In Focus

While our Focus Fridays feature shows us a snapshot of some of the talent we’ve been hiding in the valley, In Focus takes us on a more in-depth analysis of local photographers. From their work to their inspirations, we visit their processes, locations, tips and tricks. Carefully curated by Jeremy Hiebert.

In Focus: Jason Drury

As a masters student in human geography, Jason Drury brings a fascinating analytical approach to his photography. Not that it’s dry or scholarly — there’s often a real sense of humour and whimsy in his pictures — but there is often more to an image than first meets the eye. This approach is rooted in his research interests in landscapes (including ours), as well as how people represent and interact with them.

I first dug into Jason’s pictures as part of a project to assemble individual galleries of work in our I Love the Okanagan group on Flickr. His unique abstracts filled that first gallery, but it could have just as easily focused on epic landscape shots or urban grit from all over the continent. The range and quality of his pictures imply deep curiosity and a great eye for patterns.

This week he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his learning and creativity for Awesome Okanagan.

How long have you been doing photography?

I’ve been getting more involved with my photography, at least in the Okanagan for about two years now. I’ve always had a camera of one sort or another, but recently I’ve been able to explore my vision and perception of the world with the dedication and process I think it deserves.

Any favourite locations in the valley?

Considering I live in downtown Kelowna, I would have to say that it is my favorite location to shoot just for the ease of access it affords me. I enjoy wandering the alleyways and industrial areas at night, and in the day shooting from the hip on the streets. There are so many other spots I know I need to explore some more however, and I have only touched the surface of everything around here.

Any influences or photographers you admire?

One of my favorite photographers would have to be Edward Burtynsky. His representations of landscapes transformed by humans really speak to me. Especially as a student of human geography I’m interested in the ways that humans interact with, change, and think of the places they live.


Could you tell us a bit about your research and how it affects your photography?

My Master’s research as a human geographer has to do with the way that landscapes are represented, particularly by the tourism industry in the Okanagan. We often take the meanings attributed to places and that are transposed onto them for granted.

As natural resource based economies and industries left places in the province like Kelowna, these places had to promote themselves in ways they hadn’t before in order to draw money back to their regions. The Okanagan has many physical attributes that are easily idealized and sold for tourists to consume.

In my photography I try to not to idealize the landscape as much as possible. But I must admit that it can be very hard not to do so.

Living in the western world we are ‘trained’ to ‘see’ landscapes around us in particular ways that originated in the era of classical landscape paintings and portrayed notions of the sublime landscape. After all, who can ignore amazing plays of light on the hills around you, or the saturated colors of the clouds left by the setting sun?

For more of Jason’s photos, visit his Flickr page:

In Focus features interesting Okanagan photographers and their work each month. Individual photos are also featured each week on Focus Friday. The author primarily picks stuff from the I Love the Okanagan group on Flickr — if you have suggestions or ideas for photography features, please pass them along to

In Focus: Simon and Deborah Kuhl

There are dozens (hundreds?) of photographers doing portraits and weddings in the Okanagan. I was reluctant to feature one for two reasons: a lot of them are doing it exceptionally well, making it difficult to choose, and also because drawing attention to one looks like commercial favoritism. On the other hand, I thought it might be interesting to get a glimpse into this genre and learn something new.

Simon and Deborah seem to be taking a unique path, shooting a wide range of different subjects and styles, sharing their work, participating in online communities, and working together as a couple. These two obviously love the Okanagan, and would be taking pictures here even if they weren’t making a business of it.

Instead of a cross-section of different styles, I opted to feature a number of their black and white portraits. There’s a wonderful timeless quality to many of them; a sense that the picture has value even when you don’t know the people portrayed. I get the impression of authenticity, and of stories being told, whether the shots are posed or not. They were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their photographic journey so far.

Q. Favourite locations in the valley?
A. Linden Gardens is where it all started for us and we still shoot there regularly. The scenery changes by the week and it’s such a refreshing place to be, on many levels. Plus the coffee is great. It’s a place where we are relaxed and can experiment with many different styles and subjects.

We also loved living on the sunny east side of the valley and would get great results on our sunset photo-walks after dinner.

Q. Influences or artists/photographers you admire?
A. Tara Morris’ work totally blew us away when we first saw it! Her work with natural light and her gift for capturing familial bonds and wonderful expressions is still the benchmark for us. We also appreciate her keen focus and how she has carved herself a specialty niche, both in her style and in her subject matter. She could no doubt expand into other fields and styles, but her work stays true to her strengths and what she is most passionate about.

Yousef Karsh was a master who also influenced us.

Stephen Wilde was always Simon’s favourite mountain biking photographer. In a segment chock-full of amazing photography, Stephen’s work shifted away from pursuing the highest technical quality and headed straight–on to grittier images that were full of emotion, a sense of place, real experience and a more artistic vision. His style was distinct.

Flickr, of course is an awesome source of learning and inspiration. There are too many to list, but the best part is the variety of styles that you can draw inspiration from. We also find working with other types of artists to be inspiring, for example fashion models and musicians.


Q. You’ve captured some wonderful faces. Any tips for aspiring portrait photographers?
A. Thank you! Start with people you know and are comfortable with. This will make for more natural expressions and take some of the pressure off. Practice a lot. Also, do a lot of research about styles, lighting, philosophy, etc but develop what you learn into your own unique style, because that is what will set your work apart.

Another tip I thought of for the question regarding aspiring portrait photographers — shoot a lot of frames. It only costs you a little more editing time. The higher the stakes and larger you feel the challenge is, the more frames you should take. If it means deleting 30 images to get that one perfect expression, who cares?

Q. The wedding/family/portrait business keeps getting more crowded. Any thoughts on the difficulties and opportunities in the business of photography in the valley?
A. Great question! The market is hyper-competitve for sure and that drives down prices. From the outset we recognized that we would have to focus on taking deeply meaningful photographs that would have intrinsic value to our clients AND develop a distinct style.

We also recognized that while technology has opened the door to more amateur photographers than ever before, there was, more importantly, a larger – almost insatiable – demand for images in our society than at any other time. Images are everywhere now and they are powerfully used to sell and promote and commemorate. For example, a couple getting married now may reasonably expect to get 100 – 250 high quality images. A few generations ago, most couples may have expected a few, or even just one.

The opportunities are there…but a photographer may have to reduce their expectations of income, look for opportunities where there is less competition, consider auxiliary services like teaching workshops or editing services, or specialize in a niche segment.

More from Kuhl Photo on the web:

In Focus features interesting Okanagan photographers and their work each month. Individual photos are also featured each week on Focus Friday. The author primarily picks stuff from the I Love the Okanagan group on Flickr — if you have suggestions or ideas for photography features, please pass them along to

In Focus: Greg Gaspari

Looking at the quality of Greg Gaspari’s pictures, you’d never guess that he’s only been serious about photography for a couple of years. He’s exploring a variety of subjects and genres with the skill and range of someone with a lot more experience, creating memorable images with wonderful light and precision.

I first took a proper look at Greg’s work while assembling a gallery in our I Love the Okanagan group on Flickr. His treatment of trees was striking — a simple subject that yielded a beautiful gallery, but one that didn’t properly cover the range of his interests. I asked him a few questions to learn more.

How long have you been doing photography in the Okanagan?

I bought my first camera on June 9th 2009, so that’s when it all started for me. A year and half later and thousands of dollars spent on more gear (which is addictive by the way), and here I am with a magazine cover to my credit (Okanagan Map Guides). I’m also being mentored by one of the top wildlife photographers in North America.

Favourite locations in the valley?

I love shooting all over the Okanagan for its beautiful scenery and abundance of wildlife. Some of my more travelled routes are up to Chute Lake and the surrounding area. Down Old Westside Road, anywhere along Okanagan Lake and up Hwy 33…I have my camera beside me when ever I leave the house, so I’m ready no matter where I am. I’m still trying to figure out where all the photography hotspots are, but that’s half the fun.

Influences or artists/photographers you admire?

First off, I get inspiration from my Flickr friends in the Okanagan, for locations, styles or subjects — I benefit from their experience and vision. I draw inspiration from Moose Peterson, especially his talents and teaching in the field of wildlife photography.

Your pictures tend to show the pure beauty of the valley — how do you see the landscape changing now and in the future?

Landscapes are always changing. As I mature as a photographer, the way I perceive and capture them will surely change, and I hope that reflects positively in my pictures.

Any thoughts on the changing technology of photography, or how the internet affects how you share and learn?

I’ve been playing guitar for nearly 25 years — all self-taught — but the web (YouTube and other sites) has made learning so much easier and quicker. That has transferred to my photography as well. Information that was hard to come by just a few years ago is now at the tips of my fingers. It is easier for people like me to go out and a buy guitar or a camera, take it home, and be learning within minutes. Sharing photos is the same way — two clicks and my pictures are on the web or in a friend’s e-mail…beautiful!

Orchard in February

For more of Greg’s photos, check out:

Calgary Tower

Hunter Italian Farm House-2006


In Focus features interesting Okanagan photographers and their work each month. Individual photos are also featured each week on Focus Friday.  The author primarily picks stuff from the I Love the Okanagan group on Flickr — if you have suggestions or ideas for photography features, please pass them along to

In Focus: Rick Forgo

Rick ForgoRick Forgo looks at the Okanagan with a unique eye, finding meaning and insight behind the idealized facade. Using unconventional methods and subjects the rest of us might ignore, he presents a grittier view of the valley’s urban scenes. This style really shines in his portrayal of his hometown, especially at night. Isn’t Vernon is fascinating in this light?

How long have you been doing photography in the Okanagan?
I started being really aware of the “artistic” aspects of photography and shooting accordingly in 2005. However, I’ve spent about half of these last five years in other locales, returning to the Okanagan in 2010.

Favourite locations in the valley?
I love the classic spots, the hiking trails, grasslands, beaches, and whatnot. But for photography I’m primarily drawn to urban areas. I also really enjoy shooting fringe areas such as urban parks or abandoned settlements, anywhere that natural and human-made environments intersect. If you see someone with a tripod and camera standing in an alley or on a corner in the middle of the night, it’s probably me.

Influences or artists/photographers you admire?
This is a tough one, as I probably don’t spend as much time as I should looking at other peoples’ works. There are quite a few Okanagan photographers on Flickr that I like to follow. I really enjoy seeing widely varying interpretations of the valley. I admire any artist who aims to transcend the perceived limitations of their medium to pursue work that others don’t think of or don’t consider worth pursuing. I also gain much inspiration from music. I feel like some of my best work can be considered a visual interpretation of what certain pieces of music mean to me.

What opportunities and limitations do you see for urban and street photography in Vernon and the valley as a whole?
The opportunities are there for artists to present interpretations of the Okanagan that have gone largely ignored. There is a popular conception that the Okanagan is a virtually unspoiled wonderland, when in reality, it is just as urbanized as anywhere else. Tourist brochures and popular interpretations idealize this place, allowing everyone to sweep social and ecological problems under the rug. There’s nothing wrong with an idealistic interpretation, but I think it needs to be balanced out. When we show the sweeping vistas, let’s not forget about the back alleys.

As an aside, I would like to see some photographers work to present the ecosystem of the valley as the fragile place it is. Last year we were in danger of running out of water. Water tables are being polluted by development. Fragile natural areas are being destroyed by development. These are only some examples. Artists should present these facts to the public so we can all work to address the issues. I’ve grappled with how I best might be able to do this through my own work. I’m not there yet, but I’m coming closer.

You have Creative Commons licenses on your photos — is it something you feel strongly about, and if so, how do you see your photography fitting into the “business of art” (if at all)?
It has to do with my belief in showing an alternate view. I want my work to be easily accessible and shareable, and a Creative Commons license is the best way to go about it in the context of Flickr. I’ve always been good at sharing. As for “business” I long ago decided to stay true to my vision, which meant that many avenues of profit — such as weddings and portraiture — available to valley photographers were closed to me. There are plenty of photographers who have a passion for those things but my passion lies elsewhere.

I’m not sure my photography fits into the “business of art” at all. I’m not sure many people are interested in paying for the subject matter I am presenting. They are interested in looking at it, but not in hanging it on their walls, therefore I suspect that my chances of making a living from my work are pretty slim. I’m okay with that though, and I’ll continue to portray what I am compelled to portray.

More of Rick’s photos:

In Focus: Darrel Giesbrecht

Local photographer Darrel Giesbrecht has been posting amazing photos to the I Love the Okanagan group on Flickr (as okanaganboy) for a couple of years. Earlier this year I assembled a gallery of some his shots based on the theme serenity.  I saw a real sense of calm and peacefulness in his work, and I suspect that this sense goes beyond how the scenes appear — they convey the actual experience of serenity, and probably capture something of Darrel’s personal journey.

Some of the pictures have the standard elements we associate with calming effects: water, forests and emptiness. But they strike me as unique views of familiar landscapes, and others explicitly include people as part of the experience of landscape, enjoying a type of spiritual connection with beautiful places. It’s impossible to encompass the full scope of Darrel’s work in a short profile, but you can check out his stuff online and exhibits up and down the valley. He’s shown his pictures in several local venues including the Rotary Center for the Arts.

Gallery of Photos from Darrel Giesbrecht

Serenity Now: Gallery of Photos from Darrel Giesbrecht

Photo by Darrel Giesbrecht:

Photo by Darrel Giesbrecht: