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Editorial Environmental Portraits for Ottawa Magazine 2014 Interiors Issue

Ottawa Portrait Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen - Jennifer Stead

It’s no secret that my favourite thing about photography is all the people I get to meet. I especially love taking their portraits in environmental situations that are relevant to them as a person or, at the very least, look cool. That’s why I was so happy when the editors at Ottawa Magazine asked me to take environmental portraits of three subjects for the 2014 Interiors issue.

Now, Ottawa Mag has their pick of photographers. The interiors issue is their big push at the beginning of the year and it’s the result of months and months of work. In this particular case my portraits would be paired-up to accompany the stunning interior photography of my good friends Younes and Amanda at DoubleSpace Photography. They would be shooting the interiors, and I would be photographing key individuals who worked on the projects. I had the added benefit of learning from their time on site, as the interior photographs were taken before the portraits.

Ottawa Portrait Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen - Ross Nicholson

Ross Nicholson

Ross was the lighting designer at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences building. The place is bathed in unique light features, the stand out (in my opinion) are the staircases which are an unmissable feature of the building, no matter where you are. Funny enough, through talking about his work on site, Ross pointed out how proud he was of the work they did on the living wall and the gobo’s that created a speckled pattern down into the lobby, he asked me to photograph it for him and Ottawa Magazine liked it so much they ran it large the page opposite his portrait.

Ottawa Portrait Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen - Ross Nicholson

Jennifer Stead

Jennifer created a brilliant piece of metal art that spanned the length of a new Swiming pool at the François Dupuis Recreation Centre. Having seen DoubleSpace’s interiors, I knew I wouldn’t be able to photograph the piece in its entirety. Shooting was also complicated by a few other factors: The pool would be open and in no way would I be able to include users of the facility, and the art itself was hung high, on the glass, meaning I’d need to get Jennifer off the ground somehow. There were a few spots the art dipped lower than others, and only one spot where there was a sufficient ledge on the water side to raise Jennifer high enough to fit into the shot. As you can see at the lead image on this post, we had her balanced in a slightly awkward spot (she kept sliding down), not to mention this is about 3 feet off the ground, so we took care to make sure she was comfortable and well balanced. To cut down on the reflection from shooting through the glass, we had to cover up vending machines that were behind the camera too. It was the only setup, but it was the right one, and my favourite of the series.

Ottawa Portrait Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen - Jennifer Stead

Allison Fisher

Allison, executive director of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health was the trickiest of the photos. No fault of hers, of course, the initial shoot was just one of those times where I had a great space to work in, took some decent photos, but they didn’t quite fit into the editorial vision and, admittedly, I knew they weren’t my strongest work. This happens, more than I care to admit, but sometimes you go in and rock a shoot, sometimes you go in and take some decent photographs and sometimes you take some terrible ones. Basically, I spent more time photographing Allison and her incredible personality, and less time incorporating it into the space. Not great for an interiors issue. Hindsight being 20/20, I recalled a large curved staircase near our exit from the previous shoot, I knew this was where I’d get a more representative image of the centre, what I didn’t know is how much Allison loved this space too. We were working outside getting great use of the curves of the staircase when she asked if I would photograph her inside of the small garden space integrated into the design.
“Are you kidding me!? Of course!”
Allison stepped into the planter, she lit right up, and we were done in a couple shots. Sure, I had to suck up my pride and admit that I “maybe-sorta-probably” could have done better, but doing so gave me the opportunity to make the right image, and my editor happy. Going the extra distance for a good client is never a bad decision.

Ottawa Portrait Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen - Allison Fisher


As you can see from all the tear-sheets from the magazine, the portraits were eventually cropped square. I knew this going into the shoots, so I worked heavily with the symmetry of the spaces to make sure the final image cropped in a way that was still photographically interesting. Of course I still prefer the full-size environmental portraits, but square was the assignment.

Last year my assignment for the interiors issue ended up being a touching eulogy for Margot Johnson, this year I was able to meet three other incredible people leaving lasting marks on the city of Ottawa, getting to do what I love; meeting people and taking photographs.

Ottawa Portrait Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen - Allison Fisher

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