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YIR: Spruce Grove Composite High School graduate named Alberta Wedding Photography of the Year

YIR: Spruce Grove Composite High School graduate named Alberta Wedding Photography of the Year

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When Railene Hooper enrolled in the Communications Technology course at Spruce Grove Composite High School (SGCHS), she never imagined she would one day be named Alberta’s Wedding Photographer of the Year by the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC).

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Years later, she is now the first photographer in the province’s history to win the title along with two additional Best In Class awards at the PPOC’s 2022 Alberta Image Salon.

“I am over the moon honored to be the first recipient of this award. This has made me want to be even more creative and get an even better shot next year,” said Hooper.

Growing up in Stony Plain, Hooper was always more interested in sports, particularly basketball, than he was in photography. In fact, it was not until attending SGCHS that she began to take pictures in any capacity. Still unsure of what she wanted to do upon graduation, she decided to study sociology at Concordia University of Edmonton while playing basketball on scholarship.

After receiving her degree, she transferred to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) to play two more years of basketball. It was at this point, she decided to pursue a photographic technology diploma. During those two years is when her passion for the form of art really began to flourish. She found her niche in portraiture and stuck with it.

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“It was a pretty intense course that I wasn’t expecting but it grew into a strong love for photography. I discovered I liked being able to connect with people and capture moments of genuine emotion,” said Hooper.

After her convocation, she found her first job with a high-volume school and sports photography business. While the experience was great for her portfolio, Hooper said she knew early on this particular style of photography was not for her. She desired a more intimate setting where she could really get to know her clients.

Eventually, in 2016, an opportunity opened up to work with one of her former professors from NAIT, Robert Bray. He was looking for a photographer to come onboard his personal business, Robert Bray Portrait Design. Already aware of Hooper and her skillset, he chose to bring her under his wing.

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A 40-year veteran of the industry, Bray is a three-time recipient of the PPOC Canadian Portrait Photographer of the Year award and a six-time recipient of the PPOC Alberta Portrait Photographer of the Year award. In 2005, Bray was commissioned by the Government of Canada to photograph Queen Elizabeth II for Canada’s official Royal Portrait.

“It has been amazing working for Robert. I was able to fine-tune my skills and I owe a lot of what I know and do to him,” said Hooper.

In the early days of their professional relationship, Bray would bring Hooper along to the weddings he was shooting to shadow her with his processes and techniques. Six years later, she is the business’ go-to wedding photographer with Bray focusing more on his passion for family portraiture.

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Perhaps the most important lesson Hooper has learned from Bray is how to spot good lighting — the most important aspect of photography. Further, she has often blended the best aspects of her traditional work with her own creativity to form a unique style of portraiture that she describes as modern and fun. Where Bray’s portraits have the subject staring into the camera, Hooper’s portraits are more candid in an effort to capture the raw emotions of the moment being captured.

“I’ve tried my best to take the timelessness of Robert’s work and add a little more emotion and interaction between the subjects,” said Hooper.

In the past, Hooper has been nominated for the PPOC’s Canadian Wedding Photography of the Year award but has never won. This year, however, the PPOC introduced the Alberta Wedding Photographer of the Year award after years of requests to do so. Taking home the distinction was Hooper’s collection of four separate shot images titled, “The Most Beautiful View is Shared With You,” “Our Love is a Fortress,” “Leaping Into Love,” and “Walking With Excitement.” Additionally, the latter two respectively won the Best In Class Photojournalistic Wedding and Best In Class Wedding Group awards.

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Having never dreamed she could reach such heights when she first picked up a camera in high school, Hooper said her advice for young photographers is to simply create work they love. If someone puts their whole heart into their work, he said others, including clients, are bound to see its value.

“I feel really lucky to do photography and create portraits for people. Sometimes I feel like we can forget how much impact a portrait can have on people’s lives. You don’t realize the impact that you have in the moments you capture until they’re a memory,” said Hooper.

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