Home is where the heart is. For acclaimed landscape photographer, Dani Lefrançois, that happens to be in the Rocky Mountains and wilderness of Canada. Although she has travelled far and wide, this intrepid explorer has often found herself returning to the spectacular scenery of her home country, capturing it in all of its raw beauty. These days, her aim is to bring these celebrated landscapes to the rest of the world and to share her deep knowledge of photography with others.
With a strong dedication to teaching, Dani has become a strong leader in the field of educational workshops targeted at photographers seeking to improve their skills whilst immersing themselves in the extraordinary beauty of Banff. This month, we were lucky enough to chat with her about how she got her start in photography, the inspiration behind her work, what it's like to run a photography business, as well as her plans for photography in the near future.
An abstract, intimate scene. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
Hello Dani! Thanks for joining us. For people who may not be familiar with you and your work, how would you describe yourself and the type of work you do with your photography? Where did it all begin?
Hey Serena! Thank you for having me. Well, I would describe myself as a landscape photographer with a focus mainly on the Canadian Landscapes. I am a full time photo guide and instructor based in the beautiful Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies. I run on demand private one-on-one workshops as well as small group tours through my business, Banff Photo Workshops & Tours.
I first got the photography bug way back when I was young. Every summer, my mother and I would go on road trips around Southern Ontario as well as larger trips down east to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island and out west to Alberta and the Yukon. My mom would drive and I would be in charge of taking the photos.
Dani has been practicing photography since her childhood. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
I always saw it as a hobby until I took a photo class in high school and got completely obsessed with being in the darkroom and having that hands on experience of literally creating the photograph from a blank piece of paper. After high school, I experimented with different styles of photography including weddings, portraits, events and newborn photography, all in search of what I wanted to do in the photography field, but none of them sparked my interest much like landscape photography.
After an extended trip out west to Banff as a “test run” to see if I would be able to move across the country on my own, I made the decision to move 3000km away from home and follow my dreams in the mountains. It’s been almost 10 years and it was the best decision I could have ever made.
How do you approach new locations for landscape photography? What parts of nature do you think make for great photo subjects?
When I get to a new location, I am almost always looking down. I often pick a location initially because of a photogenic mountain or generally something interesting in the distance so that the background is taken care of. I then spend time looking for details on the land around me to create the leading elements or details to tell the story of that location.
Inspiration comes from nature. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
I really get inspired by nature’s fleeting subjects, like ice and frost, as well as weather. I am a firm believer that there are amazing photo subjects all around and it takes time and practice to train your eyes to see it.
Of all the places that you’ve been, is there one place that has stood out for you in terms of photography and which you’d like to return to a few more times?
There are a handful of places that I feel compelled to keep returning to and exploring. Along with Iceland, I would have to say Newfoundland is that one place that I feel the need to keep returning to. There is something so raw and amazing about Newfoundland. It has been the only place I have visited that hasn’t made me homesick for my mountains in Banff. The variety of landscape, the colours in that landscape, the different styles of photography – whether it is landscape or wildlife – and the amazing people make Newfoundland probably my favourite place to continue to return to.
The Rocky Mountains keep Dani coming back for more. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
As photographers, we often experience an amazing feeling when we get the shot we are after. What needs to be present in an image for you to get that feeling or to know that you’ve nailed it?
I don’t often pre-visualise a shot of anything other than wanting and hoping for dynamic weather and light. If I am visiting a spot with less than ideal light one time, I will often keep that location and sometimes that same composition in mind for when the light or weather is expected to do something spectacular.
I had been waiting for 4 years to capture one of my favourite locations, Moraine Lake, with it’s winter jacket on (fresh snow). One memorable evening, the snow and low clouds all came together and I was able to capture one of my most favourite shots. Ultimately, I feel that if you have a compelling composition and the weather cooperates and gives you mood and/or colour, then that amazing feeling that causes you to jump up and down in excitement is present.
What do you hope to achieve with your photography and how are you working towards that goal?
With my photography, I have very small goals. I simply just want to brighten everyone’s day. That’s not a big ask, right? I want a bright colourful photo to warm the viewer's heart. I want a blue moody photo to relax and calm the minds of the viewers. I want familiar locations to bring back fond memories for those who have been there. I think that continuing to take photos for me, that I like, will help to create those feelings for others as well.
Dani's aim is to use her photography to inspire warm feelings in others. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
How do you feel that your shooting or post-processing techniques have evolved over the years?
I think the way my shooting has evolved over the years has been mostly with composition. I have consciously been training myself to look for compositions everywhere. I am able to pick out ideas and feel confident to try and fail and try again.
As for post processing, that hasn't evolved as much over the years. I almost feel trapped when I am behind a computer and that has limited my interest in expanding my editing techniques since I can edit about 50 photos in an hour and get away from the computer for another few months.
Where do you go for inspiration when you reach a creative plateau?
One of the benefits of my job teaching others is when I hit a creative plateau, I can often find inspiration in my clients. If I am leading a workshop with a complete beginner and we are going over the basics, I find that often triggers memories of being new in photography and all the endless possibilities there are out there.
There are endless possibilities out there. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
Sometimes, I will also go through old photographs and remember what I was feeling when I captured it. That usually sparks the urge to get out and find something new.
There are many obstacles and gatekeepers that can present challenges in terms of getting your work seen. What has been your greatest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
My biggest obstacle is often myself, and I have to say it is an obstacle that I am constantly trying to overcome. I have never been good at remembering to do things, like submitting to contests or magazines calling for entries. I always end up missing deadlines and get frustrated with myself. It’s always a work in progress and maybe one of these days, I will get an assistant to help.
Your biggest obstacle is yourself. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the photography industry. What are your thoughts on the idea that landscape photography is somehow tied to tourism and advertising? In this highly visual era, what other impacts can photography have upon people? Do you think it can be used as a medium to effect any kind of change?
I have definitely noticed since the rise of social media that it's become very focused on tourism and advertising, especially on Instagram. I think social media has also had a hand in helping photography in general become more popular of a hobby for many to pick up and some to choose as a career path.
Social media has made photography more popular in this day and age. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
I think, optimistically, photography is allowing many people to find something they are good at and if you are good at something, you can gain some confidence from that. Photography traditionally was used to capture moments and memories, whether its family photos or war photography. It has always had the power to effect change and it will continue if we want to use it that way.
What specific advice would you give to young women who would like to become professional photographers? Are there specific advantages or disadvantages to being a business owner at a younger age? Do you think it’s important for them to have role models in this aspect and how can they find a mentor?
I think if young women have a passion to pursue photography and find that they feel like their best self when they are photographing, then they should put everything they have into pursuing it professionally. Starting any business is hard but I feel if you are a creative and have not much experience in business, don’t let that stop you.
If you have a passion for photography, then put everything into it. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
We all have our strengths, for some people that's numbers and business stuff. I feel if you learn best having a mentor, then definitely get one. It’s great to have someone to talk through things with and someone you can gain perspective from.
Tell us about your photography workshops in Banff. Aside from teaching photography, what has inspired you to focus on Canada as a photo workshop destination? What is it that you hope to achieve by bringing photographers to this part of the world?
The way I run my workshops in Banff and the surrounding area is pretty relaxed. My clients are able to book a general area they would like to photograph like the Banff area or Lake Louise and Yoho and then I use my knowledge of the weather and local area to get my clients to the best place for the conditions. I never usually have set plans and like to keep things flexible.
Dani has always been encouraged to see her own country. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
When I was young, my mother encouraged me to see my own country instead of always wanting to visit far off places. That really stuck with me and has been the focus of most of my photography on the Canadian landscape. I think Banff and Canada in general has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world and some spots still undiscovered. The country is huge and the landscape variety is vast. I often feel like I don’t need to go far away to be inspired and I would love to share that with others visiting Canada.
Is it ever difficult to run a workshop? How do you make the time enjoyable and wholesome for both you and your participants?
I think sometimes, it can be challenging to run workshops but I enjoy the challenge. The hardest part is mainly getting to know the participants so that I can learn from them what they need from me, and all that needs is time.
I am a big nerd for this area and really enjoy sharing stories and anecdotes with participants about how this area was discovered and what has changed over the years. For me it helps bring this place to life.
How do you balance your personal work with your client work? What percentage of your work is what you are passionate about, as opposed to being produced to cover your expenses?
I feel very lucky to be doing what I love and that is what covers my expenses. I am a pretty stubborn photographer (and person) and I know myself well enough that if I don’t love it, I’m not going to be doing a good job at it. This is why I haven’t completely diversified my business too much. I teach and guide full time and don’t do any commercial or people photography. Although running private one-on-one and small group workshops can be pretty time and labour intensive, it makes photography exciting to me.
Running workshops can be time-consuming but rewarding. Photo by: 'Dani Lefrançois'.
As you continue to mature as a person and an artist, what sorts of things do you think might challenge you in the future or do you have any photographs or styles that you want to investigate? Where do you see your photography going in terms of subject and style?
In my business, I tend to revisit locations often and I get to know these locations very well, so as I continue to grow I want to travel and get out of that comfort zone of knowing every nook and cranny and test myself. I don’t see myself revisiting any of the styles of photography I’ve done in the past but continue with my vision but just change up locations.
Finally, are there any exciting projects that we can expect from you in 2020?
In 2020 I have decided to expand my small group workshops and start offering additional dates throughout the year. I usually only offer small group adventures during the winter season but I am now offering one spring tour in May as well as two Fall tours in September and October. I also plan on hopefully expanding to a few other Canadian locations in 2021.
Follow in Dani's footsteps as a landscape photographer! Check out our range of international photo tours and photography workshops.