Feature Friday | Ashley Champagne

How did you get into photography & where did you start?
I used to set up “photo shoots” with friends when I was in Junior High/High School- but I didn’t actually consider photography seriously until I saw images of one of my friends that NAIT photography students had taken.  Funny enough, with images everywhere, it had never dawned on me that photography was even a thing.  I was extremely inspired by Kristy-Anne Swart and I would search her images on designpics.com for hours.  I applied for the photographic technology program at NAIT and ended up graduating with the top portfolio in my class.  Directly out of school I started my business, my first major client was DFI, over the years I’ve done quite a few industrial and portrait shoots for them.  In the beginning, I was open to everything; Weddings, families, portraits, industrial, fashion, editorial etc.  Turns out that’s a good way to learn what you like/don’t like and where your strengths are but it’s not the best way to be sane and make a living. 


What are you shooting now?
Currently, I am living in Nashville, TN and working on getting into the music scene to photograph artists.  I’ve also got a new(ish) project, called Little Icons, in which I photograph children in an editorial/iconic style that really showcases their personalities and genuine emotion.  I created this project inspired by my daughter and ultimately through having gained a new appreciation for the value of photographs.  I am interested in creating images that have depth and authenticity, Most of my photographs are Editorial for Magazines, portrait work and commercial images for independent businesses.

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by humans, honesty, and vulnerability, people who pursue the life they want.  I love photographing people like that.  I’m inspired by light and texture, black and white AND rich colours, beautiful spaces, travelling, adventure and music.


What does a day in the life of you look like?
I start my day with my daughter, she helps make my coffee and her breakfast.  Usually, we are doing a craft or at least cutting paper with the “sharp scissors” by 9:00 a.m.  It’s impossible for me to separate a work day from my home life right now unless I’m out on a shoot.  An average day in my life looks like me struggling to work while constantly being interrupted by my 3-year-old daughter because I’d rather be in the same room as my family than in another room with the door shut (I don’t know exactly why I do this.)  A big part of my day looks like setting her up with art projects or snacks in her fort.  It looks like me with messy hair and an unwashed face while I just do “one more thing” on my laptop before “getting ready” for the day.  It looks like emailing and a rocky attempt at maintaining an Instagram presence,  I owe this tool a lot for the success of the Little Icons project.  At a certain part of the day when I feel that I’ve finished enough work or that it’s time to throw in the towel, I spend real time with my husband and daughter.  Sometimes it’s taking her to art class, or exploring Nashville a bit.  On lucky days, a few times a month, sometimes a few times a week, we go to concerts in the evening.  That’s where inspiration hits.  Then, by the time we get our girl to bed, I get back to work sorting and editing images, creating client galleries etc.  That’s an average day these days.

Are you an up all night editor or do you keep a strict schedule?
Read above, haha!  My goal is to get it to the point where most of my time in the business is spent shooting.  Recently I’ve started outsourcing a lot of my editing which has been a journey of its own to get it right.  I still do a lot of pre-editing and then send the images away for retouching.  Most of this is done at night.

What would you say is your most memorable shoot?

2 come to mind. 

Photographing Lady Gaga at Rexall Place for Parlour Magazine in 2008.  While the team had time with her to get her ready and do the interview etc, little was left for me to shoot.  We did 3 different setups/outfits and I want to say we had less than 30 minutes to shoot, it felt very rushed and surreal.  This was before she was who she is today, nonetheless, she was a major pop star and definitely had a vision and an identity to maintain which made it great, intimidating and challenging.

LP, the second time I had the honor of photographing her. The first time was for Georgie Magazine and was a great experience, the second was for Warner Bros and was more involved.  They had asked me to do some location scouting as we would be shooting in Alberta when she was there for Folk Fest in 2013.  I decided to take her to Drumheller.  I bought a vintage lawn chair at the antique mall, drove down to Drumheller and took a few photos to send in for approval.  They loved the cinematic feel of the chair in front of what almost looked like a fake backdrop.  When shoot day arrived I had assembled my team which gave me a lot of confidence for the day and  I personally drove LP and her manager at the time, Michael Ruocco along with my assistant Patrick Zubiri.  We listened to some of LP’s music, her and Michael’s banter and to LP speaking about how much she loves her girlfriend and thoughts of proposing.  It was a really nice time to be able to let it sink in that this amazing, beautiful and otherworldly talented person was in fact human.  Spending that time with an artist was rare for me.  Most shoots that I’ve done with high profile people have been extremely quick, often 15 mins or less.  The next night we sat in the photo pit at Folk Fest for her entire show, she gave me a shout out on stage in front of my home city, the whole thing felt pretty magical.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your photography genre?
My biggest challenge right now is to break into a new city, to meet people and make connections.  I’ve spent over a decade building my portfolio, so the work is there.  Ultimately, I need to connect with people in the music industry.

In my second genre, Little Icons, my biggest challenge is keeping up with the demand and growing the business at a pace that works for me.  Developing this is the most excited I’ve been about business specifically.  Each event I do, I try to make adjustments to the workflow and the overall process.  Behind the scenes, there are a few moving parts and elements that I don’t deal with nearly as much in my other work.  There have been some growing pains and a lot of learning.  The big challenge for me is that it’s volume work, I’m dealing with a lot of people.

To you, what is Photography?
To me, photography is feeling and souls.  I don’t necessarily think that my strength, as far as photography goes, is composition or technicality, it’s seeing people. 

Who are some of your favourite photographers past or present?
I’m the worst for this.  I failed my history of photography class because I was more interested in just doing it.  Ignorant, I know.  There are some obvious ones: Annie Leibovitz, Jill Greenberg… Martin Schoeller.  I know there are many people I’m not naming who’s work has inspired and shaped mine.  I love looking at photography but I’m terrible with names and really following along.

Now’s your time to brag, what achievement are you most proud of in your photography career so far and how do you measure your success?
Honestly, there’s not an achievement or moment.  I think I’m just proud of the fact that I’ve done it.  I’ve created something from the ground up and I’ve chosen a life that has given me many opportunities to connect with people and I feel lucky to create photos for a living.  I’ve had so many experiences that have stretched me personally and forced me to be more independent than I’d sometimes like.  Of course, I’d love to win more awards and features and to make a ton of money and to work with more incredible artists!  But, I definitely measure success by how fulfilled I feel emotionally and mentally and by how the images I create can mean something to the people they’re created for.  Whether it be freezing a moment or expression in time, confirming/revealing a person’s beauty and worth for them, helping someone express something creatively or simply for posterity, I’m happy to create photos that matter to people.  I’d like for all of these things to be aligned. 

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Find your focus, don’t offer every type of photography, even if you can.  When you narrow down and stop doing jobs you don’t love, more of the jobs you really want will come to you.  Truly.  Find a mentor-whether a photographer or an inspiring human being.  Go on adventures and live life, it will bring more to your confidence and your creativity than anything else.

Instagram @littleicons.ca

Instagram @ashleychampagne.photo

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