From last week’s Pacific Island-based Photog Friday we travel to the (currently) frozen expanses of Canada to meet Adventure Photographer Kamil Bialous. He enjoys chopping wood, skiing, recreation plumbing, and has been known to shoot a photo or two. Working as a pro commercial and editorial photographer, Kamil specializes in outdoor adventure and lifestyle photography. How does he do it? What are his secrets? Where’s he headed? Read on and learn more about this gifted tog…
Name: Kamil Bialous
Country of residence: Canada (Toronto)
My name is Kamil Bialous. I’m a professional commercial and editorial photographer from Toronto, Ontario. My work focuses primarily around outdoor adventure and lifestyle imagery, as well as travel and documentary photography services.
I enjoy surfing, travel, meeting new people, suffering a little bit, Bill Withers, navigating large ships into small ports, chopping wood, recreational plumbing, having a camera at my side, skiing, good snow, skiing on good snow, finding places that are hard to get to, trying to get to those places, learning languages and then thinking that I am good at them, creating new perspectives, working through problems, and people – curmudgeonly and not – but especially those who have passion.
I am based out of Toronto where I live with two cats, Abraham and Owl, and my fiancee.
How did you first get interested in photography?
My interests in photography didn’t begin until I was about 18 years old, and that is when I took a trip to Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa to volunteer for a summer at the end of high school. I really enjoyed photographing people the most, even though we did get a chance to go on a couple safaris. Upon my return I studied International Development which was quite heavily influenced by my trip. When my studies finished, I knew that I didn’t want a cubicle job, so while being heavily involved in the outdoors, rock climbing in particular, I started shooting it. That led to other adventures, with passionate people always being at the core of my images.
What do you like to shoot?
As I said before, people, especially passionate people are at the heart of the images I create. They don’t have to be happy, they don’t have to be curmudgeonly, but there has to be a passion inside there somewhere. Very often it’s not evident at the start and I look at employing various techniques to give that passion some light, so to speak. I tend to gravitate to active people because there is also a burning desire in me to be out with them searching for the next adventure.
What’s your approach to photography, your philosophy? What do you look for? How do you set-up a shot?
My approach has always been to make people more comfortable in front of a lens. Shooting active lifestyle can often be easier especially when involving adventure athletes because they are focused, and in the zone, and hence the shots look really authentic and unposed, which is key. Because these people are often free spirits, it takes a little coaching and talking to, to get them to relax with a lens pointed close at their face. In addition to this I always try to give my shots a bit of a twist, perhaps underexpose a bit, perhaps blow out the highlights, let the shutter drag a bit, or throw it slightly out of focus to suit the mood – it becomes like flavoring at this point. I think especially with adventure photography where everything is often shot crispy sharp, it’s important to provide the client with an image that still represents and depicts their needs well, but that is differing from what everyone else out there is going to offer. So if everyone’s going to shoot crisp adventure shots, mine will have some blur and emotion.
What is the best photo you have taken? Why? Background and details, please…
I think the best photo I have shot was taken on a sea kayaking trip on the north shore of Lake Superior in Canada in September. It’s certainly one of a few favorites of mine. Our group traveled a leisurely 100 kilometers down the coast, kind of exploring little rocky bays and coves. During this whole time I was trying to get new perspectives of sea kayaking, stuff you wouldn’t see anywhere else, so I was shooting with a soft underwater case for my Nikon D300. You know, everyone’s seen the kayak shot of the front deck of the boat with a few kayakers out in front, so I was constantly racking my mind on how to get the shot that represented the fun in kayaking and the connection to the water.
One afternoon when we were ending our paddling day, I paddled ahead of the group because I knew the setup of the cove and that it would make a great ‘half-submerged shot.” I got out of my boat, grabbed my camera and had a few seconds to manually prefocus, and set aperture priority with a minus EV. I swam out to meet the first kayaker coming in and composed the shot when a little wave passed right in front of my lens at the time I pressed the shutter. I didn’t know I got anything until that evening when I reviewed my photos.
Exif says: Nikon D300, Nikon 17-35 2.8 @ 19mm, f11 @ 1/500s, iso 200, -2/3 EV, manually prefocused.
What gear are you using? What else do you want to buy?
I have a very basic approach to my gear, almost “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and all my photo equipment needs to be as light as possible. However, on a few recent shoots I’ve been shooting a D3 and I really enjoy the image quality coming out of it. I shoot a Nikon D300 for it’s small size and relatively good IQ, Nikon 17-35mm f2.8, Nikon 70-210mm f4 – an oldie, but the optics are superb on my sample and there is nothing in the Nikon line with constant f4, and a couple of fast primes for low light and shallow DOF, 50mm f1.8, and 85mm f1.8. Outside of that I’ve got all your regular flash gizmos and portable diffusers.
In the near future I can see myself getting the next generation of small body, full frame, low noise Nikon as long as it has HD video, and perhaps a 24-70mm 2.8 to go with that. Outside of this, I’m really excited by new wireless radio trigger technology and will likely get either the Elinchrom Skyport, the new Pocketwizard, or the Radio Popper system. We’ve heard many people say that they don’t like the look of flash in the outdoors. I think it comes down to knowledge and desired look – personally I think it’s very useful, especially in my field.
Which area of photography would you like to explore further (macro, landscapes, portraits)
I’ve again started exploring the environmental portrait both in-studio and outdoors. Almost anyone can see a mountain biker or runner going by snap the shutter and get a ‘decent’ shot, but with environmental portraits, there is a void that is left to interpretation and creative license on the photographer’s part. I’m trying to expand the boundaries of that void; trying to take the definition of environmental portraiture a step further.
Where do you see your photography 5 years from now?
Whether I stay in Toronto, or relocate out to western Canada (it’s always been a dream of mine) I want to continue to grow three things well. First, is my aesthetic; I want my images to have unique characteristics that separate my photos from everyone else’s. Second is my business; which I would like to see become a recognized source for cutting edge adventure and lifestyle imagery. Third; I would like to join forces with other photographers out there who are growing frustrated by mediocre and stale imagery in lifestyle media, to try to breathe life and expand boundaries of what is “safe” to run.
What the best advice you would give to fellow photographers?
This is by no means my idea, but something I’ve amalgamated from hearing different photographers speak and have been telling other photographers in my area: You have to shoot/create something that is not currently being sold or run in magazine, but something that YOU believe SHOULD be being sold and run. You cannot give into photo ed’s saying this is safe and this isn’t – you have to try to blow their perception of what should be being run out of the water and expand those boundaries. Keep shooting what you believe is the next best thing and the world will come around. Be ahead of your time.