Photographer’s Q&A – Darren Calabrese

This week’s Q&A is with Darren Calabrese, winner of the 2008 NPOY Photo of the Year. His web site is


The mural outside old Yankee Stadium. Last year my dad and I went down to New York City for the third-last game at the park.


What were your first steps in the industry?

I kind of fell into journalism.

While in my second year studying American Lit. at Dalhousie University, an English professor of mine pulled me aside and said I was the best editor he’d seen in a few years. He thought I should get into journalism. I’ll admit that being a good editor didn’t seem too sexy to me. However, it was nice to have a bit of direction. I enrolled at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and shot enough to get into Loyalist College.


When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation? Are you where you thought you would be now?

While at Loyalist, I learned quickly that I wanted to be a newspaper/wire photographer. And, I really wanted to be a newspaper/wire photographer on the East Coast, specifically in Halifax which I consider my home town. But that never happened. So I guess I’m not where I thought I’d be.

In fact, I currently find myself exactly where I swore I’d never be: in Toronto. I was raised to make fun of people from Toronto. Now I walk among them.


This is a flock of pigeons during a slow day in Guelph, Ontario, in 2004. I’ve always really liked this picture.


What or who are your biggest inspirations?

I find inspiration in all kinds of things but I guess the easiest answer would be in people – real, genuine people.

You know, those people you meet on an assignment or on a project and who are just so sincere that you have to put your camera down and just hang out with them.

Now, not to reference the people I work with or whose pictures really sing would be silly, so I’m going to use this opportunity to give some well-deserved shout-outs.

A guy like Tim Krochak back home in Halifax is a great place to start. Tim has been a huge inspiration for me. He’s so good and so passionate about his work that it didn’t take long to figure he is a guy to emulate.

While in Ottawa, I got to learn from guys like Tony Caldwell and Errol McGihon at the Ottawa Sun, both of whom won ONAs for their work this past year. Wayne Cuddington at the Ottawa Citizen is another guy that produces and produces, but he’s so humble about his talent. He’s a great inspiration. And, of course, the late Tom Hanson, who was a giant inspiration during my time in Ottawa. He’s a big reason I am where I am today.

It’s hard to think of everyone and I’m sure I’m getting long-winded but the passion that these people have for both their work and personal life is what I find inspiring.


Do you have a mentor?

I feel this bleeds from the previous question as I consider all of the aforementioned people mentors. That being said, however, I consider myself very fortunate to have learned from two of the very best in the country – Andrew Vaughan and Paul (Bucky) Darrow.

Both Andrew and Bucky believed in me from the beginning and gave me opportunities early in my career that continue to open doors. I was taught how to shoot pictures, how to cover the news and how to work as a professional. But what I really learned from Andrew and Bucky was how to have balance between your personal life and work. I’ve met few people who regard family more important than those two.

Any bit of success that I’ve experienced in my short career is completely attributed to Andrew and Paul.


This is me at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN. I pitched a story to my editor at the Guelph Mercury to follow a local Elvis Tribute Artist trying to make it big in Memphis and they went for it. Still can’t believe it.


What was a pivotal point in your career?

I’m not too certain I’ve hit one yet. Looking back, there are certainly moments that hold a bit more water than others but nothing I would title “pivotal”.

Well, maybe leaving my job at the Ottawa Sun last year. That was a pretty big decision that has opened new doors.


How important is multimedia to you?

I hate this question. I thought we all decided it’s just a part of being a photojournalist. So, it’s important.


How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?

I’m my own worst critic. I’ll go over an assignment for hours afterward if I think I messed it up. I’m brutal that way. I try to play it cool but I’ll get pretty upset with myself. Even if I think I shot well, I’ll go back over my work and then look to see how others have covered the same situation, not to poach ideas but to see something different.

Plus, I just look at a lot of pictures.


This is me at Fenway Park in Boston a few years ago. This is by far the best park I’ve been to – though I haven’t been to Wrigley Field in Chicago yet.


What are some of the must-see websites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g. inspiration, guidance, information, education).

I really don’t spend much time on any particular web site. I look over the wire a lot. Yahoo News pictures gets a lot of play on my computer.

To be honest, if I’m on the Internet, I spend the majority of my time on Sports Illustrated’s baseball page. Baseball is pretty much the reason I get out of bed and I guess there are pictures to look at on the SI site.


What is your favorite way to unwind?

The first thing I do to relax is put my cameras away. My personal time is very important to me and if my camera’s in my hand or anywhere near me, my head is working and not unwinding.

I throw a lot of darts. I listen to music. Actually, researching and downloading music has really crept into my “hobby” category with the amount of time I seem to be devoting to it these days. I can’t play any instrument but I love music.

I watch/talk about baseball a lot. I also talk a lot about getting back into playing squash but I haven’t actually done it yet.


This is a tiny puddle of blood from my forehead after being smashed by loose boards at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto. I spent the entire second period and most of the third with the paramedics.


What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?

I’ve had loads of advice bestowed on me over the years, but nothing really jumps out that could stand on its own without context.

Well, here’s one: “If you want to raise your rate of success, double your failures.”

I don’t remember who, or where, I got that from but I love it. Maybe I like it because I make a lot of mistakes and this helps me justify them.



Category: Photographer's Q&A

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