My name is Dean McLeod and I am a Canadian landscape photographer. I have to admit that sometimes I have to pinch myself after saying that out loud, because I know how lucky I am to have this job.
You see, despite photography having been a big part of my life for many years, I took a different route after high school and chose a 'safe' career as a denturist. So, getting this far in my photo career hasn't come without a lot of work and determination, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
I have been interested in the art form ever since my introduction to film cameras in my teens, but back in those days, being a professional landscape photographer wasn't really a 'thing'. At least not that I'd ever heard of, growing up on the Canadian prairie.
So although denturism has been a rewarding career, the time for a full transition has come. The joy and freedom I feel in the outdoors gives me happiness, and my heart tells me that landscape photography is what I was meant to do.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go
I have lived my entire life in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada. Saskatchewan is big, covering roughly the same land area as Texas, (albeit not as warm in the winter). The southern half of the province is generally flat, making agriculture the main economic driver, while the north is a paradise of boreal forest and lake land.
Camping is a big deal is Saskatchewan, where many locals love to spend the summer season outdoors at their favourite lakes. (There are over 100,000 of them). We also have our fair share of mosquitos and flesh-eating horseflies to keep us honest, but we are used to it.
This is exactly how my love affair with the outdoors began as a child. Camping and exploring the lakes, forests, and living skies of the prairie as a youngster all helped to instill the deep appreciation that I have for nature.
But as a landscape photographer, there isn't a whole lot of 'drama' around my hometown (photographically speaking). Which means that unless I want a portfolio full of combines and hay bales, there will always be travel involved in the job.
Because to take beautiful photographs, you have to go to beautiful places. And that means packing it up and hitting the road.
My Home Away From Home
A strange thing about Canadians, which I think is simply built into our DNA, is that we love to drive almost everywhere. Yes, this is what we do, no matter how far away our destination. But in my business, that can be a good thing.
As a landscape photographer, being mobile is a necessity. I photograph mostly at sunrise and sunset, for the best possible light conditions in my images. Which means very long days especially in the summer, so setting up camp close to my shooting location is a huge advantage.
My Jeep is modified with the rear seats removed and a folding table on the tailgate, so I can sleep or prepare a meal almost anywhere by just pulling over on the side of a road. Being able to drive straight to my destination without having to worry about motel reservations makes life a lot easier.
The story behind my image 'Moonlight Sonata', a photo of Mount Chephren on the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, is a good example of how a home on wheels comes in handy as a photographer. There is no lodging in that particular area of the Rockies, so I simply drove to the mountain and parked in a pullout on the highway as a home base for the day.
A twenty minute snowshoe down to the lake allowed me to scout the area during the daylight hours, and settle on a composition for the nighttime shot that I had envisioned in my head. Back at the Jeep, I prepared dinner and afterwards, settled in for a few hours of sleep before my midnight alarm.
When the time was right, I geared up and returned to the icy stream, set up my camera gear and photographed for a couple of hours in the middle of the night.
There's nothing more exhilarating than coming away with a successful image after all of the planning and travel, and having a home away from home makes things a whole lot easier.
The seasons are very distinct in most parts of Canada, and we are lucky to experience the beauty of such dramatic changes in the landscape each year. In the prairie provinces for example, we experience large fluctuations in temperature, from extremes like -40º degrees in the winter to +40º Celsius (104º F) or more in the summertime.
Although winter photography can create many challenges like protecting your camera gear or simply keeping warm, it has become one of my favourite times of the year to explore. The air is more pure in the cold, while snow-capped peaks or hoar frost clinging to the trees can create images that are uniquely beautiful.
Spring, summer and fall are amazing seasons to explore and photograph in Canada, as the diversity of the landscape offers something exciting for everyone to enjoy. I wait with anticipation every year as the waterfalls begin to swell from the melting snow pack in the mountains, and the greens of spring and summer reveal themselves in the grasses and trees.
Summer heat waves frequently lead to thunderstorms and skies that come alive with amazing clouds, lightening, and rainbows, while the cool air of autumn transforms the trees into pillars of breathtaking colour.
My time spent photographing trees in autumn on Vancouver Island has produced some of my favourite images, as the temperate climate provides the perfect conditions for colorful trees like Japanese maples to thrive.
The Night Skies
Canada has the distinction of having 22 Dark Sky Preserves, which are large areas of land with little or no artificial light pollution. These special areas are generally dedicated to promoting astronomy and are the perfect places to practice astrophotography.
As the second largest country in the world with a sparse population, we are lucky to have these extensive areas of wilderness that create perfect conditions for spectacular photographs of the stars.
Another benefit of practicing night photography is the lack of crowds, especially in more popular areas. Some iconic locations have become so popular with tourists in recent years that it is not uncommon to sit shoulder to shoulder with other photographers during sunrise and sunset hours.
Arriving after dark gives me more freedom to move about less inhibited, while creating images from a unique perspective with beautiful starry skies.
In Canada we are lucky to have many spectacular vistas to photograph that are accessible without having to venture far from the road. But of course, some of the most pristine wilderness can only be experienced by packing your gear and heading into the backcountry.
While some trips are not as difficult as others, carrying heavy camera gear along with camping and cooking equipment can be a challenge, especially in the mountains where there is a lot of elevation gain.
One such trip of mine to Bugaboo Provincial Park in the Purcell Mountains of eastern British Columbia proved to be quite strenuous, but not without great rewards and a lifetime of memories. Climbing over 2,500 feet in a short four kilometer hike with 80 pounds on my back was definitely a test of will.
But to me, there's no better way to enjoy nature than a trek into the backcountry, where I can immerse myself in the sights, sounds and solitude of the outdoors. It is calming, allowing me to explore and photograph creatively while experiencing the wilderness in its truest form.
Landscape photography is a wonderful creative outlet that combines everything I love into a single craft. I love the feeling of connection to the land when I travel to explore new locations in hopes of capturing them at their best with beautiful light and atmosphere.
The Next Chapter
It is a privilege to explore and photograph the beauty of the wilderness, in my home country and beyond its borders, in hopes that my work plays a small part in inspiring others to enjoy and protect nature.
I am honoured that you have shown interest in my fine art landscape and nature photography. Please explore my best work in the image galleries, as my goal is to create original, compelling photographic art that conveys a mood or stirs emotion in the viewer.
I hope that you have enjoyed this glimpse behind the scenes, and continue to follow along in my adventures as a Canadian landscape photographer.