Zenfolio | DayLight - photography by Olivier Day | People & Stories - An interview with Photographer Koralie Deetjen-Woodward

People & Stories - An interview with Photographer Koralie Deetjen-Woodward

June 02, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

On this latest edition of my planned interviews for this year, I had the privilege of sitting down and talk quite candidly with fellow photographer and friend Koralie Deetjen-Woodward.
On one's road to living the photographic life, you should make it a duty to surround yourself with interesting and inspiring people who not only drive you to do better but humble you in how they constantly strive to better themselves. An accomplished photographer and creative mind in her own right, Koralie has made it her personal goal to keep aiming higher and further in order to hone and perfect both her vision and skill.
On the road to completing her degree in photography at Dawson College here in Montreal, Koralie has been a constant source of motivation for me in regards to how we should always avoid the easy highway of complacency both in our photography and our lives.
In this quirky yet exciting conversation, Koralie shares her personal story and gives us an honest inside look into her mind and craft.

Olivier Day : Where did photography start for you?


Koralie Deetjen-Woodward : Oh my! Photography and I go way back!
I think I got my first camera when I was about 12. A friend of the family was upgrading his camera, and in doing so passed his SLR to me. I remember it was a Canon Rebel EOS 3, I think, with a 24-200mm Tamron lens - keep in mind that we’re talking film here. This friend taught me the basics and told me to just go out, play and have fun. Of course, every penny I got allowance money went to film development.
I look at these negs now, and I’m like, “you’ve come a long way, baby!”

OD : Forgive the irony of this one question - what type of individual goes to STUDY photography? I mean, why bother when I've got a smartphone and a very expensive DSLR, I'm good to go aren't I?

KDW : Oy! You’re talking to a reformed purist right here! Haha!
Seriously though, it begs repeating but - it is not just about the gear. I know some photographers who live off of their Instagram photography, and others who have the best, most up to date equipment, and every month, literally spend thousands of dollars on gear they couldn’t even use even if their lives depended on it.
You have got to to learn and perfect developing your eye, your style.
What turns you on? What do you want to see? And of course, you need to understand the techniques, because once you know what you want, you need to know how to go about achieving it.
So, to answer your question, the kind of person who STUDIES photography is a person who wants to push the boundaries. We’re talking about someone who wants to be exposed to as much art as possible, as well as understand as much about lighting and composition, so there is no limit to the stories that want (and are waiting) to be told.

OD : Art is a personal journey of both creation and expression. What was the motivation behind your pursuing this path?

KDW : Every artist has a story to tell, and photography is the way for me to tell it. When I started shooting, I became fascinated with people and the stories their bodies have to tell. I think my interest in theatre came from that (or vice-versa?) Then I got interested in fashion magazines, and Annie Leibovitz caught my eye. And then, in University, I discovered Cindy Sherman. And my life changed. I just became fascinated with their creativity and the quality of their work. Since then, I have wanted to create work of that caliber.
Basically, I don’t think I could be doing anything else in life.

OD : Creativity is a mysterious beast as influences can and will vary. What do you consider to be your personal sources of inspiration?

KDW : So many things!
People in general are probably the biggest source of inspiration! I also work a lot with music. I use it a lot to set a mood or create the feelings I am looking to instill in my work. I had an assignment once in my theatre design class that really stuck with me, and I still base myself a lot on it for my work. We had to create a character based on a song of our choice. The process involved sketching, mood boards, collage, research, intuitive drawings (oh, Raymond! I still hear your voice saying intuitive.) Since that assignment, my workflow has always always included music and visual research.
Inspiration comes from other artists as well. As mentioned before, Sherman, Leibovitz, as well as Arbus (I’ll never forget her retrospective at the MET with my college school trip), Patti Smith, Mapplethorpe, Basquiat, Pollock, Close. Also, Pop culture, Mad Men, Magazines, Art books, novels, colors. You name it. I mean it’s just a question of what I am looking for at that precise moment. Lately, I have become very attracted to food photography, so I guess food and eating is joining this list!

OD : What are the most common misconceptions people have regarding the craft of photography?

KDW : I think generally, people assume that because you are a photographer, you can shoot ANYTHING. But that is not the case. There is a reason an event photographer might not shoot fashion or food, and vice-versa. We tend to specialize on what turns us on.
I also think people assume that we only click on a shutter - that being a photographer is that simple, and we both know this is not the way things work. It’s not for nothing I have spent the last 4 years of my life learning from some of the best of our industry. I think that with digital cameras being so accessible, the public opinion of our craft has changed, a lot.

OD : From a quick read-through your ALP (Applied Location Photography) assignment(s), one can only come to the obvious deduction that there's quite a lot more to making a photograph than aiming and shooting. Could you walk us through a the basics and overlooked intricacies of a shoot?

KDW : When you're planning a shoot, it's really important to understand where you're shooting and why you're shooting. So, generally speaking of course, I mean unless you're shooting in studio, but if you shooting at a location you need to do some location scouting, meaning you need to know what the light looks like and what kind of light is actually available. This will determine everything you do. It can't be decided on the spot.
So generally, I go to this location, I find out about my ambient light reading. Is it going to be a sunny day or a rainy day? Where is your light coming from? (I use a really cool app called Sun Seeker - EVERY photographer should have this!) When all this information is gathered, you can decide where to place your subject. Then you go home and make your plan. Literally.
One of my teachers, Jorge Camarotti, tells us to not do a shoot without a plan. He measures everything, all distances and heights, all accessories, all light readings, because if one day you are asked to reproduce a shot, well your production notes will tell you everything you need to know. So when you show up to your location, you set up, and bam! You get your shot!

OD : One of your most memorable quotes: "...I miss making photographs for the pleasure of doing it, not just because I have to do it. I am looking forward to having no assignment descriptions to follow."
Give us a little more insight about that.

KDW : It's funny you mention that!
Yeah, I guess being in school full-time and having so many assignments...I mean, I have four classes so it keeps me pretty busy. It’s a learning curve and I love every single thing I do. But I have to admit that, the artsy-fartsy part of me tends to want to do things my way. I have to remind myself that this is the way it will be in the real world, you know? Tell other people’s stories because thats what I am hired for. But I still have my own stories I want to tell and I just sort of miss it right now. I’m going to have a whole summer at this point so I guess it'll be okay. I have to prepare my graduating portfolio so i will be focusing on that.
I’m excited actually :)

OD : In the ongoing tug of war that lies between creative expression and technical prowess in order to achieve a satisfying photographic execution, what are your own personal struggles and setbacks?

KDW : I think my biggest setbacks would be the fact that I definitely thought I knew more about photography than I actually do. I am learning so much in class but I have so much more to learn. Photography evolves so quickly. And because of that, I'm just constantly learning, obviously. I think one of the most important things is to make sure to hone one’s technical skills. I think people underestimate that particular element, you know? We call ourselves artists - that's true. And yes, we generally envision and create a lot of beautiful and amazing things. It's more a question of making sure that you can execute these things - consistently.

OD : How does one grade creativity? What is the teacher/instructor looking for?

KDW : Good question!
I'm not really sure how this works and of course it depends on the program you are in. What I was doing in my Bachelor’s was about the thought progress - so we were graded on our concepts. It was about how you're able to conceptualize and whether it came through in your your work. It's more about the stories not the images.
At Dawson College, where the difference lies is that the whole program is based on technical skills. The curriculum is aimed at executing and delivering an image of a certain quality. We are by all means judged on our creativity, but the way that we are really graded is on our technical ability. When the teacher asks you to retouch a face from a beauty shot, it basically has to be perfect so the work will be graded on whether your retouching skills are up to par with the industry. It's special.

OD : Can one over-think an image?

KDW : Always. All the time. I find it's something that happens regularly, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. The thing about over-thinking is that, for example, you can just add on layer over layer, but once you’ve seen the image pushed to its it own limits, you can then opt to select what to remove in order to balance your ideas, to bring back their simplicity. Basically, you just need to know and accept that over-thinking is part of the process but not necessarily the final result.

OD : Architectural, Wedding, Lifestyle, Landscape, Conflict, Photojournalist, Commercial, Editorial, Street, Wildlife...some call it specializing, others refer to it as field of expertise...How do you respond when being asked "What type of photographer are you?"
KDW : Essentially, I am at portrait photographer. My interest is really about human beings - meaning that I truly do enjoy seeing what stories people have to share. Somebody can reveal a lot about themselves, whether with their eyes or their body language, quite unknowingly. They can manage to tell you something and not even know what it is. That's my favorite part! So yeah - essentially a portrait photographer, or a person photographer.
I also do more abstract work as well. I love the human body and the way it moves, its relationship with light. I like to work with the body, with lights, movements, lines, curves, textures. Whether you want to pin it “person photographer” or “human being photographer” - either is applicable.

OD : What do you believe people actually mean when they ask that type of question? Isn't it a rather short sighted view to want to pigeonhole you in that way?

KDW : I don't think people are trying to get me pigeonholed or anything. I think this is just a legit question to ask, people just really genuinely want to know what kind of work you do.

OD : Gadgets and gear abound. With the impressive developments we've had the privilege to witness from the industry over the last few years, whether its through the tools and practices, to the increase one can only sit back and admire how the landscape had evolved throughout the photographic community. What are your thoughts on the often-cited, tongue-in-cheek adage "Everyone is a photographer now."?

KDW : Good question! Because everyone has access to digital cameras, a lot of people call themselves photographers. They just take a few workshops on Photoshop, read - a few pages - from the camera’s manual, and go on to take a decent photo.
But photography is so much more than that. I think that at the end of the day it's about quality. It's about composition. It's about stories. It's about a lot of things, and gear and technique aren't the only significant elements photography.
But don’t sweat it - the "real" photographers, the ones who have a passion for it and who do it for a living, the ones who do it because photography is their bread & butter, those are the ones who will survive in this industry.
You have an obligation to be great since there are so many photographers out there vowing for your clients/contracts so at least that’s one good thing that comes out of it: when you really really want this and it's really your life, then you work harder at being the best and also at being the most creative. you take more risks and push yourself. It's not all good for the industry, but there can be some good that come out of it.
OD : A very interesting comment shared by photographer Paul Giguere over Twitter touched on how the iPhone and its stranglehold on the consumer market had basically redefined both considerations as well as expectations - As an iPhone user, how do you relate to this statement?

KDW : I agree with him, in the sense that you cannot replace the quality and tradition of a formal family portrait. But I am not too worried about the iPhone phenomenon. It's created a new genre of photography, and it doesn't matter if its a fad, or not. When you think about it, people have never had so many records of their lives, and what can be bad about that?

OD : On the path towards living the photographic life, how do you strike the balance between photography as a professional obligation and a renewed passion?

KDW : There is no balance to be made really. It is a passion, no matter what. And the day I stop enjoying it, I know it might be time to move along to something else.

OD : Congratulations are in order on the much anticipated launch of your brand new website. I do understand it's been a labor of both love and pain - tell us about that.

KDW : Thanks! I am pretty excited about it! It was a long process with blood and pain and tears :) But I managed to pull through and get it through the door. I have to admit, when I found out about having a class in CSS coding, I was like "n’uh-uh, not for me!"
4 months later, I have a final website I built myself, and I could not be more proud. And honestly, not to sound cocky or anything, but I have a pretty sleek website :)

OD : What do you believe is that added value of having a website versus a plain fanpage or blog? What can we expect from you website that sets it apart from your other various online platforms?

KDW : Well first off, the website is a professional way of presenting the work. When you are in talks to a potential client, you want them to see your work with no distraction. A website does just that, all you see is your potential, and your range. The blog and Instagram feeds are different. It's about humanizing yourself, showing a different side of your work. It's about sharing experiences. It's like a backstage pass. But really, everybody wants to see the show from the crowd.

OD : How do you go about choosing the images that make the final cut and get displayed?
Adversely, what makes an image less than worthy? Is it as challenging a process?
KDW : I am an extremely harsh critic, especially with myself, so the selection process is a tedious one for me.
I think it's important to have enough images to show your range, but not to mug to overwhelm. The way I go about it is that, after choosing the series I want to show, I go through each images and if I am not 100% happy with a photo, it's not going on the site. It's basically the same way I choose my shots for an assignment.
Once the images are chosen, now it's about sequencing. Do I organize them based on colors, composition? Which images do I want to be remembered more than others? It needs to flow and stay with you as a viewer. Sometimes I think I am a better editor than a photographer! Haha! And I do enjoy this process!

OD : It's a jungle out there as they're a no shortage of either websites or photographers - standing out is a monumental endeavor. How do you distinguish yourself with the knowledge that there is no real shortage of competition out there...?

KDW : Well, personally, it's about being authentic and remaining faithful to my personal style, while at the same time still take risks. My aim is to achieve a signature style, so when you see my work, you know it's me. And that distinguishes me from everyone else.

OD : Any choice words of wisdom for those daring souls wanting to follow your lead and give formal training a go?

KDW : I you want to make this your career, I say go for it! It is so important to know as much as you can about what is expected of you in the industry - and why. It's not an easy road to follow or decision to make - you have to be prepared. I have learned so much about how to achieve the images I envision have!
And I learned a lot about the industry from my teachers, all of which are working professionals. It can only do you good.

OD : How do you define 'Living the photographic life'?

KDW : Ouf! Good question. I'm not sure how to answer this...haha!

Like, seriously...I'm not sure :)

OD : What lies ahead on your photographic journey?
KDW : Working on building an amazing career as a portrait and (hopefully) food photographer. I want to really keep shooting forever, and eventually teach. Photography has changed my life and I would really love to bring this to other people's lives as well. You know, pass along all I will have learned throughout the years!

OD : Lastly, any photographers you would recommend for a future interview?

KDW : This might seem like a cop-out but it's not - haha! 
But there are so many truly talented photogs out there, I honestly cannot narrow it down to just one :o)
Lemme get back to you on that one :o)

OD : Fair enough :o) 
But I do wish to thank you ever so kindly for your time.
KDW : A pleasure, really. You're quite welcome.

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All images are © copyright - Koralie D-Woodward - [used by permission]



Originally hailing from the caribbean island of Haiti, Koralie Deetjen-Woodward is a talented lifestyle photographer based out of Montreal, Quebec(Canada). Her work and craft through recent years have revealed a sense of life and sensibility for the subject matter that allows the viewer to be drawn as well as moved.

You can view Koralie’s work and show your support by visiting her website.

For information and inquiries regarding assignments, print sales, licensing images or simple ‘Howdy’ - contact page here -



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