead of how. Many will learn so much more simply by doing and practicing and we could all spend a little less time wishing we would have created the image we saw on social media. Find a good resource that teaches the basic principles of how the aperture relates to the shutter speed and then go out and create, and then create some more. Ignore the marketing and advertising promising new equipment will make you better and understand that all you really need is the motivation to actually create. Buy only to solve problems that you have self-identified.
What kind of photography do you specialize in?
I suffer from wanting to try and learn it all. I’ve travelled down the path of studio lights, I have a drone, I have an underwater dive housing, I have a full macro setup and I’ve recently caught myself wanting a telescope to contribute more images of the moon to the world. I’m spreading myself thin but the journey, experience, and adventure is worth more to me than the images themselves. That all being said, my best work always comes back to nature and landscape photography. Scenic, environmental images and, more specifically, images of my home province Prince Edward Island is what I’m best known for and what I promote.
What does being OFFBEAT mean to you?
OFFBEAT is hard to describe. On one hand, it’s no different than any other group that centers around the teachers, but on the other hand, everyone in the group acts like friends and, in many cases are friends and have met in person. I’ve never been part of a group this large that feels like everyone has the same values. It’s the most active group I belong to and provides so much support and encouragement to keep going.
How do you get out of a creative rut?
It’s not easy. I’m feeling a little burnt out and not wanting to do much of anything. My creative ruts seem to occur for me when I have too many tasks, too much clutter in my life and distractions fighting for my attention. There are times where my daily tasks just need to reboot with some quiet time to think. It doesn’t take long for me to start missing it.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
I would try almost anything once. This is where I feel like an imposter because I am not a photographer by profession. I’m a photographer that does not pursue it for financial stability. I work as a designer for web development agency and a creative director for an image product company. I’ve been doing that for 20 years and photography, although related in some ways, has become the side thing I do. It’s related to the previous question because I use both photography and design to keep the other from becoming overly repetitive and consider myself a full-time creative artist.
Anything in your gear kit that might surprise people? Why do you include it?
I try hard to keep my choices as simple and light as possible, so I am not likely to surprise anyone. A couple lenses, a couple filters, a tripod plus l-bracket, and the appropriate clothing and I’m good to go. Perhaps not having a surprise is actually the surprise? I really dislike gear and want less of it.
Is there something you always ask yourself or think about just as you’re pressing the shutter?
I make a ton of mistakes and I really should be asking myself if the exposure and focus is right. I don’t but I’m very good at paying attention to the image edges and noticing what is and is not in frame. I’m always asking if what I see in frame is beneficial or should it be removed. Is the tiny object way off in the distance a distraction? Those are the questions I always remember to ask.
Can you describe the moment when you felt that photography was calling to you?
It was a slow gradual process. I wanted to be a painter or a cartoonist but found myself in a design role in the tech industry. I had to learn Photoshop and other image manipulation programs to do that work and when digital cameras became more affordable, I bought a 3MP camera to create source files for my design work. One camera after another, my interest grew for years. 5 years later and cameras with interchangeable lenses suddenly dropped into my budget range and the rest is history. I joined the local photo club. I bought a library’s worth of books. I found ways to become friends with other photographers.
If you could take your art into a new direction, without any fear of failure or rejection, what would that look like? Why?
In recent years, I’ve questioned the purpose my work provides and decided to make much more of an effort to tell the story of conservation and human impact. I wanted a venue to create more than just pretty, scenic landscape images. I wanted images that were worthwhile. I’ve reached out and have been working with local organizations to do just that and would like to see it continue. If there was nothing in the way, I suppose the answer to the question would be to see that happen on a global scale.
Describe a challenging situation that you overcame when shooting and what you learned from it.
In working with other people and art direction, there was no shortage of weather frustrations this summer, with countless failures and cancelled opportunities. The more moving parts to coordinate, the more difficult it becomes. I’ve also learned that when shooting events, it’s best to ask as many questions beforehand and get a rehearsal of the schedule when possible. It’s in my best interests that others know my intentions and help along the way. Make every assignment a group effort. This also helps define your limits so you know what is and is not appropriate. Every assignment has something to learn. Communication, backup cameras, backup lighting, should have done this, should have tried that, etc.
How has photography changed your perspective on the world and on life?
Photography has given me the gift of paying attention to details and everything we tend to take for granted. Landscape photography is a very real gateway into seeing how much impact humans have and the result of that over longer periods of time. Photography is both art and documentation of a moment in time. It’s one of those things that has the potential to last hundreds of years. Photographs are usually the first thing someone tries to save in a house fire or a flood. Some paper prints are worth more than money.
Do you have a favourite resource/blog/podcast you to turn to?
They come and go. I’ll binge on YouTube for a bit, then I’ll binge on a podcast for a while, and then I’ll go months without anything. As an overall, I consume much less than I did back when there were fewer choices and competition. I’m biased, but OFFBEAT would be one of those resources. I make an effort to read anything any member contributes. It’s a great community with two-way communication. Craft & Vision and David duChemin are another blog and podcast that have lasted the test of time and one that always survives my, “I’m unsubscribing from everything today” reboots. But the best and most valuable resource is being part of a small group of friends to share ideas with.
Where can we find more about you and your work?