Why Photography? And Why Now?

I’ve always loved photography. I have always loved the way a person’s face would light up while sharing a story associated with a photograph. The memories, the nostalgia, the emotions, all frozen in time and can be relived all over again even with just a glance. It’s a piece of history and, to me, the ultimate visual archive for the soul. 

Growing up I remember spending what little money I had on disposable film cameras. During the year I turned 13 I was gifted my first ever digital camera – a Kodak EasyShare at a whopping 3.0 MP. I no longer had to deal with developing my film because I now had a digital all of my own. And believe me, I took that thing everywhere! For those of you who went to high school with me, there’s a good chance I have embarrassing teenage photos of you in my archive. So for kicks, here are some of my very first selfies.

I enrolled in high school photography class as soon as I could. I absolutely loved it! I learned both film and digital photography circa 2006. I could easily live forever in the darkroom and I would spend hours upon hours trying to figure out photoshop. (Just going to put a shoutout to Matt Dingwall for being a massive inspiration in beefing up my Photoshop game). Annnnd in addition to photography I signed up for a class called “Communications Technology” – which essentially encompassed digital photography and videography, web design, graphics, etc. I have fond memories of running around the hallways, goofing off with my classmates while filming and photographing whatever we felt like. The truth is, those classes sparked something in me; they gave me joy. Besides, who wants to do math when you can create art out of the “latest technology” in digital imaging? 

I soon realized that this is what I want to do – this was my passion: photography & videography. The thing is, being an “artist” or “photographer” didn’t make you money, or so I was told. If you wanted a job you had to study hard and attend university. Truthfully, I was fixated on attending university – perhaps it was the era of “Girl Power” or the fact that no one in my family had done it but not attending university was not an option for 17-year-old Deanna. It seemed like the “smart person” thing to do and I felt personally obligated to show the world I was intelligent and should be taken seriously. The thing is, I sure as hell could not afford to leave Ottawa so I was stuck with only 2 options, University of Ottawa or Carleton. I chose the latter.

I was accepted into Carleton – awesome. However, in a weird turn of events (the system never received my acceptance of offer and therefore I was never formally registered for that school year) I had to defer my offer for a year and therefore had to take an unplanned gap year. 

It’s funny how life happens – now I had a whole year off of school. This was opportunity even though it felt like a punch to the gut. It was an opportunity to go and travel – to do something different. I was 17 going on 18 and totally broke so I looked for creative ways to travel for cheap. A lightbulb went off when I remembered my involvement with the Girl Guides of Canada could totally be used to travel. The global guiding organization, WAGGGS, had 4 world centres and they seek out volunteers on a seasonal basis – room & board free in exchange for all sorts of help at the centre. AWESOME. Between all 4 choices (London, Mexico, India & Switzerland) I chose Switzerland because it was the first one ever built. I’ll spare the details of the trip but I will say it was exactly what I needed at the time. 

You see, I was told that if I took a year off I would never go back to school, get an education, and get a job. There was this idea being thrown at me that I would essentially amount to nothing if I didn’t go to university right away. Crazy right?

By the time I got home I couldn’t wait to start university. My peers in Switzerland heavily inspired me to get my university education. I felt motivated, I felt strong. After 4 wild years of attending university, working nonstop on weekends, partying as much as I could when I could, and running two girl guide units I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, major in History with a minor in Philosophy in 2013. It drained me of creativity but I was highly productive and even more hungry to succeed in an academic world.

The most annoying and most common question I was asked was “What are you going to do with that degree? Teach?” (Nothing against teachers, it’s just not my jam)

I took it upon myself to demonstrate that just because I have a degree in history doesn’t mean I have to become a teacher or that I’ll end up flipping burgers at McDonalds. So what did I do? I enrolled into Applied Museum Studies at Algonquin College. I did that for 2 years and they were tough, my friends. Never had I cried in my car over an assignment (on my birthday, I might add) but there’s a first for everything. That being said, I came out of it with an award, incredible grades, some very cool experiences, and a deep appreciation for the preservation of physical things because of the incredible stories they share.  

a project Deanna worked on with other students during her Applied Museum Studies experience at Algonquin College before becoming a photographer

After finishing college in 2015, I moved to Trenton to live with my partner, Julien. I was stressed and obsessed about getting work in my field straight away. I took a job I did not enjoy in Kingston for a whopping 29k/year. I also decided I needed even more school to make my resume more competitive. I registered to do my Masters of Library and Information Science part-time and online with Robert Gordon University (a 3 year program to complete). I lived in misery for 9 months until I finally gave in and quit that job.

A few months later, I was offered the job of my dreams: Fossil Preparator at Research Casting International. I got paid to prepare dinosaur fossils for a living AND it was a literal 6 min drive from my house. Seriously, I couldn’t have asked for a better break! This was it!

I’m so thankful for that job because this is where I noticed I was missing my spark; that my soul was deeply craving the opportunity to express my creativity and individuality. I could see it all around me, a team of incredibly passionate people with creative minds that could problem-solve anything. I am very blessed for the experience that job gave me – I learned so much not only about the role I was in but also about who I am as a person. However, finishing my Masters while working this job was my nightmare. I got it done but I resented academia and the fact that I had been so consumed by succeeding on paper that I forgot to listen to myself and what I truly want in life.

So, you know what I did when finished my Masters? I bought myself my first DSLR – a Canon SL2.

I signed up for an Adobe subscription and put that SL2 to work immediately. I used it to elevate one of my Instagram accounts where I review cider. Yes, that’s right folks, since 2017 I’ve been reviewing cider online under the guise of That Cider Girl.

Fast forward to 2019, Julien and I found ourselves moving back to Ottawa. It was also the same year Julien’s sister, Pascale, was getting married. To this day I still don’t quite understand what compelled her and her now husband to ask me to photograph their wedding but I am glad they did.

Hesitantly, I accepted the job – I truly feared that I would screw up their wedding photos and would have to deal with a lifetime of awkward family dinners following it. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let them down – especially knowing how much I personally enjoy photographs and they memories the hold. I was completely invested in making sure I could deliver something meaningful. Naturally, I watched a ton of YouTube leading up to the wedding. I read articles, joined Facebook groups. I bought a new lens, a flash, and a trigger.

Wedding day came and I never felt more in my element. I’ve heard from some photographers that they hate shooting weddings because it’s too stressful. Well shit. To me, photographing that wedding felt intuitive, like I was meant to do it all along. And when I saw how Pascale lit up when she saw the photos everything felt right.

I decided right then and there I would see this newfound passion for wedding photography through. It didn’t matter that I was only one year out from completing 9 years of post-secondary education. I felt confident in this decision. I’ve got talent and I’ll make it if I want to. Just start the photography business. Just do it and see where it leads.

So I did.

My plan was to do this part-time. Then the pandemic hit. A job contract I was working ended. A full-time position I was “promised” was given to someone else (yeah, that one hurt). It seemed to me like the universe was aligning to give me full-time reign on this new business venture – so I seized it.

The branded banner Deanna Way created upon taking the leap to become a full-time professional photographer

Just over a year later this is how far I’ve come; this website, this branding, these photos – it was all me and I’m damn proud. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.

And friends, I’m only just getting started.

I never expected to become a business owner but it has been a liberation, even during a pandemic. Pandemic life means that it’s been a slow start but that doesn’t even matter. I have met amazing people in my journey so far and I’ve had the honour of shooting some amazing weddings for couples. It fills me with joy, much in the same way I experienced when I was younger. The fact that I’ve received so much support along the way makes everything worth it. There is nothing I want more than to invest my time, creativity, and energy into celebrating love and life – in all its forms.

It’s crazy how life can come full circle like that. And if you ask me if I regret spending 9 years of my life on post-secondary education my answer would be no, definitely not – it was essential. I like to think that everything happens for a reason and I firmly believe that I needed to take the long way around in order to truly appreciate what I have now. I’m thankful for that.

So friends, I’ll cap this story with some of my work. If you’ve made this far, congrats because it was a long one. Also, thank you because it really means a lot! Cheers!