Photographer’s Q&A – Derek Ruttan
This week’s Q&A is with Derek Ruttan, photographer for The London Free Press (Sun Media).
What were your first steps in the industry?
In August 1989, with no journalism background and a very rudimentary knowledge of photography, I somehow fell into a job as sports editor of the Port Elgin Beacon Times, a weekly in a town of 6,000 people.
My duties included writing stories, photography, page layout and doing a regular column. I also had to edit pieces provided by parents and coaches, stuff inserts into the paper AND deliver bundles of papers to stores in our coverage area.
I planned on developing into a writer but instead, I found a passion for photography.
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation, and are you where you thought you would be now?
When I was a student, all I ever wanted was a staff job. I was more than a little desperate for some stability and a regular pay cheque.
About a year after graduation, and two weeks before my 29th birthday, I landed a staff job at the Ottawa Sun. Had I been younger and less in debt, I’m sure I would have used my camera as a passport to adventure. I envy the likes of photographers Chris Pike and Brent Foster, who find their path early in life and use it to travel the world.
Now, I’m exactly where I wanted to be. I grew up in Toronto and my friends there always ask when I’m going to move back (they have no idea how difficult it is to land a staff job in T.O.). Even if I could, it’s not something I’ve ever pursue. To have the kind of home I enjoy in London, I’d need to live in Whitby, which is more than an hour’s drive to any of the large Toronto dailies. So that’s two hours a day, 10 hours a week – 500 hours per year – spent on the road instead of with my family. It’s simply not a sacrifice I’m willing to impose on my wife and two sons just so I can work in a more dynamic city. For last 11 years, it has taken me only SIX minutes to drive to work!
My son Darcy, 5, is dwarfed by the net as he watches the play during his first-ever hockey game at Nichols Arena in London, Ont. Darcy’s tyke division Team Green prevailed against Team Orange 7-6. (DEREK RUTTAN/The London Free Press).
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
When I was starting out, the photos of working journalists inspired me. I’d look through every paper I could, cut out pictures I really liked and tape them to a wall. I used to stare at them and try to figure out WHY I liked them. What made them special? I tried to boil down how the pictures were made – aperture, focal length, direction of light, angle of the shot, etc. Thinking back, I feel those exercises really helped me. If you’re looking for a name, I’m pretty sure Peter Power had the most photos on my wall.
These days I find inspiration in all manner of things, films and comic-book art chief among them.
Do you have a mentor?
What was a pivotal point in your career?
The single most important contest I ever “won” was first place in the August 1990 sports category of the Ontario News Photographers Association (ONPA) clip contest.
For a year, I had been trying to teach myself photography but I still wasn’t very good. I thought that I wanted a career in news photography but was unsure if I could actually pull it off.
When I got the letter telling me I’d garnered a 1st place, it was like a drug! I was on a huge high and felt that I could actually make a career of this. I knew it would be a long journey, (I still knew diddly-squat about photojournalism), but I was on the right road. I was 25 years old and for the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Tim Trenholm admires an untitled painting of a red rose by Canadian artist Hyunhwaohneill (CCT) during Museum London’s 25th anniversary celebrations, on Sunday, June 5, 2005. (DEREK RUTTAN/The London Free Press)
How important is multimedia to you?
It’s fun learning it but it’s frustrating that our most-watched videos are always car crashes. The best stuff does not get viewed much.
How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?
Every once in a while, my shooting style changes. I don’t set out to do it, it just seems to evolve. I start seeing things in a different way and go with the flow.
What are some of the must-see websites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g. inspiration, guidance, information, education).
Honestly, the only one I visit on a regular basis is NPAC.ca. I’ll go to sites recommended by other members but rarely more than once. I check out the Sports Shooter clip winners each month and enter if I have anything decent.
Aaron Handsor of the John McGregor Secondary School Panthers goes up for a two point shot against defender Jahmal Grennan of the Father Henry Carr Crusaders during the Forest City Shootout high school basketball tournament at H.B. Beal Secondary School on Friday, February 8. The crusaders won the opening round game, 73-30.
What is your favorite way to unwind?
I watch films, read comic books, chill with my wife, go for a run, play with my sons, pet the cat.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
Fill the frame – Hugh Wesley, (then) photo editor of the Toronto Sun.
Just do it — Nike
Follow your heart — Triumph
The ball pops out of the hands of St. Joseph’s Ram Peter Kavcic while being tackled by East Elgin Eagle Cale Sprague during the fourth quarter of the TVRAA Southeast Championship at St. Joseph’s Alumni Field on November 6, 2008. The Rams also let the championship slip through their fingers as the visiting Eagles took the title by a score of 45-10. (DEREK RUTTAN/ The London Free Press)