There is starting a photography business, and then there is starting a photography business during a pandemic. For Victoria, BC-based photographer Brittany Barry (Burrow & Bloom Photography), the challenge was a welcome one.
In the short span of a year, Barry has emerged as a dynamic lifestyle photographer with a eye for emotion and a knack for colour — one beloved by her clients for her down-to-earth approach.
"It's always been an artform that spoke to me," she says, "I just didn't know that I had it in me."
We spoke with Barry about getting her start as a photographer, running a business in the middle of a pandemic, and the maxim of "quality over quantity."
BB: Last spring, [when] COVID hit, we pulled our daughter out of daycare. We knew she was going to be home for a bit of a stretch while I was trying to work. One of the things that got me through the early days of COVID was watching safari videos on Instagram. It’s been a lifelong dream for me to go on safari; I [told myself], “I’m going to book something. This is going to be my light at the end of the tunnel.”
So I booked it for April 2021. It’s been postponed again, obviously. But just following these incredible South African photographers, I was like, “I’m going to get a camera.” So I did. I got a camera and started practising on my closest subject, which was my daughter — she was two at the time. And it was amazing. It kind of evolved into [realizing] maybe I wasn’t so bad at it, and I could give that [experience] to other people as well.
It ended up being an opportune time to dive into [photography]. I went head-first into education — I love research; I’m a total research junkie — so I started researching gear and courses and [dove in].
BB: I did photography in high school and loved it — but that was back in [the] film [days]. I’d spend every spare second in the darkroom that I could, but it just sort of went by the wayside after that. It was a really roundabout way that I found my way back [to photography]. It’s always been an artform that spoke to me; I just didn’t know that I had it in me.
BB: [Laughs] It’s hit and miss. She’s definitely a free spirit. My background is in working with kids, so I think that’s why I gravitate towards family photography. I like the candid photos anyways, and she’s definitely not at that age where she’s going to sit there and pose for you — the attention span is very minimal. The best photos of her are always when she’s in a candid moment, usually at the beach — that’s her happy place.
BB: I started off with an entry-level camera and quickly realized that if I was going to start offering photography to people outside of family and friends, then I needed to upgrade. So that first camera was very short-lived; I probably had it for about three months. But I knew it was an investment. So I traded that one in, upgraded, and dove into online education. Very bare bones stuff — I wanted to get the technical stuff down first, and from there, branched into looking at photographers I really admired and [what they] offered. Victoria also has a great local photography community; there are so many great Facebook groups, and I was lucky enough to connect with some other Victoria photographers.
BB: I think I’m gravitating more towards a lifestyle storytelling angle, and getting away from that comfort zone of “everybody stand, arms around your family.” When I look at [other photography], those are the ones that speak to me; [they’re] the ones that preserve a feeling. That’s what I, as a client, would want in my photos.
BB: I think for me, it’s really come down to quality over quantity. Shortly after starting my business, I put out a call on my own Facebook [page] asking friends if anyone would be willing to come and model for a complimentary shoot. And once I had a couple of those under my belt, I went into offering Christmas mini sessions, and it was just a marathon. And to try and get these out in time for families to be able to distribute their photos and do whatever they were going to do with them, it was an insane amount of pressure.
I think now, in hindsight, I would rather do a full session. I’m still going to offer minis on occasion, but I think one of my favourite parts about this work is getting to know families — and in 20 minutes, it’s not [going to happen]. For me, it’s been about working smarter, not harder.
BB: I jotted down names forever and went back and forth. It encompasses the idea of family and the scope of photography that I want do — from “burrow,” where babies are burrowed in their mom’s womb and growing, all the way to when people are “blooming” into adulthood and independence and beyond. I wanted it to encompass every phase of life.
BB: Pretty well from the time I graduated high school, I’ve been working with kids. I started in the school system [working] with kids with special needs, and then found a really niche job with Island Health where I was doing the vision and hearing screening for kindergarten kids, and I did that for nine years. More than half my life, essentially, I’ve been working with kids.
So I don’t know that there’s any tips or tricks; you just have to find out how to tap in and build that rapport — and it’s different with every kid. A big one is, “do you want to come and look at my camera?” I mean, what kid doesn’t want to push buttons, right? So I have countless shots from mini photographers where the subject might not be in focus — there might not even be a subject, really — but that’s a big winner. I think even for adults and kids alike, I don’t want sessions to feel like a chore; I don’t want them to feel like this thing you have to get through.
I’ve had so many dads at the end of sessions be like, “that was actually kind of fun.” I’m like, “I hope so!” I don’t want it to be torture the whole way through. The goal is that in the end, you walk away being like, “that wasn’t so bad.” If you get a dad saying that, I feel like you’ve won [laughs].