Some would say that Jonathan Bielaski is living a photographer’s dream, capturing the magic of the world’s top athletes in action for the likes of Sports Illustrated and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE).
His images of NHL phenom Connor McDavid, the Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley and Iceland’s Magmadive divemaster have graced the pages of the iconic sports magazine, along with portraits of Raptors’ general manager Masai Ujiri and Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
But according to Bielaski, there’s no magic behind his rise to these rarefied heights. Just a lot of good old-fashioned networking: following up on connections and potential leads. From the time he opened his studio 15 years ago in his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, Bielaski was building the relationships that led to his impressive client roster.
A health and safety software company Bielaski was working with in the Waterloo area recommended him to a connection at MLSE. Impressed with Bielaski’s work, the sports franchise company has since tapped him for creative campaigns involving the Leafs, Raptors and the Toronto FC.
It was a simple marketing strategy that led to Bielaski’s first job for Sports Illustrated in 2014. The magazine responded to an email the photographer sent promoting his work. “You need a great portfolio but you still have to continue getting yourself out there,” he advises.
“Marketing is a constant in this business. You need to be ‘on’ 100% of the time because you can meet clients everywhere you go. You build a reputation by word of mouth, by doing great work at a reasonable cost and by building long-term relationships. Each job leads to another.”
Bielaski counts other high profile companies such as Home Depot and Hydro One among his clients at Light Imaging Creative Photography Services, as well as many other magazines including Billboard and The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business. A 2002 Applied Photography graduate, Bielaski’s award-winning photography has also been behind this magazine since it was redesigned in 2007.
Everyone has a story. You just need to listen. Then you can capture who they are and what they do in a single frame.
Watch a behind-the-scenes video of Bielaski’s shoot of Masai Ujiri, General Manager of the Toronto Raptors below.
As a complement to his editorial and commercial photography business, Bielaski launched his For the Love of It project in 2012. It is born of his desire to explore the connection between work and happiness, says Bielaski. “I have always had a fascination with peoples’ jobs and how they were able to make a living doing what they loved.” His environmental portraits reflect the joy and pride behind his subjects which span all ages, professions and economic backgrounds.
For his part, Bielaski followed his own love of photography early, cutting his teeth as a studio assistant in high school and opening Light Imaging before his Sheridan graduation. Photography came fairly naturally to Bielaski whose father was a master print maker and mother was a graphic designer. “Yet, my parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of me starting my own business in the creative realm mainly because of the risk and uncertainty,” he says. “But I couldn’t see myself sitting in an office behind a desk most for most of my career.”
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, concedes Bielaski, who now has a six-person team including an in-house producer. “Running your own business is all about learning how to mitigate risk. You never know when the next slow period will be.”
Given his jam-packed project schedule, the chances of a slow period for Bielaski look slim, as he prepares for the next gig which could take him down the street or across the continent. Whether his subjects are pro athletes, corporate leaders or average Canadians pursuing their passions, Bielaski strives to encapsulate more than just a moment in time. “Everyone has a story. You just need to listen. Then you can capture who they are and what they do in a single frame.”