An epiphany would spur Nick Didlick to enter the world of photography as a career choice, which eventually led him to become a digital photography pioneer. In the 30-some years since his first job at a tiny weekly paper, Didlick has traveled throughout the world shooting pictures for newspapers and wire services. Didlick moved from weekly papers to jobs at the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Courier and the Edmonton Sun before settling into a wire service career, first with United Press Canada and then with the newly formed Reuters News Service, working out of Brussels, Belgium. He became a digital photography pioneer and guru. And was photo manager for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
One of his first big assignments for Reuters was at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, where 39 people were killed and hundreds injured in rioting before the start of the 1985 European Cup Final soccer game.
“I was right in the middle of it,” Didlick says. “I shot black and white and color. Reuters was very little known at the time. Their pictures fronted everybody’s newspapers around the world.”
For a while Didlick became Reuters’ “riot photographer,” he says, because he “had done the last one and survived. I traveled to a lot of different places. Any time there was a possibility of a riot, especially around a soccer game, I was there.”
Over the next five years he traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as a sub editor and photographer in Brussels and then as deputy bureau chief in London.
“I was in Lockerbie (Scotland) about five hours after the airplane crashed” in 1988, the result of a terrorist’s bomb, he recalls.
He was in Moscow covering a hockey tournament (in 1986) when the Chernobyl accident occurred. “My boss sent me a telex, asking me to go to a place called Chernobyl as soon as I could. He didn’t have any idea of how things worked in those days. Sixty miles outside the city I would have been stopped. You just weren’t allowed unless you had special travel papers.”
Didlick covered President Ronald Reagan, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and, especially, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“She knew me as Nick, the man from Reuters. She would always look for me in the large press pack when we were outside England because she knew (my pictures) would make it to the British papers.”
In 1988 Didlick had what he calls his second major epiphany after an assignment in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was traveling with a British military patrol when shots were fired in his direction by members of the warring militias.
It was getting more and more dangerous, and he realized that it was time to return to the outdoors lifestyle he had enjoyed when he was younger.
Career Shift to Digital
He rejoined the staff of the Vancouver Sun, where his career soon shifted. In 1994 Didlick began using a digital camera called the NC 2000, developed by Nikon, Kodak and The Associated Press.
“I took that camera that the Vancouver Sun had bought, put together all the applications and shot the first digital picture that appeared in the Vancouver Sun. It was a picture of the queen arriving for the Commonwealth Games. I transmitted it almost immediately, and it appeared on the front page of the newspaper.
“I had played with other digital cameras, but they weren’t really something you could take on an assignment to use. The quality was poor. When they came to me with this camera (the NC 2000) and said, ‘What do you think?’ the first experience was trying to understand how the whole thing worked. It was a traditional camera body—that part was understandable—but everything after that was foreign, from the way it wrote to the memory card to the color you saw from the camera to how you transmitted the picture.”
That fall the Sun announced that it would become the first “all digital photo production” newspaper in the world. Didlick led the charge.
“We did the whole conversion,” he says. “Back in 1994 computers were not new to newsrooms, but we had terminals, not computers. We had to teach the photographers to use a laptop, to use a mouse. We had to get the cameras to integrate with the PowerBooks.”
Although it was expensive at first, the newspaper knew it could quickly save money through digital photography, Didlick says. He helped the Sun’s sister paper, the Calgary Herald, convert to digital, too, and found a new career as a digital consultant. He helped convert the National Post, a new newspaper at the time, to digital production in 1999 and 2000.
The next year he became an independent photographer and consultant. Since then Didlick has divided his time working as a digital consultant, an editorial and a commercial photographer, and an instructor for Nikon School workshops. He also finds plenty of time to spend outdoors.
“I’m also a licensed fly-fishing and white-water raft guide,” he says. “In the summers I get away from technology and shooting assignments.”
The duties of that job? “You make sure the clients don’t get mauled by bears, guide them into some big fish and you take pictures.”
From 2004 to 2006 Didlick combined his passions, taking a lead role on a Canadian TV show called “Nikon Wildlife Expeditions.”
“I did 10 episodes of that by taking my camera crew into the wilderness and photographing grizzly bears and black bears and whales,” he says.
In 2007 he took on another big assignment when he became photo manager for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. After covering four previous Olympics, Didlick thought he knew what was in store. He found out differently.
“It’s a massive job,” he says. “I had to figure out how to do everything that has to do with press photography in a Winter Games. There were 700 photographers who came, the largest photo group ever.
“I had to plan everything, from technology, Wi-Fi, remote cameras, photo positions, photo workrooms, every last aspect. I started off with myself and added a team of two others to help. Four months before the Games I hired another 33 and 270-plus volunteers.
One of his favorite memories: “We developed a high-tech sled so we could file from the side of the hill, from the men’s and women’s courses instantly. The pictures were around the world before the skiers had crossed the finish line.”
Almost as soon as the Games ended, Didlick went back on the road for Nikon School, for which he leads about a dozen photography workshops a year across the United States. He has been involved with the program since its inception in 2002.
“The best part of Nikon School is you meet a lot of people who are keenly interested in subjects that you are keenly interested in,” he says. “I love trying to turn them on to certain aspects of their photography or solving one of their problems.”
Wherever he goes, his Nikon cameras are in tow.
“Right now my favorite is the Nikon D700, for both personal and professional work. I also use the Nikon D3S and the D300S a lot. But if I was going to go to a desert island I would use my D700. It’s a lot of camera at an extremely reasonable price, and it’s also smaller and lighter than a D3S. What I give up in the D3S I get back in the lighter weight of the D700.
“If I have a favorite [lens] it’s probably the 85mm f/1.4. That changes, too. One of my other favorites is the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. It’s one of the sharpest lenses in the world, and it’s a real workhorse. If you saw me on the street tomorrow I’d probably have a D700 and an AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and a 70-200mm lens and the SB-900 Speedlight.
“One of the reasons I’ve stayed with Nikon is because of the build of their lenses and the versatility of their flash systems. Ever since we got the digitals they’ve had the most accurate flash sensors anywhere in the world.”
“Photography for me has been an adventure, and it has been an adventure of memories.”
Case in point: On assignment for the Vancouver Sun, Didlick traveled to a remote town in Siberia.
“I remember walking to school with a grade one student. It was beautifully clear. I was going to do a day in her life. No picture comes to my mind, but I’ll never forget walking through the forest with all the birch trees. It was about minus 10. It made a beautiful layout of her, from the time she woke up until she went to bed.
“Photography is a journey. You just keep following this journey, learning new things all the time. I’ve been fairly fortunate. I picked up a camera because I was into photography. I held onto my camera strap and it took me on an adventure around the world many, many times.”