Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

Ontario's Climbing Photographers - Ruby Photography Studio
In this, the first in a series of interviews with some of Ontario's top climbing photographers, we caught up with Aidas and Meagan Odonelis of Ruby Photography Studio.
How and when did you get into climbing?
Aidas: I got into climbing through my sister. She brought me to the climbing gym in the summer of 2006 and I took to it quickly. After that I searched the internet for everything I could find out about climbing, bought some gear and became a little obsessed.
Meagan: I'd gone climbing a few times as a kid (mostly on portable walls), but it wasn't until college that I began climbing regularly. I met Aidas during my second year at Loyalist College in 2006. We were both in the photojournalism program and he invited me to go climbing at the Boiler Room in Kingston. We eventually joined the school's climbing club and made regular trips to Rock Oasis in Toronto.
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Images courtesy of Ruby Photography Studio

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And when did you realize you had an interest in photography?
Aidas: My earliest memory of being interested in photography was from 2000 when I went to Brazil for my aunt's wedding. My mom bought me, my brother and sister each a disposable camera for the trip. I realized I enjoyed taking photos and wanted to keep doing it, so I dug out my mom's old Nikon and started playing around with it. In grade 9 I took the intro to photography class offered by my high school - I was hooked. By grade 12 I was volunteering as the teacher's assistant, helping teach the intro class and had decided this was the career I wanted to pursue. I applied to OCAD (and only OCAD) and spent all my money on buying film and cameras. Luckily I was accepted to OCAD as I didn't have any real backup plan.
Meagan: I've always had an interest in photography. As far back as I can remember I've been taking pictures, either with my mother's old Canon or a disposable. I was fortunate enough to travel often while I was living at home and enjoyed the documentary aspect of travel photography. After high school and a two month solo backpacking trip through western Europe, I knew I could make photography a career.
You photograph comps as well as outdoor climbers? Do you prefer one over the other?
Aidas and Meagan: We do photograph both, and with each comes a unique set of challenges. Photographing the comp scene is fun, because we get to see a lot of our friends climb in an exciting environment and we get to capture that energy. However, the technical variables of shooting in a poorly lit, chalk filled, loud environment can be a headache. Shooting outside is great as it's generally quieter, calmer, and more aesthetic. Although it too has a handful of headache-causing logistics; figuring out where to rappel, how to light your subject and hiking in with your gear. That said we enjoy shooting outdoors over indoors. It's a lot more inspiring working with a natural setting and there's more room for creativity.
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Images courtesy of Ruby Photography Studio

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Sport, trad or bouldering? Do you prefer to shoot one more than the others?
Aidas and Meagan: We don't really favour any specific style over the others - they're all a lot of fun to shoot. It's really the climbing environment that helps determine how the images will turn out in the end. We'll always take an aesthetic moderate climb in a beautiful setting over a hard route/boulder in a boring setting.
Ruby Photography Studio is your current photography business. When did you start that and who else is involved. Do you only shoot climbing?
Aidas and Meagan: We started Ruby Photography Studio when we moved back to Toronto from Halifax after finishing our undergrads at NSCAD. This was in 2009/2010. We shoot a range of commercial and editorial content for both print and online publication. Unfortunately, climbing makes up a tiny percentage of our content. As our company grows, we've begun to work in more specific niches. At this point however, we try to remain as versatile as possible so we can handle shooting a wedding or climbing editorial one day and a commercial food shoot or architecture the next.
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What areas do you prefer to shoot in Ontario?
Aidas and Meagan: Ontario can be a tough province to shoot climbing. However, areas like Lion's Head or the Beaver Valley offer good shooting opportunities once you learn to control the variables. The fall is particularly striking in a lot of the climbing areas so we try to capture the natural aesthetic of the environment whenever possible.
Where's the next climbing trip and why?
Meagan: We had planned a trip to the east coast in the summer to shoot for some new clients in Halifax and there would have been time for climbing in between work. However, this didn't quite pan out as we got booked up with work in Toronto. Aidas is going to the New River Gorge in November. This will be a non-photography trip, which will give him a chance to focus just on climbing - a welcome change. The New is just gorgeous in the fall and the climbing is particularly well suited to a giant-sized climber like him.
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And for the the tech-heads, what photo gear do you use?
Aidas and Meagan: We try and not get too caught up with the tech matrix. We see cameras and computers as the tools of our trade and try to use the best tools available for the job. Currently we use Canon bodies and lenses for everything we do, specifically the 5D Mark III and the 1DS Mark II as well as a range of L series zooms and primes for most shooting. We also use the TS-E lenses for interiors and architecture. For lights, we use Profoto and Speedotron. The Profoto 7B pack with a pair of heads is our go-to setup for our location work. We also add a handful of speedlights for extra kick when needed. We do all our own retouching on a maxed out Mac Mini with an SSD, Asus PA246Q monitor and Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. For data backup we have a 6TB RAID 5, as well as an array of miscellaneous hard drives for offsite backups.
I see you have a lot of photographs of dogs. What's up with that?
Aidas and Meagan: Well we love animals and have spent a lot of time photographing dogs. While we were in school we would head over to the Dartmouth SPCA once a week with a white backdrop and some lights to photograph the new animals they had available for adoption. By removing the negative connotation of the shelter from the animals, we were able to help increase adoption rates. After doing this for some time we accumulated a substantial archive of images, which we turned into an exhibition called Shelter Dogs. This was shown at the Anna Leonowens gallery in Halifax. After that we started photographing all sorts of animals for different people. We've shot portraits of family dogs and a billboard/bus ad campaign for an animal adoption drive in Nova Scotia. Recently we were even asked to shoot a retirement portrait of a championship show horse.
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Do you have any tips for aspiring photographers?
Aidas: I would suggest not doing an undergrad if you want to work as a photographer. Get a job as a photographer's assistant and learn as much as you can as quickly as possible. The technical skills come with time, but there are invaluable skills that you learn from actually being on the job. From there, start shooting as much as you can, develop your own style and don't wait for people to ask you to shoot the projects that interest you. Instead, go out and do the work you want to do in the way which you want to do it. Figure out what your time is worth and stick to it - do not undervalue yourself. While giving a discount can seem like a good idea to secure a new client, it's a slippery slope which sets a precedent that helps devalue the media-industry, making it harder for all image creators to earn a living.
Meagan: Opting out of a post secondary education will save you money, but it may cost you networking opportunities. Learn how to make new contacts and hustle jobs (especially recurring jobs). Find a way to stand out from the crowd. The industry is saturated with photographers. I feel as a company, we stand out with our aesthetic and lighting techniques. For us, it's important that we have our own style that represents us as artists, while also complementing each other when we collaborate. As a woman, I think it's especially difficult to stand out in this primarily male-dominated industry.
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Any weird shooting experiences?
Aidas and Meagan: We haven't had any real standout weird experiences, but many small ones. When we worked with the SPCA we handled a huge number of dogs and animals that had been seriously abused and neglected. Some of the dogs had ringworm and we had to wear lab coats and gloves for the shoot. We had dogs pee/defecate/throw-up on the backdrops more times than we can count. There were also dogs that had never been socialized and they become very amorous. Those are some of the animal highlights. We've also had many eccentric clients who were constantly providing "input" while being confidant about what could be "done in post-production." During wedding shoots, we've had client's family members, under the guise of helping, suggest an "amazing shot from the building across the street." We've lost lenses to the atlantic ocean, almost lost cameras on cliff faces and have been blown around like a rag doll by the wind while dangling from a rope. However, I wouldn't classify any of this as weird. We just accept that it comes with the job and at the end of the day, we would rather be doing this than anything else.
So, how do folks get a hold of you if they need some photo work?
Well, they can contact us through our website: www.rubyphotostudio.com
Or for a more personal approach, directly through our emails: aidas@rubyphotostudio.com and meagan@rubyphotostudio.com
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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.