All images by Wayne Simpson.
OFFBEAT recently had a chance to catch up with OFFBEAT Contributor and incredibly talented “dignified portrait” photographer, Wayne Simpson, to find out more about his photography business, creative inspiration, and wisdom he’d like to share with new photographers.
What are some tips that you would give to a beginner photographer?
Don’t stress about finding “your style”. With time, your individual style will reveal itself. Get into the habit of dissecting light. Pay attention to lighting styles in movies, other photographers’ work and in everyday life. Understanding light is VERY important. Try as many different genres of photography as you can – you never know what might get you fired up!
What kind of photography do you specialize in?
I would say that I specialize in dignified portraits that tell a story. More and more I am drawn to photograph people with an intriguing story and enjoy the process of telling that story with a combination of images and text.
What does being OFFBEAT mean to you?
To me, OFFBEAT means: community, life experiences, support, friendship, learning and exploration. I have never seen a group this size that gets along so well! Real friendships are born from this community every day and that is simply amazing!
How do you get out of a creative rut?
When I am shooting environmental portraits on location I don’t typically have a lot of creative ruts, to be honest. The time in between shoots is when I typically feel my rut, but then I am immediately inspired when I have my subject in front of me in a space that makes sense to tell their story. I do, however, find that I fall into creative ruts often with studio portraiture. To overcome those ruts, I often do image searches online and create an “Inspiration Folder”. I’ll then draw bits and pieces of inspiration from various images I’ve put in that folder.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
If I was not a photographer, I’d be a graphic designer. My base for photography started with my graphic design career. If I actually thought I was good enough, though, my first choice would be to work as a fine artist. In fact, I see myself as an old man painting by the river one day… that would be my happiest of places.
Anything in your gear kit that might surprise people? Why do you include it?
I don’t think I’ve got much in my bag that would be a surprise to many. As mainly a portrait photographer some might be surprised that I keep a polarizing filter in my bag still I suppose. I use it on occasion when I have something like a table, floor or other shiny surface that shows up as a big crazy highlight. The polarizing filter is very valuable for eliminating distracting highlights in my portraits.
Is there something you always ask yourself or think about just as you’re pressing the shutter?
Before pressing the shutter, I always ask myself if everything in the image makes sense for that particular person’s story, and if there is anything that is overly distracting. I fully believe that photography is not only about what you choose to include in the frame but also what you choose to exclude.
Can you describe the moment when you felt that photography was calling to you?
My earliest memory of photography calling to me is when I first learned how to get a landscape image sharp from foreground all the way to infinity. I felt that I finally had the control to make my landscape images look the way I wanted them to. On the portrait side, it was later on in my journey. It was a shoot with a man who goes by the name of “Grizz.” It was my first time asking a stranger if I could photograph them, and the first time I did a portrait shoot that was not for money, but rather for me. It was the first time I gave myself permission to play with light and experiment – which in turn allowed me to find a style of portraiture that I love to create.
If you could take your art into a new direction, without any fear of failure or rejection, what would that look like? Why?
I’ve always loved the work of Gregory Crewdson—large-scale, emotive, and full of mystery and story. One day, I’d love to try my hand at larger scale shoots like his but still in my own style of post processing and type of light. I think it would be a fantastic addition to my existing way of shooting and would bring another level to storytelling.
Describe a challenging situation that you overcame when shooting and what you learned from it.
I photographed a man in his friend’s basement where he did glass work (beads, drug paraphernalia…). It was a terrible location to shoot in with a very low ceiling, extreme clutter and no room to put lighting where I wanted it. I learned two lessons that day: If you can’t put a light where you want to put it, use other available light and adapt (I used fire to light him), and to never attempt to interview someone after they have smoked several joints. 🤣
How has photography changed your perspective on the world and on life?
Photography has opened my eyes to the realities of life and how resilient people can be. I’ve learned so many people’s personal stories and seen the pain in their eyes as they tell those stories… yet they live through the unimaginable and come out stronger. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met these people and honestly feel that my life is better because of them. I appreciate my own life and family more. I feel stronger because of the real-world knowledge I’ve gained and I appreciate the “forgotten people” in society so much more.
Do you have a favourite resource/blog/podcast you to turn to?
I really enjoy Chase Jarvis’s podcasts, and the photography tutorials on Phlearn.com. Other than those, I’ve mostly been gaining bits of inspiration from many fellow photographers and applying bits and pieces to my own work.
You can find Wayne at:
Also, keep an eye out for for his upcoming book of portraiture (and individual stories) titled Resilient, coming out in the fall of 2021 (Rocky Mountain Books).
Image of Wayne Simpson by Mark Heine.