Friday 9 June 2017

Geek Latte | Kurtis Stewart: Photographer and Mentor

The Tall German on a Bike

Kurtis' photography journey began just over a decade ago when he purchased his first ever camera, the Canon Rebel XT. If it were not for his sweet Oma (Grandmother in German) helping him purchase the camera, we can only speculate what Kurtis would be doing right now!

In 2007, Kurtis enrolled in the Full Time Professional Photo Imaging Program at Langara College where he had the opportunity to work with several well known local photographers. The mentor-student relationship was integral to him growing as a photographer and it is something Kurtis cherishes from his early years. Of course, Kurtis is no longer a student, but instead is a full time photographer undertaking portraits, weddings, and events with a Canon 5D Mark I in one hand and a Canon 1D Mark IV in the other.

“I like to bike, bus, [and] train around Vancouver so that has me traveling pretty light to my shoots. It’s almost easier to work with some gear restraints, as you really get to know your tools at hand.”

Kurtis has an impressive portfolio of work, but I was curious to know which assignment is his favourite and why. Without a moment of hesitation, Kurtis replied - Edgars Creative Bike Shoot . He went on to explain how photographers can often find their creativity being suppressed by clients or producers. Kurtis was given complete control of the project, from the very beginning to the end; therefore, allowing him to execute the concept he had in mind. It was a big confidence booster for him as the images turned out beautiful and he was able to create almost 90% of what he had envisioned. 

Backlit Images

Backlighting and Kurtis have become synonymous as he often shoots his pictures in this style. Kurtis summed it up simply - it always makes my client's faces look fantastic! 
By shooting his pictures backlit, Kurtis is able to capture a picture where his subject is the focus and the background is obscured. 

For beginners, Kurtis suggests backlighting as it does not require any extraneous equipment and for the most part, this style works for most locations. Backlighting is a versatile technique as it works on a sunny or cloudy day. 

So how does backlighting work? Kurtis explained how you want the light to be placed behind the subject because it removes the unappealing racoon-eye shadows from their faces. As well, by overexposing the background, you draw more attention to the subject. 

" Sometimes you’re stuck in a location you don’t love… with light that’s not the best, backlighting solves a majority of these issues. "

Though camera technology continues to improve at a rapid rate, Kurtis was quick to point out that our cameras are still unable to handle backlighting very well. As there is a large contrast from dark to bright; therefore, the camera has a tough time finding a clear point to focus on. It will take some practice to know where you want your subject to be in relation to the light and what the correct exposure is, but you will figure it out! 

Embracing the Mentor Role

When Kurtis is not behind the lens, he is in front of a classroom passing on his knowledge and experience to students at Langara. Somehow, he always knew he would become an instructor at Langara, in the very school he was once a student in. The best teachers are the ones who genuinely care about their students and Kurtis embodies everything a student could ask for. Kurtis recognizes that we all learn differently, so he has made it his priority to explain a concept several different way until it finally "clicks" for his student. 

Kurtis has really drawn on his own experience from his time as a student at Langara to help him not just be good, but a GREAT instructor. For instance, Kurtis tries to give his feedback on assignments within a week as photography is very much so cumulative. It is only through critique are you able to learn what you can change to produce better pictures. Since Kurtis himself is a working professional photographer, he loves sharing his experience and stories from shoots with his classes. In fact, he is always itching to share his work and talk anything photography, so he gets very excited when someones asks him questions related to being a working photographer! 

Also, full disclosure, I took Basic Digital Design in the fall of 2016 and Kurtis was my instructor. I intentionally enrolled in his section because the information session I attended for this course was given by Kurtis. He was so knowledgeable and really brought his own fresh outlook on beginners photography. I may sound biased, but I swear I honestly do not think I would have fallen in love with photography if it were not for this amazing individual. 

Kurtis will be teaching the12 week course: Basic Digital Photography (pick from either Tues or Wed nights) 6:30-9:30pm at Langara College this coming Fall 2017. 

If you want to see more of Kurtis’ work visit:


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