Interview: Davina Plus Daniel
Photographer Interview: Davina Plus Daniel
Can you briefly tell us a little about your life, where were you born and raised?
Daniel was born and raised in Montreal, and I (Davina) am from Sherbrooke, a small city an hour and half from Montreal. We are both from immigrant families; Daniel’s parents left Soviet Russia for Canada shortly after they were married, my mother was born in what was then Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and my father is French Canadian.
So like most Montrealers, we are a true blend of cultures! This means we know more than one language, but in all of them we have a slight accent that no one can quite figure out! We are most comfortable speaking Frenglish (a classic Montreal blend of French and English).
We’ve been together for 11 years and have now settled in the countryside, by a lake, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, with our kids Max (4) and Charlie (2).
Have you always been a photographer? What was your path to photography and specifically to shooting weddings?
Daniel’s father was an avid amateur photographer who shot exclusively on black and white film, and he introduced Daniel to photography when he was a teenager. He took him to workshops with photographers like David Burnett and Joyce Tenneson in hopes that he would love photography as much as he did - and it worked!
As for me, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in Montreal and met a young photographer during my last year of university. Daniel had a degree in photography and was just getting started with weddings. He bought me my first DSLR so I could second shoot for him. I had always been interested in photography (I used to make my little sister pose for me and would line up my stuffed animals to have photo shoots with them!), and I was particularly interested in photojournalism at the time, so I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I swore I would never be a wedding photographer, and my photojournalism teacher wanted me to promise that I wouldn’t “just” be a wedding photographer (oops!), but what can I say, I loved it.
We photographed a ton of weddings in the first few years, but we quickly realized that we’d get burned out at that rate, so we cut back and focussed on becoming better, and eventually we found our groove: working together, booking the right weddings, and travelling. It’s been 11 years and we love wedding photography today more than ever!
Do you remember the first moment or time a camera/photography jumped out at you as something different/interesting/worth pursuing?
Daniel was not interested in doing weddings until he came across the WPJA in 2006 and it blew his mind. He realized that wedding photography didn’t have to be boring and predictable.
I think I loved photography from the first moment I picked up a camera, but wedding photography really became interesting to me when I realized that I could us it to connect with people in a meaningful way.
Do you have a style or widely understood approach to shooting weddings ie fine-art, documentary?
We are storytellers, so we approach a wedding day like it is a photojournalism assignment. Our goal is to piece together the story of the day with an emphasis on moments, emotion, and connection. Every wedding is different, so we are constantly looking for the things that make that specific wedding unique. Usually we find it in the relationships, and it can be as small and subtle as a split-second glance or the squeeze of a hand. We want the people in our images to remember how they felt in those moments, but we also want to show them things that they did not see.
While our work is largely centred around moments, our storytelling approach also allows us to work on creative imagery. Because we often travel to beautiful locations for destination weddings, we love to play with the environment we are in to create portraits with our clients.
What/who do you look at for visual inspiration? It could be a favourite photographer or blog? movies? etc
When it comes to creative inspiration, we find it everywhere! We are very inspired by films and tv shows, especially Disney movies for the way they piece together a visual story. Cinderella is a visual masterpiece! We also love Wes Anderson movies for their genius use of color and symmetry. The Planet Earth series is breathtaking. We also love renaissance art and wandering through an art gallery is always a great source of inspiration for us. We have a huge collection of photography books, most of which we inherited from Daniel’s father who was an avid photography collector, and our favourites include the legends: Steve McCurry, Alex Webb, and Mary Ellen Mark.
What would a perfect day shooting a wedding look like for you?
All we really need is a great couple, who love each other and are excited to get married. A perfect day would be one where the couple is not worried about anything, and where they are simply present in the moment… and where everything happens in great light ;)
Do you have any sort of routine before a wedding to get yourself into the right frame of mind to achieve that perfect day?
We have a ritual of setting intentions for ourselves. We’ll ask each other, “what’s your goal for today?” It’s usually a mental goal, like being present, or remembering to take control when we need to, or it can be a small tangible goal based on something that we learned from the couple, like getting a great photo of the bride’s mother.
We also make sure we have a good meal just before we start, and we make sure all our gear is in working order so we can go in with confidence.
Generally speaking, what do you focus on when you are shooting a wedding, by which I mean, what about a wedding is important for you to prioritise while your shoot?
We are really tuned in to our couples on their wedding day. I see it as my duty as the person who is by their side all day long to make sure that they are having a great experience that day. By being tuned in this way, I believe that I can get better images as well, because they relax and become more comfortable around us and we get access to the truest, most authentic moments that often happen behind the scenes.
I often think peoples experiences of marriages, theirs or their parents, can have an impact on their involvement in working in the world of weddings. Can you explain what weddings mean to you personally?
I can’t say that we have a special attachment to weddings themselves… Daniel’s parents are divorced, and mine are together but they never got married. We’re not interested in weddings for the glitz and glamour but rather the fact that they bring people together.
We have 2 young kids, and we lost Daniel’s father suddenly in 2016 when I was 8 months pregnant with our daughter Charlie. Becoming parents and losing a parent gave us a new perspective on weddings. We focus on family and connections more than ever, showing our couples how they are loved by their friends and families, and not just each other. We spend extra time and attention on parents and grand-parents because we know how valuable those images will be some day.
In the feedback you've received from wedding clients over the years, would there be one word that keeps popping up again and again?
I reread my clients’ emails and testimonials to answer this question accurately, and there was definitely one recurring word: “Feel.” Their reaction to their photos is always about how they make them feel, which is exactly what we’re going for!
Having seen lots of weddings, what would your advice be to a beloved family member if they came to you and said they were getting married and asked for (any) advice on how to approach their wedding day?
Hire professionals, trust the professionals you hired, and let it all go on the wedding day. Being present in every moment and remembering to take it all in will give you the best experience and the best photos.
What three pieces of advice would you give young photographers starting out?
Practice - Every time you pick up a camera, you learn, and you get better (this is true for beginners and experienced photographers). Want to get better at posing? Ask friends to stand in for you so you can practice giving direction. Want to get better at photographing moments? Photograph your kids as they run around the backyard.
Be humble - Seek criticism and advice, and listen. You don’t have to agree, but being humble enough to consider different points of view will make you better. Humility is a skill, and it is especially important with clients because we are working for them after all. I really believe that developing humility will serve a photographer well over time. At the same time, don’t reinvent yourself every time you get advice, but be open to it!
Don’t give up - Even when you feel like you suck. We’ve all been there (and I still go back there sometimes…), that’s part of being in a creative field. But style develops through experience so you have to keep at it.
How can people get in touch with you?
Our website: davinaplusdaniel.com
Or on Instagram: @davinaplusdaniel