Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Zak Bush is a vastly talented photographer with a colorful, creative, and diverse body of work. Zak has been working on projects with the RAEN team for years now and joined us again for our Spring / Summer 2023 shoot. After the trip, we got a moment to visit him around his home in LA to talk about photography, community, inspiration, and more.

Photography by Brandon Turner, Jack Antal, and Zak Bush.
Tell us a bit about how you fell into photography.
I started taking photos of my friends when I was in my teens and early twenties. I was living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, working at a restaurant so that I could surf as much as possible and I ended up breaking my arm while skateboarding in front of my house. I had a cast on my arm for almost 12 weeks and obviously couldn't surf at all and couldn't do my job at the restaurant either. So I had all this free time and was just going to shoot my friends who I'd regularly go surf with.

I borrowed a friend's camera that was better for taking surf photos than anything I had and took a couple photos of my friends on some really good days. Some of those photos got published in surf magazines like right off the bat, mostly because I was in an interesting and unique place that was off the beaten path. But because of that, I realized I could make a career out of something that I liked doing.
So I started traveling more with my friends, kept surfing, and kept taking photos of them surfing. There were handful of years where I was getting little photography jobs, but I was still working three days a week in a surf shop or at a bar so that I could get out to shoot to get those spreads in surf magazines.

Eventually that all led to a job in New York with Saturdays NYC. I worked as their in-house photographer for three and a half years which then led to a job in LA at Outerknown. I moved to LA, worked for Outerknown for about four years while also shooting stuff for myself on the side and then started fully freelancing in 2018.
Was photography ever just a fun thing you did for yourself, and are there still elements of that for you? 
Yeah, it's still very fun and I still really like doing it. But I have to push myself to shoot stuff just for me these days and not just for work. There are cycles when I'm really busy, then I go on vacation and don’t even bring a camera with me because I just need a break. But sometimes I will bring it or I will shoot around home. In those situations, when I take a beautiful photo of Blair or one of my friends, or a landscape, or some sort of weird abstract photo that's not for anything, I make the time to take the photo and those are the ones that are the most special.
What are your favorite kinds of projects to work on?
I like having a very diverse set of things that I shoot. I get burnt out if I'm shooting the same thing. I love travel jobs, but I get tired if I am doing travel jobs back to back to back. It's not so much that I get tired of shooting the same photos over and over again, it’s the traveling and being in the sun all day which can wear on you.

But being able to take that same style of shooting into the studio feels fresh and I'm like, oh, I'm doing something different now. It refreshes the creativity too. So yeah, I like to go from a travel job to a studio job, or a big budget production to a really small job with one person where my shot list is only six final images versus shooting hundreds of images. It's nice to go back and forth between these different kinds of projects because it doesn't make it feel as if I'm working on a production line...that’s the last thing I want my work to feel like.
How has California inspired your photographic eye over the years?
When I was living in Canada and starting to shoot surf photos, we would look to California a lot as a guide line for what was cool or ‘good’. I definitely grasped on to a lot of photographers’ work from California. Now that I live here, I think that it does influence my work a little bit because I do shoot so much outdoor/lifestyle photography. But what influences me more than anything is other photographers that I really respect and more so the creative concept than the location.

It is nice to live in LA though because there is such a great creative community here. Being surrounded by so many talented people that do things in such a diverse set of ways is really special. And with how amazing and inspiring Nova Scotia is, there's a great creative community there too, but it's just really small. When you're in a place like Los Angeles or Southern California, there's just so much more.
“Being surrounded by so many talented people that do things in such a diverse set of ways is really special.”
What do you do when you feel like you need a breakthrough in your work or process?
As weird as it sounds, when I'm burnt out and I travel and I don't bring a camera with me, I start to have the moments where I’m like, ‘why didn't I bring a camera? I wish I could have taken a photo of that, that was so amazing.’ That's usually what reinvigorates me. It's almost like having the craving to do it again is the inspiring thing. There's a lot of times where I'll try to force myself to shoot things and I'll bring a camera and I won't take a single photo. It's almost better to not have the tool and then get the urge to do something and not have the accessibility.
How did you and your assistant Adrian initially connect and what impact has he had on your work?
My friend Bailey introduced me to Adrian because I was doing a shoot in Hawaii and I needed a local digitech for the shoot. He's a super talented photographer himself as well as a top-notch digitech. He lived in New York for most of his life, worked as a photo assistant and a digitech there before moving to Australia and traveling all over the world.

New York has the best talent in the world for all that and the fact that a guy like him was living in Hawaii was the best thing ever. So every time I would go over to Hawaii, I would hire him. Then right before the pandemic, he moved to LA and we started working and traveling together for pretty much everything that I have shot since. So much of photography is not just one person. Between the production crew, the talent, the brand, and everyone else who is supporting me on the job, there's so much going into everything that makes my work better than anything I could do on my own.

Were there any favorite frames from the new Spring / Summer collection that you were particularly excited to shoot?
Yeah there were for sure. I liked the Zelti with the blue lenses right away. I always gravitate to whichever frames are in Mikey February’s collection. He has great style, he’s the nicest person ever, and those traits somehow show up in his collection very clearly. I also liked Rufio. I wasn’t drawn to them initially, but when I looked back at everything that we shot, some of my favorite photos are of those frames.
What is the ideal day through the eyes of Zak Bush?
I feel like I have a lot of perfect days. But I would wake up, make myself a nice cup of coffee, hang out with Blair, take my dog for a walk, and go and surf for a little bit. After that, eat some good food somewhere, come home, read a book, make dinner, go to bed early, watch a show on Netflix...that's pretty much it.
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