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Photographer makes his name shooting natural beauty

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Neil Dankoff at the opening of the Kandy Gallery. (David Leyes photo)

Neil Dankoff takes pride in his photography skills, his love of nature and his world travels.

The lauded 49-year-old destination landscape photographer recently celebrated the opening of Toronto’s Kandy Gallery, located in the lobby of Hotel X.

Dankoff was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: an exclusive contract with Hotel X Toronto, a 29-floor luxury resort hotel located on the waterfront at Exhibition Place, which commissioned him to shoot 800 original photographs.

“It ended up being the largest fine arts transaction in Canadian history,” he said.

Neil Dankoff’s photo Cypress Tree Tunnel. (File photo)

Dankoff’s photographs are in every room and corridor throughout the hotel. The project took him to Iceland, Croatia, Bolivia, Japan, China, Paris, Provence, Hawaii, Amsterdam, Belgium, Banff, Jasper, the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Palouse, Redwood parks in California, San Diego, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and Oregon.

“I was able to complete a 10-year bucket list in two and a half years,” said Dankoff.

The 275-sq.-m Kandy Gallery can be rented out as an event venue.

“We just had my daughter’s bat mitzvah service there. It’s a great space,” he said.

Dankoff is recognized by Culture Trip as one of Canada’s 10 best photographers.

“I never took a photography course in my life. Growing up, I was influenced by my father, who was always taking pictures. I saw the joy that it brought people,” said Dankoff.

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After studying film and communications at McGill University, Dankoff moved to Toronto, where he opened Reaction Studio, which specializes in summer camp photography.

“I was the first that I knew of to have an SLR digital camera. It set me back about four or five thousand dollars. I was just amazed with the technology. I developed this kind of unique style, where I was blending different exposures and focal points. At the beginning stages, I remember taking my kids’ books that have large lettering to a nearby park. I would set up the books at various depths of field and would practise and make notes to see what worked best to create the sharpest images, where I could zoom in and read all the letters on the books,” he said.

In 2009, Dankoff – who was then 40 and had never travelled farther than Florida – went to Israel on his first photo shoot, to capture sunrises and sunsets, rocks and desert. He returned to Toronto with a slew of landscape images, which marked a pivotal turning point in his career.

From then on, he honed his skills on trips to South Africa, Namibia, Italy and Switzerland.

“I upgraded to better equipment – a medium-format digital camera that cost me about $12,000 and a special type of tripod. I would set up the camera vertically and take four to six separate photos to make each final piece. I am moving the camera four to six separate times and each time I move it, I am overlapping the previous shot that I took by at least 30 per cent. By doing that, I give the software enough information to seamlessly stitch the photo together,” explained Dankoff.

Shooting in three different exposures and blending multiple exposures is the recipe for Dankoff’s signature panoramic landscapes. The process allows the colours to pop and glow with an inner light.

From 2014 to 2016, Dankoff was working for Four Seasons Resorts in Hawaii and in Bora Bora, where he was harnessed to a helicopter so he could shoot with the doors off.

A little over a year ago, he invested in the Phase One camera system.

“The system costs upwards of $100,000 and is the top-of-the-line camera available on the planet, with a quality that just surpasses anything else,” said Dankoff.

His originals are priced based on their size.

“Almost all of my photographs are shot and printed to 79-by-35 – a good fit behind someone’s sofa, behind a desk or in a hallway. But then there are some landscapes that I’ll shoot that will require a larger size, wider panoramic, whether it’s Times Square or Central Park, or just a grand landscape that can’t be captured in that dimension, so I’ll go bigger,” said Dankoff.

Dankoff and industrial realtors Derek and Kirsty Stern co-own the Kandy galleries. In 2015, the trio launched the first one in Montreal. A third Kandy Gallery is set to open in Dallas by the end of the year.