In 1981-82 I studied film and fine art photography at Ryerson University in Toronto but left in my second year to pursue a lucrative business opportunity as the official publicity photographer for the Standardbred division of the Ontario Jockey Club. I was responsible for providing the numerous trade magazines and Toronto city newspapers with action photography of their harness racing operations. After leaving the track in 1985 I went to work as a staff photographer for the Mississauga News, a small community newspaper near Toronto but left in 1986 when I was hired on as a full-time firefighter. I had already begun skydiving in 1979 at the age of 19 and by 1986 I had developed the first wing strut mounted camera skydiving photography operation in Canada selling souvenir photographs to first jump student static line skydivers. That business operated for 28 years from 1986 until 2012. During that time I also personally logged over 6,500 skydives and a thousand or more of those jumps were as a tandem videographer/photographer providing first time tandem student skydivers with images of their jump. From 2006-2012 I also operated a successful hockey photography business selling action images of minor league tournament hockey games throughout Ontario to the parents of the players. Those two photographic operations were conducted concurrently with my 30.5 year career as a full time city firefighter. I retired from the fire service on January 31st, 2017 and my only interests now are in traveling the world photographing (and now also writing) about my travels as “The Wandering Fireman.” My website is: www.thewanderingfireman.com
1) What got you into travel writing?
I have been an avid adventure traveller since I was a teenager and a photographer for over 40 years and I’ve had my images published in scores of magazines, newspapers and other publications but I’d never really made an effort to write to accompany my photography. After attending a travel blogging conference in Austin Texas in 2018 and another in Boston in 2019 I decided it was time to expand my horizons and start adding stories to the images I had taken.
2) What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
My biggest challenge is that I’m not an especially “fast” writer which is a big reason why I’ve never been very prolific. It takes me time to compose a good story to accompany my images and arriving at a quality finished product does not come quickly and easily to me. Maybe I’m just too picky but I tend to write slowly and carefully and then edit, shape, re-word, sculpt, and then re-edit again until eventually I find myself chasing my tail. When that happens I just hit “send” and hope for the best.
3) What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
As I am primarily a photographer I have an enormous amount of camera equipment and it is always cumbersome to lug it around with me when I travel but I absolutely must have some kind of camera with me at all times. News happens fast… and, “F/8 and be there” is the news photographers creed. (“Be ready” and be there) When I climbed Denali in Alaska of the dozens of other climbers also attempting the peak I saw no one else with a full sized high end digital camera and lens banging around their waist outside their parka as we all gasped for breath in minus 30 degree temperatures slowly trudging upward, roped together, from high camp up toward the summit. The images I get from those efforts are worth it.
4) What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
Waaaay too many to list! Recently…. sailing on a 15 metre single hull sailboat with two other sailors for 20 days from Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands westward across 3000 miles of open Pacific Ocean to the very first point of land, “Hiva Oa”, in French Polynesia. It was a truly amazing experience. Going back through the years… standing on the summits of any of the mountains I’ve climbed. That is very rewarding. Being on the (at that time) world record 300 person skydive in Eloy Arizona on December 12th, 2002. That was the absolute pinnacle of my 35 years in skydiving. ANYTHING at any of my four years at “Burning Man” (although some of the details are a little fuzzy.) “Nuff said” about that. I could fill pages answering this question.
5) How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
I was attending a travel blogging conference in Boston in June of 2019 and one of your members, Gary Arndt, of “Everything-Everywhere” was giving a seminar on how to make money in travel photography. After the seminar I gave him my card and asked him to visit my website and offer his opinions of the layout, navigability, design, etc. and the quality of my photography. He was kind enough to do that and when he wrote back he suggested that I should join your organization, so I did. I felt that being a part of N.A.T.J.A. would encourage me to write more often to accompany my photography, and it has.
6) What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Well… I’m by no means a rookie photographer but I am absolutely a rookie journalist myself, so I would just say, “get off your ass, get out of your comfort zone, and start writing because that will absolutely get you a lot more noticed.” That’s what I’m doing now and it seems to be working out well enough for me so far.