As I drove the long and winding road into Waterton, I had an overwhelming feeling tugging at my heart. I peered up at the majestic mountains, their peaks barely visible with the low lying clouds, and wondered to myself, "Am I really going to do this?" Just as that thought crossed my mind, the clouds parted, and the sun shone through, as if a sign was delivered directly to me, quietly whispering, "yes!"
I have lived on either side of these mountains my entire life. Growing up in Vancouver, and moving to Calgary in my teens, I've marvelled at the Rocky Mountains since the beginning. As a kid, I remember attending a summer camp and learning a beautiful First Nations story about a man who went to sleep and became a mountain. I took a picture of that mountain and kept it in my room for over a decade, looking at it every day, reminding me that people could become great things, sometimes not even on purpose.
I've hiked the mountains all over BC and Alberta, I've taken retreats in them, I've rafted their winding rivers, I've loved them so dearly. But never, ever had I photographed anyone in them before. And that was on purpose.
You see, within photography there are things that naturally some people just excel at, and photographing mountains or landscapes has just never been one of my natural abilities. I have always struggled with capturing them in a way that honours their beauty, their grandeur, and just their pure scale and size.
But, when I spoke with Jade and she was so excited for me to photograph her family in the mountains, I knew it was the right time. I set up our shoot for March, crossing my fingers we'd get good weather, and began planning her family's session.
My approach this year to photography has been unlike any time before in my career. I am going very "hands-off" so that I can capture family's just as they are. Which maybe sounds cliche - but I mean it in earnest. I have found through all of my forays into family photography throughout the years, that while every family photographed very nicely, their sessions have always felt too posed, too "cheese" ridden, and too still.
Having kids of my own I've come to see that family life truly is chaos in motion. The intricate dance our family does on a day to day basis isn't something I want to forget, or pretend doesn't exist. I don't want my kids to look "picture perfect," I want my kids to look like themselves. I want photographs of my family to reflect the little people I'm working so very hard to raise. And I want that for all of the family's I photograph too.
So I explained this idea to Jade, and she whole-heartedly agreed that it was what she wanted too. And one weekend in March, her and her husband and their three littles met me out in Waterton to help capture what has quickly become one of my favourite sessions of all time.
Nashton and Skylynn bounded out of their vehicle, and were so very excited to talk with me. I could instantly tell their session was going to be so fun and care-free. Their dad Brandon then appeared, holding little Kenna, who looked up at him with the most adoring eyes I've ever seen. After Jade quickly changed into her yellow dress, looking so comfortable and happy, we began the short walk to the shore line, which was thankfully so wind sheltered on what was easily one of the windiest days this spring.
Their family came together, with Nashton and Skylynn throwing rocks into the water, while Jade, Brandon and Kenna looked on. Jade's relaxed attitude and easy-going nature translated into a very beautiful parenting style that I could tell her kids absolutely loved and respected her for. Being a mother myself, these are things I notice now. The tone in which we speak to our kids truly matters, and watching her just love on her kids, and allow them to be themselves, was everything that I could have hoped for in a session. It's so easy to get stressed out during a "typical" photo session, so being adamant about being relaxed, stress-free and just allowing things to naturally unfold I think really takes the pressure off of family's to make their kids some weird version of perfect that doesn't actually exist. Her kids loved it.
As we made our way further down the shoreline, we talked about the mountains, the trees, and the rocks Skylynn found along the way. Nashton was happily playing with a stick, and I could just feel the essence of childhood right in front of my camera. It is this raw and natural emotion that I wanted to capture, in this raw and natural landscape. The two paired together beautifully, and my vision came to life.
After the kids played some more, we meandered back in the direction of the cars, and Nashton found some sticks placed like a fort that we hadn't noticed before. The kids played beneath those for a while, when Jade sat down to nurse Kenna. As if from a dream, Skylynn bounded over to her mom and sat next to her. This vision of a moment as old as time unfolded right before my eyes. A mom, nursing her baby, caring for her older child, wild and free in a place that had seen this same moment again and again and again. It was so beautiful. I asked Jade if it would be alright if I photographed her, and she happily agreed
We talked a bit about our nursing journeys, and how this time in a mother's life is so fleeting, and yet so powerful. We shared a knowingness that only mothers can, and I felt honoured to really photograph what this moment meant to her. It is these still small moments that I could never "create" by posing or directing this family, the ones that are just a natural rhythm of life, that are the true beauty of this hands off approach I'm taking. Instead of being a director, I've become an observer to life, and it is certainly beautiful just as it is, no direction needed.
As we finished up our session, I knew what I had captured that day would live on in my heart for a long time afterwards. I had a feeling that what I photographed really, truly mattered, not only to me, but to The Penners too. I felt accomplished in knowing I had conquered a fear of photographing people in the mountains, because the raw emotions the mountains make me feel was reflected in this family's actions and love towards one another. It was a perfect pairing.
So Jade and Brandon, if you're reading this, thank you so much for trusting my vision and allowing me to photograph your family in such a precious and sacred moment. Thank you for inviting a stranger into your lives for an afternoon to play and have fun and spend time getting to know each of you. It was an honour and a joy and one I won't soon forget!