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Bill Borgwardt shares his secrets for capturing today's top country music artists on stage

Updated: Sep 7, 2019

Stumbling Blocks with Host Barbara May

Bill Borgwardt combines his love of photography and passion for country music to capture today's top artist on stage. And he explains why today's lighting technology can be a stumbling block to getting great shots.


Check out the written transcript of Barbara's interview with Bill here:

Stumbling Blocks S1 E2 Bill Borgwardt


[Bill] - The security guy standing there saying, "Well you can't go in."

And the guy on the stage, "Hey Bill, how you doing?"



(upbeat music)

[Title Sequence]

Stumbling Blocks

With Host Barbara May

Special Guest Bill Borgwardt

Stumbling Blocks Team Building Seminars


[Barbara] - Bill is an award-winning photographer. He's a huge country fan and meets some of the best and top artists in Canada.

Bill, welcome to the show.

[Bill] - Thank you for having me.

[Barbara] - So I'm curious how did you end up using your skills in photography to meet all these amazing country stars?

[Bill] - Well the Canadian Country Music Awards were in Edmonton and I believe it was 1999 and I was just a volunteer there, I wasn't taking pictures, and the reporter at the time for Country Music News out of Edmonton he didn't have anybody to take pictures. And so he more or less conscripted me to do it.

And in the next month, "Well can you take pictures at this event and that event?"

Which I did.

Couple months later he was preoccupied and couldn't do a column, he said, "Would you mind filling in the column this time."

[Barbara] - So then you started writing.

[Bill] - Then I started writing and then I did it for 12 years until the magazine folded, he never did come back and do his column.

[Barbara] - Oh, so you just, you kind of...

[Bill] - I just progressed in, so I was just sort of, yeah just progressed into it.

[Barbara] - And I know you've worked with some pretty big names here in Canada.

[Bill] - Well when you go big names like today's artists, Brett Kissel. Another one who has gone on to big things this year is Aaron Goodvin.

[Barbara] - Yeah I remember Aaron because he would come to the jam that we used to go to.

[Bill] - Right, yup.

[Barbara] - Yeah and he was just starting out, now he's like recognized across Canada.

[Bill] - That's right. So both of them I've followed them from the very start to where they are now.

[Barbara] - Wow.


[Bill] - There's a National Music Centre in Calgary which is a fantastic music centre.

They've got the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. They've got the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Juno's Hall of Fame.

It's all housed in one building.

Plus a huge collection of musical instruments.

So they put on a special display of Terri Clark who was inducted into this year's

Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame They said, "We'll we're doing Terri."

So I supplied them with a couple hundred pictures and I had actually had a collection on Terri Clark when she first started.

I thought this is a Canadian girl who's going to make it for sure. So I started gathering everything related to her career. All the magazines and that.

[Barbara] - Nice.

[Bill] - And I donated that collection to the National Music Centre now.

[Barbara] - Wow.

[Bill] - So they built the display around my donation, my photos and stuff that Terri gave them.


[Barbara] - And now, tell me about Charley Pride.

[Bill] - Charley Pride I've for country music news, I've covered Charley Pride at... He comes every couple years, Edmonton is one of his favorite places to play and he's played more here than just about anywhere in Canada, I believe.

[Barbara] - Yeah.


Bill] - And I've taken pictures of him every time and I always give his manager who's a great guy, I give him all the pictures so he has them. And they used one for the DVD and CD both of Charley Pride in Canada.

[Barbara] - Like for his album.

[Bill] - For his album.

[Barbara] - Nice.

[Bill] - And that album went platinum. So one day I got a call from his manager, promoter, and he says, "What are you doing next Wednesday?"

And I said, "Well I'll look at my calendar." "No, I haven't got anything Wednesday."

He says, "Okay I've got a ticket for you to come to Winnipeg." And he wouldn't say why.

[Barbara] - Like you just, you just got on the plane.

[Bill] - Yeah.

[Barbara] - And you didn't know why?

[Bill] - Yeah he said, "Just hang out backstage." He says, "You can bring your camera if you want, but not necessary."

But of course I had my camera.

[Barbara] - Yeah.

[Bill] - And he says, "Come have lunch with the boys." And Charley walks in and he says, "I've got something for you."

[Barbara] - Nice.

[Bill] - And it was a platinum award, for the album.

[Barbara] - Wow!

[Bill] - Which was a great surprise.

[Barbara] - Congratulations.

[Bill] - So that was really a nice, that was a very touching award.

[Barbara] - Nice.


[Barbara] - Now in terms of getting the good pictures, so I've been to really beautiful venues with great stages and great back jobs and then I've seen some venues that are not so nice.

So how do you, how you do find the different venues and what makes it easier for you, what makes it challenging?

[Bill] - Nowadays it's a lot more challenging than it used to be.

[Barbara] - Okay.

[Bill] - In the old days you had Tungsten lights, they were balanced for one light color, they might have a gel on 'em and that but basically they were the same.

Now you've got the LEDs with a little dial on it that can any color light that the person who is running it wants.

And usually the person running it is not a lighting, they don't have lighting technicians anymore.

[Barbara] - Might be a volunteer.

[Bill] - It could be a volunteer and sort of switch says, no there's a switch, that changes colors.

[Barbara] - Oh so they go, "This looks cool."

[Bill] - Yeah and the colors are continually changing, well try and balance that on photos. That is a nightmare.

[Barbara] - Oh yeah so what do you mean, maybe you could demonstrate for us.

[Bill] - Okay.


[Barbara] - So in my workshops what I do is ask people to use blocks…

[Bill] - Sure, okay. So say this is you in normal lighting.

And all of a sudden, this is you in the lighting. Completely green. Then it changes to red, immediately after. Then...

[Barbara] - And that's because the light's shining down on me?

[Bill] - Yeah it's lights that are continually changing. So then it'll change back to normal.

[Barbara] - So I'm in this beautiful pose and you wanna...

[Bill] - And the lighting...

[Barbara] - You wanna snap it.

[Bill] - And the lighting is changing continuing and all of a sudden you're red, pure red. You're pure blue, then you're pure green. And it cycles.

[Barbara] - Oh so your camera.

[Bill] - So the camera can't correct for that. It's seeing, the camera is seeing you in red. The eye sort of compensates and it doesn't see that you're pure red but the camera sees a color.

[Barbara] - So the artists is on stage.

[Bill] - Right.

The light tech has turned on the green. And the artist is suddenly green.

[Barbara] - You know I never.

[Bill] - Your face is totally green.

[Barbara] - Would have thought about that. Because when I'm watching a show, you notice the lights.

[Bill] - Right.

[Barbara] - But you don't notice the artist changing.

[Bill] - That's right. Now a proper, proper show, the artist, the highlights on the artist never change and all the backgrounds and all around them change.

But... no... like if you go to a big production at Rexall or... Jubilee Auditorium.

[Barbara] - So they would have the artist… Maybe with a gel color here.

[Bill] - Yeah, yeah or around them though the band member, this guy might be blue. This guy might be red, like the band members, but the artist has a proper lighting on 'em. But, nowadays, it isn't that way.

[Barbara] - Right.


[Bill] - I did one for the CCMAs, I was in Hamilton this past fall and it was the guy had the lighting on a cycle, every 15 seconds it went from one color to the next.

So it went from, it was red, green, blue, and then normal. So every out of a minute, I had 15 seconds where I had, that I could take a picture. Now but...

[Barbara] - No!

[Bill] - The artist is only doing maybe a three minute song.

[Barbara] - Right.

[Bill] - So that only leaves me 45 seconds in that song and...

[Barbara] - And you're...

[Bill] - I'm working for expressions, I wanna get them at the peak of their performance. I wanna show them happy dynamic and they might not be doing that part of the song, in that little window.

[Barbara] - Wow! And you know when I look at your pictures, one thing that really impresses me is how you capture the personality of the artist.

[Bill] - That's what, that's my trademark and that's what I want. Anybody can take a picture of artist with a microphone up and they're got their mouth open. I want that artist when all of a sudden, the audience reacts or something and he breaks into a spontaneous smile.

[Barbara] - Right.

[Bill] - And that's really the artist.

[Barbara] - The joy.

[Bill] - Their personality is coming out.

[Barbara] - Yeah, you're capturing the joy in the moment.

[Bill] - And that's my style.


[Barbara] - When you're watching 45 minute set, you're not trying to get a 100 good photos, you're looking for like one or two.

[Bill] - I'm looking for, yeah. Now I do it for the Alberta Country Music Association.

So I actually do a gallery so I might have, 10 or 15 shots of the artist.

[Barbara] - Right.

[Bill] - A bit different than when I was doing it for the paper.

[Barbara] - Yep.

[Bill] - And so yeah I'm always striving to get that one that's better than the last one.

[Barbara] - I know you have a Facebook page out.

[Bill] - The Facebook directs to the Alberta County Music Association page and that's where all the pictures are, they sponsor my page.

And it's got actually hundreds of galleries and thousands and thousands of pictures on it.

[Barbara] - And so people can go to your Facebook page.

[Bill] - Or they can go direct to the Alberta Country Music Association. Which is

And click on photos and it'll take to the pages of all of the photos, all the galleries.

[Barbara] - Well you know, it's so great to sit here and hear how you go about the process of getting those great shots.

I've admired your work and I think it's a really unique perspective that you bring, that you've been able to watch these artists over the years and watch them grow and capture that for the rest of us to enjoy.

Bill thank you for being here today.

[Bill] - Thank you for having me.


(upbeat music)

[Closing Sequence]

Stumbling Blocks Team Building Seminars

Thank You For Watching Stumbling Blocks

Producer/Host - Barbara May

Director of Photography - Joey McIntyre

Music - Chris Ayries

Stumbling Blocks Team Building Seminars

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