Welcome to the first of a series of interviews with a selection of my favourite photographers. First up, Fernie-based photographer Kyle Hamilton. Kyle kindly took time out of his busy schedule to chat with Nomads on the Road about his life as a photographer, who and what inspires his photography, what makes a great photograph and his future plans.
Kyle Hamilton didn’t grow up wanting to become a photographer, in fact it seems like he tried pretty hard at not becoming a photographer. As with many who find their way towards the mountains of Fernie, Kyle is an educated and well travelled man (two degrees and countless travels). He took on numerous jobs to fund his lifestyle before photography became his main source of income.
The love of mountains and adventure is what inspires Kyle’s photography, and while he used to earn his crust from more traditional photography, his focus is now clearly set on adventure lifestyle photography.
“Growing up I’d always had a kind of a camera… I became a photographer by chance,” says Fernie-based Kyle. “I’d finished my first degree at uni and I had some plans to go to New Zealand (in 2003) for a year.”
Kyle’s father gave him an old Canon film camera as a leaving gift. “Haha, yeah it’s that cheesy line, my first camera was from my Dad. But it was an old Canon, totally manual, I was like ‘okay, I’d better learn how to use this now,” Kyle recalls.
Kyle’s style has evolved over the years, when he first started shooting professionally it was portraits and weddings. Yet his passion has always been the mountains and adventure photography.
“I want to transition away from weddings to more adventure lifestyle kinda stuff. Thats why I got into being a photographer in the first place.
“I’m focusing on more commercial work, there is plenty out there, especially in this day and age of online content and social media. Businesses need to have quality online images and visuals,” Kyle contends.
This is where social media and Instagram have played a role in helping Kyle create a brand, his own style, in what can be an oversaturated market.
Kyle said “I don’t want to say, copycat because it’s got such negative connotations, but there is a lot of copycat photography out there. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve fallen into that rabbit hole a few times. I’ll look at what photographers with a couple of hundred thousand followers are posting and go and try and recreate it.
“But one thing I’ve found, which has helped me, is trying to find my own voice, my own style. Every workshop, seminar or online tutorial I follow, trying to improve myself, the thing that keeps coming back is; don’t be like everybody else.
“It might be a struggle while you’re finding your niche but once you hit that, that’s what people are going to hire you for,” Kyle concludes.
Living in Fernie, Kyle explains, means you aware of a plethora of amazing photographers. Two, Henry Georgi (interview pending) and Mark Gallup, were particularly inspiring.
“I had different photos on my wall growing up ski and snowboard stuff and thought I’m going to be just like them, Kyle said.
“But I realised that the action sports photography scene is a really tough market to actually make ends meet. So I started focusing more on portraits and weddings.”
Weddings and portraits paid the bills but Kyle’s creativity is evident by the photographers he admires and the type of photography he wishes to practice. And that type of photography is a mixture of landscape and adventure, making the mountains an obvious place for Kyle to reside.
“With landscapes you know the time of day is a huge factor. And just trying to create more mood and more emotion in the images based on light… That can really make or break your photograph.
“You take a shot of the Lizard Range (a mountain range in the Elk Valley) at midday on a bright blue day, it’s a cool photo. You take that same photo after a storm as the sun is setting, you get the light streaks, the light bursts coming across the back of the mountains and you get the oranges and reds… Suddenly that same scene will blow people’s minds.”
There are a multitude of apps and programs out there which help photographers plan their shoots, Google Earth and Photographer’s Ephemeris are two excellent resources. Yet Kyle says sometimes the best thing to do is just show up; using his wedding photography experience into his adventure photography.
“Whatever you’re confronted with is what you have to make your art with,” said Kyle.
However, the flipside is that for a lot of Kyle’s commercial and editorial work he does need to know, at the very least, the best time of day to shoot. As well as what other photographers have shot in the past, allowing him to have a sense of potential compositions.
“For landscape photography, I’ll check the aspects; is it east facing or west facing. Do you want to use sunrise or sunset?”
A lot of the time, while Kyle is on location, he’ll be there a week and the weather won’t cooperate. This means he may only get one day to get the shots. As happened in Terence Bay, where Kyle was on assignment recently, for six out of seven days, the weather was socked in. “Thankfully we got that one sunny day, and probably got 90% of the content the clients wanted in that one day,” says Kyle.
Technology has made photography available and relatable to the masses, whether it’s sharing via Instagram, Flickr, and 500px, or camera technology, the huge increase in ISO or megapixels. Yet creating a photograph still comes back to the basic elements, says Kyle.
“You still require good light, you still require a good composition to make a good photograph.” K.Hamilton.
But technology is no substitute for a photographer who knows what goes into making a great photograph. Kyle argues that you could give a five-year-old the latest 100-megapixel camera and they would take an ok photograph. However give someone, who knows what they are doing, a toy camera with a two-megapixel sensor and they could create a great photograph.
“Technology has its benefits. I guess you could say there’s a point where technology is just becoming a crutch for a lot of people,” said Kyle.
Yet even Kyle will admit that advancements in camera technology have impacted his work and what he can deliver to his clients.
“They (clients) may need a photo they can blow up to billboard size or it’s going to be a large format print. You can’t really do that with an eight-megapixel sensor,” he explained.
One of Kyle’s camera is an eight megapixel Canon 1D he bought eight or nine years ago, and as technology has advanced so too have expectations from clients.
“Technology is so much further advanced, the client’s expectations of the quality have gone up as well. So upgrading, I’ve just gone from an eight-megapixel sensor to 24-megapixel sensors (the Sony A6000). Having said that my eight-megapixel sensors were Canon 1D bodies which when they came out were top of the line.”
One obvious advantage for Kyle in choosing a mirrorless system in the Sony A6000 is the weight, it allows him to push his adventures further and further into the backcountry.
Three young girls crossing a ridge line on their way to fetch some water and wood, with the Annapurna massif in the background. This spot is about 30km south of the epicentre of this weekends quake. From what I've heard, entire villages in the region have disappeared beneath massive landslides. Link in my bio for more information on how to help the peoples of Nepal right now. #Nepal #prayfornepal #nepalearthquake #nepalschoolstrust #mountains #mountainpeopleunite #neverstopexploring #mountainlocals #bestmountainartist
“I can pack more food, I can pack more water, that sort of thing,” he explains. “Or I could just go faster as I’m carrying a lighter load. So technology in that regard is definitely a huge benefit.
“I did a shot spread for a German ski magazine. I think I had 24 images that I delivered ,one of which was shot with my Canon, the rest were shot with the Sony A6000 with the kit lens. So rather than spending $6500 for a camera body plus a couple of thousand for each lens, this whole article was shot on a $650 camera system,” said Kyle.
Kyle has some exciting projects in the works. He has a collaborative media company called Laundromat Studios, with some exciting projects coming up. Kyle also has a portrait project, showcasing residents of Fernie, in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.
You can follow Kyle’s adventures at the following: