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Behind the lens

Beauty and fashion photographer Alec Watson shoots campaigns to feel good about
Alec Watson

Most people can only hope and dream about achieving happiness in successive stages of their work and personal life.

Alec Watson seems to have cracked the code on that.

He seamlessly followed up an award-winning musical career as a player and recording engineer, working in the hotbeds of Nashville, Los Angeles and Seattle, by building a successful beauty and fashion photography and digital media business. Along the way, he met and married the woman of his dreams, Sarah Gilks, with whom he works from their Lantzville home on inspirational campaigns for her company HRM (Healthy Role Models).

For two decades, Alec has produced stunning, evocative photos and film work for various global and regional brands, and he is positively glowing as he shares what keeps him smiling.

He flies roughly 15 times a year, mostly to LA, but sometimes New York, for four-day commercial campaign shoots. He jokes about the irony in being a “bald man in my 50s becoming a beauty specialist.”

“I’m probably hired for my lighting more than anything,” he says, clarifying the specialty that has kept him in demand with corporate clients, along with his leadership. “That seems to be what people are paying the dollars for.”

As director of photography, Alec does hours of pre-planning, assembles a team of top-notch hair, makeup and other technical experts, then blends their talents with his own to create an impactful finished product.

He modestly says, “My part of the job when I’m actually taking photos is probably 11 minutes per model, on average.”

Big on the often-underrated “fun factor,” Alec’s campaign shoots tend to have little unnecessary drama, and things come together as expected.

“I’m probably there because I can lead that team, light it well, and at the end of the day, everybody’s going to walk away with great images 100 per cent of the time, and we have fun. No one gets yelled at, there’s no stress, there are no tears.”

Asked what type of work gets him excited these days, he’s clear on what does not get him fired up.

“Celeb shoots tend to be very short, and they surround themselves with stressful people. I love working for companies that want to make the world a better and more beautiful place. That’s my bread and butter, and I’m super grateful for that.”

He is also pumped about doing speaking engagements for the sales teams and clients of such companies, teaching them how to create ethical, eye-catching campaigns that leave viewers feeling good.

While he no longer sees a ladder to climb, Alec feels blessed, enjoying a career that is both lucrative—last year was his best ever financially—and helping him become a better person and professional.

He credits Sarah, his wife of six years, for helping guide that growth. He sees her positive energy and outlook on life as a byproduct of being very deliberate about the type of media she consumes.

“If we take the time to be conscious about what we are consuming, it can transform our life. I so did not see the world with this lens, but it’s a lens that makes me happier, makes me try harder, and makes me live a better life.”

Working with Sarah on visual branding, photography and film for HRM, which supports women with fitness, nutrition and self-confidence resources, has given Alec a deeper perspective for his own work. He’s more aware of the personal struggles that often accompany striving for beauty.

“It fills my cup,” he says of the work. “I 100 per cent know that if I’m creating marketing and women are joining the program, they’re getting looked after and having great outcomes. That’s just a great feeling, especially for someone who works in advertising.”

This level of discernment has come gradually, but there were moments when it became obvious to Alec that he had a choice in how he viewed the world and his professional environment.

As difficult as he finds it to do so, he has said “no” to certain campaigns where he felt the company’s values did not closely match his own.

He recalls working on a lingerie campaign with a celebrity who he felt was struggling with body image and wasn’t ready for the type of photos the shoot called for, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. Barely a month later he saw the celebrity on a magazine cover that proclaimed she “got her abs back,” a feature he believes used highly doctored photos of the woman and her body.

“I would never want to work for a company that would do that,” he says. “With HRM I became a better photographer and learned about using light.”

Every photo must be processed to a certain degree, but Alec refuses to alter a model’s human characteristics. “I choose not to work with companies that need to be deceptive in any part of their marketing.”

A lifelong learner, he idolized musical greats Elton John and Billy Joel as a kid and remembers playing “air piano.” Learning to actually play was initially a tactic to impress his musician girlfriend, whose country band Rhodes & Marshall was later managed by Doug Bennett of Doug and the Slugs fame.

Alec kept working at his craft and ultimately engineered the band’s first album and added backing vocals and keyboard. That record was certified gold in Canada and charted four Top 40 Canadian country singles.


“That’s how I ended up being in music,” he says. “I was always going to be a photographer, but [we] just had a hit record right out of the gate.”

He parlayed his experience into a busy performing and recording career as a touring and session player, and also as an engineer, working with bands such as Great Big Sea, Spirit of the West and others.

He shifted to photography full-time in 2004 and later upped his film game by completing the Global Cinematography Institute program in Hollywood. Eyeing a shift to education, he was laser-focused on studying for his master’s degree in digital media design from Harvard and earned the Dean’s Prize for academic achievement for his top-level GPA. During the COVID pandemic down time, he learned 3D design.

Aware that “the phone’s going to stop ringing at some point” for major corporate projects, Alec feels good about the future, knowing he’ll always have enjoyable work available.

That includes his passion project, a coffee table book tentatively titled Iconic Islanders. It will feature portraits of individuals he finds personally fascinating—“beautiful people both on the outside and the inside.”

Examples of Alec’s work can be found at