Brian Burk
Brian Burk

Aug 19. 3 mins

GEOFF, THE PHOTOGRAPHER.

Meet Geoff Coombs. Geoff is the up-and-coming photographer responsible for the photos in our Wreck Diving in Tobermory article. If you love nature photography, there’s a good chance you will also love his work.

Photo taken by Jasmin Snowsill

As the magazine is currently focussing on Canada, it makes sense to display the artwork from a local, especially when their work heavily consists of freediving the lakes of Canada, often times with a layer of ice on top. As an avid photographer, I jump at the opportunity to speak to other photographers, especially when they have used their talents to earn a living.

I was fortunate enough to be selected to profile Geoff, and I have to say that the Ontario native lived up to Canadian hospitality lore in what was probably my most polite interview to date.

What do we want to know about Geoff? What do we want to know about any artists? I intended to find out what makes him tick as a photographer. That entails rewinding to the start of the journey, which proves, as most success stories do, that we just need to follow our hearts.

Growing Up with Nature

Looking through his works, either on Instagram or his website, one can see that Geoff has a distinct love for nature. This is usually a sign of someone that was able to grow up around such environments and so happens to be the case with Geoff.

He grew up and still lives in Port Credit, Ontario. If, like myself, you don’t know enough about Canadian geography to be familiar with Port Credit, it’s part of a small city called Mississauga, near Toronto.

Geoff, for all intents and purposes, grew up as a city boy with aspirations of playing hockey in the NHL like so many other youths, but he also says that ”being creative and seeing the world has always been in the back of my mind.” This would eventually lead him towards photography as an outlet for his creativity.

Fortunately for him, his family had a cottage in the Muskoka Lakes to which he frequented in the summers as a youth. It was here that he began participating in many water sports, including water skiing, wakeboarding and freediving, to a certain extent: “I would just put a mask on, dive down and hold on to a rock at the bottom of the lake and try to run across the bottom with it.”

While this may seem a bit extreme for most people, he credits these experiences with his comfort in the water. This is a necessary attribute for a freediver, especially when diving in ice-cold water. Currently, his deepest dive is 40 meters (130 feet) on a single breath of air, which he can hold for over 5 minutes if he cares to.

When Did You Really Get Into Freediving and Photography?

Photo by Andrew RyzebolThe 26 year-old professional photographer only just found his niche around three years ago on a trip to the Bahamas. He and a friend decided to don some freediving gear and have a go at spearfishing in hopes of catching their own dinner. While that venture proved to be unsuccessful, he says, “that experience launched me into a deep love and passion for freediving and photography.”

Like many underwater photographers, he started small; utilizing a GoPro for the underwater portion of the trip. For the surface intervals, he toted an old DSLR he’d had since he was 15 in the midst of an astrophotography chapter of his life. He was “fascinated by space and the vastness of nature.” After the short star-shooting phase,
the camera was shelved until his Bahamas excursion.

Since his Bahamas trip, he has had formal training through AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea) and a much newer camera.

Becoming a Professional and His Evolving Niche

Before becoming a professional photographer, Geoff was a personal trainer. This seems quite fitting as he was an avid hockey player in his youth and a footballer during his time studying at the University of Guelph. It wasn’t enough for him to simply be fit, much like his photography, he wanted to spread his passion. “I love being in shape and helping others do the same to enjoy a more fulfilling/healthy life.”

Photo taken by Andrew RyzebolAfter discovering photography as a hobby during the Bahamas trip, he slowly transitioned from getting people fit to full-time photographer. In fact, it was only a year ago that he considered himself a professional and he states that he is “constantly learning how to become better and grow as a photographer.”

While it was indeed freediving photography that originally sparked his interest and set him apart, his interests have expanded to other parts of nature: “I love shooting landscapes and outdoor lifestyle as well and am slowly shooting more of that.”

I caught him just back from a trip to Iceland, which furthered his interest in dramatic landscapes. Mountains have peaked his interest, “specifically places where mountains meet the sea. I think those places are some of the most beautiful and interesting to photograph on the planet.”

Inspirations and Advice

Personally, I’m always looking to be inspired. When I meet someone I admire or have common interests in; I like to ask who inspires them so that I may also learn and take something from the same sources.

For Geoff, while he did mention some photographers such as Jimmy Chin, Chris Burkard, Alex Strohl, Morgan Maassen, Luke Shadbolt, and Mark Clinton, it is nature itself that proves to be his most influential muse: “My biggest inspiration is just going to new places I’ve never seen before. That always opens up my eyes to new possibilities and perspectives, while at the same time feeding my passion.”

For any hobbyist or even new photographers out there looking to make a living out of their camera-wielding skills, Geoff offers the following advice:

1) Develop your own style and stay consistent.
2) Don’t be shy. Do your research and reach out to potential clients.
3) Know your camera inside and out.
4) Practice and study post-processing techniques.

The Future

Geoff doesn’t see a change of careers again in the near future. He plans to carry on creating work that he can be proud of and use his talents and passions to make a living and, as he puts it, “support a future family of my own.

Though he is well aware of the risks of combining one’s passions with their work, he’s willing to chance it: “We’ll see where the road leads.”

Photo taken by Jasmin Snowsill

It will be interesting to watch him grow as a photographer and see what other areas of nature he explores. I hope, like me, you also find new ways of looking at your surroundings with the help of such photography.

Some closing words of wisdom from Geoff: “Being consistent and finding your niche is vital, so focus on that and just keep shooting.”

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