Award-Winning Photographer Susan Dykstra Captures Evocative Northwestern Landscapes
Story by Bonnie Schiedel, Photos by Susan Dykstra
For master photographer Susan Dykstra, a hike always means a camera in hand. Since the late 90s, the Neebing photographer has been turning her lens on the coasts, forests, fields, and creatures of Northwestern Ontario, with breathtaking details that seem to convey the qualities of an especially vivid dream. What is it about landscape photography that appeals to her? “I think just the beauty of it,” says Dykstra. “People just don’t notice it. When I hike or I get up early in the morning for sunrise or sunset, it’s just very quiet and peaceful and nobody else is around; you’re in your own zone. And the beauty of it is really not noticeable till you capture it.”
Self-taught through books, plus a grounding in the basics at a night course at Confederation College, Dykstra stuck to analog slide photography for the first few years of her work because early digital cameras couldn’t match the sharp clarity of slides. Around 2005, she made the switch. “Each year, they came out with a better camera and a better camera and a better camera, and finally digital surpassed film and slides,” she says. Soon, her hobby evolved into a full-time pursuit, including opening her Neebing shop, the Window Light Photo Gallery. After the quiet COVID years coincided with her agency partner launching a website where her photos can be purchased, she opted to close the gallery last summer to free up more time for her photography. (Plus, she now has room for a golf simulator in the former gallery space!)
A recent project has been converting two of her older cameras to infrared, which she uses for black and white photography. (Infrared wavelengths are longer than those of visible light, so you can capture images differently.) Before, she says, it was pointless to photograph landscapes on a bright sunny day because she was never happy with the quality of the work. “With the infrared, those are the conditions you need; you need bright sunny days. All the leaves are white, they glow. The infrared is just beautiful.”
For fellow photographers, Dykstra recommends two key location planning apps: PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, to provide detailed information about when sun or moon will be rising or setting and will be visible in an exact location, so you can capture, say, the moon flanked by two sculptural trees. “I think it’s something that a photographer can’t do without,” she says. Her perennial favourite subject is Lake Superior, from Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie, and fortunately, given the length of the season, her favourite time of year to shoot is winter. “No bugs!” she laughs.
To see more of Susan Dykstra’s work, visit her website at wlpgallery.com or find her on Instagram @susieq2u.
Canon Mark IV
Canon L series lenses from 16 to 400mm