Nine years ago, I was sitting on a bench in the Humber Arboretum studying astronomy when a young woman came up to me and asked, “How would you like to get paid to go swimming 3 times a week?” This was the beginning of a life changing job as a nature interpreter and camp counselor at the arboretum, and a friendship with Yolanta that continues to this day.
Back then, I was attending the University of Guelph-Humber and living in Rexdale year round. I spent my summers living with close friends and hiking around teaching kids about how to find insects and how an oxbow river is formed and how to make dream catchers, and identify urban wildlife and 1000 other things. Yolanta and her boyfriend Duane were running the nature center back then, along with our friend Sean. For the first time, I found myself looking forward to coming into work every single day. Working at the Humber Arboretum made me realize how much your quality of life improves when you are lucky enough to work at a job that is fun, and fulfilling in different ways every day. That experience had a lot to do with my journey to become a professional photographer. This job is not easy, but I love it. My bank account is always overdrawn– but its absolutely worth it to pursue this dream. Within a few years, I’m hoping I can live comfortably on my photography skills, so that I can have the flexibility and the free time to raise some happy babies with Todd.
Fast forward to March 2013, when I got a very exciting e-mail from Yolanta. In the nearly six years since we had parted ways, she and Duane had gotten married, started an educational business, and their family grew to include 2 sons and a daughter. They were looking for someone to help create imagery for their website and marketing materials online and throughout the GTA. I jumped at the chance to catch up with old friends and meet their new animals.
Creature Quest is Duane and Yolanta’s business and their life. Their team travels around the Toronto area with a collection of both friendly and exotic animals, educating and entertaining kids everywhere they go. Their devotion to the animals is evident from the way they research and talk about them to the way they handle them– and respect those that don’t enjoy being handled. Read more about their philosophy here: Who We Are. Whether they are making a public appearance, hosting a birthday party, or leading an educational program, the animal handlers at Creature Quest are absolute professionals. They made me feel safe and comfortable throughout our 10+ hour shoot with many animals that can be considered poisonous or dangerous.
I went to check out Creature Quest headquarters with a car full of lighting equipment and props, and we spent an entire day documenting 50+ creatures. It was one of the most fun and enlightening shoots I’ve ever done. Here’s a sample of the different species we photographed. Enjoy!
The CQ team is using large prints of these photos to decorate their booth at shows and demonstrations, to advertise, and to use for their social media. I honestly can’t wait to work with Duane and Yolanta and their team again. They just got a long anticipated baby wallaby, so a new shoot may be necessary soon! Check up on the baby’s progress: Darby’s Great Adventures.
P.S. I’m really afraid of snakes. Bet you couldn’t tell from these pics! I was an average of 5 feet from these huge specimens, with a handler shielding me with a plywood board. I was pretty proud of myself for staying professional around one of my biggest fears. (Second after getting stabbed in the eye.) In real life they freaked me out a bit- because they move FAST. In the resulting photographs, now that they are still and frozen on my screen, I can appreciate their beauty.
If you enjoyed this blog post, please show your support by sharing it or by making a comment below. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks for checking out this super fun shoot with the friendly and exotic animals at Creature Quest!