Sick puppy, grom, and peckerhead are a few of the nicknames Liam MacDonald has acquired over the past year shooting with Sepp Bruhwiler and company on the west coast. Liam, at the age of twenty, has found his way up the ladder in Canadian Surf photography, with his distinct style, always finding new angles and adapting to anything thrown his way. But, Liam did not walk the red carpet into the realm of Tofino’s surf scene. With some help and encouragement from Uncle Sepp, Liam has traveled many miles enduring many long trips, some good and bad. He encountered many ups and downs over the year from complete skunking’s, broken Camera gear, and most of all finding a place to call home. For those who don’t know, it is very tough to find a place to live in Tofino. Liam has rested his head on many couches, in tents and, RV’s to make his residence in Tofino. We have been admiring his work over that past while on the Gram and social media, so we sent a couple of questions his way, including his portfolio for your viewing pleasure.
How’s it going Liam? What have you been up to as of late?
I’ve been doing great! Been working three days a week outside of shooting to try and have a little extra money in my pocket for the winter. I finally found a place to live in the town which has been nice!
First off fill us in on your upbringing, where did you grow up?
I grew up in all different parts of Vancouver. Primarily North Van. North Van is great, it’s quite a bit quieter and slightly less developed than most parts of Van. The best part about living there was its proximity to the mountains, the nearest one being a 3-minute drive away. I spent the majority of my childhood in the mountains snowboarding and downhill mountain biking. With Whistler only an hours drive away, it became like a second home to me. By the time I left, I was spending as much time there as I was at home.
When did you first pick up a camera? When did you start to pursue Photography as a career?
I think my infatuation with cameras began with filming! I used to spend a lot of time filming my friends and loved the process of getting clips and making an edit. I was always huge into art growing up, and most would’ve guessed that I would pursue a more typical style of artistry, like painting or something. My issue with that was the time it takes to create those works. I’m always on the go and always wanting to spend time outside, so I couldn’t see sitting behind an easel for hours on end becoming my reality. When I got into photography, I believe it was spending time editing the photos my mom took of me snowboarding in comps. I remember the first ones I selected was super blown out with contrast and saturation haha. When I decided to get into it was when I got my first DSLR, a Canon t3i, for filming video. I remember I was at Mount Seymour at the city booter doing some boarding, and there was a super fantastic sunset. I decided to take a couple of shots, and push came to shove, one of them ended up on the Transworld website. I got hooked after that. I decided I wanted it to be my career when I was sitting in a Uni business class bored out of my skull. I remember I walked right out of the class and told myself I was just going to shoot photos instead and work hard to make it my career. Now I’m here.
Now that you live in Tofino; what is your least and most favourite part of the little town you now call home?
My least favourite parts are probably the summers. Super overcrowded, not much going on as far as surf, so shooting photos is write off most of the time. I also spend more time partying in the summer, which again, hinders my productivity. I mean summers here have their ups for sure, but when it comes down to it, I wish for winter the whole time. Winters are my favourite part of living in Tofino. I love how quiet they are and how rugged the weather gets. You can get up and shoot any day of the week. It feels like you are back to work when winter begins, and there is nothing I love more than getting out there and getting the shot.
With your love for snowboarding growing up, did you give snowboard photography ago?
Snowboarding got me into shooting photos more consistently. A lot of my friends are very talented snowboarders, some of which are at a nearly professional level. So getting pictures just kind of became natural. I still love shooting snowboarding and will probably get back into it in the future. I would love to be surf and snow focused if possible. Anything snowboarding is supernatural for me, and I don’t feel rushed by it. Getting back into it wouldn’t ever be that tough.
Who inspires your Photography?
It goes without saying that the local guys here are a huge source of inspiration. The level of talent displayed is probably unrivaled by other small surf towns. Jer, Marcus and yourself all have super different styles, and you all work hard which is great for me to witness. Roberts new stuff is pretty rad too! Other names that stand out to me are Corey Wilson, Jordan Manley, Daniel Russo, Woody Gooch, Mark Mcinnis, Chris Burkard, Nick Liotta, Ian Ruhter and Jussi Grznar.
What gear are you shooting with at the moment?
Canon 5d Mk iii, 1d Mk iii (getting fixed)- hoping to upgrade in the next year or so, 100-400 L, 17-40 L, 24-105 L, optex monopod, pelican 1600
What do you feel separates your images from the crowd of Tofino shooters?
I feel as though my work is just representative of my experiences shooting surf and the trips I go on. I like to focus on the adventure of it all and documenting the interesting things that happen when we’re out there. I mean when you take all our bodies of work into account they are clearly quite different from one another. You can tell just by looking at our photos which took em I’d like to think.
Fill us in on your favourite surfing trip?
A few great ones come to mind, one that stands out to me is a journey I did with Cath, Kalum, Freddy and Zac early last winter. It was a bumpy ride to an abandoned logging camp in Caths zodiac. From there we took a diesel truck that had been left there for the winter, down some old logging roads to get to the waves. Almost instantly after everyone paddled out, I managed to trip and fall into a nearby river, drowning my 100-400 and snapping my monopod. Despite the 3k loss, I decided to shoot water to make sure I at least wasn’t leaving empty handed. I ended up having a blast out with Kalum and Freddy until the sun went down and got a couple of neat shots. Instead of spending the night at the logging camp, we opted to go check out a nearby settlement, which was unoccupied at the time. We all ended up staying in these pretty awesome little cabins on the beach. Despite no shortage of spiders, it ended up being a pretty comfy little sleeping arrangement. The next day we went and explored the settlement. Freddy and I were amazed by it. We kept finding crazy old gardening tools, and I was taking photos of him alongside our finds. Meanwhile, Kalum was losing it at the prospect that one of the better points further up the coast might be firing. Cath was having none of it, though, and she was in full adventure mode. The dialogue consisted of “ITS SPITTING RIGHT NOW!!” and “COME CHECK THIS OUT, IT’S EPIC!!”. After Cath gave in to Kalum’s frantic cries for surf we went and got a couple more nice ones for the books. Hopefully, we get to do a couple more like that this winter! That was one I won’t soon forget.
On the other end, tell us your trip from hell! Please let us in on the goods no sugar coating.
Haha, most of my trips consist of a couple of small disasters. With so many moving parts it is nearly impossible for everything to work correctly. But in some instances nearly everything you can think of goes wrong and one trip, in particular, was just one big fat disaster hahaha. A couple of days before the duct tape invitational Sepp decided to bring Justin Quintal, Tommy Witt, Gunner Hughes and Carl Rosen on a trip. Timmy Reyes had told them about the #sickpuppies, and they wanted so see what all the hype was about. Let’s just say Sepp was determined to give them the full experience. The trip started by me begging Sepp to go to one of BC’s best slabs (standard) and this time we decided to give it a try. Everything was going to plan, and we got through the first sketchy part with relative ease. Once we were no more than 15 minutes away, the engine decided to overheat, ending my year long dream of getting to this spot. The engine didn’t seem to mind the trip back of course, and we decided to spend the night on a beach in one of the local inlets. We pulled up to the beach and got super close as it was flat calm with no signs of any incoming waves. Then a minute of turning our heads from the ocean did a set decide to show up and show up did it ever! Big shorepound instantly swamped the boat, soaking the numerous duvets that our visitors had brought along to sleep in, as well as a couple of other things we would’ve preferred dry. If that wasn’t enough, our boat is high and dry in the middle of nowhere, at high tide. After 20 solid minutes of pushing, we managed to get the ship back out to sea and anchored for the night. I spent the next hour collecting firewood in my soaked-to-the-bone outerwear to build the biggest fire possible. Let’s just say that fire got a little too big and a few jackets and duvets were victims to its ferocity. Everyone was kind of over it and decided to drink beer about it. After taking a couple of epic shots we had planned out, we managed to lose a couple more duvets and jackets to the fire. Waking up the next morning on freezing rocks beside the couple embers that remained of our fire wasn’t all too pleasant. My discomfort would prove to be the least of my worries, however, as I turned around to find that the boat had beached itself overnight. The piece of shit anchor had managed to come loose and the “best day ever” was now high and dry. After an hour or so of pushing, we have succeeded in get her back on the water once more. We checked to see if there were waves but no one was really in any condition to surf. Skunked and uncomfortable we took our sorry asses to the hot springs to finish on a high note. When we got back to the harbour, we took a moment to appreciate how bad the inside of the boat looked. You would have thought the thing was washed up from the Japan tsunami or something. It was trashed, to say the least. I don’t think that’s a trip those guys will forget anytime soon. I definitely won’t hahaha.
Sepp has been a big part of your start into surf photography; tell us a bit about your relationship.
A little over a year ago Sepp sent me a message saying that he had seen my Instagram and that Timmy was in town. He said he wanted to give me a shot as all the other photogs in were busy. The first trip I went on was to Vargas Island. It was pouring rain, but I thought I was in heaven regardless. I didn’t do all that well at first using surf photos, but Sepp was intrigued by the fact that I had made up for it with good lineup shots.
For the first few months, Sepp whipped me into shape. Teaching me the ins and outs of a good surf photo. He was pretty hard to me during that time but also taught me to stay humble and keep my ego at bay so that I could learn faster. Because of his no bullshit attitude and zero tolerance for fuck ups, I managed to figure it out pretty quickly. Since we started, he has provided me with opportunities that I never could’ve dreamt of and continues to teach me what he can about surfing out here on the west coast. Nowadays it’s less about learning and more about getting the best shot possible wherever we go. When he is on his game, he is a savage worker. I remember last winter I’d be woken up at 7:00 every morning to a bombardment of texts telling me to get ready to shoot. He has instilled a lot of trust in me and believed in my abilities 100% which gives me plenty of confidence to do the best job I can. I’m looking forward to the years ahead as I’m sure there are plenty more adventures to come.
What kind of goals or directions do you have with your career?
I know that I will pursue photography as my full-time career. As of right now, I’m just letting things unfold and allowing myself to gain as many good contacts as possible. I’m only 20 and plan on using the next few years to get a little more grounded before I make any big moves. I love how things are going for me out here and am mostly concerned with doing the best I can at this moment in time.
If you could go anywhere with anyone, who and where would you choose? Why?
Japan with Kalum and Matt Westcott. Matt has shown me some of his footage that didn’t make his movie “Good Morning Miyazaki” and some of the spots over there look unreal. I’m talking great surf with incredible backdrops. Working with Matt has been awesome, he’s the good-hearted guy with a filmmaking style that I can get appreciate. His knowledge of the surf out there is vast, to say the least. Taking Kalum on a trip to shoot is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. His smooth style and skill in all aspects of surfing make him a joy to watch. When Kalum and I are in the zone we always finish the session with a shot we’re stoked on. He has potential on a level that is super inspiring to me and growing alongside him in years to come is something I look forward to.
What scares you?
I get FOMO a lot when it comes to shooting. Nothing scares me more than the thought of missing a classic session because of work or something like that. Knowing I could be missing out on a good session drives me crazy haha.
What excites you?
Lately, I’ve ben stoked on working with the groms. Kalum and Freddy have been my staples for the last year, and both are progressing very quickly. Freddy has surprised me a lot lately showing more power and style! I think this next year will be big for him! More recently I’ve taken some shots for Mathea and Sanoa. They work insanely hard, and it shows. Hopefully, I’ll get Reed some good ones soon as well. Being a youngin myself, I realize that they are all my future and doing what I can to support all of them is beneficial.
What is you biggest pet peeve?
Wet Gumboots. I have a habit of somehow always soaking the inside of my gumboots while on trips. I have to figure out how to stop doing that; they do not smell particularly great these days.