When a friend inspires you…

I’d like to change direction this week and talk briefly about hope, inspiration and how we can use our work as artists to enrich the lives of others.  To do this, I need to talk about my friend Valérie Jardin, her friend Joshua Coombes, and about books and haircuts.  Let’s get started…

Valérie and I first met a few years ago, when I was a guest on her podcast.  Since then, we have spent time in Vancouver together at a workshop, I have been a guest on her podcast a few more times (and guest hosted her show once) and we have chased each other around Paris (and missed each other every time we tried to connect I might add).  We’ve had lengthy phone conversations, but have also gone months with just the occasional message on social media… such is the nature of friendships in these busy days.  I have always been inspired by her drive and her efforts to share and to educate.

You see, in many ways the journey that I am on is the same one Valérie is also on, we are just in different places along the road.  I first met Valérie when I was at a crucial and decisive point in my career path and her advice and guidance was exactly what I needed at the time.  While this advice was invaluable, I think I have been inspired more by watching her own growth:  sold out workshops around the world, worldwide photowalks, one hit podcast after another.  To put it simply: she is a machine.  I have been out with her until almost midnight, still shooting on the streets of a city after a full day of teaching.  I’m quite certain she doesn’t sleep and, not too long ago, she added writing to her list of creative endeavours.  Now, less than two years later, she is the author of four books.

Inspirational indeed.

This last part is especially important because writing occupies a special place in my heart, one that came as a surprise to me.  I started writing as a necessary part of sharing information on this blog and it has now become one of the most satisfying parts of my work.  As an educator for twenty-two years, I have always sought out new ways to share information with others and writing has opened up new ways of communication for me that I am so thankful for.

Valérie started out writing several eBooks that she self published on her website.  Soon after, she announced a publishing deal with Focal Press to write and produce her first print book, “Street Photography: Creative Vision Behind the Lens” (which is pictured at the top of this article).  Suddenly, on top of an incredibly busy schedule, Valérie was writing to a deadline… not always the easiest thing to do.  I know from conversations with Valérie that much of this book was written on planes as she traveled, in hotel rooms, etc.  I was curious to see what the final product would look like and I was so excited to see my friend experience this new success.  The book did not disappoint…

Divided into two parts, this book seeks first to lay a solid foundation in the art of street photography by discussing things like legalities, ethics, gear, composition, use of light and various techniques for capturing street images.  Part two, entitled “Photo Walks”, is where this book really comes alive though.  In this section you take a photowalk with Valerie to examine images that she captured.  For each image you learn about her approach and her thought process to capturing the image.  There is a commonly held belief in education that content needs to be relevant to the student to be of the utmost value, and I can’t think of anything more relevant than learning an artist’s thought process.  I have read a lot of educational resources and I am very appreciative of the approach this book takes.  I highly recommend it, and, if the reviews on Amazon are any indication, I am not the only one.

I said at the beginning of this post that it was about hope and inspiration, but so far I have only spoken about how Valérie has inspired and supported me as a friend.  Enter #DoSomethingForNothing:

#DoSomethingForNothing is a movement started by Joshua Coombes, a hair stylist from London, who started giving free haircuts to the homeless.  Something so simple.  Something that we all take for granted.  Joshua’s movement, #DoSomethingForNothing, has grown tremendously in scale since his early beginnings.  Here is how Joshua describes it:

“Everyone has the power to #DoSomethingForNothing. We’re not raising awareness, we’re raising compassion. We’re mobilizing people globally to spread love in their communities. Changing the way in which we interact with one another, across the globe.”

Joshua Coombes

Joshua’s work also holds a special place for me.  During my former career as a paramedic I had countless opportunities to interact with and care for those less fortunate than me.  I know full well how just a small amount of compassion and respect can go a long way toward lifting somebody up, which is exactly what Joshua does with his work.  It is honest, it is caring, it is personal and it is so very human.  Valérie was inspired by it too and, despite her busy schedule, she brought Joshua to New York to photograph him working for several days.  This led to Valérie’s fourth book being published, a memoir of their time together, with all proceeds going straight to Joshua so that he can continue the work that he loves so much.  You can get a copy of that book here:


And so, this brings us back to the beginning of this post…

As artists we are in a fortunate position:  we get to create work that may inspire others, but we are also gifted with a platform which we can use to enrich the lives of those around us.  How can we help?  How can we inspire others?  How can we leave our mark on the world in a positive way?  It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, indeed it might be something quite small, but we all have the ability to #DoSomethingForNothing.  I fully believe that there is nothing better than giving back; there is an intrinsic satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have helped someone else.  It can’t be beat.

If you would like to learn more about Valérie’s work you can find it on her website:


And, to learn more about #DoSomethingForNothing, check out Joshua’s Instagram here:


Thank you to Valérie, and to all of the remarkable artists who I interact with every day.  You all inspire me more than you know.





Street Photography with Valerie Jardin


I have had the pleasure of working with Valerie Jardin on several occasions over the last year, guesting twice on her Street Focus podcast (more on that below), and also assisting her on one of her street photography workshops here in Vancouver.  Throughout the process Valerie has come to be a good friend, and as a long time educator myself I have come to value the passion with which she teaches.  With that in mind I thought I would take some time to write a brief review of the workshop I assisted her with in Vancouver.

During my twenty years of teaching I have found that there are two different types of educators:  Those who passionately love to share knowledge and help their students grow, and those who are in it for the pay cheque.  Thankfully  the former group vastly outnumbers the latter in my opinion.  Education, done properly, is not easy.  It requires subject matter expertise, an understanding of how people learn, course and lesson plan development skills, communication skills, people skills, adaptability, problem solving, patience, and many, many other things.  I think this is why pay cheque educators tend not to last that long:  The amount of effort required to deliver a quality educational session will eventually tire most of them out.

In Valerie’s case I think her work speaks for itself:  Her workshops often sell out in hours.  Yes, hours… I watched it happen with one of her San Francisco workshops.  Right now she has a workshop in Rome that is scheduled for April 2018 (about 19 months from now).  It is already 1/2 full.   She has Paris workshops scheduled right through until September 2017 that are already sold out.  This just doesn’t happen if your product isn’t top notch, or if you don’t care about your teaching.  It is clear to me as an educator that Valerie’s passion and commitment to her students are why her workshops sell out like this.  With that said, let’s discuss the Vancouver workshop.


A lot of prep goes into a great educational offering, and in the case of Valerie’s Vancouver workshop this started with pre-course communication.  Valerie sent out emails often and also created a Facebook group specifically for the 10 people registered for this workshop.  Questions were answered quickly and efficiently, and I think everyone that attended was made to feel welcome.

The photo above was taken at the beginning of day one of the weekend workshop, and I think it really sums up the mood throughout the weekend.  We laughed.  A lot.  Valerie begins her weekend workshops with a presentation on street photography that covers conceptual ideas about shooting street, a brief discussion on the legalities and ethics involved, and a lengthy discussion on compositional concepts and techniques to capture great images on the street.  Each concept is illustrated with one or more of Valerie’s images, which provides the students with strong visual examples that highlight each concept being discussed.  The presentation was interactive and discussion based, and there was a fun and positive mood in the room right from the first minute of the workshop.


Once the initial presentation was done the group had a short lunch and then walked to our first area to begin shooting on the streets.  There are many things Valerie does well while teaching on the streets that are worth mentioning:

  1. Before the street shooting begins, each student receives a handout providing them with a list of the compositional techniques discussed earlier in the day.  This “cheat sheet” is a great reference for the new street shooter.
  2. Valerie ensures that everyone has phone / text communication with her, and her with them, in case anyone gets lost.  She also has the students pair off when they are out shooting.  This provides them with a buddy to shoot with if they like, and also to ensure no one gets lost on their own.
  3. She sets firm times and locations for the groups to meet back up after shooting.  This keeps everything running smoothly throughout the day.
  4. Each pair gets individual attention from Valerie during the shooting session.  I was impressed with her ability to move through the groups, provide advice and answer questions.
  5. The education does not stop while in transit between shooting locations (we usually spent 1-2 hours in each location and then walked to our next spot).  A good educator learns to seize the “teachable moment” and Valerie provided many impromptu lessons when the opportunity presented itself.


Day two of the weekend workshop started on the street, with another 3-4 hours of shooting as described above.

After we had a quick lunch, the students settled back into the classroom for the afternoon editing and critique session.  As each student worked on editing and post processing their images, Valerie was available to offer advice.  Once the editing and processing were complete, each student provided Valerie with 5 images which provided about 50 images or so for a group critique.


I am a firm believer that receiving well intentioned critique from your peers, and from educators, is one of the best ways you can grow as an artist.  It is so easy to become emotionally attached to the art that we create.  Hearing objective and constructive opinions on your work  provides significant value and information that you can use to improve your practice.  I think the students greatly benefitted from this final session in the weekend workshop;   I know I did for sure.

Once the weekend was over the students returned back home (they had traveled in from all over the world).  Over the next few weeks, however,  images continued to be edited, uploaded, and discussed on the Facebook page that Valerie had created for this workshop.  I think it is also safe to say that friendships were made… I know I continue to have conversations with many of the participants.  I think this is one of my favourite things about the arts and about education:  I view art as a collaborative process, and I greatly value the relationships I make through it.


For the last two years Valerie has also  been the host of This Week in Photo’s Street Focus podcast:


This month, however, Valerie has launched her own podcast called “Hit the Streets with Valerie Jardin”.  This new podcast will continue the work she did in the 104 episodes of the Street Focus podcast, but also provides the opportunity to expand the discussions and explore new directions.  I am an avid listener of podcasts in the car, when I am out walking / running and when I am out shooting on the streets.  I’m excited that I now have another one to listen to, and I look forward to seeing what Valerie does with it.

You can find more information on this new podcast on Valerie’s website here:


Episode one is now live, with a great discussion with Official Fuji X Photographer Bert Stephani.

Final thoughts…

Clearly from this post you can tell how much I value education and that I have enjoyed working with Valerie this year on her podcast and in this workshop.  If you are interested in attending one of Valerie’s workshops please go to her site here:


And, of course,  you can find out more about my own educational offerings at the following links:

I hope you enjoyed this post and that you consider taking a photography related workshop soon (in whatever genre you enjoy shooting).  The right workshop can accelerate your learning significantly and is totally worth it.

Now, it’s back to our New York series!

Until next time,


Discussing Vancouver Street Photography with Valerie Jardin


Good morning everyone!

Just a quick note to say I am the guest this week on episode 59 of the Street Focus podcast, hosted by official Fuji X Photographer Valerie Jardin.

On this podcast we take a tour through the downtown core of Vancouver, discussing some of my favourite spots in the city for street photography.

You can find a direct link to the podcast here:


And of course it is also available on iTunes:


I created a map to go along with our chat, complete with links to the different places we discuss. You can view that page on my website here:


I hope you enjoy it!

Best wishes,