WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?
I was born in Montreal, in Quebec. As a kid, we bounced across Canada with my family, and I most recently moved from Toronto to Vancouver about 15 years ago.
WHAT IS YOUR FULL-TIME PROFESSION?
I have always been a photographer. I started as a press photographer, then moved into advertising, studio and industrial work. My style has always been editorial, and I’ve always worked for myself for my clients as a full-time photographer.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN PHOTOGRAPHY?
Well, I was first published when I was 13 years old. I happened to be taking pictures along the waterfront in Ontario and there was a sailboat rescue in progress. I captured some images of the rescue, and was downtown a little bit later when I saw that I was next door to the newspaper office. I wandered in and asked to see the editors. I was this 13 year old kid and said, “I have some images you might want for your paper.” Three days later, I was published in the weekly paper of that town. I was hired by the newspaper at 15, working weekends and such, and ended up working there for five years. I was covering different areas with different studio setups, and so I’ve been working at this for 30-35 years now.
And it’s especially cool because I have a sailboat now, named On Assignment in ode to my press years.
YOUR IMAGES CROSS MULTIPLE GENRES, CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY?
When I started in photography, it seemed like most people either photographed people or things–not many photographers did both. If you were commercial, you were into products and buildings, or you were into portraits and you photographed people. Because I sort of came in between the ranks and with my press background, I built up a client of agencies and art directors that had a full range of clients themselves. That made me unique–that I could do people and things. I’ve also always enjoyed the variety, working with people on locations–whether it’s portraits, people underwater, underground in mining and tunneling operations, corporate executives, rock stars backstage, or portrait sessions–they’re all cool challenges I like.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY? WHAT CHANGED IN YOUR PRACTICE OR TECHNOLOGICALLY THAT ALLOWED YOU TO PUT MORE FOCUS ONTO THIS?
I think being a pisces, I’ve always been drawn to the water, so it was natural that I would evolve towards combining photography and my own personal inclinations. I picked up scuba diving as a hobby about 20 years ago, and have worked in photography as part of that experience. When I added photography to it, it became a whole new set of challenges to try to create under the water what I try to do day-to-day above the water. Working with subject, lighting, location, styling… and breathing.
Technologically, digital capture was a huge advancement that enabled much easier ways of photographing underwater. LED lights with their capabilities have also been tremendous. These two combined certainly made it more accessible. Then I started combining it with some of my commercial work and fashion style work, and again, I had different and unique set of skills and background experience that I bring to underwater photography.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS FOR US A LITTLE BIT? WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN OUT IN THE WATER SHOOTING? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO CONVEY? WHAT IS IT ABOUT WATER THAT HAS YOUR ATTENTION NOW?
I’m drawn to light, I’m drawn to form, and what you can create for the viewer. Regardless of the subject, I’m always looking to combine graphic elements with a sense of motion. Doing that underwater, in stills, you’ve got a surreal element to your compositions and opportunities with your subject because everything is in slow motion, and suspended from the normal rules of gravity. In many cases, I’m creating a bit of a playground with my subject–lighting it up in various ways, and then working around to capture the angles and opportunities as they happen.
DO YOU CORRELATE THE FEELING OF BEING UNDERWATER WITH THE FEELING OF FLYING OR DREAMING? HOW DOES THE ELEMENT OF FLOATING COME INTO PLAY WHEN THINKING ABOUT YOUR WORK?
Absolutely, it’s very much like flying and floating. For me, I’m very comfortable under the water, so sometimes I even forget to breath or that I need to. In many ways, you are free from the earthly tethers that constrain you with regards to the natural elements of gravity. Being underwater is a surreal experience. What I try to create is almost an emotional suggestion as to reality when you are under the water because subtlety is everything. It’s a beautiful experience that you are trying to capture for the viewer, creating the suggestion of motion and the lighting plays an incredible role.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU ARE USING COLOR IN YOUR UNDERWATER IMAGES?
A lot of times, making use of a single color, whether it’s black or blue is done out of sheer simplicity and the logistics of trying to shoot underwater. It usually comes from either covering up the pool itself or being constricted to a single tarp color. I actually like working with different backdrops under the water, and I’ve experimented with many different ones, and I’m told one of the first to do those types of images. Whether you’re working the emotion of an intense color or building on that with the lighting, you’re able to create some emotional drama and color always brings huge intensity to that. If I’m working with some of the backdrops that I bring underwater, they add a whole other new element, through their color, reflections, and patterns, that become distorted underwater. Lighting them and making use of lights underwater just enhances those creative possibilities. I like the option to really work the full range of creative opportunities through the backdrops and colors.
AND DOES THE CONCEPT OF STRUGGLE OR AN ENVIRONMENT HUMANS AREN’T MEANT TO BE COME IN TO PLAY AT ALL?
For the underwater work very much so. There is a huge safety factor that needs to be considered for yourself and the models. When I do workshops and training for other photographers’ groups, the first thing I talk about is safety. For anybody wearing wet clothing, deep water has immediate safety concerns–and that’s all before you get into lighting, gear and the usual things.
On the positive element, building from there as a photographer, you’re trying to overcome the need to breath and to be at the surface, to fumble with equipment in an awkward environment, get down and below working with your subject and reflections. And that’s while trying to do so in a relaxed manner so that you can maximize your time under the water. For the models, they of course have to overcome their initial fears or hesitancies about going under water or holding their breath, or having water go up their nose–but the fact that you can’t communicate while you’re underwater to each other is the biggest challenge. You need to continually surface, and build on what was just done, and be able to communicate what worked and what you want to try differently. It’s a hugely tiring experience for the model. It’s almost always a successful process, and very tiring but the rewards are very much worth it.
It’s never perfect, and almost always a surprise from what you intended to capture.
WE’VE SEEN SOME UNDERGROUND IMAGES FROM YOU, CAN YOU EXPLAIN SOME OF YOUR PAST UNDERGROUND WORK AND HOW YOU GOT STARTED DOING THAT?
Most of my assignments come by request from clients, or referrals from other photographers, and that is how I find myself doing industrial work underground. Industrial on its own is a speciality that needs to be approached with caution because there is a huge amount of safety elements involved, so there’s not a lot of people that do it. Along with the demands on gear, equipment, and lighting–it’s tricky. Underground photography again has all of those elements, and again all of the creative challenges that I thrive on. It’s quite the experience because when you’re underground, for the most part you’re in areas that are pitch black. You’re wearing head to toes, many layers thick of safety gear–so you can’t see your cameras very well, you’ve got safety goggles that can fog up, camera controls are tough to manipulate. And then, you’re trying to style and light incredibly huge objects and areas down in the dark where you literally can’t hear or speak to the people you’re trying to direct, with all of the machinery and moving air sounds that are going on. It’s an intense experience–quite dangerous but also a really cool opportunity for creating funky and very commercial oriented images for my clients.
The lighting is where I found the Lume Cubes have been a real asset in my recent work. I can simply put them anywhere I need them to be able to light up the area, to be able to light up the subjects or add light behind the subjects. In many cases, it is the only light that exists other than the light off of your head lamps. They have been a real big advantage to putting them anywhere I want. The trick is to remember to pick them up before some big machine runs over them, which has happened!
WHAT’S IN YOUR CAMERA BAG RIGHT NOW?
Right now I’m headed out for some architectural work in five different cities across Canada, so I’ve got the following:
4 Nikon SB-5000
3 lenses with ranges from 24-200mm up to a 300mm
I’ve got some other gear that will go in checked luggage, but this is what I’m carrying onto the plane.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU MADE YOUR FAVORITE IMAGE WITH A LUME CUBE?
I’ve got many favorite images–it always changes with the next shoot. The recent session I did was with a fitness athlete and I had the large open pool area that I put six Lume Cubes under the water and I created this large cross light circle, so the skill of the fitness woman doing her poses in the underwater realm with the intensity of the Lume Cubes lighting was just a blast and even better looking in the images afterwards.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT IN PHOTOGRAPHY AND WORKING WITH ARTIFICIAL LIGHT?
Absolutely–find an alley and look at the light. Look at how natural light behaves. Start simple where you only have light from one direction, and then two directions. You can even hold up your hand in front of the two directions of light and see how the light interacts on the different surfaces of your hand. Do that with two or three directions of light before you start trying to work with artificial lights, because then you’ll know how to place them and get a better sense as to how to see the light for knowing what you like and what you want to build for yourself.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE?
I’ve got many different favorite quotes – they always seem to come into play during different shoots or different inspiration times. I think right now it is, Leonard Cohen’s “there is a crack in everything–that’s how the light gets in.”
Really as photographers, that’s what we’re trying to do–bring a little bit of light into the story that’s already in front of us.
ANY SPECIAL PROJECTS IN THE WORKS YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?
One project I have coming up that I’m very excited about is this coming November. It’s a photo tour expedition to southern India. I’ll be leading a group of 6-8 people to experience the amazing culture, lifestyle, locations and beauty of southern India, as a somewhat luxurious tropical getaway in a very small group photo safari. There’s a couple of space is still left on the trip, contact me if anyone’s interested.
I’m currently on a 6-week project across Canada doing different large commercial architectural work for a client. It’ll be in 9-10 different cities with lots of different light conditions, and all different times of the day, even into the night without speedlights and Lume Cubes. That’s my biggest commercial project right now.
And of course, I have a couple of underwater projects that let’s just say are going to be intense funky fashion with a variety of different models and ideas going towards that. I’ll let you know when the results are in on that one.
DESCRIBE LUME CUBE IN 5 WORDS OR LESS.
Portable, intense, universal lighting solution.
Rad! Thanks for sharing with us your amazing images, stories and insights.
You can find more of Craig Minielly work at the following sites:
Other website: https://www.craigsactions.com/