Photographer’s Q&A – Tim Smith
This week’s Q&A is with Tim Smith, photographer for the Brandon Sun in Manitoba and second-place winner in the Feature category of the 2008 NPOY. His web site is www.timsmithphotography.ca.
Blair Osiowy of the Vincent Massey Vikings dives head first into home plate as catcher Jorhn Kaluzniak of the Crocus Plainsmen fumbles for the ball during high school baseball action at Andrews Field on Sunday. (Photo by Tim Smith/ Brandon Sun)
What were your first steps in the industry?
In 1999 or so, my friend Adam brought back a Pentax MZ50 SLR from China for me. That was really my first introduction to photography. I’d shoot skateboarding and play around with different shutter speeds, etc. I bought a 8mm fisheye on eBay and took lots of terrible photos with it.
Then, while tree planting in 2001, my friend Ryan Taplin (staff photographer for Metro in Halifax) mentioned he was heading to Victoria, British Columbia, in the fall to study photography at the Western Academy of Photography. This was the first time I actually clued in to the fact that people actually take photographs for a living. I kept in touch with Ryan, and two years later, I, too, enrolled at WAP.
In 2003, right before graduation, Ryan called to say he had put in his notice at the Medicine Hat News. They hired me to replace him and I packed up my stuff and headed to my first job in the industry.
It seemed that the Medicine Hat News hired a steady stream of WAP graduates, including Taplin, myself, Deddeda Stemler, Dave Galasso and Olivier Asselin. I know there were more as well. I was really lucky to get hired on at a daily newspaper right out of school.
Courtney Morgan relaxes backstage between dance numbers during the Steppin’ Time Dance Studio’s performance of The Evolution of TAP at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium in Brandon on Saturday, May 9, 2009. (Photo by Tim Smith/ Brandon Sun)
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation? Are you where you thought you would be now?
I knew I wanted to take photographs but I didn’t really understand the photojournalism industry, per se, until I began working at the Medicine Hat News. I learned quickly in school that I had little interest in writing. I liked writing about subjects that I was interested in but had no interest in writing about things that I couldn’t care less about.
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
Really, there are too many to list.
All the interesting people I meet and the moments that make up their lives inspire me. My heroes inspire me – people like Capt. Paul Watson (www.seashepherd.org), Farley Mowat, Edward Abbey, Utah Phillips, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Doctors Without Borders.
I’m inspired by photographers like Carolyn Cole, Ami Vitale, Platon, Amy Toensing, Lana Slezic, Andy Clark, Farah Nosh and Robin Loznak (his feature-hunting photos are awesome). There are too many to list.
Everyone I saw at this years’ NPAC conference gave me inspirational boosts. Danny Wilcox Frazier’s work is proof you don’t have to travel to distant lands to find amazing stories and moments.
Friends I have worked with or against – like Dave Bloom, Jason Franson, Brett Gundlock, Jimmy Jeong, Darryl Dyck, Ryan Taplin, Olivier Asselin, Colin Corneau and Bruce Bumstead – have all taught and pushed me.
Ryan Jackson is the MacGyver of photography. The crazy things he’s rigged up from scratch like ring flashes, remotes made from remote-control cars, etc. I think maybe even his cameras are homemade!
Music inspires me, and lately I’ve been cranking non-stop the new Propagandhi (Potemkin City Limits) and Neil Young’s Massey Hall concert.
My four-year-old son Huxley inspires me to have fun and to forget all the unimportant bullshit that distracts us from living our lives. The biggest inspirations are always friends and family. When we are dead, nothing else will matter other than the relationships we formed.
ACC Police Studies graduates are a blur of motion as they perform a drill demonstration marching in a circle around Dariane Martens, centre, during their graduation ceremony at the ACC gymnasium. (Photo by Tim Smith/ Brandon Sun)
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t really have a mentor. I think I should probably get one. I’m not outgoing enough to meet one. Plus, I’m afraid they’ll make me shoot in black-and-white.
There is, however, an endless list of people who have helped me along the way.
Edmonton Sun photo editor Tom Braid took a big chance inviting me to come freelance for the Sun. Everyone at the Sun helped me swim when I was sinking badly.
Dave Bloom taught me a lot about feature hunting and multiple lighting. He also taught me when to keep my big mouth shut, which is invaluable!
Bruce Bennett at Getty taught me a lot about shooting hockey. Everyone at Getty was unbelievably supportive of a lowly stringer such as myself.
People I had never met would send me clips when they saw one of my images had run in various newspapers or magazines. I know Getty is supposed to be the monster of photography but, on an individual level, everyone was great to me. Anyway, short answer, no.
Crowds line Rideau St. between Lorne Ave. and Princess Ave. in Brandon to watch the heats at the Kiwanis Kar Derby on Saturday, May 30, 2009. Kids aged 8 to 14 spent the day competing head-to-head in the soapbox racing. (Photo by Tim Smith/ Brandon Sun)
What was a pivotal point in your career?
One was my decision to leave the Medicine Hat News after 14 months on staff and head to Edmonton to freelance for the Sun. Leaving a staff position when you have a two-month-old son is a huge decision but I went for it and spent the next three years freelancing pretty much full-time.
Through Tom Braid, I ended up covering the Oilers for Getty Images for two seasons and got a bit of other work from them as well. The Sun taught me most of what I know today. I went from a two-photographer newsroom to a 10-photographer newsroom. I got my ass kicked on a daily basis which forced me to step up my game.
The other was my decision to leave Edmonton for the Brandon Sun. In our industry, we are always looking towards the bigger market so it was a very difficult decision to accept a position at the smaller Brandon Sun.
Ultimately, I felt that I had hit a wall in Edmonton and needed new scenery. I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I could thrive in a small market and would continue to progress as a photojournalist.
The fact that the Brandon Sun has a great photo department and a great managing editor made the move much easier. Managing Editor James O’Connor is a former photographer and photo editor and he still shoots assignments now and then. Because of him, we have a three-photographer department in a city of 40,000. Name any other newspaper of our size in Canada that has three staff photographers. Hell, the National Post only has four staff photogs right now.
How important is multimedia to you?
These days, multimedia is not that important to me in the sense that I am not producing any for the Brandon Sun. The Sun has been slow to open up their web site for fear that they will lose print readership. In Edmonton, I produced Soundslides projects which introduced me to recording ambient sound and interviews and then splicing everything together. I’ve tried to stay on top of things, like Final Cut, to keep current but it isn’t part of my daily routine.
Chris Woodmass of Brandon kicks up a large spray of water while slalom waterskiing on the Assiniboine River in Brandon on a hot Sunday. (Photo by Tim Smith/ Brandon Sun)
How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?
The simplest way is by shooting non-stop. The yearly NPAC conference is vital to keeping my inspiration levels up, especially after the long, bleak winter. I study lots of photographers’ work and visit lots of web sites like NPAC.ca. And, I have a good group of photographer friends with whom I discuss the finer points of photography … and by that, I mean bitch about everything.
Entering photo contests helps, too. I just received the World Press 2009 book and I’ll be pouring over it tonight. A free book of amazing images just for entering a free photo contest. Sweet deal.
What are some of the must-see websites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g. inspiration, guidance, information, education).
The PhotoShelter blog has been pretty interesting and educational.
I like visiting robgalbraith.com for the links to various photo galleries throughout the world.
Surfing the wire is mandatory. Unfortunately, The Canadian Press wire isn’t what it was when I started in the industry. There are some days when less than a dozen photos move. But it’s still great to see what shooters are filing across Canada. I check the wire almost every day.
It seems everybody and their blog has a blog these days but I like Brent Foster’s site visualjournalist.org
There’s so much out there that it varies from week to week. It’s all good, except for the stuff that isn’t.
The blogs on NPAC have been great to read. I’ve enjoyed them all and especially those by Tyler Anderson and Steve Russell.
My son Huxley with his K1000, the poor man’s Leica. (Photo by Tim Smith)
What is your favorite way to unwind?
My absolute favourite way to unwind is skateboarding and I’m currently working on my dream – building a ramp in my backyard. It should be fully operational in a week.
We rent 37 acres, a few miles outside Brandon, and there are big, old barns on the property. I can shoot star trails and thunderstorms right outside my door which is a nice change from city life.
My other way to unwind is to take photos. I like chasing storms, photographing wildlife and just documenting my surroundings. These are really my only hobbies. I don’t have time for much else these days so I just like being outside, playing with my son.
My dream is a skateboarding ramp in my backyard. (Photo by Tim Smith)
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
The best piece I heard recently was in Darren Calabrese’s Q&A : “If you want to raise your rate of success, double your failures.”
Awesome advice and inspiring because with my amount of failures, I must be due for some success any time now. :)
My photography instructor at WAP used to always say, “You’re only as good as your last photo.” I love that because it is humbling.
But I wish I could find the best piece of advice I received. It was from Victoria Times Colonist staff photographer Darren Stone, when he doubled as the photojournalism instructor at the Western Academy of Photography. I’ll have to paraphrase because I can’t find his letter. (I hope he doesn’t mind me posting his words). Basically, I handed in a terrible assignment for my photoj class and he tore a strip off of me along the lines of:
“This is not anything close to what I was looking for. Maybe your heart isn’t in photojournalism but if this is all I have taught you, I have failed.”
Ouch. It went on from there, taught me what editors expect, and gave me a good kick in the ass. I want to frame the letter. I’m super thankful for it.