Studio Iris Blog

Behind the scenes at Studio Iris Photography in Montreal, Canada

Sometimes the story is even better than the photo

Just before I took this photo, I stopped for just a second – what a gorgeous photo this would be! A radiant bride, framed by the wrought iron gate, surrounded by tumbling flowers, bathed in shining light. Then she threw her head back and laughed.

CLICK!!!

My god… what a photo! It was already lovely – but then that laugh! It just brought the photo to the next level.

When the groom saw the photo later, he couldn’t stop laughing.

“I was behind you, pretending to pinch your bum,” he said. “That’s why she was laughing!”

Why it’s so important to listen to the bride and groom

By the time we got to the bride and groom photos at La Bullerie, it was getting pretty dark…. and then the couple said “HEY!! Lets go into the (SUPER DARK) forest, and do some photos there!!

I’m thinking… “Wow, super bad idea… I have barely enough light out here in the open open – I really don’t want to go in the forest, so I said,

I said “Hey! We’re in a vineyard!! How about going over there in the vines?”

But the bride and groom looked so happy, so hopeful, and this was a place that meant so much to them, so I put on a (fake) enthusiastic face, and followed them up the (dark and gloomy) path.

Guess which photo the bride immediately posted to social media when they got the photos?

Moral of the story? Always listen to the bride and groom. They know what they want, and my job is to try my hardest to give that to them.

Moral of the story? Always listen to the bride and groom. They know what they want, and my job is to try my best to give it to them.

The Secret is in the Sauce

Right in the middle of the 2020 COVID pandemic, author Monique Polak and I were commissioned to create a cookbook called The Secret is in the Sauce for Blue Metropolis Foundation.

Monique and I (or the “two Monique, as we call ourselves”) have worked on many projects for Blue Met- but this one was special for us.

First it was about food – who doesn’t love food? Second, it was about stories. and we both love a good tale. And third – most importantly – we did it during the COVID pandemic, which was an utterly trippy experience.

When we started the project in September 2020, COVID numbers were low, so we went into people’s houses to do the photos and interviews.

Monique P chatted up the cooks while they cooked, and I photographed the person in action, documented the dish, then did a nice portrait at the end.

Then, COVID numbers spiked in November 2020, and we were all trapped in our homes again.

It wasn’t a huge transition for Monique P to do the interviews by phone, but for me, I suddenly had to cook each dish and then photograph it in my home studio.

I’m a portrait and event photographer. The last time I did studio photography was in photo school, with less than spectacular results.

I quickly learned that food photography is a lot harder than it looks.

First, I had how to learn how to light the food so that it looks sparkly and alive, not flat and dead.

Then I had to collect all the backgrounds, dishes and accessories.

Then I had to learn how to style the shots to get that that effortless “look” that food photos have.

  • The artfully draped napkin in the corner of the shot. (Note the lack of napkins in my photos. I never did get the hang of that).
  • Steaming hot, fresh looking food. (This means that you have 30 seconds to photograph the food before it looks dead and you have to cook the dish again).
  • Casually strewn bread crumbs (There is nothing casual about food photography. Anything “casual” looking is done with a pair of tweezers and a steady hand).

Adding to the pressure was my husband and two teenaged boys who were sitting upstairs, banging their forks on the dinner table, yelling “ARE YOU DONE YET??? WE’RE STARVING!!!”Anyway, making this cookbook it was great fun – I learned a ton, and it was a welcome distraction during COVID.

The recipes are great, too. We asked people for their simplest, most homey recipes from their home country – that traditional, go-to meal that represents their heritage. So, all the recipes are easy and delicious.

And best of all, if you want a copy of the book. it’s completely FREE!

Our project was funded by Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages Program to recognize Anglophone culture among first-generation immigrants and First Nations communities. As it was a grant, the copies are free to the public.

To get your free copy, contact project coordinator Fréderick Gaudin-Laurin at Blue Metropolis.

What COVID Taught me

A few days ago, I shot some portraits for Air Canada.

Driving to the job, I realized that Air Canada was my last commercial job pre-pandemic (March 2020) – and my first commercial job, post pandemic (October 2021).

My photography business went up in flames in March 2020. A year’s worth of photo contracts – tens of thousands of dollars – all gone in the blink of an eye.

So for the next 18 months – this is what I did:

  • Watched the Walton’s on TV every day with my mom, who lives upstairs
  • Baked bread
  • Gained 5 pounds
  • Enjoyed spending time with my husband and kids
  • Learned food photography and published a cookbook
  • Gained 5 more pounds
  • Closed the photo studio and started working from home
  • Shot a few weddings and portraits
  • Worked as a gardener
  • Lost 10 pounds

In that 18 months, we also lost a close relative to COVID. Gone forever. A family shattered.

Then we watched as Lebanese friends and family lose everything – a lifetime of saving and hard work – due to the country’s economic collapse.

This collapse has been happening for awhile, but the devastation peaked when the port of Beirut blew up on August 4, 2020 – right in the middle of the COVID pandemic – levelling this already battered city and killing 218 people.

I didn’t notice it at first, but all of this changed me fundamentally.

Before, I worried endlessly about the future. Security. Debt.

Now? I don’t worry about anything. So many have lost so much in the last 18 months. Now I appreciate my family. My friends. My good health – and my clients, who – thankfully – are slowly starting to call again.

I feel it… I really, really do

Bicycle and Stairs Le Plateau Montreal

I feel it. I really do. The pandemic will end soon.

I see crowds. Hot summer sun. Terraces. Festivals. Laughter. Street performers. Tourists. Pretty dresses. Bicycles.

Come summer, Montreal will be bursting with joy, pulsing with life, roaring in triumph.

It’s coming. It really, really is.   

Jane Heller’s Lesson

I taught professional photography at Dawson College for 10 years. As the teacher, you are suppose to be a better photographer than your students, right?

So what do you do when a student shows you a photo series she’s working on (galloping horses), and the photo are so good, you think “Man, this chick is a better photographer than I am!”

Instead, I said “Great photos, Jane!” with a whole lot of fake enthusiasm.

Jane Heller died unexpectedly a few years later. She was a remarkable photographer, as well as being ambitious, hard-working, and industrious. Had she lived, I’m sure she be famous today.

I learned two things from Jane Heller. First, that simple, clean compositions are beautiful.

And second, while there was only one Jane, there is also only one Monique. And all I can do is photograph with clear eyes and an open heart.

Because heart, in the end, is what makes an image sing.

I LOVE Air Canada

If only every company was this decent.

March 5, 2020. It was last time I photographed an Air Canada flight attendant graduation.

Of course, I didn’t know it then – that night, just days before the COVID crisis, I was packed in the Windsor Ballroom with 200 other people, partying it up.

Lots of people hate Air Canada. I am not one of them. I love A/C. They are so good to their staff – me included, an outside contractor.

Twice a year, Air Canada throws their flight attendants a big party at a fancy hotel in Montreal. The big bosses stand on a stage and welcome them into the giant worldwide family with heartfelt enthusiasm.

They also hammer home – one last time from the grad podium – the importance of being kind, considerate and accommodating to travellers – that A/C staff represents the best of Canada, and that they are the face of Canada.

And what faces they are! Air Canada flight attendants are every age, every nationality – all impeccably dressed, well coifed, well mannered and nice.

Sad to think that all those excited flight attendants were immediately laid off two weeks later, and have not worked since.

But, fingers crossed, they’ll be flying soon!!