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The Storm Surfer

Photographers take photos all the time and we may not always recall the occasion, place or project but certain images are forever ingrained or imported into our minds and that’s why I will never forget the day these pictures were captured.

This storm I photographed became the clarity and realization that my brother and I needed to go and live the life we were in search of. My brother and I had to commit to the risk that was fast approaching.

It was one of the most intense storms I had ever photographed; it was cold, windy, loud and I was soaked. I was in the area under the Skyway Bridge located on the Southeast side of the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge, it was late afternoon and the storm was showing no sign of letting up. This was the middle of April not the kind of showers that bring May flowers more like the lion of March still had some reigning to exert.

If you’ve been following my brother and I from our RAW Files Vlog you’re aware our big move. We were nearly one month gone from our 17 year stay in Vancouver with 3 weeks into our return home here in Ontario. Our mom’s now living in Burlington, originally were from Stoney Creek but our plan was to visit family and friends and say our goodbyes before our Thailand relocation, our departure was set for April 27, 2017.

Storms can be very reminiscent of life and depending on how you handle them they can be full of fury and rage or they can be majestic and beautiful especially when clarity prevails. Just like a real storm the ones from within form when a center of low pressure develops with a system of high pressure surrounding it. When things are coming at you from all angles and it’s non-stop the pressure becomes too great and the decision to flee or fight has to be made. Most people don’t even consider fighting a storm they stay complacent just as one remains sheltered indoors, inside their feelings of anxiety thus submitting to its will.

Only hours prior we were attending our uncle’s funeral, too young to soon and so much left for him to do and enjoy. The days since his passing left us full of emptiness, grief and questions. We miss him dearly, we think of him often including his immediate family our family; wife, son and daughter. Without going into details we had a long period of disconnect as families will experience due to disagreements. Our families reconnected before our return to Ontario and things were great like the times when we were together, when we got back we got to spend quality time with Bill and his family before his passing. Time is so important and we are grateful for what we had but if it could’ve only been longer.


Johnny soaking wet after being caught in a storm off of Lake Ontario.

But, but, but… there’s always a but. It’s another way of saying, ‘I’ll do it later, not now, or there’s still time’. ‘But’, you just never know how much time is left for all the things you want to do in life. A storm has so many symbolisms.

On the day of the funeral the timing of this storm couldn’t have been more suited, the casket was receiving its final passages from the priest as the rain started to needle in the breeze against the windows. The casket was then wheeled to the awaiting pallbearers outside to carry to the hurst, the rain and wind steadily built momentum. You could feel the stillness of time flood the room. When we arrived to the burial ground it was a full on downpour, no thunder no lightning only ponds of puddles, rain and wind, tears and grieving. A funeral for the ages.

When it was over, as I drove back to mom’s place I had this non-stop thought calling to me; I needed to photograph this day. Driving along Eastport drive by the lift bridge I saw the crashing waves and the power of the storm on full display over Lake Ontario. This was the photographer inside me shouting to get out there, this is what you want, there’s your canvas go get it. I went back and grabbed my camera gear and dressed in my rain attire from head to toe. I was layered up: thermal long johns, sweats, marmot jacket and pants and my rain boots.

I got out there straight away and parked the car at the beach. Before I exited the car I attempted to get everything dialed in so I wouldn’t be fiddling with settings out in the storm. I put my 5D Sr in Aperture Priority mode, made a couple of shots from within the car to find my starting point with ISO and shutter speed. The ISO was to inconsistent so I set it to auto and adjusted my exposure compensation scale to the mood I wanted whether it was darker or lighter and in this case moodier was what I intended and darker is where I scaled it too.

As I moved and snapped shots I thought about the day and where I was in life, it felt like a dance a highschool dance with many songs. I would photograph, snap, snap, snap ponder about life, about Bill, his family, my mom, snap, snap, my brother Jamie and George his family snap, snap, Vancouver snap, snap, was it all for not, snap how would we adjust to our new life in Thailand? Snap. Then suddenly I snapped out of it and understood what we were wanting to do with our lives. The Risk didn’t seem so bad, it wasn’t such a weight anymore it was our purpose.

Thailand we’re ready.

So many of my thoughts were triggered by each crashing wave yet something was missing from all the photos, they started to look too repetitive. I began to search for foregrounds like tall grass, sand or rocks and backgrounds like the lighthouse at the end of the canal, play with depth of field, I included subjects like the birds mainly seagulls flying with and against the wind, in and out of the water. The birds were unafraid of the chaos around them they gave a calm tone to the severe weather in the images. Was I onto something or was I just following my flow?

Then out from nowhere I saw what could be a great image if I could get close enough to snap it. A lone man making his way down the hill covered in his bodysuit with surfboard under his arm marching through the grass and sand to the shore. I wasn’t quite in range for my 70 – 200mm f2.8 he was just on the outskirts of a good composition so I scramble closer to get the shot but stealthy enough so he wouldn’t become distracted by a pesky photog. I double checked if my IS was activated my fingers were freezing and numb I couldn’t hold the camera steady anymore I just pushed the shutter and snapped the ‘Storm Surfer’. I got him.

Looking at the shots of Storm Surfer I can see the parallels of what my brother and I are experiencing as we make our way to Thailand. The madness of the extreme weather that surrounds him seems intimidating if not dangerous everything about his environment is screaming for him to turn back. He’s the only nut job out there but he is decided and determine. He’s going to surf these rough waters, storm or no storm. Storm Surfer came here with a purpose; to surf these waves and ain’t no wind, no rain, no cold and no ruff waters gonna tell him otherwise.

Surfing Lake Ontario

The “Storm Surfer” sits idle in the fury of the lake as he waits for a wave.

Its may not be a ‘surfers paradise’ but he is doing what makes him happy.

By the end of my last few shots my fingers and hands were frozen I was done and called it a day. I couldn’t stop shaking I needed to get myself indoors I sat in the car as it warmed. I checked the back of my camera screen and scanned the photos and deleting obvious rejects.

It was a tuff day, one I’d rather forget but this storm will not let this day become a distant memory nor do I want it to. Now I look at this day as the confirmation we needed to move forward with drive and steadfast determination. I will use it as a time to remember Billy and call upon when we doubt ourselves or our abilities. Thailand is not the end all to be all it’s going to be an amazing portion of our lives and we are going to make the best of it. We have so much planned so many ideas we just have to stay the course remain focused.

If you’re interested in knowing more about our story you can subscribe to our YouTube Channel – Double Vision Photography and follow our vlog ‘The RAW Files’. Connect with us on social media at our Twitter and Facebook pages also be sure to checkout our Instagram feeds at RAW Files Instagram, Double Vision Portraits Instagram and Double Vision Photography Instagram to see our latest work and don’t forget we’d love to hear from you.

Let us know what you think about this post or if you have some great tips to pass on we’d be happy to share them.

To the Storm Surfer – we hope these images find you.

… and to Bill we miss and love you. These photos are because of you and dedicated to you and your family.

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My brother and I are the Co-Owners, Photographers and Creative Directors of Double Vision Photography. This website you’re visiting is the home of ‘DOUBLE VISION The RAW FILES’: A website and online series that chronicles the visual works and Vlogs my brother and I create.

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