Self-taught, self-taught, self-taught — the words roll off Liz Twan’s tongue like a litany when she’s asked where she got her start as a photographer.
“I’ve always taken photos. As my boys got older, I had a few spare dollars to get better cameras and could devote more time to learn how to use them.”
Born and raised in Williams Lake, Twan recalls taking pictures of anything and everything, and as her sons — Willee and Jesse — grew older it was of the sports they were doing, mainly rugby and rodeo.
Her father Lee Skipp was a lawyer in Williams Lake. He arrived in Williams Lake to article and met Twan’s mom, Mary Latin.
“There’s a street in town named after my grandpa,” Twan says.
Unwilling to relocate when her parents moved away when she was in Grade 11, Twan remained in the lakecity to complete Grade 12 with friends rather than in the big city.
She attended university with the intent of becoming a teacher, studying English, Political Science, History and Fine Arts. However, during one summer, she had a job with parks and recreation at a day camp.
The experience made her realize she might not have the patience to be stuck inside a classroom full time.
On one of her summers home, she met her future husband, Bronc Twan.
Today she and Bronc run the Alkali Lake Ranch, where Bronc has lived all his life.
As she’s evolved as a photographer, she’s noticed she sees things differently. A smaller scene within a bigger one, she explains.
“I look for something a little bit not normal. You can put five photographers in the same place and they’ll come up with something entirely different.
Now I see that with my eye before I take the picture whereas before I would take the picture and go, ‘oh, I never noticed that.’”
Besides, the cameras are so smart these days, she adds.
“I’ll be the first to admit I’ll never know what my camera can do and I’ll never figure it all out. They are mini computers and they’re way smarter than people.”
When people ask her for advice if they’ve purchased a new camera, she will tell them to let their camera do some of the thinking for them.
“That’s what it’s for.”
Last weekend Twan helped judge the 4-H photography contest in Williams Lake and admits it was a nightmare because there were so many good entries.
“The kids have taken such quality photographs and choosing between them was next to impossible.”
Twan figures she takes photographs almost every day, and seldom leaves home without her camera.
Even at home when she’s working on the ranch, she makes sure to bring it along.
“Every time I don’t bring it I see something and think I wish I had my camera.”
Her photography was first featured with her articles in the Williams Lake Tribune, and one garnered her the 2006 Ma Murray Community Newspaper Award Gold for featured colour photo, circulation under 10,000.
It was a photograph of a jet flying over the moon in a blue sky at noon, taken while attending a branding.
“My camera was hanging on the fence because I was waiting for the branding to start and thought that jet’s going to fly right over the moon in a dead blue sky. The moon was white of course and the jet looked white and the jet trail and I thought how stupid are you, your camera’s hanging on the fence. I ran and I just made it,” she chuckles, adding it was actually blind dumb luck, but she recognized the opportunity.
Her photographs have been selected for the Williams Lake Stampede poster in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and recently she was at the World Hereford Conference in Olds, Alta. in mid-July, where some of her photographs were exhibited in the international hospitality room.
“It was neat because visitors were from all over the world.”
Like most photographers, she’s progressed from simple point and shoot technology, up the line in SLRs and then from digital point and shoot to digital SLRs.
She admits to being frustrated when she felt the camera wasn’t taking the image she was seeing.
“It had already happened by the time you clicked. As soon as I could afford it I bought a camera that could shoot instantly. Point and shoot takes good pictures, but that delay when you actually put your finger down and it takes the pictures means you miss what you were aiming for.”
Her cameras are three different Nikons and she prefers her older one for her working cowboy pictures from long distances. It seems to work better with her bigger lens.
She normally has the three going at once so she can shoot whatever is there, and doesn’t miss things by having to change a lens.
Shooting Stampedes is an enjoyable challenge Twan suggests.
“I enjoy trying to get a good action rodeo shot. You’re always improving. Every year I go there and think I’ve done OK and then I get a little better the next year and realize I’m learning some new tricks.”
Over the years she’s learned vantage points for photographing at Stampedes. Lots of times location is everything, she adds.
Aside from the rodeo events, paying attention to what’s going on around the rodeo is also fun.
All photography is a huge challenge she muses.
“Sometimes you cannot always make your camera get what you see because you don’t have the skills to operate that silly computer in there.”
Photoshop is something she uses, however, with her working cowboy photography she takes pride in “as is” results. She might make a slight adjustment to the colour if it has to be endorsed somewhere, or for sun being in the wrong place to lighten something to make a face more visible, but those cases are rare.
“I do a lot of cropping though. Lots of times you have to shoot something you don’t like because with live cattle and horses you cannot get close enough to get exactly what you want without other things getting in the way. Cropping is used a lot in my working cowboy photos, other wise I wouldn’t be allowed back.”
Twan’s 2012 Artwalk and Sale exhibit is at Frame Creations by Bruce until Sept. 8.