Susan Dykstra: Storyteller and Photographer strives to evoke

September 2019

The stunning landscape photograph that caught your eye on the cover of this issue of Bayview (and every issue since Winter 2008) was taken by Susan Dykstra, a landscape photographer born and raised in Thunder Bay.

Susan first took up photography as a hobby twenty years ago. She started out by bringing her camera with her on hikes in and around Thunder Bay. She had no formal training in photography when she started out – she learned as she went.

“I started out doing it because I enjoyed it,” Susan says simply.

Her passion has always been landscape and nature photography, but she did try her hand at event photography one summer years ago.

“I have a huge family, and when I first got into photography, I had people ask me to shoot their weddings,” she tells me. “I thought I’d give it a try. Before I’d even done one, I had four weddings lined up. I drew a line at four and thought I better see how it was going to go before I booked more. That was back in the film days. I was stressed right out. With film, you don’t see what you’re taking until you get your photos back. The weddings went fine and everyone was very happy with their photos, but the experience made me realize that weddings were not what I got into photography for. Those were the last four weddings I ever did,” she says with a laugh.

After several years of her being an active landscape photographer, Susan began to get inquiries from people who wanted to purchase her photos.
When I ask her about her earlier days of learning the craft, Susan says that joining photo clubs helped her a lot. Photography books were also very useful to her when she was working to advance her skills. Some of her favourite photographers whose books she turned to include Tim Fitzharris, John Shaw, and Boyd Norton.

For the past few years, as she moves into retirement, Susan has been working with a stock agency. Interested clients can order her work online directly from She also still operates a small country gallery in Slate River, which is open by appointment.

“I grew up as a farm girl. I love the country. I live just down the road from the family farm.”

From editing, to framing, to printing, Susan has done it all, and all self-taught. “YouTube is a great resource,” she says.

Her artistic eye has led her to many different, beautiful areas during the course of her photography career.

“I used to travel a lot around here. I have captured a lot of the north shore.

I probably know every single nook and cranny from Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie. Now, I try to explore different locations.

I went to Newfoundland a couple years ago and I also went to the Oregon coast.”

As for her favourite spots around town, she loves the Hymers area and Slate River Valley.

I ask about her camera. She has two, but she says “it’s not in the camera. You have your equipment, you just use it.”

“Last year I took a two day course in judging photography, so now I can ‘officially’ judge photography,” says Susan. “I know what I like, but in taking this course I learned that it’s not about what you like. What you like makes no difference. It’s about judging what’s there. Once you have an eye for it, you can really see what’s good and what’s not.”

When it comes to her editing process, Susan says that if it takes her more than five minutes to edit, she didn’t get the shot.

“I’m not one of these photographers who takes a thousand pictures and then picks one out, I see the picture and then I take it. I don’t spend a lot of time editing. I want to get the shot in my camera.

I think that comes from film days. You want to get it right before you take the picture.”

Susan has a very impressive CV outlining her distinctions in professional photography. She received a Master of Photographic Arts (MPA) designation from the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) in 2018. She has been accredited in seven categories since she joined the PPOC in 2014. She has won many photography contests and in 2015/16 she won Ontario’s Photographic Artist of the Year from the PPOC – being nominated again in 2018 and 2019. At the PPOC Image Salon 2019, she was one of two finalists in the Masters class. This December, Susan has had the honour of being invited to Winnipeg to attend the juried Signatures Arts and Craft Show.

“Your images have to evoke emotion,” Susan explains. “That’s the way I approach photography. They should convey a feeling. You should connect with them. They should tell a story.”

Winter is her favourite season. The colder the better. Why? “Because you can go to shoot the same spot every week in the winter and it’ll always be different.”

Cassandra Blair has a Masters of Arts in English Literature and is a regular contributor to Bayview.

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