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Capture Your World Through Photography

Wandering Through (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)
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Joe is an avid photographer with an eye for nature. He is able to capture the most breathtaking views of life around him through the lens of his camera. It is this keen sense of wonder and discovery that has led him to where he is today.

Joe’s earliest experiences at his family camp in Quebec started him on a path that would lead to a fulfilling hobby in photography. In particular, it was his aunt who instilled a lasting impression on him. He recalls: “When I was about 12, I would visit my grandparents at their camp. It was really the best opportunity I had to see my aunt on a semi-regular basis. She was a flight attendant for an airline and she travelled the world. She would bring back pictures from the places she visited and I was always interested in seeing her photos.”

“I really connected with the idea that you can experience somebody else’s point of view, even if it’s just a glimpse, through their photos.”

A Sense of Discovery

He remembers how his aunt let him borrow her camera one day in the campground. He immediately felt a spark of interest as soon as he held it in his hands. “I remember it had a really cool zoom. I had never used a camera like that in my life so that was exciting to me as a kid. In that campground, we were in the woods so it was a good opportunity to explore the area and take a whole bunch of pictures. Back then, digital didn’t exist so having to wait to see the photos was a bit anti-climactic for me, but I remember that day as the spark that got me interested in photography.”

“It’s that sense of discovery that you have as a kid, and when you have a camera it’s like you have no choice but to go find cool things to take pictures of.”

As the years passed and Joe turned to other interests in life, he says the feeling he got from using his aunt’s camera never left him. “I always talked about it for years afterward,” he says, “but I never really owned a good camera. I did own a couple cheaper cameras up until I was about 16 but I never took a lot of photos. That bug was always there though. It’s hard to explain, but it was, and everybody knew it was because I would often talk about it.”

Wandering Through (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Wandering Through (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Digital Playground

At 19, Joe received his very first digital camera for Christmas. The first thing he did was bring it on a hike in the woods near his home. The difference with this camera was his ability to instantly see the results. In addition, he also taught himself how to use computer software to edit the photos to better express what he saw. He describes this blend of digital photography and editing as a “whole new kind of playground” compared to his earlier experiences with his aunt’s camera. “Back in the film days, you would take a picture and you could only really guess how it would develop, and it was never exactly what you saw that day when you took the photo. Once I had a digital camera, I was finally able to tweak my photos in a way where I felt people were seeing what I was seeing and feeling what I was feeling.”

Joe using Photoshop in his home office

Joe using Photoshop in his home office

From that moment on, Joe was captivated. He started on a journey of learning, exploring and reading about photography so he could become better. It also served as an outlet for his creative side. He says, “I took art classes growing up. My dad was a musician so I was also a bit of a musician as well. I took music in high school but music didn’t speak to me like photography did. I loved using Adobe Photoshop while I was in high school so when digital cameras and Photoshop came together, it was perfect.”

For Joe, photography is simply about one thing: expression. “It is the closest way that you can get somebody to feel and experience the world as you do.”

“Photography is sharing. I feel like if I were to do this just for myself, there would be no point. It’s sharing how I see the world. It gives me a greater sense of purpose and being.”

Where the Land Meets the Lake (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Where the Land Meets the Lake (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

People & Places

For many years after high school, Joe turned to his camera as a way to experience (and share) the world around him. He loved to go on walks where the landscape had a story to tell and he could capture that in his photos. Eventually, after showing his landscape work to friends and family, they were very impressed and started asking him to take photos of family portraits, which led him to wedding photography. Having little experience with portrait-style photography, this made Joe nervous. After all, a wedding is one of the most important days in a person’s life! “I remember the first person who ever asked me to take pictures of her wedding,” he says, “luckily it was a great couple and a perfect day so the photos turned out better than I expected. It was still pretty stressful because it was somebody’s wedding. I’m not a studio-taught professional. I didn’t go to school for photography, it’s just something I like. So it took a while for my confidence to build.”

A Day to Remember (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

A Day to Remember (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Once he had a few more weddings under his belt, Joe built his portfolio and turned his photography into a small side business. Despite his success, Joe still had second-thoughts. “I always asked myself if I could be consistent. I didn’t think I could be. I still do doubt myself sometimes because I’m not formally trained but I’m less stressed about it now.”

Refining & Mastery

Through experience and after years of practice, Joe says that he is now entering into a new phase of his hobby.

“I’m kind of past the ‘playing’ phase of photography. I’m now at a point in my life where I’m focusing more on the refining and mastery of my work.”

“I’ll always love the physical exploration aspect of it, but I’m finding a greater sense of discovery in the details now. Whether it’s through experimenting with new editing techniques, new gear or trying to get even more creative with my compositions, it’s a different type of exploration; but it’s as exciting as ever for me.”

“I know that I’m a good photographer, I’m at a point where I’ve reached a good level of comfort, so I’m now asking myself how I can get better.” He says that reflecting on the past has been helpful. “I critique a lot of my old stuff which I think is important. There are a few old photos that I still love, but 90% of them, I feel, are not very good. But I think that’s part of the journey and personal evolution.”

A Farmer's Solitude (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

A Farmer’s Solitude (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

With his talent now turning a small profit, Joe says that he has put a lot of thought into whether he could pursue this type of work full-time, but he says it’s likely not for him. “The one thing with photography that I’m always thinking about is that it’s such a passion, I don’t want to turn it into work,” he says. “It’s never going to be where I just drop my job and become a photographer. I feel that if I turn it into work I will constantly have to take pictures of people and that’s not really where my passion lies. My true passion lies in landscape photography and the discovery and exploration that comes with it. What I love about landscapes is that you don’t have to pose them, you just go find them.”

“It’s like a treasure hunt every time you go for a walk and it forces you to become present. You’re always looking for that shot. I get this rush when I find those perfect moments and that’s basically why I do it.”

Forest Sunlight (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Forest Sunlight (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Next Steps

Instead of making it his career, Joe sees himself sharing what he’s learned to benefit others who are just starting or want to improve. “I’ve learned so much over the years that I would love to become a guide and maybe teach what I know,” he says. “I follow this one photographer online, he’s basically a tour guide photographer. He charges a flat rate for a workshop and you go backpacking with him somewhere in the world. He teaches you how to capture landscapes and portraits. I think when I retire, that would be the closest thing to another career that I could see myself doing. Just travelling the world, sharing experiences and doing what I love. I would also be interested in writing online guides or making video tutorials. So sharing that information is really the way I would go in terms of making something else of it, but the bigger picture is keeping it as a passion. Nothing will be better than that for me.”

Joe also says that he still gets nervous when he’s asked to take portraits but it hasn’t held him back. “It’s the most stressful thing and the most satisfying thing for me. It’s kind of like being a parent. It’s the most stressful thing in the world but at the same time you love it more than anything in the world. You’re going to fail as a parent sometimes and then kick-ass as a parent other times and it’s the same with photography.”

“I’ve failed at photography. I’ve taken photos that people weren’t crazy about, and that’s just how it is. You have to deal with it and move on. But I loved it enough to never give up.”

“The feeling you get when you have that one photo that blows your clients away – believe me, it’s worth it. So yeah, it’s scary but at the same time it pays off in such a big way for me.”

Waiting for Dusk (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Waiting for Dusk (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Joe has also learned to channel his apprehension into opportunities for growth. “The fear of failure never goes away and I don’t think it should,” he says. “For one, it’s what makes things exciting; and I know that if it’s a little bit scary, there’s still something to learn from it. Maybe when I’m 50 or 60 and I’ve exhausted all my possible paths of evolution in terms of what I can do with my photography, I’ll get to the point where I’m completely at ease. But I hope I don’t get to that point because I like the idea of knowing that I’m better than I was yesterday and never quite reaching an end point. I don’t want to get to a point where I’m just stagnant. I feel like there’s always ways of improving.”

Joe’s Advice

For anyone interested in trying photography for the first time or building their existing skills, Joe shares some advice: “Don’t be afraid to start with whatever camera you have. My first digital camera was a cheap 2 megapixel Sony point and shoot. But with the help of Photoshop, I ended up with some really nice photos. You wouldn’t be able to print them large, or use them professionally because of the quality, but these days, even our phones are sufficient as tools of introduction.”

A Cozy Morning (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

A Cozy Morning (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Joe also encourages aspiring photographers to see the world through the eyes of a child. “When you are younger it’s a lot easier to be adventurous and to be amazed by something simple like a twig on the forest floor. It was more than just a twig them, it was a sword or a sling shot. Your imagination is so much more active as a child. Now as an adult, it’s trying to bring that back that magic and sense of discovery. It happens by paying attention to what’s around you and allowing your creativity and imagination to take centre stage over your analytical adult brain. We often forget how amazing everything is. Photography for me can be sort of a therapy to keep me reminded of that magic.”

“When I go for a walk in the woods, I’m searching for those things that attract my imagination; and it forces me to stay focused completely on the present moment.”

“When I’m holding a camera, it’s like my brain flips into this automatic scanning mode and I become aware of so much. That skill of ‘being in the moment’ may take some time for someone to develop, but I think it’s really important to let go and invest in the experience.”

Find Your Style

He advises, “when you first start, you shouldn’t compare your work to others; but if you are getting serious about it, you do kind of want to explore other people’s work to find inspiration and gauge where you fit in. There are some photographers who still blow me away, which is a good thing because if I can look at other people’s work and say ‘wow, I wish I could do that’, it only means that there’s still something for me to aspire towards and that’s exciting. When I was younger I would be jealous of other people’s photos. I was always trying to find flaws in their work so I could raise my own up a little higher. I think we all do that in some way or at some point in our lives, but as I grew older I realized that was an selfish way of looking at life. How could I ever grow or improve if I wasn’t willing to admit my failures?”

“I now understand that failure is a key part of evolution and moments of envy have evolved into moments of awe. When I see amazing photos, I now become inspired by the vision, creativity and genius of the people who take them. I feel much more connected to it all.”

Beyond the Horizon (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Beyond the Horizon (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Joe says that through the years, he’s developed his own style of photography and he encourages others to do so as well. “I look at it more like a fine art,” he says. “If you are aiming to create artwork with your photos, I feel like Photoshop is almost a must. Mind you, there are some people who live by not using this type of software and who are really, really good at what they do. But that’s what I love about photography; it’s a unique and personal journey of discovery and self-expression. Look for that. Find what resonates with you and keep exploring.”

Making a Career

“If you’re going to make it your career,” he continues, “you definitely want to learn the basics as quickly as possible so I would recommend taking a course or learning about lighting and all the specific things you need to know to take professional photos. There’s a good chance portrait photography is what’s going to keep you going financially so have those basics. But I recommend just starting as a hobby. There’s way less pressure and it’s an opportunity to explore the medium without boundaries or unnecessary stress. If it’s your career and you’re taking professional photos of people, there are certain parameters you have to stay within. The rules can be bent a little bit, but at the end of the day, your goal is to make the client happy, which puts you in this sort-of mindset of playing it safe.”

Red Pine Forest (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Red Pine Forest (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

He also says that looking for, and being open to feedback from others has helped him grow. “It’s important that you get your work critiqued and have people tell you the honest truth, but you also have to be open and willing to listen.”

Future Goals

Looking to the future, Joe says that he will continue to explore new places and find new opportunities to take his photography even further. He says that landscape photography is something that he will be doing for the rest of his life: “There’s no end to the places you can explore and the experiences you can find yourself in. It’s my dream to visit places like Iceland and New Zealand. I’m still going to do weddings and family photos and I’ll most likely always stress out when doing them, but I learn a lot more from doing those things. There are so many things I’ve learned through wedding photography that I’ve used in my landscape photography and vice versa.”

Reflections (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Reflections (Source: Joe Ayotte Photography)

Storytelling Through Photography

“Every time you take a photo you are telling a story,” he concludes. “You are delivering an emotion; getting people inside your head and seeing the world through your eyes. I think back to those times when my aunt would show us those photos from her trips around the world. They weren’t artistic in any sense but even if it was just a glimpse of what she experienced, that was enough for me to be amazed and understand the potential of it all. It’s important to seek out the things that resonate deeply with you both in photography and in life…”

“… and if you don’t feel moved in some way before pressing the shutter, you just might be missing out on an opportunity to move others.”

Joe in his home office

Joe in his home office

Get in Touch

Joe welcomes your questions and comments. You can contact him via email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or in the comments section below. To view more of his work, please visit joeayottephoto.com.

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