This blog post just has cat pictures. Enjoy!
A few weeks ago, I was thinking of starting my own mastermind group in Montreal. If you don’t know what a mastermind is, read more about it in a recent blog post I wrote about mastermind groups. Just think of it as a study group for self-employed people. I’m finally done with recruiting and found a lovely group of 8 freelancers, artists, and entrepreneurs. Let me introduce them to you! If you’ve seen my portrait & headshot portfolio, my Montreal Artists series, or read my blog, you might recognize a few faces! I feel bad reducing what these people do into a single word, because they do so much more, but here we go:
Myriam | Dancer
Reyhanne | Entrepreneur
Simon | Marketer
Dan | Writer
Meags | Illustrator
Ariel | Maker
Kayla | Graphic Designer (who I haven't photographed yet, so she's a cat for now)
Alex (hey that's me) | Photographer
The group just met for the first time last week at my place, and it went just as you would expect: I sat in an arm chair in a dark corner of the room, cross-legged and petting a cat, and once they all arrived, I announced that I had been expecting them, with a sinister voice of course. It went well.
I love that we’re in many ways a very diverse group. I’m excited to officially start the meetings in a few weeks and I’m sure we’ll have a lot to learn from each other. We’ll be meeting once a month over dinner to talk about different aspects about our respective businesses and projects, and we’ve already brainstormed enough discussion topics for at least a year. I’ll be reporting back occasionally with things I deem helpful for potential fellow freelancers or self-employed people who read my blog. Things like productivity tips, useful books/podcasts, marketing as a freelancer, etc. (Actually, if you're interested, let me know what topics you'd like to read about). In the meantime feel free to peruse (YES! First time I've used that word) my blog or sign up to my newsletter by clicking the banner below. Thanks for reading!
Mastermind groups have been on my mind for a while now. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s essentially a small group of people, usually entrepreneurs, freelancers or independent artists, who meet regularly to discuss their respective craft and business. After listening to a bunch of podcasts and webinars on the topic, I’ve decided to start my own Montreal mastermind group and I’m excited! Why is this important? As a photographer, I don’t have any immediate work colleagues to throw around ideas or discuss issues in my business. Freelancing can be absolutely terrifying. Why not team up with others who are in the same boat? With multiple people tackling a problem at a time, we can grow at a much faster rate than working on our own. I want honest, unbiased advice about my work. I see the value in outside perspectives from professionals in different fields. I know the importance of having an accountability group, to kick each other's asses when we're not meeting our goals, and to celebrate our wins, whether big or small. And I know there are like-minded people out there in Montreal! I posted a long status on Facebook asking if anyone would be interested and had a crazy case of FOCAPFS (Fear Of Crickets After Posting Facebook Status). Thankfully, people were interested, and responses are coming in. My goal now is to form a group of people who 1) can all mutually benefit from one another, 2) who I think would mesh well together, and 3) who have the same expectations in the structure of the group.
Photo intermission for this blog post that is mostly text. Here's an off-topic cup of coffee.
There’s actually a “conventional” structure for mastermind groups. Usually, a 4- or 5- person group meets on a regular interval (could be once a week or once a month), either in person or online, for about an hour. Each meeting starts with a round of updates and wins in our respective businesses, and then the designated person in the hot seat for that meeting presents a problem or topic they want to discuss, while the rest of the group listens and then chimes in to share experiences and advice. Meeting after meeting, the hot seat is passed on to another person, and with time, we learn more and more about each other’s work and grow together.
I have this mastermind fantasy. We all love each other, we help each other out, we develop sustainable ways of doing what we’re passionate about, we find the cure for cancer and we save the world from a zombie apocalypse. Am I too ambitious? I'm sure I’ll find others who share the same vision!
Thanks for reading!
UPDATE: I've found my group! Read more about the 8 members in my mastermind.
I just got back from photographing the 4-day Applied Improv Network conference in the Laurentians near Mont Tremblant. This is the second of three posts highlighting the amazing things I saw during the conference. See Part 1 and Part 3 here! Clearly, the organizing team of the Montreal AIN conference wanted to spoil us. As if the delicious food, cozy cabins, bonfire stargazing, and hilarious improv shows weren’t enough, they also treated us to a perfectly timed sunset-gondola ride up Mont Tremblant, where a massive feast was waiting for us in the Grand Manitou restaurant.
But there’s another reason why I was ecstatic about reaching the peak of Mont Tremblant: Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra was waiting for us!!! Knowing that they’d be coming, I made sure to bring my lights and all my equipment. I wanted to capture the frenzied chaos that is Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra. And sure enough, they put on a ridiculously energy-packed performance and partied with AIN conference attendees until midnight.
For those who don’t know Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra, they’re a Montreal-based band who fuse the Cumbia percussion rhythms from Caribbean-Colombia, along with the Gypsy style brass melodies. And along with their musicians and singers, they have dancers, who are as much part of the Orchestra as the trombonist or violinist. Only (yes only) 11 of them were present, all crammed on the small stage, but their infectious energy extended over the entire hall. The next day, I overheard a 60-year-old conference attendee say that he had initially planned on taking the early bus back, but once they started performing, he had to stay because he just couldn’t stop dancing.
Thanks for reading! In the next blog post, I’ll actually talk about the AIN conference and what it was about.
p.s. GKO - I’d really really really really love to do a photoshoot together.
I’ve always loved the look, feel, and smell of leather products. (Let’s ignore that it’s a weird sentence to start a blog post with.) The problem is that whenever I find a wallet or notebook that I like, there's a big logo that ruins it for me. I like sleek and minimal products. So I decided to go with the DIY-route, and after lots of pinning on Pinterest, YouTube videos, and forum scouring, I gave leatherworking a shot. It’s been over a year now and I love it! It's a slow and relaxing craft. Something manual that can keep me away from screens for hours. Now the funny thing is that 95% of the leathercraft education you get is… cowboyish? There are countless tutorials and guides for knife sheaths, gun holsters, or very ornate leather products with skulls and flowers. I’m more interested in modern leather accessories. Here are a few examples.
My very first product was this iPhone sleeve. Two simple pieces hand-stitched together.
Then I started experimenting with slightly more complex pieces and made a little roll-up pencil case.
Here's my Midori-style notebook cover with DIY notebooks inside. I love it and use it all the time. The best thing about using vegetable-tanned full-grain leather is that it's going to accumulate character with scratches and a nice patina over time. I like how nice and pretty it looks here, but in 5 years it'll be even better.
And of course - leather camera straps! More specifically, I made myself a dual-camera harness.
There’s been a resurgence with these harnesses lately after Holdfast came out with their leather version of camera harnesses. So I put my leathercraft knowledge to work and made myself a custom-fit harness (I also use it as regular belts because why not?). I’m really excited to try out these straps for a full wedding day in a few weeks! My back will be thanking me.
I’m also experimenting with other photography-related products. A photographer recently asked me to co-design a leather camera bag specifically for wedding photographers. In addition, I’m starting to design more traditional leather camera straps. Maybe I should work on an Etsy profile... I’m excited to see where this leathercraft-photography pairing goes!
I had been meaning to do a visual identity refresher for a while now. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I was listening to a podcast about procrastination while procrastinating that I realized I was procrastinating about this. I’ll walk you through the changes one by one. Let’s start with the big one. New portfolio and website! If you look at your old work and start cringing… it’s a good sign right? It's now refreshed with more people, colour, lighting styles, and it shows some of my favourite portrait, headshot and lifestyle photos. Check it out here.
Then my wedding portfolio is back online. Because of my frequent travels during my Master's between Panama and Montreal, I had to put wedding photography on hiatus. But I'm back and ready to go now.
The third portfolio is a more personal portfolio that deviates a bit from the rest. It's a visual journey of my travels and documentary field science photography.
I hope to keep these portfolios evolving organically. Things aren’t 100% final yet, but I’m happy with how they currently look. As for my website, no huge changes, but it's cleaner, clutter-free, and mobile-friendly. What’s next?
New business cards! Mooooo. Holy cow, if you ever need business cards, moo.com is amazing. The packaging the cards come in is well thought out, the delivery is way faster than what they actually advertise, and I’m really happy with the quality. If you look closely below you can even see the texture on the cards. I opted for a business card with all the information on one side, and a clean design on the other.
After drawing a million bulbs I finally settled for this look. Why a lightbulb? I feel like all photographers at this point are using cameras or lens aperture blades as logos. I went back to the basics. Photography literally means writing with light, and the lightbulb to me is the simplest symbol that represents light.
And after that, new logo! I wanted something graphic - a bold, simple, and modern icon that could scale well up or down, and that wouldn’t be tied down to a specific colour. You should see my notebook. I must have drawn the letter A in hundreds of different styles. I finally found a lettermark incorporating the letters A & T in a way I found pleasing.
Since I didn't go to photography school I’ve always felt the need to hustle, consuming as many photography books, blogs, and podcasts as possible. If you’ve ever been in Montreal's Grande Bibliothèque and checked out the photography section - chances are you’ve found me somewhere with a pile of photo books. I've spent hours online learning how to code, watched countless Youtube videos to learn Photoshop. I’ve also taken an embarrassing amount of self-portraits to practice and refine my lighting set-ups. I’ve been doing this all of this throughout my degrees in biology. I’ve now just officially completed my Master’s and it’s an important milestone for me. The door for photography is open and I can finally devote my full attention to it. I can’t wait!
Alright folks, let's talk science. I thought explaining my research briefly would be a nice follow-up post to the last one. Don't worry I won't go full nerd on you, I promise you will understand and enjoy what I have to say. So like I said previously, I was in Panama doing field work with my fish. …Fish? Really? Why not toucans?
Or golden frogs?
Oh come on. They're super cool. You see, my fish are electric. Literally. (Species name is Brachyhypopomus occidentalis in case you care). Unlike their electric eel cousins who shock their prey to stun them before consuming them, these guys only generate a weak electric field around them. For years, scientists, were puzzled by this. Some even claimed that their electric organ was probably just defective.
It wasn't until fairly recently that scientists discovered that the electric field around them was used as a sensory system. If any object that has a different conductivity than water enters this invisible orb enveloping the fish, they will sense distortions. Sensing these electric distortions allow them to effectively "see" or "feel" their surroundings. I hope you realize that this is crazy stuff that we can't relate to on any level. Echolocation in bats? Sure we can understand it to some degree, it's a sort of a super hearing. But an electrosense? We can't even fathom what that's like. But it doesn't stop there; their electric fields are not only used for navigation but also for communication between each other. Electrolocation and electrocommunication all in one. If you're not convinced that these are the coolest fish yet, consider the name of this family of fishes. Knifefishes. Some are called the black ghost knifefish, others the glass knifefish. How cool is that?
So these fish are all over the place in Panama. Now what? After recording electric signals of these fish in different populations across the country, a student in my lab found that these signals are starting to diverge in different directions. This is akin to finding birds in different populations starting to sing slightly different songs. Now I'm trying to explain why the signals are starting to change. Are populations adapting their signals to their different environments in some way? Or are the signal divergences random and just a result of being isolated from other populations for such a long time? This is the gist of my research and I'll spare you the details.
Don't you wish you had an electrosense? A constant invisible bubble surrounding your body filled with superpowers.
I want to end with a quick rant. This is a huge pet peeve for me.
There are knifefishes and there are eels, they are not related.
Knifefishes are electric, eels are NOT.
The ONLY "eel" that is electric is the "electric eel", and it so happens to be a knifefish.
It just LOOKS like an eel, so someone smart decided to name it an eel. That's right, the electric eel is not even an eel.
Fear not I will end this blog post on a happy note!
Excerpt from MGMT's Electric Feel:
"Saw her in the amazon With the voltage running through her skin Standing there with nothing on She gonna teach me how to swim
I said ooh girl Shock me like an electric eel Baby girl Turn me on with your electric feel"
I would've been happier had they said "Shock me like a Brachyhypopomus occidentalis", but hey you win some you lose some.
If you have any questions about photography, electric fish, or want to chat about something else? Contact me!
So initially, my plan for Mélanie & Nic’s wedding was to go photograph the wedding in Quebec and drive back to Montreal the same night. With most weddings finishing at about 1AM, that probably would’ve resulted in me falling asleep in the drive back and then dying. Fortunately, we changed plans and decided to do a roadtrip at the same time. So my girlfriend Claudia and our friend Carina stayed in QC for the weekend doing some touristy things like getting lost and pointing at things. We ended up staying in a bunk bed dorm room at the Auberge de la Paix, which had the weird showers where you have to press the button every 10 seconds to get some water.
It was a fun weekend, despite the pouring rain. And fortunately the hostel was next door to a pub. That’s where I got my post-wedding victory beer.
I always drink a post-wedding victory beer. That’s my secret.
On est allé au Marché du Vieux-Port. Miam. On est allé à la Fudgerie. Miam. On a eu une poutine à 2AM. Miam.
Earlier in spring, during the McGill convocation ceremony bonanza, Amelie asked me to come photograph her and her family during her graduation. As soon as the ceremony finished, hundreds of students burst out of the tent. It was kinda like Berri-UQAM metro station during rush hour. I had to look for her in the midst of black gowns. Took me 10 minutes to finally find her. We went to shoot around McGill University campus, (including in parts of McGill Arts building where probably no science student has ever ventured).
Quick photo info: natural light for outdoors, bounce on-camera flash indoors. Tokina 12-24mm f/4.0 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8.