Where there is darkness, there is light.
I chase light: icy cold blue light, warm golden light, fading soft pink light, mind melting red light, green snaking light that explodes into the night sky. I travel the world and capture photographs of its awe-inspiring beauty because it fills my heart with light and forces me out of the darkness of my past, plagued with injury and heartbreak.
Like many young Canadians growing up on the prairies, I learned how to skate on an outdoor rink. I was a feisty 3-year-old with a zest for dramatic expression and an insatiable hunger to compete. Figure skating became my passion and purpose until I was 21. One slight miscalculation lead to a horrible fall which broke my back and plunged my life into a spiral of pain and hopelessness.
I spent the next 8 years in darkness. Immobilized in my bed, I would stare up at the ceiling and feel so powerless. I cut out photographs of beautiful places from travel magazines and stuck them on my walls. At the time, I felt like I would never get to see those places in real life. I could hardly walk and couldn’t sit for longer than 5 minutes. Traveling to the next room was trouble enough, let alone traveling the world.
One day, I got my first dSLR, a Canon Rebel Xti and a 50mm lens. I remember the excitement I felt unboxing my new camera and then the disappointment when I picked it up and through the viewfinder at my dark room. There was nothing to take a picture of: dirty laundry, old tea cups, piles of Buffy DVDs. Not exactly the Eiffel Tower.
I forced myself to get out of bed and pushed the curtains aside. A huge beam of light streamed in from the window. I placed my hand directly in the beam of light and snapped a photo. It was, of course, blurry and over-exposed, but it was a symbol of my hunger to move forward. I was literally reaching my hand into the light, attempting to grab it.
My life changed that day. I started a blog. I started taking pictures and sharing them online. Photography became a therapy for my body and soul. I forced myself to start walking again. Every day I went one minute further, exploring my neighbourhood and my city of Vancouver with my camera. The day I reached the beach, about 20 minutes away, 20 days for me, was my first major victory. I spent a few hours photographing the sea gulls soaring in the sky and the waves dancing on the shore. It wasn’t mind-blowing work, but that moment meant something to me and I finally understood what it meant to capture an inspiring moment.
People started liking my work and I got hired for my first photography jobs. My first work was mainly portraits. I loved photographing faces and challenging myself to learn off-camera strobes. I couldn’t believe I could actually do this as a job. Every step forward in my photography career felt like a victory against my injury. I started to heal. I got stronger. I started to dream again.
A year later, I got on a plane to San Francisco to meet with the founders of tap tap tap, who I eventually created Camera+ with. Another game changer for me. The success of Camera+ gave me something that I had yearned for all those years staring up at my ceiling, the opportunity to travel.
My first big adventure was a 50 day trip to 15 countries around the world shooting only with my iPhone 4. It was an eye-opening trip, to see so much of the world in brief, back-to-back glimpses. The intoxication of exploring new place, people and cultures was truly addictive. I fell in love with some places and wanted to take more than just pretty or technically good pictures, but ones that told stories.
It’s been a long process over the past 9 years and some days I feel like my journey with photography has only just started. I still struggle with my back and neck, and every few months, I have to stay in bed for a day or two. Even though I’m as stubborn as mule, I can’t always climb up to the highest mountain peak, or rappel down the rockiest cliff, and sometimes I need assistance carrying my gear. I make the most out of every moment and I’ve learned that the best shot is the one that inspires you. When you live in a state of creative inspiration, your photography shines.
The more I see, the more time I spend chasing the light; the more I grow as a person and photographer.
Lisa Bettany is a photographer based in Kings, Nova Scotia, Canada. After founding the popular iPhone app Camera+, Lisa returned to Canada to pursue her travel photography career. While learning to fly at a local flight club, Lisa met her husband, an RCAF pilot. Follow Lisa’s adventures on her photo portfolio website, her blog, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.