When viewing the wildly adventurous and vibrant wedding photography of Barbara Dorota Karpowicz, who runs BDFK Photography together with her husband, it is no surprise that her work has already received many WPJA awards and has now earned her the title of AG 2020 Photographer of the Year.
Karpowicz, who is originally from Poland, now resides in Canada where she developed a passion for curating photo shoots that are tailored to the specific interests of the couples she works with. Karpowicz notes that while many of her award-winning photos from 2020 were not taken in particularly remote locations, a few of the couples had grand adventures in mind that required extensive hiking—an area that Karpowicz specializes in.
Karpowicz, more than anything, strives for originality in her work and is willing to go to extreme measures to find it while also prioritizing the visions and happiness of the couples she works with. As such, the consultation process looks a bit different for Karpowicz.
She begins by asking the couple about their fitness and hiking experience, then uses this information, along with her expertise and familiarity with the region, to propose locations and hiking options. Karpowicz then scouts out the chosen location herself so that she can advise the couple on how to prepare while also searching for unique and picturesque areas that have not been previously explored.
In her effort to preserve originality, Karpowicz notes that she can often count on her natural surroundings to offer new surprises.
“It is very difficult to be original in the mountains, so I try to find originality by exploring different hikes and locations. Originality can be created also by Mother Nature if we are lucky: we can see rainbows, dramatic skies, colorful sunrises, etc.”
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of Karpowicz’s hands-on approach, both for herself as well as the couples, is the fact that they all get to know one another on a much more personal level.
“The elopements are amazing in terms of getting to know the client. I have to hike with them for at least 4-5 hours, so it is a perfect time to get to know each other. Usually, when we reach our destination, we have some beer or liqueur to drink so the barriers between us are erased completely.”
The unique hiking adventures Karpowicz offers result in collections of photographs so varied and otherworldly that it is difficult to believe they were all taken on the same day. However, this does not mean the experience is without its challenges—particularly physical ones.
One of the special elopements Karpowicz photographed began with a ceremony on the shore of Moraine Lake and ended with an extremely challenging and steep two-kilometer hike to the top of the Tower of Babel, taking two hours to reach the peak. Another intimate hiking wedding required Karpowicz and the couple to meet at 2:00 a.m. to make their way to the top of Tent Ridge, hiking through the night so they could make it to the peak in time for a radiant sunrise photoshoot.
Because these hikes can be so physically challenging, Karpowicz notes that sessions in the mountains are not for everyone. In addition to physical demands, couples have to be ready to face cold weather and wildlife.
“My husband and I realized that the biggest obstacle in the mountains is the cold.” Karpowicz goes on to add humorously “that most grooms are complaining about the cold, despite the fact that they have warmer clothing compared to the brides.”
“Another very obvious obstacle in taking the clients to the wilderness is the wildlife. We have to be aware that we are entering bear country. During our hikes, we are very loud; sometimes we are signing to prevent any unwanted encounter with the bears.”
Karpowicz also points out that the rigor of the hikes limits how much she is able to carry, forcing her to leave equipment like speedlights behind. Karpowicz must frequently think outside the box to come up with creative workarounds when dealing with elements like lighting, which are often not predictable or changeable out in the wilderness.
However, this limitation doesn’t faze her. Karpowicz says that even if she could bring additional lighting equipment, she would actually choose not to, citing Henri Carter-Bresson’s belief that photographs taken with the aid of a flash are disrespectful to the natural light of the environment, even when there isn’t any present.
Despite the many obstacles posed by Karpowicz’s style of photographing, she finds great value in working closely with adventuring couples to provide small, intimate, and memorable weddings deep in nature, using her expertise to curate and tailor an experience that best suits them and their unconventional styles.
Karpowicz says that these highly customized treks through the Canadian wilderness are “for adventurous couples who don’t want to have a perfect portrait, with the perfect hairstyle or amazing makeup. They want to be a part of the environment. They want to be in a unique location, they want to be alone in a remote place.”
Aside from being able to take advantage of the natural beauty these hikes afford, Karpowicz cites another benefit of these rigorous hikes as she provides a word of caution to couples unfamiliar with the region who are seeking a private and intimate ceremony.
“In Canadian Rocky Mountains are a few very famous locations like Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and Emerald Lake. Those locations are very touristy because they are easily accessible. Especially Moraine Lake. Even early morning this location is packed with YouTubers, influencers, TikTokers, landscape photographers, etc…Therefore, we encourage every couple to go for a hike to avoid those crowds.”
Ultimately, Karpowicz values the power, beauty, and unique artistic possibility that nature offers. Rather than focusing on the physical and technical challenges of her adventures, Karpowicz feels rewarded by them, using natural landscapes, lighting, and unpredictability as the foundations of her artistic style.
While both the experiences and photo sessions Karpowicz cultivates for her clients demand an immense amount of time, knowledge, and quick, creative thinking, the dedication and care she devotes to her art, and to each couple, shine through her vibrant work. It is through this dedication and close attention to detail that Karpowicz’s photographs, consistently conveying a deep sense of connection and emotion, have earned her the position of AG 2020 Photographer of the Year.