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Wayne Simpson gains and grows behind the camera

The Elora based photographer, whose work has been featured in Canadian Geographic, wants to shares his knowledge and experience with others

It was not always picture perfect, but a local photographer has made a name for himself in his career and is looking to share what he has learned with others.

Wayne Simpson is a portrait and landscape photographer based in Elora. In the past 17 years his work has been featured in numerous publications, including Canadian Geographic. He also published a book of his portraits: Resilient: The Portraiture of Wayne Simpson.

Also an author and educator, Simpson shares his knowledge and experiences through in-person workshops and is published within an online photography community called OFFBEAT, writing articles about photography techniques and overcoming different challenges photographers face.

"It's been a weird path because I started out doing landscapes, and then it was all corporate stuff, and then I was hardcore into weddings for a while," said Simpson about his career.20230105waynesimpsonad2

Simpson got his start taking photos while employed as a graphic designer for an oil company in Calgary. He said he learned while under 'extreme pressure.'

"I didn't know what they would have me doing, but the next thing I knew, they had me in front of the CEO photographing him and all of the events he would go to," said Simpson, adding he was given a point and shoot camera to take photos.

Over time, Simpson got frustrated by the lack of creativity in the role and began to shoot weddings and family portraits on weekends. In 2007, he launched Wayne Simpson Photography and moved to Ontario a couple of years later.

In the beginning of his business, Simpson said he wasn't sure what type of photography he wanted to do. Then, a friend suggested he start taking photos for free.​20230105waynesimpsonad4

"In my mind, it was always like, 'It's got to be paid, what you're doing, or else, why would you be doing it?'" Simpson said about the idea, "But, when I shifted my mindset to just finding what it was that I love to shoot, and just going out and doing it, that's when I started to really learn more and develop my own sort of style."

Known for dramatic portraits, Simpson said he looks for anything personal to connect people with the space. 

"So many people worry about achieving their own personal style in photography," said Simpson. "The funny thing is I had a couple of photographers who I really admired, and I tried and tried and tried to replicate what they were doing, and I failed, but in the process, I came up with my own sense of style."

Another defining moment in Simpson's career came while attending an event of a photographer he admired named Joe McNally. Simpson said the Sports Illustrated photographer was giving a presentation and kept making mistakes on stage.

"He just totally owned it and regrouped and went down a different route, the shot wasn't working," said Simpson, "and it was a huge moment for me, realizing my idols are human too."

This event inspired Simpson to start sharing his mistakes in his own workshops, choosing tough areas to create a portrait in and showing participants how he would get creative and problem solve to capture the shot. 

"They usually will just see the final product by the photographer, they don't know what goes into it to produce it. They don't see someone go down a road, fail, go back up and try another approach. It happens all the time," said Simpson.

Besides learning how to take portraits, Simpson said his work has helped him to learn other people's stories. While working on Resilient, Simpson heard from several Elora residents who talked about what they went through. Some of the topics in the book include conversations about suicide, residential schools and surviving human trafficking. 

​​"They agreed to do it because they wanted to help others who may be struggling, it's basically a collection where other people would see pieces of themselves in here," he said about Resilient, which is available at Magic Pebble Books.​​

The book also inspired Elora Public School to create an assignment for Grade 7 and Grade 8 students to interview someone they know and learn their story.

"I thought it was so cool because it's teaching those kids empathy and to really get to know someone well and understand what they've been through," said Simpson. 

Having lived in Elora for several years, Simpson is planning to run more workshops to share what he has learned over the past 17 years of his career with local photographers and young people. 

"I know when I was starting out, there weren't many people who would share what they know to really help a young person along, and I'm thankful for the couple of people who did help me out," said Simpson. "I'd like to find ways to support young photographers."