Award-winning P.E.I. photographer Louise Vessey vying for world cup

Mary MacKay
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Capturing moments in time has been Louise Vessey’s passion for more than 20 years.

And 2013 has certainly been a memorable year for this Charlottetown photographer who had her own perfect picture moment when she chosen as the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) Wedding Photographer of the Year.

Now one of her images — Love on the Rocks — is one of 18 Canadian entries competing for the top prize in the World Photographic Cup.

“It’s been a wonderful year . . . a lot of good things going on,” says Vessey, who is past president of PPOC Atlantic division.

Life might have taken an entirely different path if she had actually purchased the 110 camera she’d planned to take on her Cape Breton, N.S., honeymoon with her husband, Blair Vessey, more than 20 years ago.

“You remember those old 110 cameras that just had the tiny little film? They were cheap, cheap, cheap. We were going to buy one of those and then my dad just plunked his big camera bag filled with Pentax 35mm equipment in the back of my car,” she remembers.

“I had no idea how to load a roll of film. The first roll I shot never was loaded — that sort of thing.”

The couple was looking for a hobby that they could enjoy together, so they expanded their photography horizons beyond that honeymoon adventure.

“He loved the technical side, and I loved the creative side. Then he became bored with it, and I took off,” says Vessey, who at the time was working in research and development at a factory.

When cutbacks resulted in a layoff, she took a job at a local camera store and enrolled in the photography program at Holland College, where she earned the Steven Duncan Best Student award in both her first and second year.

She graduated in 1992 and began her Light and Vision Photography business in a studio in her Charlottetown home.

“I just liked the idea of being able to make my own hours. I don’t think I need a storefront where I have to sit there from nine to five. I never wanted that. I like the freedom that this career has to offer where I can make my own hours,” Vessey says.

“It’s also a lot more cost effective having it in your own home, versus paying for rental space downtown.”

She did a lot of commercial work for local businesses and took on the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty’s business supplement, for which she and two other assistant photographers now shoot more than 475 businesses annually. That helped to get her name out there.

“It’s going to be 20 years next year. I started it before I had kids and now one’s in university,” Vessey laughs.

Wedding and portrait photography are also a focal point for this accredited professional photographer.

“I swore I would never do weddings,” Vessey laughs.

“Wedding photography is so terrifying because it is such an important deal. You’ve got one chance and you’ve got to be on it for hours and hours. There’s no downtime in a wedding, it’s just go-go-go-go.”

After years of photographing countless weddings, this go-getter decided to submit some of her images into the annual PPOC National Image Competition Salon, which is judged by a panel of master photographers from across Canada.

“After school you need to keep doing something to motivate yourself and keep yourself fresh and creative and improve yourself and so on,” Vessey says.

The competition features entries from across Canada in many different classes, including portraiture, wedding, commercial and general categories. Almost half of the submissions were deemed unacceptable at last year’s nationals.

“The ratings are unaccepted, accepted, merit and excellent . . . . So to be the Wedding Photographer of the Year, you would have to have all four images accepted or higher plus an accepted wedding album. With today’s technology we were able to listen to the judging online while viewing the images. It is a really intense, heart pounding process to listen to judges talk about your work. It is like your heart and soul are being judged!” Vessey says. “When (my last entry) came up, it was the one I wasn’t really sure about. I was like ‘please-please-please’ because I knew I might be up for this big award if I could get them all in.”

It turned out that all got the nod from the judges, earning her the PPOC Wedding Photographer of the Year award.

Vessey had already booked a trip to New York with her daughter so she missed the actual presentation ceremony.

“I couldn’t be at the awards banquet, which was really unfortunate because it’s so fun to get the big prize. So what they came up with, with the technology, I think it was Skype and they had an iPad in the awards banquet room. So I had to stay up till about midnight New York City time in my hotel (to accept it remotely),” she says.

Vessey’s image titled Love on the Rocks received first place in the wedding portrait class. It was selected the best image from the PPOC competition to be entered into the World Photographic Cup, and was described in a release as “a wedding photo that conjures up a blend of East Coast and Wuthering Heights to dramatic effect.” The couple captured in this award-winning image was Janet (Coffin) Ching and Nathan Ching of Little Harbour, who wed on a blustery day in September 2012.

“Sometimes the wind and sun and all that can be against you but in this case it worked in our favour,” Vessey says.

A photograph on this rock on the beach at Little Harbour where the actual marriage proposal happened was on the couple’s list of must-have shots.

“What I tend to do with couple portraits from afar is I want the pose to be much more dramatic, and if I photograph people close up I want it to be much more subtle,” Vessey says. “Because it was windy and the waves were crashing they were not going to hear me from so far away, I said (to the groom) ‘Make sure when you’re out there to dip her and kiss her like you’ve never kissed before. This is your moment . . . .’

“He rolled up his pants and they had to wade through all this water to get to this rock.

And it took all of five minutes to get this shot and then we had to get on with all of the other shots that we had to do that day.”

It wasn’t until Vessey was going through the proofs later on that she realized she had something with loads of potential.

“With the wonders of Photoshop it came into exactly how I envisioned it to be, but the core of it was definitely there (from the get-go).

Love on the Rocks is now in the running for the World Photographic Cup. Judging is now over, and the winners will be announced in January.

For Vessey, the act of taking photos goes far beyond a typical nine-to-five job.

“It’s capturing memories and it’s one of the most rewarding careers. I will bump into clients from 10 years go and they’ll say, ‘Oh I still have that picture that you took of my daughter. I walk by it every day and I just get this feeling.’ It’s really priceless when you think of moments that are captured . . . .”


Try this at home

Professional photographer Louise Vessey of Light and Vision Photography in Charlottetown shares some tips on how to take better Christmas photos with a smartphone:

Lighting is the most important element in an image. Direct flash can kill the mood, especially in a cozy room with a Christmas tree. The challenge is the room is too dark usually so turn on all room lights and open curtains and blinds to let in more light.

Red eye. Your sweet little angel children are sitting by the tree. You take their photo with flash and bam, they have bright red demon eyes. Once again flash is the culprit here. Turn it off, turn on any room lights and make the room brighter and hold still and it should be much better. The trick is to try to get the pupils dilated/smaller so the redeye is less noticeable.

Smartphones are always nearby and convenient. I use mine a lot as well. Something some people may not realize is that you can dramatically change the exposure just by touching your finger on the screen. If you are taking a photo of a sunset for instance, your camera/phone will try to produce an average exposure often resulting in a sky that is far too bright. Put your finger on the brighter sky area and you should see the image darken, then take your photo! Put your finger on a darker area and an image will become brighter

Composition. It is best to get rid of any distracting elements that don’t need to be in the photo. But instead of zooming in with your fingers on your smartphone, move closer. You will get a much sharper image with less shake. Always hold your phone/camera as still as you can. I have a habit now of holding my breath. Or place it on the edge of a sofa or chair for more stability.

Like most Moms, they are rarely in the photos since they are the ones taking them. Instead of the infamous ‘selfie’ taken at arm’s length, download one of the many self-timer apps. I do find it strange that you can get panoramic, HDR and other fancy features along with the iPhone camera but no self timer. I use one called CameraSharp.

Most importantly, capture the moment. Getting natural reactions and smiles are far more interesting than forcing your kids to sit there and say, “Cheese!”

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Recent comments

  • Bill MacIntosh
    December 19, 2013 - 22:53

    Louise, to save time and effort why didn't you just bring the couple into your studio and shoot them against a blank background? Then go to town on Photoshop and create the painting you wanted. What you have now can hardly be called a photograph and certainly does not represent reality. When I look at the work you and other photographers like you turn out and then look at photojournalists' work I cringe. I realize you are in the business of creating fantasy so please do not call what you do photography. What we have in your award winning image is a computer generated image that was not created in a camera, but in image processing software.

  • Interesting
    December 17, 2013 - 08:53

    "With the wonders of Photoshop it came into exactly how I envisioned it to be". I never would have thought you could use photoshop on a picture being submitted to a competition but then I know very little about photography. Nice story though.

    • Louise Vessey
      December 19, 2013 - 05:59

      In the digital world we live in we are permitted to use the tools we use every day for our clients. I would not be in business too long if I didn't retouch all my portraits, have the ability to swap heads, fix wonky eyes, enhance backgrounds! It is a part of the creative process in this digital photographic age. The original photograph taken has all the elements of emotion and drama. In a competition we are encouraged to bring our images up to the best they can be. So I took the veil from another image taken that day and enhanced the sky, darkened the background and overall image. Rarely would a photographer enter a straight image out of the camera. In fact most photographers don't even show their clients unenhanced images. Although it would be interesting to have a category for that! Thank you for your comment.

  • Shirley Wright
    December 15, 2013 - 15:55

    Great tips- thanks

  • Eileen Ellis
    December 15, 2013 - 12:34

    Corry Check this out Great Hints Good Story Thanks for the pictures of Nathan he is really sweet

  • Getting Warmer
    December 14, 2013 - 11:48

    Well written informative article with practical applications. And professional advice too! This is the kind of value added journalism we need for all sorts of topics - thanks!