More than once Dave Buzzard has heard people say his wedding photographs are so beautiful they could make you cry.
The portraits and photojournalism he's done of people in South Africa when apartheid was crumbling and the first free elections were held are pretty moving, too. But there's something that really grabs you in his wedding shots — which, he almost forgets to tell me, have earned him a Wedding Wire Bride's Choice award, something given to the top five per cent of about 40,000 vendors on Wedding Wire, as rated by clients. (Wedding Wire is like Yelp for weddings.)
"Well, people are personally invested in their wedding photos, too," says Dave from his home and freelance base in Whistler's Emerald Estates. "But I've gone and delivered wedding photos to people and basically had them crying in my arms."
This doesn't surprise me. Dave's been an accomplished photographer — "fotog" we say in the business — for 20-plus years. Not just for weddings, which he more or less fell into via Linda Marshall of Whistler Wedding Planners while he was getting his sea legs back after working in South Africa, but also for Canadian Press, the film industry, local print media from Vancouver to Whistler, and for newspapers like South Africa's best, the Mail and Guardian, based in Durban, where he was born and his dad still lives, and where he went to work when his family's famous campground at Mons closed in the mid-'90s.
What did surprise me was Dave's beautiful food photography when I stumbled on it recently: A bowl of rice noodles, enoki mushrooms and gorgeous little mussels in their shells shot for Ill Mak, a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver, the line of brilliant turquoise on the shell edge offsetting the crimson of the brocade tablecloth underneath, cloth, he tells me, that goes for $100 a yard. A glistening strip of finely marbled Kobe beef held up by white chopsticks that looks so yummy, even raw, you could eat it now. Spring-green spears of asparagus wrapped in grilled bacon. And I'll take that frothy green margarita to go with them that he shot for The Mexican Corner in Whistler.
These shots are pretty amazing, too. Not that they'll make you cry — well, maybe they will if you're the chef who's put his heart and soul into these dishes, or they're the ones you serve in your restaurant you're so proud of.
But what really impresses me about them is that Dave's taken them without any of the usual "tricks" food stylists and fotogs use for commercial or editorial photos, primping the food with tweezers, blow dryers, heat guns; innovating, fixing and balancing the burger, noodles, whatever for the ultimate money shot.
There's the old "mashed potatoes for vanilla ice cream" trick so nothing melts under the lights, or dipping a hamburger bun in paraffin so you don't get any "seepage."
"I'm not doing anything to it. The food is exactly as it comes out of the kitchen," he says. Other than, maybe, folding a strip of beef too long to fit in the frame.
Most of these food "portraits" (check them out at piquenewsmagazine.com under "Food and Drink") are taken straight up, literally, as he shoots from above on a five-foot ladder with his Nikon D3 — the Ford F350 of the camera world, he calls it — and your typical workhorse 28-70 mm zoom lens.
The key, he says, is lighting. Dave uses four basic kinds: a key light to light the overall scene; a fill light, which controls the amount of shadow; a kicker spotlight off to one side for highlights; and a background light so you can see what's behind the dish.
And the key to that key, since, like most of his career, he pretty much came to food photography by chance, was a link to McDonald's website that someone sent him of a how-to on shooting a Big Mac.
"I must have watched that video 50 times," he says.
While he's shot maybe 900 weddings over the years, the majority in Whistler, these days most of his food work is based in Vancouver, primarily Korean and Japanese restaurants downtown, especially around Robson and Denman, where owners like photos of their entire menu done for people like me, who aren't familiar with the dishes.
There you might find Dave at work with his colleague, Jung Shin, a graphic designer at Kate Hughes Design, who got him into this food scene after the Olympics, when Dave was looking for work because there weren't a lot of weddings in Whistler in 2010.
On a shoot, they work when the restaurant is closed, from maybe 10 o'clock at night to three, four in the morning, the chefs pumping out the food, the owner watching setups on the computer screen, Jung directing for composition and aesthetics while Dave's up and down the ladder, adjusting lights, snapping the shutter, doing his thing.
While that's his mainstay now for food photography, he actually got a taste of it when he was working for Sea to Sky News, a short-lived but successful blip on the local media scene in 2006-07 started by Allan Forsyth.
"Someone said Squamish had no food scene so you couldn't do a food column there. Just to show the guy up, we did 52 columns in 52 weeks," says Dave. They covered everything from the nachos at McDonald's to a full Greek spread at a local favourite, Yiannis Taverna on Cleveland, which, after 19 years, shut down in 2011, citing the Olympics as the nail in the coffin.
"There they fed us, and fed us, and fed us — everything on the grill!" he says.
In those days he just set the plates by the window and shot — images that now make him cringe. But that's what happens early in the game when you jump feet-first into a new gig, which Dave is prone to do.
Doing 52 food columns on a dare; sidestepping to restaurants when your wedding photography business dries up; hopping to South Africa when your family's campground closes.
I guess we shouldn't be surprised by whatever Dave gets up to with his trusty Nikon. Next stop, who knows? But it will be authentic and attention grabbing. It might even make you cry.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who admires a good shot.