Anyone could buy a half-decent camera and call themselves a photographer on Facebook, says Sandra-Lee Elford. It's those who have the patience, dedication, attention to detail and artistic eye who are truly professionals.
"Everyone can be a department store photographer, taking pictures of people and making them look good. People need to realize the difference between enjoying a hobby and making a career out of it," Elford explained. "It's the true photographer who can capture what happens, as it happens."
Elford, born in Toronto and raised in Dildo, should know. At just 24 years old, she makes her living taking pictures, from weddings to baby portraits and everything in between. Since she was in high school, however, her heart's been on stage with bands.
"I started taking pictures of bands with a little crappy point and shoot camera," Elford, who now shoots with a Nikon D300 or D700, said with a laugh. "Music, concerts and live events are what I love doing the most, although I do spend my summers shooting weddings. It pays the bills."
Since perfecting her skills with a basic photography training course at Academy Canada and a sort-of apprenticeship with a senior photographer, Elford has pretty much become the main rock music photographer in this province, and the go-to girl for any professional acts - local or visiting - who want concert photos or a photoshoot. She counts Rex Goudie and the guys of Hedley among her good friends.
As a photographer for Live 'n Loud magazine, Elford frequently travels, and has photographed artists such as Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, John Mayer and Miley Cyrus.
A few days ago, she got what she considers one of her biggest gigs yet: shooting the Much Music Video Awards in Toronto.
Although Elford shot the awards last year for Live 'n Loud, this year she's been hired by Much Music to be one of two official photographers to do it, after the bigwigs saw her work online and liked it.
"They asked if I was committed to the job, and I said I was 100 per cent down," Elford said. "I cried for two hours when I got the email, I was that excited."
Elford, who laughed when she admitted she's not at all musical herself, will board a 7 a.m. flight to Toronto on Sunday, after shooting a wedding Saturday night, and will have up-close-and-personal access to host Selena Gomez, and acts including Bruno Mars, Avril Lavigne and Snoop Dogg. What's she's most excited about is getting close to her idol, Lady GaGa.
"I love her. I even have a 'Born This Way' tattoo," said Elford, referring to Lady GaGa's latest album.
In the future, Elford - who runs Facebook groups for some of the musicians she's close with - hopes to expand her business to include social media managing for artists. She's not ruling out a move back to Toronto, when the time is right.
"I can see it happening, if I get the right deal," she said.