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Focus Forward: Lessons from Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

Darlene Hildebrandt is a photographer and educator. Darlene helps amateur photographers improve their images through articles on her website, video tutorials on her YouTube channel, online courses, and worldwide photography tours. As a woman in a mostly male dominated industry in the 1980s, she never let being a female or standing five foot tall stop her from reaching for the sky and living her dreams.


Listen to the full episode here.





[00:01:21] Darlene Hildebrandt on what she’s most passionate about

[00:02:05] Darlene Hildebrandt on her childhood

[00:03:01] Darlene Hildebrandt on studying photography

[00:05:35]  Darlene Hildebrandt on the impact of AI on photography

[00:11:31] Darlene Hildebrandt on her work for the online Digital Photography School

[00:14:15] Darlene Hildebrandt on what inspired her to start teaching photography

[00:18:13] Darlene Hildebrandt on the advice to stop “shoulding” on yourself

[00:23:16] Darlene Hildebrandt on being able to learn both technical aspects and aesthetics in photography

[00:24:02] Darlene Hildebrandt on her Digital Photo Mentor Facebook Group being a welcoming community

[00:27:20] Darlene Hildebrandt on posting free content for people to learn about photography

[00:29:06] Darlene Hildebrandt on her free 10 Photography Challenges eBook

[00:30:57] Darlene Hildebrandt on what she photographs for fun

[00:36:26] Darlene Hildebrandt on her favorite place to travel to take photos

[00:39:31] Darlene Hildebrandt on her photography tours and what sets them apart

[00:43:09] Darlene Hildebrandt on the work she does to support the Indigenous community

[00:47:13] Darlene Hildebrandt on how photography has changed over the course of her career

[00:52:27] Darlene Hildebrandt on not feeling pressure to do something with your photographs

[00:55:28] Darlene Hildebrandt on how people can find her, take her photography classes and go on her tours

[00:55:59] Darlene Hildebrandt on her dream for herself and her dream for women



Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters, Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project. We've created an inclusive sisterhood where passion driven women come to get support, find their purpose, and feel empowered to transform their lives and change the world. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success, and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.


Today, we're talking with Darlene Hildebrandt, a photographer and educator. Darlene helps amateur photographers improve their images through articles on her website, video tutorials on her YouTube channel, online courses, and worldwide photography tours. As a woman in a mostly male dominated industry in the 1980s, she never let being a female or standing five foot tall stop her from reaching for the sky and living her dreams.


If you're joining us here live today, please feel free to drop any comments or questions for Darlene in the chat, and we'll do our best to get them answered.


Now please welcome Darlene Hildebrandt.


Hi, Darlene. We're so happy to have you here today.


Darlene: Thanks so much, Nancy. I'm happy to be here.


Passionistas: Darlene, I think it's probably an obvious answer, but we'll always start with this question. What are you most passionate about?


Darlene: Um, yes, photography, of course. Um, I've actually had photography in my veins, I think, since I was a teenager. I was given a camera at age 13, uh, when I was in what we call a junior high, I think you would call it middle school in the US, by my parents. And, um, it was an old Yashica brand, um, probably looked something like this one behind me, if you're watching a video, um, and I just started doing photos and then went from there to yearbook and high school and never looked back. So I've always had photography in my life in some way.


Passionistas: Were your parents creative? Was that something that they were not at all, ?


Darlene: No, not at all. My mom at the time, she trained and was a lab technician, so she was more scientific and my dad was a taxi driver, so no . So why do you think they thought to give you the camera. I think because I expressed interest in it, um, I honestly don't know, you know, that's a good question. I want to go and ask my mom. I don't know, um, I think just because I expressed interest, like it wasn't that I was into, um, and I was never good at drawing either, you know, I mean, as a kid, coloring and, you know, whatever, watercolor, painting, those, remember those paint by numbers? Um, I used to do those. So I think I was like, into artistic things, but um, drawing is definitely not my strong point. I've tried. I can draw a stick figure and play Pictionary, but that's it.


Passionistas: After high school, did you go on to study photography?


Darlene: I did. Yes. Um, after high school, I actually applied to a different program and got rejected. I applied to a graphic arts program at a different college, and they require all of their students to be one year, Out of high school and I actually think that's a really good idea because it gives you time to think about you know like at 18 you don't even know who you are right and I went back for a year and upgraded some of my courses and so on and and worked part time and in the process decided to check out the photography program at a different college at a technical school.


And it would be similar to like what you would call, um, like a polytechnic school and they do two year courses. And I did, um, a shadow a day with another student in the photography program there. And I really loved what was happening. And I'm like, yeah, I think I want to do that. So applied there, they get over, um, 500 applicants a year for actually more like a thousand at the time for 25 spots.


And I, I was one of that was accepted. Some people had to apply multiple times. And sadly, the college has now dropped that program. It's the last year they just finishing up this year that that program is ever going to exist again. So it's a dying breed.


Passionistas: Yeah, that's too bad. Why do you think that is? Do you think the fact that people, everybody has a camera now is kind of…


Darlene: I think that's part of it. Um, I think that's part of it. I think online education, you know, I mean, the fact that I teach it online as well, um, has gone that direction. It's more accessible to everybody as opposed to having to go to a full time program. Um, It's also expensive to go to that program, you know, like tuitions and, and things.


So not everybody can afford that. And also, honestly, in the age of AI and where things are going, I mean, that's a whole other, you know, discussion. Um, it's hard to keep up with the technology, actually.


Passionistas: Yeah, my husband and I were just talking about AI this morning and all of the jobs that it's stealing from us. It's very, very, very scary. But like you said, that's, that's a podcast for another day.


Darlene: And if you do that one, I'd be happy to sit in on a panel because I have some very big thoughts on that. It's affecting the photography industry big time.


Passionistas: Yeah, we would love to do that. And so what effects are you personally seeing?


Darlene: Personally, I'm not seeing, um, as much like the software I teach. Um, I teach Photoshop and Lightroom. So the Adobe suite of products and there's AI, you know, built in there. And I'm specifically talking about generative AI. So for people listening that don't know what, like, AI is artificial intelligence, but generative AI, um, things like mid journey, which is you can generate an image with a text prompt, you know, you can say, make me an image of a tap dancing frog with a top hat, and there's an image, you know, created.


And the more descriptive your prompt is, your text prompt is, so much for joining us today, and we'll see you next time. Bye. And say, instead of that road sign, um, put a mountain sheep in the background because it's a mountain scene or whatever, and it'll just generate that. So there's lots of things, repercussions of that.


Um, you know, people are, are easily able to edit their images and create fantasy kind of things. Whereas previously photographers, like a friend of mine who, her name is Renee Robin, she would be fascinating to have on your show as well. Um, she does these really, uh, High end Photoshop works where it's like multiple images combined to create these fantasy like images.


Well, now somebody can do it with a text prompt. So what took her three days in Photoshop now takes 30 minutes with a prompt. So it's changing her job for sure, but it's changing my job in that I have to keep up with understanding it so that I can teach it. If that's something my students want to know how to learn.


It's also affecting photography competitions, for example, where, um, a lot of photography competitions, especially professional ones, um, say no AI is usable in their contest entries and they require the original photos to prove that you created this with a camera, not with AI.


Passionistas: Thank God. Thank God they're putting those protections in place because nothing will ever replace. You looking through a camera lens and capturing something really special in the moment.


Darlene: Yeah. And I mean, for amateurs, there's, there is benefits of AI. Like one of the things that I use and I teach, um, it's called Luminar Neo. That's another software that competes with Adobe. Um, but you can do things like change the sky. Right, so if you took a photo and the sky really wasn't that great, you could put a different sky in, and a lot of, say, photography competitions, for example, will say that you can do that, but the sky image that you put in must be yours as well.


Passionistas: Interesting. Yeah. So essentially, you can make a collage of your own images.


Darlene: Yeah. Yeah. Correct. Not use, like, a stock image or something, you know, else.


Passionistas: Yeah, yeah, it's all about the intellectual property, because where's AI? AI is getting those images from some place. They're not just appearing out of nothing. So, you know, it's, it's, it's crazy. It's a really, really difficult thing. I mean, I don't think it's here. It's, it's, Not going away, but we all have to learn how to utilize it and protect ourselves from it, I think.


Darlene: Yeah. And the other piece of that as a photographer is that I don't trust anything I see anymore, right? Like I see stuff on, on Facebook and I'm sure that everybody can relate to this.


And there's two problems with that. Number one, Are we not trusting images that are actually real now? Right? So we're being tricked. And so many people share things that I see that are clearly AI and are clearly fake. So then the other side of that coin is the general public is being tricked into believing that something is true that isn't.


Right? And then that's a slippery slope. You know, I mean, we got elections coming up on both sides of the border. Like, I don't trust anything I see. And I feel like that's actually really sad.


Passionistas: Yeah, it's terrible. And again, because for me, what I would love about photography is, wow, that moment happened, and somebody talent to, to capture it. And so for that spontaneity and that reality of that to be in question is, is a very sad thing to me. So hopefully there'll be some regulations that people figure out along the way.


Darlene: I mean, I hope for my own sake, because I teach photography, um, and enjoy doing it. People are still going to enjoy the process of doing photography because for people that I teach who are are beginners, intermediate, just hobby photographers, they do because they love it, not because of the end result, you know, and if you get a great result, that's, that's bonus, right? So I hope that people still do it because they enjoy the process.


Passionistas: Absolutely. So, um, tell us where and when you started your photo studio. Is it Stombaugh? How do you say it?


Darlene: Oh, that's not my photo studio.


Passionistas: Oh, okay. Sorry about that. That was the studio


Darlene: I had with my ex-husband. So we started our business together in 1990. And we divorced in 2002. So that was part of, um, you know, that was part of my journey. Uh, we had a portrait wedding studio, so he carried on to continue with the, that business and I evolved. So I've invented and reinvented myself. In photography many times. Um, I've been, um, a representative for a company in New Zealand that makes wedding photo albums and been their North American rep.


I've been the managing editor for a big photography site called Digital Photography School based out of Australia. Um, and I managed like 40 different writers and content and publishing schedule for them. So I've, I've I've been involved in photography and been an entrepreneur most of my life, but it's changed and what I do changed.


And I actually really enjoyed this stage because the photography that I do now, like I don't have a studio. Um, I just do for myself. Or I do because it's a good example of what I can teach. Like I set up a photo shoot in my local community hall. I rented the community hall and I had models come and I just put out a model call and I said, who wants to come down and do some black and white portraits?


Like, 40 style Hollywood portraits and people put their hand up and whoever came, came and we created some really fun portraits just, just because. And now I can use those portraits and behind the scenes shots and stuff as teaching moments as well.


Passionistas: It's fantastic. Um, let's take a step back. Tell us about that, um, Australian publication and your work there. Tell us more about that.

Darlene: It's a website, uh, Digital Photography School is a really big site, um, they've been around for a long time and it's actually run by a guy that is very well known in the blogging world. It's Darren Rouse. He also created ProBlogger and He wanted to take a step back from the photography website to work on ProBlogger more.


And so I was given the realm, the reins to control the content. I was managing it for about five years. So that was, I meant, that meant I was in charge of soliciting, editing, publishing, and arranging the content on, on that website. We published So, it's a massive, big resource for photographers, and at the same time, I was building my own website, which is Digital Photo Mentor.


So, I'm the mentor, um, and, you know, the front, and my husband, my current husband and I joke about it because he's my tech guy, my IT person, that I'm the front end and he's the back end, right? So, um, so the, the managing editor role Really helped me sort of learn where I wanted to go with my business and I was doing tours at the time and then it just became for me too much to schedule and try and get all the content on, done on that website and do my tours at the same time. So... But it was


Passionistas: We want to talk about both of those things. Let's start with the Digital Photo Mentor. Tell us a little bit more about why you wanted to share your knowledge with other people.


Darlene: Well, it's kind of funny because um, I started teaching photography back in 2011 and we have a continuing education program here with the school board and they, you know, have evening classes and you can learn all kinds of things, you know, like painting or flower arranging.


I see your flowers behind you, you know, or all kinds of things and photography was one of them and they were looking for instructors, so I became an instructor there. And started teaching. And then at the time, um, my husband, my current husband and I had gotten married and we spent six months traveling the U. S. in an RV. We traveled around Canada and U. S. for six months in an RV. And then when we got back and we were broke, we needed a job. So, I actually got a job at a camera store. So, that was interesting in itself, you know. And, uh, one day my boss at the camera store came in, in the, um, back office where I was working and he said, Would you like to teach a class here?


And I said, sure, why not? And that literally started my teaching journey. And then I was like, okay, I need to write a class and figure out the content. What am I doing? You know? And I actually discovered that I was good at it. And I'd never taught anything before. I'd done speaking events, you know, like to other professionals, but I'd never taught so much for joining us today and we'll see you in the next video.


To the beginner, I teach to somebody who is at the very bottom level and somebody who's at a higher level, you know, understands what I'm saying, but so does somebody who's new to it. And, um, without making them feel like they're stupid, because, uh, a lot of my audience is over 60. We, we have a lot of boomers and people that come on our tours are over 65, over 70.


And, you know, they, they often feel like they're the old dog learning new tricks. And I don't make them feel like. They're, they're stupid, like they're challenged, right, with this. They're like, oh, why am I not getting this? And, um, I, I watched other people's videos. I read other people's articles. And I was like, you know what?


Somebody that doesn't know what that word means isn't going to understand this whole article. They're writing it from a base of middle knowledge and not down here. So I kind of took that approach and, um, it's, it's worked well for us so far.


Passionistas: That's fantastic. And as someone who's, who's basically an amateur photographer myself, but always likes to have a nice camera, um, I find that I am that person. I don't want to look stupid. I should, I've had a nice camera. I should know how to do these things by now.


I find that the groups I go in on Facebook and stuff are very male dominated and I feel like the girl asking the question. Which always makes me feel awkward. When I was looking, I bought a Nikon ZF recently and I was looking, really like studying about it before I bought it.


And so there were all these Facebook groups where people were talking about them and it was a lot of men. And every once in a while, if anybody, whatever gender, asked a question that they thought was dumb, they would gladly tell you how dumb they thought you were. Um, and just like really jump on people.


People were just so mean. And so I would go in and read, but I would be terrified to like ask a question, let alone post a picture and say, what is it? So I love that you respect that there are people who love to do this like I do, but who have always felt like I'm already at the point in my life where I should know how to do this.


I've had the tools that I should have learned to use better, and I haven't done that. So now if I go in, people are just going to think I'm lazy and dumb. Um, so that really speaks to me that you do it that way.


Darlene: I have one piece of advice for you. Uh, well two pieces actually. One of my favorite teachers of all time from high school, um, and, and other people said the same thing, right?


There's no stupid question except the one you don't ask because you'll never get the answer. And another thing that you said, you used the word should, right? And I'm going to say stop shoulding on yourself, right? Because should means that, you know, you, you, there's a regret there. There's, there's blame.


And it's not about, you know, I should know how to use my camera better. It's like, I just haven't prioritized or had the time to prioritize learning it. Um, actually one of the lessons, one of, one of the things we did on our website that actually helped us grow our website was something we got from, um, Pat Flynn on his book, Superfans, which is we ran some challenges.


And we offered a prize. So, um, one of the challenges one month we ran was to use your camera every single day.


And then at the end, I don't want to see your pictures. I want to hear about your journey. What was it like? I hope that was your experience at the end of the 30 days. Even if it's five minutes, I want you to learn one new button or one new menu setting every single day.


And then where are you at the end of the 30 days? And oh my goodness, the comments we got on that, people were like, One person was like, I'm, I was ready to buy a new camera because I thought my camera was, was, you know, not good enough. And I realized it was me that was not, not good enough. I learned about so much about my camera that I don't need to buy a new camera.


And you just saved me like a thousand dollars by doing this, right? So people, it really, really connected with them. Um, and it, it doesn't take a lot of time really to invest anything that you want to learn. You know, the rule about. The 10, 000 hours, you've heard that one, right? So, if you want to learn something, you need to put in the hours.


And if you haven't put in the hours, like people will say, oh, your photos are so great, I'll never be that good. I go, well, I've been doing this for 35 years. Can you imagine how many hours I've put in? And I went to college for two years full time, right? And I ran a full time studio for 12 years. So, I've been doing photography Full time, 24 7 for how many years?


What is it going to take for you to catch up to me? You're not gonna, right? So, um, you know, unless you've done the same. But you probably have skills in another area that I don't have, right? It doesn't make either of us lesser. We just have different skills that we bring to the table. And as a photographer, your own life experiences will, will form the kind of photographer you are.


You know, like how you see things, how you see the world is different than how I see it.


Passionistas: Well, that's beautiful. And I'm very inspired and I'm going to do that challenge now. I will make sure you have a link. Okay. Great. I will definitely do the challenge. Thank you. And I'll let you know my results.


Darlene: Yeah. And it's great. Just, you know, the other thing is they say if you do something every day for 30 days, it becomes a habit. So if you do that challenge, by the end of it, you'll be in the habit of using your camera more and learning it more. So that's


Passionistas: Exactly.


Darlene: And one of the reasons that, um, for those watching the video, I have the camera behind me. It's a Fuji X100 series and it's really small and it's, it's a perfect street photography camera. And it's also perfect to just, you know, either throw in your purse if you're a woman or over your shoulder and just take it with you everywhere. Because the other thing that they say, and they say a lot of things, right, is that the best camera is the one that you have, right?


So if that means your phone. So be it, you know, and honestly, I take a lot of pictures with my phone. I, I do, because that's the one that I have with me. Um, you know, don't be afraid to learn how to take better photos and then apply it to your phone photography as well, because the concepts of photography, are the same no matter what the tool you're using, right?


So lighting and composition and subject matter all matter less than the thing that's actually taking the picture. Because the thing that's taking the picture is you, not the camera. Right. Right.


Passionistas: Yeah. And I've, Nancy and I have found ourselves in so many interesting places and you know, on the red carpet at the Emmys where all of a sudden I'm taking pictures and it's like, I, you know, I just do what I do with the camera and, and, you know, everybody seems to like the pictures, but I want to have more control.


I want to have more, you know, I want there to be a skill level there more than just like I pointed at something beautiful. I want to then be able to make it. You know, take it. Right. So you have the passion. Now you just need to get, you know, some of the technical skills. And one of the things I teach to my students is because they'll say like, well, I don't have your eye.


Darlene: Okay. And that's one thing. So there's two aspects, right? There's the technical aspect of photography, which is what dials and buttons and settings do you put on the camera? And then there's the aesthetics, right? Both of those things can be taught. And people think that that's not the case. They're like, Oh, I know how to set the camera, but I don't have your eye.


I can't see the way you do. Well, nobody sees the way I do, but you see the way you do. And that can be trained. People think that it can't be, but you can learn about art and, you know, elements of composition and how light works and how to use it. You can learn those things. Right?


Passionistas: Absolutely.


Darlene: Can I circle back to something that Amy said about Facebook?


Passionistas: Yes.


Darlene: So that's like the bane of my existence, Facebook photography groups, because they are, they can be very mean. And you know, you mentioned male dominated. So then of course, we get the mansplaining, right? Um, that happens a lot. And I can't tell you how many arguments I've had with men. In Facebook groups, um, arguing about something like I'll post an image or I'll comment on somebody else's and then they're telling me why I'm wrong and I go and look at their photos and they're not so hot, you know, like, it's like, okay, who are you to be giving advice?


And I'll say to them, look, you know, I've been doing this a really long time, like go look at my site, go look at my photos, whatever, and sometimes it's just like, you know what? It's not worth the breath. Because they're going to argue for the sake of arguing and I just let them, I just let them go. Um, but we run a Facebook group as well, um, with about 6, 000 people and we're actually working on um, a community.


So we're working on a photography community and yes, you will certainly get an invite when it's available and we want it to be a place that is free from those kinds of experiences. And I try and keep my Facebook group that way as well, because it's not fun as a beginner to come in and get your image trashed and get dumped upon, right?


Passionistas: Yeah, they're so mean. I was blown away by how mean they were to each other. I, you know, like I said, I didn't ask any questions. I didn't engage. There was one day where a woman posted so much…  But the men, it was like, no matter whether it was something technical or creative or just like, oh, I posted a photo of my new camera. I'm so excited. I got it. They'd be like, so just biting to each other. And I thought, I like to be in spaces, especially in an artistic setting where people are supportive.


It's like, it's pretty vulnerable to share your art with people, I think. And so why not just support each other and, and bolster each other? I'll never understand it. So I think it's great that you're starting a community because I do think it's important that there's spaces like that. And they, I haven't really found them.


So, um, what, what's the name of your Facebook group?


Darlene: It's Digital Photo Mentor, um, on Facebook. So I think I provided a link for you. If not, I will. provides you one for that. And that will be a free one and the other group will be more of a paid group and have other content, of course.

Passionistas: Speaking of that, you, you offer a lot of information for free on your website, which I think is amazing. Why do you, why was it important to you to have, to let so many people have access to this content at no cost?


Darlene: Um, partly because of the experience that I had working with the other website and, and the content. And, um, you know, I think that teaching. I think it's a gift, you know, and I enjoy doing it. Um, I moved away from article writing recently and I'm doing more videos.


We do live on our YouTube channel and we focus more on on photo editing and things, um, as well as we were doing a lot of photo tours pre COVID and then You know, obviously we kind of got shut down during that and we pivoted to making courses. Um, so we kept sort of our premium content, which is, you know, 18 hours of learning how to use one particular software as a course and the shorter bits of content.


Um, as the free content, free, free material. So somebody who, um, cannot afford to pay can still get information. And I mean, YouTube is a great source of information on all kinds of topics. But one of the things that I say to my students and that I follow, um, which is why I follow Pat Flynn for, for one, um, is that find one or two mentors.


And that's why I like that word in my business, that you really enjoy their teaching and, and just follow them. Because if you try and follow and learn from 10 or 20 different people, you'll end up getting conflicting information, right? Um, so find one or two that you resonate with, that you understand, and that makes sense to you and follow them. And that's true for anything you want to learn.


Passionistas: Absolutely. So tell us about the 10 Photography Challenges free ebook that you have.


Darlene: Oh, that's a good one. Um, that was the first, uh, the first thing that I created to give away on my website. Um, and it's, it's what's called a lead magnet. It's something that's free that people can sign up for and get on your email list.


So there are basically, you So, I created that one more than 10 years ago and I designed it myself using free office, whatever version that was, and the design was really bad, but I wanted to, I wanted to make it so that it was something that people could take value from, um, get value from and go and do these challenges and.


And get a result, you know, like improve their photography or have some fun. And, you know, I try and incorporate fun into a lot of my courses and into when we're doing videos and things like we have private jokes over on my channel, you know, like if a cow comes up, we all start cracking up because one day we were doing a photo live editing, a photo editing live.


And somebody had submitted a photo of a cow, and then the discussion became, well, is it, is it a calf? Is it a heifer? Is it a, what, you know, the definition of what is this, this animal? And we all just started cracking up, and then people are Googling this and that. And so now whenever there's a cow, it becomes this.


People that were on that call, it's this really tight knit community where we have private jokes, literally. So, I love that. Um, and I love being able to have fun and share the fun of photography because honestly, if it's not fun, you're not doing it right.


Passionistas: Absolutely. Um, so what do you photograph for fun?

Darlene: That's a good question. Um, Because I'm a portrait photographer, but my background was portrait and wedding, I like photographing people, right? So like I said, I rented a community hall to do portraits and they set up a background and studio lights and everything. So for me, that's fun. And so somebody else that might be torture, you know, um, I also like doing street photography.


And when I do street photography, I always incorporate photos of people and I capture people on the street. Um, and that's why I liked that little camera that I mentioned because Uh, it's inconspicuous, right? Like if I'm walking down the street with a small camera and pointing it at somebody, they're less likely to have a, have a rejection or have a problem with it than if you're pointing a big lens at them.


And that's something that I teach my students as well. You know, like I, I call it, um, Like the, I can't, the word has failed me at the moment, but basically there's two ways to approach street photography, you know, you can put on a wide lens and get nice and close to the subject and the interesting what's going on, or you can kind of do the sneak attack, that's the word I was looking for, from across the street with a big long lens, you know, and I said to them, which is creepier, if you have a big long lens and you're peeking at somebody around the corner versus a You know, a small camera and you come up to them and you say, Hey, can I take your photo?


That's far less creepy. And people say, well, I can't do that. You know, I can't talk to people. Believe it or not, I was a very, very shy person in high school and I had problems talking to anybody. Um, and when I went to photography college, and this is mentioned in that 10 challenges book that you talked about, Nancy.


Uh, when I went to college, I had an assignment to do the human form. So lots of my fellow students were doing nudes of each other and doing all these things. And I'm like, Oh my goodness, I can't do that. Um, how am I going to get a model? So I marched myself down to the gym and I found like the biggest, buffest football player looking dude who had, you know, muscles.


And I went up to him and I said, I got my courage up and I said, You know, I'm a photography student, would you come to the photography studio in 20 minutes so I can take your photo? This is my assignment, you know, will you take your shirt off? And he said, I'm too shy. This, Dude, right? And I was like, okay, well, we're in it together then.


And I said, well, so am I. And it took all the courage I had to come over and ask you, right? So let's, let's do it and both be brave. And he's like, okay, so we did it. You know, I got a good grade on my assignment and everything. But in that moment, I made a decision of, I need to push past my fears if I'm going to do this.


Right. Um, and it worked out okay. Cause most of the time, the fear that we In our head, it's not real. You know, um, the fear is that somebody's going to have rejection, right? And of course, what did you say? I'm afraid, but he didn't say no. He didn't say no. He just said, I'm afraid. And I said, well, I'm afraid too.


Let's be afraid together. You know, and taking photos of people on the street is scary for a lot of people or travel photography with like, um, if you share my, my links to my galleries, most of my galleries of travel have people in them. And I see a lot of photographers take photos of empty places. They look like there's nobody living in these places.


And to me, to capture the essence of a place. You need the people because they're the heart and soul. So I love people and faces.


Passionistas: And I think a lot of people who, who are the kind of people that capture your eye on the street that you want to take a photo of. All of these people are excited that someone noticed them.


Darlene: Totally.


Passionistas: And saw something in them that makes you want to take a photo of them.


Darlene: Totally. Like if I came up to you, Amy, and you were sitting, let's say, on an outdoor coffee shop or something and I came up to you and I said, you have a beautiful light on your face right now and you have a lovely smile. Can I take your picture? Who's going to say no?


Passionistas: Exactly.


Darlene: Right?


Passionistas: I would also imagine that's changed people. In recent years where so many people are used to taking pictures and selfies, like people, I don't think people are camera shy anymore.


Darlene: Right. I think so to some degree, but there's also a lot of laws in some places against it too. And you can be creep about it, right? Like if I was a guy and I said that to you, Amy, that might be totally different. And then also you have to be careful photographing children, uh, because people are very conscious of, okay, there's a lot of weirdos and creeps, right? So don't be the weirdo. Don't be the creep.


Um, so as a male photographer, it's a totally different game, you know, like I can photograph children and, you know, but I still get the permission. Even, you can give permission with your eyes. Right? You know, just by looking and, and nodding at somebody, right? Like a lot of travel stuff. I mean, I've, I've traveled through India and Thailand and I don't speak those languages, but I can still photograph people because you make eye contact and you know whether or not they are okay with it.


You know, they'll either give you a no or they'll put their hand up or, you know, another hand gesture, right? You might get it. I've been given that one, too. I've been given that one, too. I bet.


Passionistas: Haven't we all, for different reasons. Um, so where are some of your favorite places to travel and take photos?


Darlene: Uh, um, well, I was actually thinking about this today, uh, Cuba, uh, I've been to Cuba five times and we lead a tour there. I was there last January, 2023, and I'll be going again next January. We actually have spots on our tour left. So if you'd like to come with us, you certainly can, uh, and Americans can go to Cuba. Absolutely. There's just some, some, uh, guidelines that you have to follow and we, we do have a tour Take care of all of that on our tours, but it's one of my favorite places to photograph because It's so colorful, number one.


It's so unique, number two. And the people are just lovely. Like, they're just lovely. Nobody minds having their photo taken. You know, in fact, they'll often jump in front of the camera, the kids. Of course they want, you know, a peso or two or whatever. Um, and, um, That's fine, too. And then there's a whole thing about, you know, do you pay people you photograph?


Do you tip them or whatever? And that really depends. If it's somebody who's on the street who's a busker, for example, like a musician, I do. I tip them. Right? As if I enjoyed their music and I enjoyed them enough to take their photo. Of course, I'm going to give them, you know, a dollar or two or whatever.


Um, another one of my favorite places, I mentioned India. India was fascinating. Um, it's a lot to take in if you've never traveled, especially to a third world place or country. It can be a lot and it can be shocking, but I just find it so visually interesting for photography. Like, there's so much. Um, I was in Portugal last year.


That was beautiful as well. You know, uh, I'm not a landscape photographer. Can I appreciate a beautiful landscape? Of course. Can I photograph a beautiful landscape? Yes, but I don't claim to be a landscape photographer and I'm not somebody who's going to take 50 pounds of gear and hike into the backcountry.


That's not my thing. You know, so my favorite places to photograph are cities, right? I loved Lisbon. I loved Paris. Oh my God, Paris is amazing. You know, um, I love Colombia. I spent a lot of time in Medellin, Colombia. And I just love the Latino culture. I speak decent Spanish and I went there to study Spanish.


So, those are some of my favorite places. I loved Japan as well and we're going back to Japan next year with a tour. So, I'm really eager to get back there. I love Japanese food. I love the culture. It was the number one safest place I've ever been.


Passionistas: Really?


Darlene: Absolutely safest place I've ever been. Never felt unsafe anywhere. Down a back alley at night, nothing. Uh, my friend left her purse hanging in a bar on a hook. You know, those bar, those purse hooks. She forgot her purse when we left. We had walked down the street about 20 minutes. She realized she didn't have her purse. We went back. It was still there.


Passionistas: Wow, that's amazing.


Darlene: Yeah, it's super safe and the people were just really nice.


Passionistas: Yeah, so you've mentioned the tours a few times. Tell us a little bit more about them, why you started it and what people can expect when they go on one.


Darlene: Oh, great question. Um, I actually started photography tours because I went on a non photography tour myself to Turkey and it was like pulling teeth.


It was painful because every time we went somewhere it was the worst time of day for lighting. It was the most crowded time of day and we were on Our own bus had 40 people and then six other other buses, you know, with 40 people rolled up. And so all of a sudden the place was packed wherever we went. So it was painful for me as a, and as an experience as a photographer.


And I decided I need to build my own experiences for other photographers. And there are lots of people doing photo tours. And at first I felt like There was some imposter syndrome, like who am I to do this? You know, who am I to lead people around the world? Because National Geographic photographers, there you can go to National Geographic and go on a, you know, safari to Africa or whatever with a National Geographic famous photographer.


But you'll pay $15,000 for it, right? So there's that. And then also people felt the feedback that I got from people that came on our tours ultimately was that they felt comfortable coming with me because of where the, my teaching style and how I teach and make them feel comfortable. They didn't feel comfortable going on the Nat Geo one because they feel like the teacher's up there and they're down here and they're afraid to ask a stupid question.


Um, so we, you know, Do the tours the same as I teach. We want everybody to feel comfortable asking questions. I've given my tripod to participants to use because they forgot theirs back at the hotel. So I will forego having a picture or taking a picture so that they can get theirs. So we always put our guests first so that they have the best experience.


We create scenarios for them, like we hire models in Cuba, uh, we had a trumpet player play on the Malecon. So I teach them about lighting and I bring all the equipment. We give them experiences and opportunities to create photos that they wouldn't otherwise be able to create if they went to that place by themselves.


So that's what, um, initially wanted, I wanted to do tours, but I also wanted to bring people to places that they might not go by themselves as well. You know, like most of the people that came with us to India said, I would never do India by myself. And honestly, I don't know that I would either, but in a group setting, we have maximum 10 or 12 in our group.


So it's a nice small group. We all get to know each other. People form lifetime friendships and then go travel together. Um, they'll come back to our tours and be roommates again. We've had multiple people come to multiple tours with us. And come together as roommates, even though they don't even live in the same city, but they just love how we do that.


So we want to make sure that everybody comes home with the best photos and we have a lot of fun. We have a ton of fun.


Passionistas: Sounds great. I'll have to work up to one of those, one of these days, sounds like a fun time.


Darlene: We have non-photographer spouses come too, um, and sometimes they're just taking pictures with their cell phone and sometimes not at all. And they have just as much fun.


Passionistas: Oh, that's cool. All right. Well, may I? I can be your non photographer spouse, Amy. Absolutely.


Darlene: There you go. There you go.


Passionistas: Although Marvin would probably enjoy going, too. So we love your photography. We're obsessed with it now that we've met you, and, um, we especially love the photos that you've taken at Indigenous events, and we know that that's a very important, uh, community for you to, um, to support. So tell us about that. Where does that come from?


Darlene: Um, thank you for your comment, by the way. Um, so Actually, I've been interested in Indigenous culture since I was a kid, actually, and sort of drawn to it. And during COVID, because our tours got shut down, I kind of got sort of depressed because we couldn't go out.


We couldn't photograph it. Like, there was nothing for me to photograph. And I couldn't do tours. We lost a lot of money in 2020 by canceling tours. And we weren't sure, you know, if our business was going to rebound. And in that process, I'm like, I need to find something to be passionate about that isn't travel because that's my second passion and isn't photography or is photography related, but can I use my skills in another way?


And. Um, it was just after the George Floyd incident and we started having rallies and things here in our city. And then also, um, I found some Indigenous friends and, and rallies that were happening around issues going on, ongoing in Canada. And I just started going to things. Um, I met one organizer. And I said, you know, can I come to your event and I'll take photos for you?


And they're like, yes, absolutely. So I started going to these marches, things like the Red Dress Day, where they, um, celebrate and remember missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. And, you know, that's coming up next month. It's May 5th here in Canada, and then it was the discovery of the, um, children at the residential schools and the, you know, hidden graves and so on.


And I just got more and more involved and kept going to events and kept showing up and just doing them and providing the photos for the organizers. And I'll give you an example of, of. What's come around from that is one of the ladies in one of the photos, that's, that's one of my favorite photos that I took on the Winnipeg Vigil, that the pilgrimage that a bunch of us did, um, I got invited to go to Winnipeg with 12 Indigenous women, and we traveled there to basically protest the fact that there was four.


Indigenous women that were murdered by a serial killer and left in the landfill, and the city was refusing, the province was refusing to dig and search for their bodies to recover them and bring them home to their families. And, um, That came through like two years of me working in the community and being invited as a trusted ally and one of the ladies that's in that photo, the one where they have their arms up.


I'll make sure you have a link to that one. She's my mentor in learning about Indigenous culture and she'll tell me if I do something wrong and she is not an elder, but she goes by kôhkom, which means a grandmother in Cree and she's a She will even say, our friendship was rocky at the beginning, she says, because I, you know, I made some missteps, but she's mentored me and taught me about the culture and what's right.


And, you know, sometimes it's not okay to take a photo during certain times of ceremonies and things like that. And, um, it's, it's through her and other women than, um, Specifically Indigenous women as well that I've met that are just incredibly strong and the things that they've endured in, you know, their lifetime and, and generations of, of those women, um, that have inspired me and, and brought back my passion because, um, I call myself not even an ally, like an accomplice, right? And kôhkom and I will joke, you know, she said something about, you know, going to jail. And I said, well, I can't bail you out because I'll be right next to you.


Passionistas: That's incredible. What a great story. I love that. So we keep talking to people and discovering all of these, um, powerful things that, you came out of COVID, even though it was such a horrible time, but so many people really discovered passions and things that they love to do. So love that story. Um, how has photography changed over the course of your career? Obviously the technical aspects, but as have other things changed as well?


Darlene: It has. Um, I was just going to add something about the thing you said about, you know, um, the passions and things shifted during COVID. And one of the things that I teach and I try and lead by example is to use your skills for good as well.


And you don't have to have my skill level or, you know, type of images to, to give back to a community. Um, you know, I've volunteered with organizations that help, you know, Inner city and homeless people here and, um, when they need photos, I do photos, but when they don't need photos, I go and serve food or make food or, you know, like use whatever skills you have, whatever level you have.


To help somebody else, um, because I, I became, and I am super high conscious, very conscious of the privilege that I hold. And, um, you know, I'm grateful for all the things that I do have and I try to. To remember that and when I feel, when I'm giving myself a little pity party, you know, we all get there, right?


It's like, oh, woe is me. This has happened. I'm dealing with some back issues right now. So, you know, you get down on yourself. What I do is I get out and volunteer wherever. I find something to volunteer at and I go and, and give my time because it cost me nothing. And especially during COVID, you know, it was a way for me to use my time and my skills with my passion combined to create a new passion, which is, you know, giving back to, to this community that I've now become a part of.


So like now they see me, um, the kôhkom that I mentioned, she actually came up to me at one of the events after seeing me And she just stormed up to me and she says, Who are you? And what are you doing here? Because they're very conscious and protective of, of themselves, the culture and, and, you know, making sure what am I doing with these photos, right?


That's what she really wanted to know. Am I profiting from it somehow? And I told her what I was doing and that the organizers were getting the photos and, and she was like, Oh, Okay, come with me then. And then she all of a sudden just adopted me and, um, you know, I became her pupil and I'm ever so grateful.


Um, so can I get back to your other question about how photography changed? Because I just wanted to share that, right? Use your hand. Your skills, um, how photography has changed. My God, where to begin? Um, obviously film to digital was a big change. And I think that's opened up a huge realm when it shifted to digital, but then also the cell phone thing, right?


That is, that has opened up a world of the number. I can't remember the stats, but you can probably Google this, you know, while I'm talking about this, if you want, the number of photos that are taken and posted every day. And now, it's astronomical, like we're talking like billions, maybe trillions, I don't know.


Um, so, as a photographer, getting seen is much harder because there's much more noise. Right. Um, I used to sell my work in galleries and in fine art shows as well. And then that became really difficult too, because selling your work online, it's the same thing. How do you get seen in this massive sea of pictures?


You know, um, copyright is an issue as well. And, you know, anybody who has a website or, um, business, And they'll go to Google and search for an image. It's not free. You can't just take an image off of Google because that image belongs to somebody, right? Google's just pulling it from somewhere. So another part of educating people I do is, is on proper use of, of photos and non photographers as well.


You know, where is it okay? And when is it okay to use somebody's photo? Like if I post photos on my Facebook, for example, and I make it public by all means, share my post. Don't download them and share them as your own, right? That's not appropriate. Don't go to Google and find my image and post it on your Facebook, and I've seen that happen.


You know, and we were talking about AI earlier, when the eclipse that just happened, how many fake eclipse photos I saw, or images I saw, was ridiculous. And, you know, like, they looked apocalyptic, not, not ecliptic, right? Um, so, I went off on a tangent there. So sharing images and copyright, that is an element that has changed a lot as well.


And as a photographer trying to control who is taking your images and, and image theft is a huge thing as well, and it's, it's almost impossible to control.


Passionistas: Yeah, and it's become so common. People don't think it through. It's great that you're educating people because I think everybody just assumes that it's okay. I'm just posting it on Facebook and it's like, right, but it's free. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and by the way, it's 5 billion, 5 billion photographs a day. 1. 81 trillion photos are taken worldwide every year.


Darlene: Yeah. See, and then as, as consumers of that, we're just bombarded with images, right? So how do you get yours noticed as a, as somebody who is a photographer?


One other piece of advice I would give also to you, Amy, as, as a aspiring, you know, hobby photographer is it's, it took me probably 30 years to come to the point where I realized I don't have to do anything with my photos. For me, like, if I never print it, or post it online, or whatever, like, I take tons of things on my phone, partly just because I saw something that inspired me, and I needed to take that photo, I needed to capture it in that moment, and look at it.


But if I never see it again, I'm okay with it. Because I have thousands of images that I've taken on my journeys and my travels and so on. And it used to really get to me. It's like, oh, I need to do this. I need to do this. And then there's that should word again, right? I should sit down and do all this on top of running my business and all these other things.


And then I was like, no, I don't need to. The ones that stood out to me, I've already done. And, you know, if I go back and find a few others later, great. If I don't, I've done the ones that stood out to me the most. And that's actually something that I teach people. It's a technique called edit in. So if you come back from a trip with 5, 000 images, for example, you don't have to try and take out the 4, 500 bad ones because that's a lot of work, right? Go look for the top 100. And just flag them. Those are your best. Yeah,


Passionistas: I always just pull out the hero shots and…


Darlene: Exactly, there you go. That's a good, that's a good


Passionistas: And I, and I totally get that then and for me, a lot of it is, I have the photo in my head, and I, I don't need to print it, or I don't need to go look for it, because I know what that photo was, and I can I can almost, it's almost like I can see it in my, I can enjoy it in my memory of it, whereas it would be a different memory if I hadn't taken the photo. Does that make sense? You know, it'd be like the memory of the parade, not a memory of the guy with the spiked hair who made the face and did the thing.


Darlene: And, and photos as memories are important too. I mean, they document events and family events. And I'm, I'm actually really bad at taking my camera to family events because it sort of feels like work, you know, like I have to take this photos.


So I usually just use my phone and we take pictures of each other and, you know, groups and whatnot. And, um, you know, I mentioned prior to recording that I went to go visit my uncle in a nearby city. And, um, you know, he's, he's battling, uh, He's battling a tumor that is terminal and took some photos, you know, him and I, probably the last ones together just with my phone because I also feel like sometimes I don't need to bring a whole bunch of gear because it's not about that, you know, it's just about capturing that moment. Does it have to be perfect? No. It's the fact that it's captured is perfect.


Passionistas: Absolutely. So how can people find you and work with you? Tell the listeners where to find you.


Darlene: They can find us on the website I do have Instagram. I'm dpmentor there and on YouTube we're digitalphotomentor as well.


Passionistas: Excellent. Excellent. And so, one last two part question. Um, what is your dream for yourself and what is your dream for women?


Darlene: Ooh. Whew. Wow. Um,


Passionistas: We like to ask a softball at the end.


Darlene: Yeah. Just a nice light question, you know. Let's just solve world peace and world hunger, right, in this, you know, right now, right? Um, my dream for myself? You know what, if I had to pick a dream for myself, um, I would just say more happiness. Um, I spend a lot of time in my head, which is interesting being the fact that I'm, you know, a creative person, but I spend too much time analyzing things. So less time analyzing and more time in, in my heart.


And for women, um, the same, but. I guess with events going on, you know, in, in the U. S. and Canada around women's rights and to, um, their bodies, uh, still an ongoing issue that, you know, we make some progress in equality and equity, not just equality, but equity and, um, You know, the fact that you have to have this group, um, at where we talk about these things and I, and I'm not, I don't want to get into man bashing, but society, you know, as a society, we need to do better. Darlene: And I just wish for women that we have less things to talk about in the future, if that makes sense.


Passionistas: 100%. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, we can't thank you enough for joining us today. This has been a really fun, fascinating conversation, and I think our viewers will love it, and we can't wait to share it with them, and um, we also are so excited that you're a part of our sisterhood and our community, and we have many more of these conversations to come.


Darlene: Thank you so much. I'm, I'm glad you asked me to do this.


Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project. Since we're not only business partners, but best friends and real life sisters, we know how unique and truly special our situation is. We know so many solopreneurs, activists, women seeking their purpose and more, who are out there doing it all on their own.


They often tell us that they wish they had what we have, so we're creating a space for them and you to join our sisterhood, where trust, acceptance, and support are the cornerstones of our community.


By joining, you become part of our family. We'll give you all of our SisTips on building meaningful relationships through the power of sisterhood and all the tools you need to thrive in three key areas, business growth, personal development, and social impact. You'll learn from our panel of Power Passionistas who are experts on topics like transformational leadership, following your intuition, the power of voting, and so much more.


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Until then, stay passionate.


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