Golden Cariboo Honey, based in Lillooet, British Columbia, sits at the bottom of what locals call “Honey-man Hill.” Originally started by his uncle, the apiary is now run by fourth-generation beekeeper, Mischa Chandler. Today, Golden Cariboo sells honey and nucleus hives throughout Western Canada. This summer, Squamish, British Columbia-based portrait photographer Christian Tisdale reached out to the honey man himself. The self-assigned project is part of an ongoing personal series.
I’m really passionate about locally grown foods and the people who dedicate themselves to growing them. I’ve always wanted to dive into a personal project surrounding that kind of thing, and I finally found time between client projects to make that happen. This shoot with Mischa the beekeeper is the first of the series.
Although Christian preplanned and photographed the project alone, on set, there was an unmistakable spirit of collaboration.
It was not a typical photographer and subject relationship. Mischa was a huge help in my processes — and when the light was high in the sky and I wasn’t shooting, I put on a beekeeping suit and helped him out! It was a super cool process to be involved with.
The location for the shoot was the apiary in Lillooet Valley, a three-hour drive northwest of Christian’s home on the BC coast, outside Vancouver.
It’s not geographically far, but it’s an intensely different landscape from the rainforests of the coast. Lillooet is a real desert, frequently landing as the hot spot in Canada during much of the summer. It’s a beautiful but somewhat challenging place to shoot. The bee yards that we shot in were located at a couple of different spots throughout the valley, mostly on the edges of the small farms strewn throughout the region.
In a recent job listing for the apiary, Mischa describes one of the most important qualities of a beekeeper as the willingness to get stung. “Calm beekeepers make calm bees, and one cannot be calm if one is afraid of being stung.” But for photographers and anyone else not familiar with bee handling, this can be a real sticking point.
Well, first off there are bees everywhere, haha! That was definitely challenging, though I found it to be more of a ‘head game’ than anything. They were very chill, as long as you weren’t aggressive or nervous or fast. Tough thing to get over though for sure. I got stung 5 times, which is shockingly low given the insane number of bees we were around.
One of the challenges many photographers face with personal projects is budget. To help to control the expense of the shoot, Christian opted to work without a team. As the location was outdoors, the project was subject to the variability of light and weather.
It was pretty windy in the morning, which made it tough dealing with the lighting equipment — standard reason to bring an assistant every time!
In post-production, Christian turned his focus to color grading to help recreate the vitality of the Golden Cariboo experience.
I’ve really been diving into the world of color grading over the last couple of years. It’s such a huge factor in the final feel of an image. I think spending lots of time with talented cinematographers has caused me to absorb that a bit.
By the end, this self-assigned project had Christian buzzing!
Bees are SO cool. I learned so much about them, and had my mind blown many times. The strength and intellect of the hive as a whole is truly flabbergasting. Did you know that you can hear the different between a hive with and without a queen? Or that a hive will make 60kg of honey a year? Or that there’s a whole section of the industry that surrounds the trading of genetics, and beekeepers around the world just mail queen bees around to each other, with a couple other bees, which are called attendants, in the envelope? Beekeeping is wild. I want to try it one day, or get involved with a local hive.
Honestly the whole thing was phenomenal. From a photographic perspective, I relearned some lighting lessons that I keep being taught by my mistakes. I learned a little bit about composition, a little bit about light. If you’re not learning about those things on every shoot, you’re not paying enough attention. I couldn’t have asked for a better subject to work with, and conditions were great lighting-wise. Doesn’t get much better.