Interview with a photographer featuring: Dave Sanford

Interview with a photographer featuring: Dave Sanford

Polar Bear - Churchill, MB, Canada

Cotton Carrier: Where do you call home?

Dave Sanford: I call London, Ontario, Canada home. Nestled nicely in Southern Ontario, surrounded by the Great Lakes.

CC: How long have you taken photographs for unprofessionally and professionally?

DS: I first started shooting at the age of 9. I loved the outdoors had expressed interest to my dad in hunting. He said to me, “If you love nature, why would you want to shoot an animal with a gun when you could shoot it with a camera? That way the animal gets to live, and you have a cool photo to show your friends.” That was all it took. Two weeks later he won a camera at a golf tournament and gifted that to me. I have now been shooting a grand total of 40 years, professionally now for past 25 years.

CC: How would you define your style as a photographer?

DS: Most of my pieces are created as art for the wall, so naturally I want them to be visually appealing to the art collector. I believe my style has evolved into something along the lines of where documentary meets art. I try to keep my wildlife imagery true to the scene I witness at the time I am shooting my subjects. While at the same time using the tools of the modern-day digital darkroom to my advantage in order to help clean up minor distractions, soften the background or foreground which to help guide my viewers’ attention where I want it to be, on my subject.


CC: Have you ever gone to photography school?

DS: I have! I attended what at the time was named Ryerson University and took a four-year degree in photography. Ryerson, located in the heart of downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada recently went through a name change and now goes by Toronto Metropolitan University.

I studied under a handful of professors there, but Dennis Miles was my main teacher. Dennis was a mentor to me and took me under his wing. Dennis had a large part in helping guide me towards becoming a professional and I have always been grateful for that.

CC: Where is your favorite place or thing to shoot?

DS: Without a doubt, my favourite place to photograph is the Arctic. The Arctic is such a raw, rugged, beautiful and vast part of our planet. Be it the open tundra, mountains, massive glaciers meeting the ocean and of course sea ice, icebergs and an unpredictable condition, the Arctic provides boundless opportunities for photography. And all that, without a mention of the incredible wildlife that is scattered across the top of the globe!

As for my favourite subject to photograph, hands down it is the largest four-legged predator on our planet, the polar bear. I have loved polar bears since long before I can even remember. Having such a profound love of polar bears for most of my life makes

photographing them all that much more special. The more time I get to spend around the bears, the deeper that love grows, the more special it becomes for me. I never take a polar bear encounter for granted. Each and every encounter has its own unique story, has its own unique opportunity. Every time an encounter comes to an end, I soak up those final moments as if it were the last time I will potentially lay eyes on a polar bear, for you never know when the next encounter may be. The Arctic is vast, difficult to navigate, and polar bears are not only nomadic, but elusive. Each and every second in the presence of a polar bear is beyond special.

Lake Erie - From my Liquid Mountains Series

CC: What Camera(s) / Lenses do you use?

DS: I am a Canon shooter. My main bodies that I use are my Canon R5’s, I also use the line of Canon 1Dx’s using the 1Dx Mark II and III as well. As for lenses, again I use all Canon glass, some of my smaller focal length lenses I use are a 15mm fisheye, 8-15mm, 16-35mm, 40mm, 35-70mm. My medium length zoom lenses are my 28-300mm and 70-200mm. My two favourite lenses are my supertelephoto lenses, my Canon 200-400mm (with built in 1.4x teleconverter) and my 600mm lens (at times used with my 1.4x teleconverter)

CC: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get “The Shot”?

DS: I spend a lot of time in the ocean and the Great Lakes with my camera gear. I love shooting from within the water, there is something extra special about being emersed in nature and feeling its power as the water ebbs and flows. Water is so powerful, and any body of water will always win. You have to keep on alert and give any body of water the utmost respect That said, I have found myself in a couple of pretty dangerous situations to make some of the photos I do. Scaling down oceanside cliffs pre-dawn in order to time things right with the swell in order to enter some really violently, turbulent and shark infested waters. I have done the same on the Great Lakes, mind you, you obviously don’t have to worry about predators lurking beneath the surface when in the lakes. These are situations I don’t take lightly; you not only need to be physically fit, but mentally prepared as well. These are also situations where you don’t go it alone, I am always with friends or colleagues so we can have one another’s back if necessary.

I have also done several shark dives and spent time camping on the tundra in close proximity to bears, but again these are done under the watchful eye of other trained professionals and guides where things are planned out and all kinds of precautions in place.

Arctic Fox - Churchill, MB, Canada

CC: Who has inspired you as a photographer?

DS: Aside from my father, one of my earliest inspirations was my Grandpa Wilson, he was not a professional, but he had a keen interest in photography, there is no doubt that my grandpa was the earliest influence on me. Growing up, Bill Ironside (my friend’s father) was a press photographer, he mentored me at a young age and was very instrumental in starting me on my career path. Earlier, I mentioned my professor Dennis Miles being a person of influence. Once I finished school, some professionals I worked closely with who have been a huge inspiration to me early in my career were Diane Sobolewski and Craig Melvin ( I have a long history in professional sports as well and I worked with these two at the National Hockey League in the earliest years of my career) Right now, a few people who have been a big inspiration to me are my good friend Warren Keelan, an ocean based photographer in

Australia. Warren was instrumental in getting me involved in my water-based shooting. I have also worked closely and become close friends with a handful of people who push me and inspire me on a daily basis, Brooke Bartleson, Jenny Wong, Graeme Purdy, Tin Man Lee and Chase Teron to name a few.

CC: What advice would you tell an aspiring photographer?

DS: I know it sounds cliché, but don’t ever give up on your dreams. Often times we find photography out of passion and or for the love of somenting, allow that passion and love to fuel your dreams. My parents since I was young always told me to find something in life that you love to do, and you will never work a day in your life. I am so blessed that I found photography at such a young age, with a family who supported and pushed me to pursue my dream of being a professional photographer.

If you have that passion in photography, let that be the fuel that drives you. Allow yourself to be open to learning and evolving along the way. Photography (especially these days) is an ever-evolving process. Be a sponge, the more open you can be to learning new things, the better your chances of success. Learn from those around you, not just from those who have come ahead of you. Utilize as many recourses as you can, books, magazines and of course the internet with its near endless possibilities are all amazing recourses to keep you at the top of your photography game and keep pushing you to evolve as a shooter.

Last, but not least – shoot! Get out there and shoot as much as possible, the best way to learn is to shoot and learn from your mistakes, learn from the things you do right and to experiment!

The best golfers in the world don’t just pick up the clubs and win tournaments each weekend without practice. As a photographer, you are no different, get out there and shoot as much and as often as you can, give yourself challenging situations or conditions to shoot in when it doesn’t matter. That way you can better be prepared for the times it does matter. Practice makes perfect.

CC: Can you share a photographic resource you personally use?

DS: Over the course of the past 2 years the single greatest resource I have used is a podcast called The Photographer Mindset. Hosted by two hugely inspiring gentlemen who have now become friends of mine, Seth Macey and Aaron Mannes. TPM podcast was specifically created for photographers and those who believe their purpose is to create, inspire and develop into their full potential. It was designed to help creative individuals in understanding that their success depends on more than just skill and dedication. Aaron, Seth and the amazing lineup of guest’s they have help you to develop a winning mindset based on attitude and out of the box thinking strategies, so we can grow our confidence, brand recognition and clients.

CC: How has photography shaped your day to day?

DS: Photography has truly become my life. I prefer to be out on the road for assignments and when I am not, I am often found at the computer editing or researching my subjects or locations. Even when at home, I make a point to get out as much as I can locally to keep creating new work and to simply immerse myself in nature. Having never been married and without kids, my main attention and focus as an adult has been on my photography. It has always consumed what I do, it truly is a part of who I am, and I love that. I really do eat, sleep and breath photography.

NHL Entry Draft 2022 - Montreal, QC. Canada

Featured: Dave using the CCS G3 Harness for 2 Cameras in Realtree Camo

CC: Where has photography taken you, and made you experience?

DS: Oh gosh, photography has blessed me with so many incredible experiences and taken me to the ends of the earth! As I touched on above, I have also had a long and successful career in professional sports photography. Through my photography of sports, it has taken me to most major centres across North America and throughout Europe. I have had the wonderful opportunity of seeing and photographing all kinds of major events such as: The Olympic Games, World Cup, World Series, NBA Finals the Super Bowl and every Stanley Cup Championship for the past 25 years.

With the nature and wildlife side of my career, photography has taken me to the far reaches of the earth and under the sea in so many places. Alaska, all across the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, Europe, Svalbard and more. In the South, photography has given me the opportunity to see places like Tonga, Australia South America and perhaps the greatest place I have ever had the privilege of visiting, Antarctica!

I have had so many wonderful opportunities to photograph and meet many of my favourite athletes, musicians and entertainers. As well as all my favourite species of animals, from bears to sharks and whales. I truly have been blessed with the opportunity’s photography has provided to me over the course of my life.

CC: Any exciting photographic events in coming up you’d like to share?

DS: I am super excited to return to the Sub-Arctic in mid to late October. I will be returning to the Western shore of the famed Hudson Bay and the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. There I will spend nearly three weeks with one of the most southern populations of polar bears. My time will be split using my private guide, Discover Churchill and with Polar Bears International as I am an ambassador for PBI. Not only do you have the opportunity to see and photograph polar bears here, but you have amazing views of the rugged coastline of Hudson Bay, incredible fall colours on the tundra (and I will hopefully time it right to see these conditions change to snow covered and wind-swept tundra) as well as potential to see the Northern Lights and many other species of animals who inhabit the region.

CC: Anything else you’d like to add?

DS: Given I often work in environments and conditions where it is an advantage to be hands free, the products that Cotton Carrier produce enable me to handle my tasks at hand to the best of my ability. Having my gear close and readily accessible at a moment’s notice be it long or short glass I need in hand is one of the keys to being successful in the field while at the same time allowing me to be easily ready to be on the move.

Humpback Whale - South Pacific, Tonga

CC: Promotions, links added into:

DS: I am really excited to be re-launching my online print shop this fall will be up and running again by mid-November at the latest. I will have new imagery not yet seen, I have re-mastered all my existing imagery from my previous site and will have a fresh, vibrant new look to my site! You can check it out at

You can always follow my adventures along on social media:

Instagram: @davesandford

Vero: @davesandford

Facebook: Sandford Photography

Twitter: @Dave_Sandford

I am also a proud ambassador for:

Polar Bears International

One Blue Ocean

Canadian Conservation Photographers Collective

Aquatech Imaging Solutions

Lastly, I am honoured to play a small part in the upcoming release of Remembering Bears – part of the Remembering Wildlife series which helps raise funds for various conservation projects