PHLEARN MagazineInterview with Elizabeth Gadd

Interview with Elizabeth Gadd

Elizabeth Gadd, a 21-year-old photographer with a calm demeanour, is based just outside of Vancouver, Canada. Having grown up in this beautiful area, she fell easily in love with the surrounding forests, hills, mountains and ocean – all of which are heavily incorporated in her photography.

Lizzy started her venture into photography in 2007 when she became intrigued by taking photos of nature and animals (still a big part of her life). She grew more passionate about photography in 2010 when she decided to step out of her comfort zone and take a self-portrait everyday for a year. Upon completing this 365 project, she discovered her niche, which is, as she once best described it:  “I, uh… shoot landscapey stuff… with people in them.” So there you have it!  She works to display human interaction with nature in a positive and peaceful way, and hopes that it will leave her viewers feeling refreshed and inspired.

Lizzy enjoys spending her time hiking with her two dogs and her camera, as well as travelling, writing, painting, and attempting to make it in this world as an artist.  If she’s not doing any of the aforementioned, you can usually find her on a couch somewhere eating lots of chocolate.

Your interest in photography began seven years ago. Tell us, what was it specifically that sparked your interest in photography?

Animals. Before I even first picked up a camera, I was always drawing and painting animals. When my dad let me use his digital camera, my first photos were of course of my pets, as well as critters in the wild – birds, raccoons, squirrels, coyotes…  I immediately fell in love with going for nature walks with a camera, taking photos of animals, plants and Landscapes.  Photography soon became my new favourite art form.

Do you have any formal training in photography or do you consider yourself self-taught for the most part?

I am entirely self-taught.  I was home-schooled growing up, and it gave me the time and flexibility to explore my interests and pursue my passions.  I would spend hours each day taking photos and playing around in editing apps or chatting on Kik online. Everything I learned came simply from hours of experimentation.

Please tell us what you found were some of the most effective methods of self-teaching?

The most effective method for me was taking on a “365 project,” taking a photo every single day for a year.  When I realized the best way for me to grow in my photography was to constantly be experimenting with it, I forced myself to take photos every single day, trying each day to create a better photo than the last.  It was an epic challenge, but I grew, learned and improved more in that year than I ever have before.

You completed the project, and what an amazing and beautiful result. Tell us, what were some of the biggest obstacles you faced when participating in this project? And what were some of the biggest things you learned?

The biggest challenge was the fact that I decided to make this project entirely of self-portraits, whereas previously I had mostly just taken photos of animals and nature.  I wanted to expand and try something new.  I gradually learned to be more comfortable with myself in front of the camera, and, being inspired by friends on Flickr who were doing similar projects, I started trying to add more creative twists to my self-portraits to make them more interesting.  It was entirely a year of experimentation, and towards the end of the year, specifically in the last week, I realized I had found my niche in the world of photography – combining my new skill for portraits with my old love for nature and landscapes, in attempt to display human interaction with nature in a positive and peaceful way.

Would you say that your engagement in a “365 days photo project” has in a way shaped your photography and your style in your work that you create today?

Most definitely! I feel that if I did not pour myself into that year of taking photos every day, I would not have had all the experiences that led to finding my style, at least not right away.  It took me that entire year, up to the very last week to discover the specific style of photography that I ultimately love and want to pursue for the rest of my life.

I’m constantly amazed by the mind-blowing locations in your work. You combine human and nature, as one together, complimenting each other. To me, each image is out of a dream. My question is where do you find these amazing locations? Research? Talking to others? Location scouting?

I feel very fortunate to have grown up surrounded by the amazing landscapes here in Vancouver, BC.  Most of my photos were taken within an hour’s drive from home.  It’s not hard to stumble upon these locations when there’s mountains, forests and fields in every direction!

Location scouting must be one of the most important key things to your work. How do you go about location scouting? And on average how long will you spend trying to find a location like you had envisioned? How do you feel when stumbling upon the perfect location?

I actually rarely have a vision in mind for any of my photos beforehand.  I love hiking and exploring, so I always take my camera gear with me in case I find a place that stands out to me as a photo-worthy spot.  On some days I’ll hike for hours and take no photos.  On other days, when I stumble upon a spot where the Light is just right, I instantly snap into photographer mode and know what to do.  I always pack a prop dress or outfit of some sort in my backpack so I can be ready for those moments when I decide a self-portrait in necessary.

When shooting outside, do you always use a tripod? Also I’m wondering if long exposure is a regular component in your shooting?

Considering most of my work is self-portraits taken at a distance from the camera, yes, I usually always need a tripod to set up my camera on.  As for long exposures, there have only been a couple of times where I’ve done them, at night when I wanted to capture the stars or Aurora Borealis.  I am hoping to make these long exposure night-time photos more of a regular occurrence soon!

Tell us about your sponsorship with company “Vanguard!”

Vanguard is an amazing company that specializes in high quality camera equipment – tripods, camera bags, cases, and more.  The camera backpack and tripods I have received from them are better than I could have possibly imagined, made really well and super durable, which is exactly what I needed considering the amount of unintentional abuse my equipment often receives while hiking and adventuring… I have never had better gear, and thus I could not be happier to represent the Vanguard name!

What’s currently on your gear list? (cameras, lenses, editing software, etc.)

Canon 60D, Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, Sigma 24mm f/1.8 lens, Shoot RC-300 wireless remote, Vanguard Alta Pro 254CB 50 tripod, Vanguard UP-Rise II 45 backpack, Adobe Lightroom and GIMP.

What are you currently working on?

My biggest current project is a series of photos I took in Iceland in May.

In the beginning of May, yourself, Rob Woodcox, and Whitney Justesen created a Kickstarter Campaign titled “Icelandic Expedition.” The campaign was launched to raise $5000 in hopes to help three artists create beautiful images to inspire the world. With 23 backers, your goal was surpassed with a total funded amount of $5,507. First off, congrats! How did you and the other artists feel when your goal was reached?

Thank you!  We felt absolutely ecstatic and thankful.  I remember sitting on the couch in my living room with the sinking feeling that we probably would not reach our goal, when I got a message from Whitney saying we suddenly passed it!  I was completely surprised at first, and then more excited than I’ve ever been when I realized that our Icelandic dream was going to be real!

How was your time in Iceland? Did you like it as much as you thought you were going to? Tell us some of your favourite moments from the trip.

The two weeks we spent in Iceland were up there in the very best weeks of my life.  It met and surpassed all of my expectations.  I simply could not believe how many diverse and beautiful landscapes there could be all in one small country!  My favourite moment I have to say was this:  We (Rob, Whitney, and I, along with our friends Kelsey and Sian) were driving back towards our cottage after a day at Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon, and the sun was getting lower in the sky and making everything look more golden.  We passed a couple of glaciers, and then we came to another glacier where we saw a gravel road leading up to it.  Of course, we had to drive up and see the glacier up close.  When we got there, the sun was shining through the clouds at the top of the mountains and it created the most beautiful light on the glacier, making one of the most gorgeous scenes I have ever seen.

There was no one else around for miles but us.  I ran around shooting photos for about 45 minutes, and then I decided to just stop and enjoy the scene through my own eyes and not through a lens.  I put my camera gear away, and walked back up a small crest of a hill to watch the Light move across the mountains and glacier as the sun got lower in the sky.  I looked around me and realized that my 4 friends and I were all spread out quite far apart from each other, each of us sitting quietly in our own place, and each of us just staring out at the scene before us.  I suddenly felt incredibly thankful to be sharing this experience with these people.  Thankful and peaceful.  We all watched in silence from our different places as the sun slowly dipped down behind the mountain, and after some time when the light no longer shone on the glacier, we all stood up and gathered back at the car.  Sometimes, no words are needed to simply enjoy a moment.  And I’ll always remember that moment.

What was your favourite photo that you took on your trip?

That’s a tough one!  I think I can narrow it down to two favourite photos.  The first is a self-portrait, “Free Falling,” taken at the bottom of Skogafoss waterfall.  It was one of the biggest, most powerful waterfalls I had ever seen, and one of the few locations that I had known about and dreamed of shooting at for years.

And my other favourite photo from the trip is another self-portrait taken at the glacier and mountain scene I described in the last question, but it is yet to be shown to the public (give it a couple more weeks)!

Who are some of your biggest inspirations? Tell us your favourite artists/photographers.

Ahhh, too many, and they’re constantly changing!  But currently at this very moment, I think I can narrow down my most inspiring photographers to Max Rive and Shane Black. Their landscape images are incredible and inspire me to keep exploring.

When shooting, do you ever bring artificial light? Or do you always use natural?

Natural lighting, all the way!

What is your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken? (Why)

I think my favourite photo I’ve taken is “Be Still,” a self-portrait image where I’m standing in the water at Alouette lake (about a 20 minute drive from my house).  It was fairly early in the morning, with mist hovering around the lake and mountains, and the water was completely motionless and reflective like glass.  It was one of the most dreamy mornings I’ve ever experienced.  I set up my tripod and camera, and then walked into the cold lake and stood as still as possible until the water was completely calm.  I felt like I had immersed myself into a completely magical world that seemed frozen in that moment, and to be still and appreciate it was all I could do as my camera clicked behind me, capturing the moment perfectly.

How important is Photoshop and/or post-processing to your work. Would it be possible to see a before/after?

Post-processing is definitely an important aspect to my work.  For each photo I take, I want to draw out further as much of the beauty as I can to make the final photo as mesmerizing as possible, without overdoing it. Here are a couple examples of some before/afters of my work.

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

I think the easiest way of answering this question is to say all the little moments when people let me know that they appreciate my work.  Every time someone sends me a text letting me know that my photos somehow inspired them, I feel incredibly honoured, and then thankful when I realize my images can affect someone like that.  It’s each of those little moments that make me happy and even proud to be a photographer.

What do you hope to say to people with the work (art) you create?

I want to leave people feeling refreshed by my work. Peaceful. Inspired. Awed. I hope when people look at my photos, they can feel what I felt while taking them.  I have such great respect for nature, and to connect with it is one of the most calming and yet powerful sensations to me, and I hope these feelings come across in my work.  The world is an incredibly beautiful place and we are blessed to be a part of it.

What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not shooting and creating photography?Outside of photography, I have a whole other life that revolves around animals – particularly my two dogs, Pepper and Sparky.  Before I began pursuing photography as a career, I thought I would be a dog trainer.  I still greatly enjoy teaching and learning with my furry boys!  We do agility, tricks and canine freestyle together, and have competed at agility Canadian Nationals and performed at fairs in front of a few crowds as large as 8000 people.  And if I take this bragging just a tad further (sorry, can’t help it, these are my furbabies!), thanks to Sparky and all the loving time we spent learning tricks together over the past many years, we won a Canada-wide dog talent contest together in 2010 which paid for my current camera and lenses and my first trip to Europe.  It was then that my thirst for travel and adventure was sparked… thanks to Sparky.  I adopted Pepper from the shelter a year after, and I don’t know what I’d do without these pups.  They are my dream team adventurers, always keeping me company on my hikes and photoshoots in the surrounding forests and mountains.

On your website in your “Shop” section I see that you sell prints! Fantastic!
What printing companies do you find are best?

I do indeed sell prints!  The best printing company I have worked with so far is White House Custom Colour.

Any big plans for the future?

Travel!  There is so much of this world I want to see and so much I want to capture.  I dream of living a year in each of my favourite countries – a year in Iceland, a year in Norway, in Switzerland, New Zealand, Italy, Argentina, and so many more.  There are so many beautiful places I want to experience and photograph.  But for now, as I work towards those dreams, I am just taking life as it comes to me one step at a time, always ready to embrace the next adventure!

What is the greatest advice you have ever received?

Worry less, because what good will any worrying do?  Be compassionate to everyone we meet, for we don’t know their full stories.  Eat chocolate in moderation, because you don’t want to get sick. (I fail weekly at that last one, but I’m still trying)

Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers and artists about photography, or about life in general?

The best advice I can give is the advice I gave myself – experiment!  Try everything until you know what works for you.  The more you practice and experiment with your art and creativity, the faster you grow.  You don’t have to live by the books (this both applies to photography instruction manuals and to what society thinks normal living is).  Don’t be afraid to step beyond your comfort zone.  Embrace adventures. Rest when you need to.  Be kind, always.  Keep going, one step at a time.  And take time to appreciate your surroundings.

Keep up with Elizabeth Gadd and her photography on her website, Facebook Page, Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram.

Angela Butler

Freelance photographer and freelance model. Located in Calgary, AB. Happy to travel. M A K E A R T and (try to) love life.

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