Indie Artists Week Feature #6 - Joanna Vandervalk (PHOTOGRAPHER)

  Hey everybody! I'm here to brighten your day with one more indie artist feature. Today's artist is photographer, Joanna Vandervalk. Joanna is another personal friend of mine and actually took both my engagement and wedding photos - and did a stellar job! I have worked at camp with her and she has been camp photographer along with many other wedding and family shoots, but her main focus is landscape photography. Along with being a photographer, Joanna is a talented sketcher and a fellow bookworm, so we are kindred spirits! Keep reading to learn more about her and to see our interview.

Joanna Vandervalk is an Alberta based landscape and portrait photographer. She is an avid traveller, book reader, tea drinker, and adventurer. She believes that timing is everything in photography. When working with clients for weddings and portraits, her aim is to capture all the fleeting little moments of life in the most authentic ways possible. She works to make it so that her clients don’t feel like they’re being photographed, but rather that they’re sharing intimate, precious moments. She’s always trying to push her creative boundaries and create images that help viewers see the beauty in the small things and the big things of human nature and of nature in itself.  

  You can find Joanna on her:


  *As an aside, here are some of my favorite shots she took from our wedding/engagement shoots:

A testament to her skills: we don't look nearly this good in real life. :P

Q: When did you first start photography and when did you first start taking it seriously as a career?

A: I was 12 the first time I knew I was interested in photography. I’ve always been a rather artistic, romantic-at-heart kind of person, so I think that transferred quite naturally into capturing the beauty of the smallest human interactions, and the vastness and majesty of our ever-changing landscapes here in Alberta. I didn’t start taking it seriously as a career option until just the last two years or so when I was being requested more and more through word-of-mouth advertising as a wedding and portrait photographer and as I’ve seen how much business growth you can create and obtain through the world-connecting element of social media.

Q: What do you consider your epiphany moment, where you decided this was what you wanted to do?

A: I don’t think there was an exact epiphany moment… It’s been sort of a gradual fire building inside me over the years and now when I think about doing it as my career, it gives me this sort of profound almost unexplainable fierce feeling deep in my soul (there’s the romantic coming out!). The more I go out into the mountains and go hiking, the more I see the inspiring work of other creative visual artists, the more I get to capture precious human interactions and see the photos come out in the end, the more the fire inside me grows.

Q: Do you have a process when it comes to taking your shots? How do you usually begin a shoot?

A: It kind of depends on what I’m shooting. If I’m prepping to do a wedding or engagement shoot I will usually spend some time going back through old photos I’ve taken - remembering what worked and what didn’t, and what ‘pings’ I used to get authentic emotional responses from my clients. If I’m going out to shoot landscapes, usually I make a whole day of it: wake up and head out around 4am, depending on the time of year, to capture sunrise, then stay out shooting until sunset (and into the night! Landscape photographers don’t get much sleep haha!). For landscape days, I plan out what hikes I’m going to do and what places I want to visit beforehand so that I can be sure to get the best light at the right times. A lot of times, I’ll have a certain kind of shot in mind that I want to achieve and so I’ll try to create that shot. It doesn’t always work out the way I envisioned, but when it does, it’s so incredibly satisfying!

Q: What kind of camera(s), lenses, editing software, etc, do you use? Tell us about your equipment and why you’ve chosen it.

A: I’ve been shooting on Canon since the beginning, so I’ve sortof just stuck to using that. It’s amazing quality gear and I’ve invested a lot of earnings into buying the best that I can afford, so at this point even though I’d love to switch to a mirrorless Sony system (like the A7R IV that was just released!!), it just wouldn’t be worth the cost right now.
I currently shoot with a Canon 6D, and I have a number of different lenses for different situations. I actually just purchased my first non-Canon brand lens last week! It’s a Sigma ART 35mm prime lens with a very high light sensitivity. It’s my new portrait lens and I’m in love!
For editing I only use Adobe software. Mostly right now I stick with Lightroom (which I love because I can develop presets that sort of define my particular style, especially in portraiture, that I can then tweak to fit each individual photo). The software has advanced so much that I only need to switch out into Photoshop if I’m working on something really complex that requires layers and masks etc.

Q: What would you say is the key to the success you’ve seen in your growth as a photographer over the years?

A: Just going out and doing it. Forcing myself to be creative when I’m feeling in a slump. Seeing other photographers’ work on social media. Interacting with other photographers and creatives. I could list lots of things that have influenced my growth, but I think that networking with like minded people is a huge part of growth. (Speaking of which, there’s this organization called Socality (@socality on Instagram) that aims to do exactly that! It’s an organization specifically created for building community among creatives with love and acceptance being the central building structure! I only recently discovered how awesome it is! If you’re a creative, I highly recommend checking them out and joining a group in your area!)

Q: I know you do landscape photography as well as weddings and family shoots. What is your favorite things to shoot and why?

A: Ohhh you can’t ask that question haha! Too hard to answer. They’re so different! … I guess the main difference is that portrait work is fleeting and you have to be speedy to capture the moment, while landscapes are ‘slow’  in comparison.  I love doing portrait work because I get to witness all the tiny, fleeting moments that make human life beautiful - that almost kiss between lovers where they breathe each other in, the tenderness between parents and children, the laughter and joy in friendship, the shenanigans of siblings. All those little glimpses are so precious and essential to portrait work and they’re why I love it. For landscapes, I love that every time I visit a place it’s different and unique, and it’s always there but always changing (environmentally too). Landscapes are also endlessly forgiving. They’re not going to be upset if you miss a moment or don’t edit a certain way, or what have you…

Q: How would you describe your photography style?

A: In a word: colourful. There are a lot of trends that go on in the photography community now that social media has made creative work so easily accessible. The biggest trend right now is desaturated photos with dark tones. I’m not really a trend follower, and the current editing trends are not what life is like. Editing is an art in and of itself. When I edit, I try to recreate not just the way that the moment actually looked, but also the emotion I felt in the moment. I love this Ansel Adams quote “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in its entirety.” Overall, my photos tend to be bright, colourful, and warm - because that’s how I look at life.

Q: Do you have any degrees/certificates in your artistic field? Or are you pursuing any?

A: Nope. I’m self-taught mostly (I took a few courses in highschool), but I’d like to pursue a design or business degree in the future (after I finish my current degree perhaps) (If I have any money left).

Q: How did you go about perfecting your artistic skills? Were you self-taught?

A: ‘Perfecting’ is a tricky term haha! I’m definitely not perfect at photography. I learn a lot by just doing (and failing!), and I learn a lot through exploring social media work by other photographers. I’m always trying to push myself out of the norm by finding new ways of framing, processing, and shooting in general. There’s also this nifty thing you probably haven’t heard of called youtube that’s quite an excellent tool when you’re trying to do something but you’re not quite sure how, it can be quite inspirational too.

Q: Which is your favorite book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy?

A: Two Towers. Definitely.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring young photographers? What is the best advice you’ve received?

A: Don’t worry too much about what other people are doing. Find your own style and make a niche of what you’re photographing. Your photos are not going to be hugely affected by the quality of your gear when you’re starting out. Despite what many people think, your camera does NOT “take great pictures”. You do. You make the camera go and you capture your own unique perspective of the world. My biggest piece of advice though is to immediately start shooting full manual and in RAW only. Doing this will give you so much more creative space with your photos and editing!

Q: What is your favorite and least favorite part of photography?

A: My favourite part is doing it! Any time I’m out taking photos or networking, I’m totally in my element and I adore every moment of it.
Talking about money with clients is my least favourite. It’s always a struggle because people have certain ideas and expectations of what photography costs should be and what they think is involved and they don’t understand the true value and cost of it. When you see a price for a service like photography, it’s not just for the photographer to “click a button all day” (huge pet peeve!). The price includes things like travel, gear, software and hardware, editing time, professional development, and many other things. It’s the behind the scenes that most people don’t understand.

Q: What is one thing (or several!) you would like to see change about how the creative community is treated when it comes to working as an artist, especially an independent one?

A: I think each of the creative sectors have their own specific problems to deal with. This totally goes along with my least favourite part of photography/being a creative. I’d like to see a change in how creativity, creatives, and creative products are viewed and valued as a whole and in general. Without creativity, you don’t have culture and culture is part of what makes us human. Creativity needs to be more highly valued in society. Creatives look at the world in a different way, they problem solve in a different way. That’s what our society needs. No more of this ‘fitting everyone into a societal mold’ garbage. Creativity is what makes us different and what makes the world exciting! We were made by the Creator, He invented it - so I think as a Christ Follower this is part of my worship and calling. (If you want to read more about this, definitely check out the upcoming book Called to Create by Jordan Raynor!)

Q: What is something you would like to see change in the creative community?

A: People outside of the community accepting, appreciating, and understanding the value of what creatives contribute to society; then, not complaining about the cost of our creative products.

Q: Who is someone who inspires your photography career?

A:  Oh geeze. So many people. Too many to mention them all, but here’s a few: Chris Burkard, Kilian Schoenburger, Alex Strohl, Paul Zizka, Michael Matti. Really any photographers or visual artists that are out there pushing creative boundaries and doing cool projects.

Q: Where do you see/want to see your photography career in five years?

A: Hopefully growing my client base for weddings and portraiture, being an adventure and travel photographer, and doing ‘in-action’ product shoots for environmentally conscious outdoor gear companies that are working on sustainable product innovations.

Q: Aside from photography, what are some of your other hobbies/talents?

A: I drink a lot of tea and read books. And draw sometimes. Also lots of hiking. Swing dancing. And nerding out about nerdy things, in general. Star Wars! I adore travelling and have set a few different goals in terms of exploration. My two most recent are: to visit and photograph every national park in Canada within the next ten years, and to visit and experience every continent! There are only a very few people in the world who have visited every country, so that would be cool too. I’m currently at 10 countries that I’ve lived in/visited.

Q: What is one (or a couple!) shot you consider your best work? Why? Do you mind sharing it/them?

A: Hmm. I think that changes a lot every time I go out shooting. I think it’s more that I get a few new favourite shots per year. I got two new favourite landscape shots this year and then pretty much every portrait shoot/wedding I do, I find new favourite portrait shots (though those are harder, because each portrait is so different according to the people I’m capturing).

Q: How have you managed your time to effectively create while still being able to do other things you love/hold a job/go to school/etc?

A: Ha! Have I managed it effectively? That’s a difficult thing to do when you’re a full time student in university. For instance, I’ve still got 1.5 weddings to edit through from this summer before I go and shoot another wedding in Mexico on November 7th. One thing I do try to do though, is when I’m feeling smothered by too much school and homework and not enough creativity, I’ll take a morning to myself and go out to the mountains for sunrise. Doing that usually gives me a fresh burst for creative energy and I can cope for a while longer.

Q: Do you ever have times of self-doubt and worry that you find hard to get through concerning your creative career? Do you mind sharing about them?

A: Yep. It’s always hard not to play the comparison game - seeing other creatives that you think are ‘better’ than you or more successful. Wondering if you’ll ever get to that point. Hoping that you’ll get to that point someday. It’s hard to see past that sometimes.

Q: Where/how do you gather the most inspiration for photography?

A: I enjoy reading photographer biographies when I get a chance - especially ones from classic photographers. You learn a lot about what it was like shooting back in the day and gain a ton of appreciation for how relatively easy we have it today.

Q: What is your biggest dream relating to your creative career?

A: To be able to fully sustain my living and travel off of work provided by my client base.

Q: What do you feel has been a defining moment in your career so far?

A: It’s hard to pinpoint something specific. I don’t know if I’ve had a specifically defining moment. I feel like every time I go out with the specific intention of learning and being creative, I push my creative journey further along. As I travel the road, what I experience defines and refines me.

Q: What do you feel is the hardest part of being an independent artist?

A: Making a decent living, and having your work stand out in an oversaturated market.

Q: And what is the most rewarding?

A: For me, seeing how much my clients love their photos and seeing the comments that other people make about them. Words of affirmation are my love language, so it’s a very important part of my work to know that what I’ve created is appreciated and loved by others as much as I love it. Happy clients make a happy me!

Q: Finally, where do you see your career heading in the near future? Any big changes or excitement ahead that you’re looking forward to?

A: Hopefully when I finish my degree next year I can really start focusing on growing my client base and building my portfolio. Finishing my website is a big key to that - I just haven’t had proper time to devote to it at this point.
In terms of exciting things, I get to shoot my first destination wedding this month in Mexico. Plus, I get to be there with two of my best friends (Brooke being one of them. She has a previous interview on here with Emily that you should definitely check out!) and my brother. Pretty stoked about that. It’s going to be epic! 

  Thanks for the great interview, Joanna (even if I was piling on more things for you to do XD)! I hope you guys have really enjoyed this week, Joanna is our last feature - so be sure to tell me your opinion of Independent Artists Week and what medium of art was your favorite to learn about? Thank you so much for following along with this venture! I have had a blast, hope you did too! :DD


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