Picture perfect

Hard work and perseverance have paid off for self-taught photographer Jay Siemens

June 13, 2018 | Young Voices | Volume 22 Issue 13
Aaron Epp, Young Voices Editor
Documenting his fishing experiences piqued Jay Siemens’ interest in photography. (Photo by Jay Siemens)

Jay Siemens was set to begin photography school in Winnipeg when, three days before classes started, his friend called him with a compelling proposition.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to drop out of school and film a fishing show with me,’ ” Siemens recalls.

So he did.

That was in 2010. Siemens and his friend Aaron Wiebe created Uncut Angling, a fishing show on YouTube that has gone on to amass a following of more than 130,000 subscribers. It even aired on television in Canada and the U.S. for a year.

Along the way, he created Jay Siemens Media Productions, a business that has allowed him to hone his photography skills by doing commercial photo shoots and wedding photography, as well as freelance video and editing work.

“School’s great for some people, but for me to go out and film fishing and do exactly what I wanted to do, and do it every day, it’s hard to beat that experience,” says the 26-year-old, who lives 90 minutes south of Winnipeg in Gretna, Man.

In the first six years of his career, assignments took him to northern Manitoba and remote parts of Saskatchewan, and overseas destinations like Turkey, Greece and South Africa. The past two years have included trips to Burkina Faso and Guatemala for work, and a personal trip to New Zealand.

“2017 was the year of saying yes to everything and pushing my limits,” he says. “I was probably on the road 250 days in 2017. . . just kind of [shooting] nonstop, trying to grow the business and build my portfolio.”

More work for Jay Siemens Media Productions over the past year-and-a-half has meant that he has stepped away from Uncut Angling and that he has had to seek assistance with his projects.

This past May, he ended Jay Siemens Media Productions and formed Thrive Visuals along with three partners: videographers Kevin Dalke and Marcel Laferriere, and editor Nik Enns. (He talks about this transition online at bit.ly/jay-siemens.)

By starting Thrive, Siemens will be able to create the quality of media that he has dreamt of over the past few years. Working together means the four partners can take on bigger projects while allowing each individual to concentrate on the aspect of media production he is most skilled at.

Thrive will focus on outdoor content related to fishing and hunting, which has made up the majority of Siemens’ work over the past few years.

Born and raised in Altona, Man., Siemens grew up fishing and enjoying the outdoors at his family’s cabin on Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario. He spent seven years working as a fishing guide in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and documenting those experiences is what got him into photography.

His summer will include doing work for one of his biggest clients, Travel Manitoba, which involves travelling to different destinations in Manitoba and filming six- to seven-minute videos that highlight those locations.

“[I] get to see these super cool locations that I’d never be able to afford to go to, document them and even do a little bit of fishing myself,” he says.

In addition to using his skills as a photographer and videographer to make a living, He uses them to help others. Over the past three years he has raised nearly $45,000 through the sale of calendars that feature his landscape and wildlife photography. He donated the money to the Canadian Mental Health Association and Build a Village, a charity supported by Seeds Church in Altona, Man., his home congregation.

He also recently filmed a 20-minute documentary telling the story of his alma mater, Mennonite Collegiate Institute (MCI), and the challenges the high school is facing due to low enrolment numbers.

“I hope it helps MCI in the future, with enrolment and with people who are interested in helping the school,” says Siemens, who lives one block away from MCI in Gretna. “It was fun to do something that was close to my heart.”

After eight years of taking photos and shooting videos, he feels as though he still has a lot to learn.

He advises aspiring photographers to photograph subjects they’re passionate about, to experiment, to seek advice from photographers they admire and to persevere. “Stay focussed and don’t get discouraged,” he says. “You’ve gotta keep your head up and keep snapping the shutter.”

Documenting his fishing experiences piqued Jay Siemens’ interest in photography. (Photo by Jay Siemens)

Jay Siemens spent 250 days on the road last year working. (Photo by Jay Siemens)

Jay Siemens has raised nearly $45,000 for charity through sales of calendars that feature his wildlife photography. (Photo by Jay Siemens)

Photography has taken Jay Siemens around the world. (Photo by Jay Siemens)

‘Stay focussed and don’t get discouraged . . . keep snapping the shutter,’ Jay Siemens tells aspiring photographers. (Photo by Jay Siemens)

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