Connecting through the camera lens | Emily Bennett and Orcas Video

Emily Bennett is a jill of all trades.

She’s a photographer, a surfer, a mother, a wife, a dancer. She has lived on islands, in cities and in the Middle East.

“I’ve had a very full life,” Bennett said. “Orcas is the only place I’ve lived that I’ve returned to. It feels really good to have brought my kids here — for them to be children on this island.”

As the owner and operator of Orcas Video with her husband Erin Bennett, Emily’s job is about connection. Her photos and film work come alive by creating relationships with her subjects.

“We’ve become friends with some of our wedding couples! They’ve even come over for dinner and Erin has taken them out on our boat,” she said. “My dad was our childhood photographer and took a camera with him everywhere we went on our travels. I never remember him without a camera. And my mom took home videos. It was always a hobby in my head. It felt so out of reach, but now with digital media, everyone can tell a story. I love analog, but I’m so grateful we have digital.”

Emily is one of nine children and grew up in Saudi Arabia. Later, her family moved to Wyoming, then to Seattle and finally settled on Orcas Island when Bennett was in the ninth grade. She dropped out of school as a junior and moved to Hawaii, where she earned her GED and attended college. Emily spent the next eight years there, surfing every day and working in a deli and as a barista, bartender and housecleaner.

“I’d surf all morning and then make smoothies and sandwiches for the professional surfers,” she remembers. “If kids don’t know what to do after high school, I say move to Hawaii. You’ll find something and you’ll learn about yourself.”

In her late 20s, Emily moved to San Diego, where she became a mom after the birth of her son Makai. She relocated to Seattle to be closer to her parents. Emily’s dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and her mom had just enrolled in college to study filmmaking.

“She’d been a homemaker for 20 years, her husband was dying of cancer and she really wanted to go back to school. My mom is my inspiration to do film work,” Emily said.

She helped her mother shoot short films, including a reworking of Goldilocks, in which the bears framed the young porridge-eater. Her sister played Goldilocks, and Emily ran the camera. Her mom planned to create a film about the Bedouin women of the Middle Eastern deserts before she was also diagnosed with cancer. Emily’s mother died in 2009 and her dad in 2015.

“Cancer is so hard on the family members. When someone in your family gets cancer, everyone gets it,” she said.

Emily’s daughter Malia was born in Seattle, and the family then settled in Austin, Texas. In 2014, Emily’s brother Nathan died suddenly. She knew he wanted his ashes scattered on Orcas Island.

“I found myself here with ashes, devastated and in a marriage that was ending,” she said. “My friends and family said I didn’t need to go back. So I stayed.”

And then Emily met Erin.

The two fell in love instantly and have been inseparable from the moment they met. Erin was working as a landscaper and offering film and photo work on the side.

“He was good at it, and for two years I really cheered him on and nurtured that area,” Emily said. “His craft was building and building, and he eventually asked if I could help.”

She was working as a website developer and happily agreed to leave behind her desk job in exchange for shooting live events, weddings, music videos and advertising campaigns for local businesses. The two bought a house in 2016. By the following year, they had officially formed Orcas Video, LLC. In 2018, Emily and Erin were married in a magical island wedding.

Makai, who is now 20, lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works for a car dealership. Malia is graduating from Orcas Island High School in June and will move to Hawaii to attend college.

The Bennetts are the ultimate husband-wife team. They collaborate on bookings, share the microphone during interviews and split the administrative tasks.

“Erin doesn’t have control issues. He is so encouraging and supportive,” Emily said. “We are together constantly. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. If we didn’t work together, we’d never see each other. I’d rather get sick of my spouse than never see him at all. Our biggest arguments are about what lens to use!”

Much work goes into a project before the day of the live event. Emily and Erin meet with their clients to get a sense of who they are; create a shot list; and line up a contingency plan for weather and anything unexpected.

“I love filming weddings because it’s one of the happiest days for a network of people. And all of the vendors we work with in the San Juans are impeccable,” Emily said. “It’s hard work. If you aren’t super prepared, it can be a disaster — your memory card fills up, your gear fails. We have back-ups of everything.”

The two have purchased wet suits for filming underwater. They enjoy camping on the outer islands and plan to free drive, film and “see what happens.”

“We love our jobs so much that we do it in our free time,” laughed Emily.