Tuesday, January 24, 2012

BEHIND THE LENS: Ann Beck Photography, Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX

We found Ann Beck from Ann Beck Photography on Pinterest while looking for photo display ideas.  She had a fabulous display guide on her blog and after looking through all of her wonderful photos, we wanted to get to know her more.  

As you will see below, Ann's style of photography is candid, fresh and fun!  You really get a sense of her client's personalities from the images she captures.  Thank you Ann for allowing us to feature your beautiful work today.  Here's to Diet Cokes, iPhones and faster metabolisms.   :)

Your Name: Ann Beck
Your studio/business name: Ann Beck Photography
Location: Dallas/Ft Worth Texas
Other: www.ifightlikeagirl.info, my ongoing breast cancer photo essay

Your Style:

In 50 words or less, how would your clients describe your photography?
Assuming I’ve done my job right, they’ll say fun, natural, candid and casual. More of a playdate than a portrait appointment, each session becomes a fun family memory, with bright and real portraits of all the best moments, your life archived perfectly.

Are you self-taught or classroom trained?
A little of both. I took photography classes as part of the yearbook staff in high school, and a lot of graphic design/advertising classes as part of my communications degree in college. But beyond the basics, most of it was on my own, or with friends who are either professionals as well or serious hobbyists.

How many years have you been a professional photographer?
I officially opened for business in the fall of 2004, but the first 3-4 years was very part time. Once my youngest was in school full time I began working more at marketing, to build and grow the business into a full time business more than a side project.

Where do you want to take your photography business in 5 years?
I’d say just right along the path it’s going already.. I’m a huge planner, so very few things have happened accidentally, and I feel like I have things set up to continue on par. I’ve got a really loyal core group of clients who have become more like family, and between their referrals and a pretty steady stream of new clients, I can’t really say I need more business. My husband and I just purchased a new home that has quite a bit of land that I’ll be able to use for sessions, which I am *so* excited about, and there are plans already in the works to build a full studio on the property as well. I’ve also been developing my commercial work, and hope to keep that up as it’s a nice change of pace and a style I really enjoy. Between all of that… it should keep me busy for the next 5 years!

Is there a photographer who inspires your style?  Who would that be?
Not sure I can pick just one! I have a long list of bookmarks in my photo inspiration folder, some I like for the more natural style, some I like for the editorial look, some I don’t even care about their photography but I like their marketing techniques! My biggest inspiration probably comes more from family photo albums. None of my parents were by any means photographers, but I love to see which images made the cut, and to notice what details stand out to me, years later, so that I can try to capture those for my clients. The picture of my brother and I wrestling on his twin bed means a whole lot more to me than the Olan Mills portrait of us gazing into the distance… I want to be able to lock those memories in a little, beautiful, time capsule for my clients and their children.

Favorite location to take photos?
I always prefer to do sessions at the clients’ homes, mostly for the reasons above. There are just so many personal elements in your own home that cannot be recreated at a park. Plus, for selfish reasons, it gives me more of a challenge, to find the light in a new place, use everyday belongings and make them unique enough for portraits.. so fun!

Favorite vacation spot?
Ha! Who has time for a vacation? ;) I suppose anywhere with my family, any time we can get together away from it all is precious!

Your Business:

What was the pivotal moment when you decided to become a photographer?
I don’t think I had one… I have been that friend with the camera for as long as I could remember. Whether it was my plastic 35mm I toted on family vacations, high school yearbook assignments, or just out with friends… I’ve always felt a near-frantic need to record and immortalize the moments and memories I enjoy. I earned a Journalism degree and had a successful career in TV news for a number of years, but still always kept up my photography on the side, truly as a hobby and nothing more. But the more photographs I took, the more I wanted to take, and in turn, the more requests I began to get. It just sort of happened naturally and I haven’t look back since!

What’s the best marketing tip that has worked for you?
I don’t do a lot of concerted marketing efforts, but rather think of myself as one big billboard. I’ve never done a mass mailing or taken out a print ad, but instead I try to give each and every client the very best possible experience I can. From the first phone call or email until delivery and beyond, I want the entire process to be fun, easy, and memorable. That’s been pretty much all I’ve needed to do.. I keep my clients happy and they keep returning, and they bring their friends!

What’s the most surprising thing a customer has asked you?
Gosh I could write a book on funny comments from clients, the most surprising things are probably not PG enough to share on a public website. ;) I’ve learned not to take offense to anything, I think as photographers we get so consumed in the business it’s hard to see past the details, think like a client. There are so many options out there, there’s a lot of information for them to digest, it’s natural that they would get confused by products, prices etc. If my clients are continuously asking “stupid” questions, I think that means I’m not doing MY job right in keeping them informed and on the right page.

Favorite print lab?
WHCC all the way! I’ve tried just about everyone, and keep coming back. Their customer service is insanely good, turnaround time is incredible, and even with specials and sales, their prices are almost always the best.. in the rare times when they aren’t, I usually stick with them anyway because I know I can count on them to deliver a good product, and that’s easier than taking a chance to save a few dollars.

Your Gear:

Are you Canon or Nikon (or –other):
Canon all the way! I prefer the richer depth of the Canon to the higher saturated colors of the Nikon. But I always tell people that’s a Ford vs Chevy question.. everyone thinks the brand they have is the best, when really the differences are so minute it doesn’t make much of a difference at all. As long as you love what you have and it works for you, go with it!

If you could only have one lens on a photo shoot, what would it be?
I rarely ever change lenses mid-shoot, almost always have my 50mm 1.4 on my 1ds Mark II. Sometimes I switch to the 35mm if I’m in a small room. Never use zoom lenses.

What brand bag do you carry your camera in?
I have a fabulous jill-e medium leather in bright red. I’ve had it for two years now and it still looks brand new, despite the beating I give it! I’m kind of ready for a change just for style but can’t bring myself to get rid of this perfect bag!

What gear would we find in your camera bag?
As I said, just the 1ds MarkII with the 50mm lens, my 35mm 2.0, a backup battery, few CF cards, lip gloss and little goodies to hand out to kids after the session! (Love Oriental Trading for their great selection of tiny, cheap trinkets!)

Are you a natural light fan or strobe fan?
ALL natural light. Actually never shot with artificial lighting in my life.. even if we are indoors at a client’s home, you can always find the light somewhere.  Sometimes it forces me to be a little more creative, but that’s a good thing!

Are you PC or Mac?
PC! I actually have a brand new 19” MacBook Pro sitting on my desk, I just can’t make the switch. Again, Ford vs Chevy... I  just have been PC so long that I can find the buttons and clicks in my sleep, and having those tiny functions in different places stressed me out too much to stick it out.  I do use just about every other Apple product, so I thought I’d like the consistency. Maybe someday?

Your Tips and Tricks

What post processing tools do you use?
Photoshop, but very lightly. I was lucky enough to learn photography on film, so I perfected my basics without the crutch of being able to “fix it” later. I know enough Photoshop to tweak my images.. a little boost in contrast, warm them up, sharpen for print.. but not enough to clone heads or salvage an underexposed, out of focus file into something printable. I actually take pride in my poor editing skills.. I’d much rather be able to create a beautiful image with the camera than capture a decent shot and digitally configure something beautiful out of it. I think it’s become far too heavily used by photographers, and it saddens me to see perfect, natural, real children edited into plastic skinned, white eyed, super-sharp little robots. Kids are naturally a little messy, and that’s how I like them. Life is naturally imperfect, editing the pictures to look so only changes the record, not our memories, and that’s just not what I’m about.

Do you shoot in Raw or Jpeg?
Jpeg. I went through a Raw phase when I first started but I found if you are shooting in Manual (and know how to properly expose, white balance, etc) there really isn’t a big advantage to Raw, it just took up more disc space and slowed down my edit process.

Best advice you would give your 20-year old self?
Ha! Enjoy your metabolism.

Best advice you would give a new photographer?
I always tell people interested in the business to focus on the business end. Unless you really want to keep it a hobby, the business end is ten times more important than the photography end. You have to REALLY want it.. long hours, serious focus, and not long hours editing or shooting (the fun stuff) but long hours doing paperwork and taxes, creating marketing plans and following up with clients. I actually really love the marketing part of the business, but not everyone find this stuff as fun as I do, and I have seen so many really talented people burned out way too soon by the monotony of the back end. But it’s worth it!

What site do you use for your photography and why?
I had a bludomain site for years and loved it, but so many people I know are switching to Ipads or only accessing internet on their phones, so I wanted something non flash. I was keeping up a blog and a separate website just for clients, with FAQ and product info, so it made the most sense to combine them all. I now have a website with a built in blog and a section for clients.. soo much nicer to have it all in one place, and easily accessible to anyone! Also, as a side note, I’m reworking a lot of things on the blog this January, so if you check it now please come back again soon so you can see the new & improved version!

I do use StudioCloud for client contact information, bookkeeping, and online proofing (mini sessions order online, but everyone gets a preview gallery) and really love everything about their system. I was even able to embed the proofing aspect into the blog site, so it really is all connected.

What Else Should We Know?

What was your worst photography experience?
Hmmm nothing really stands out, although I did lose three clients’ worth of images in a computer crash a few years ago, that was horrifying and humiliating, having to go back and explain that their precious memories were gone forever. But on the plus side it taught me a valuable lesson, and I’ve been great about backing up ever since.

What would surprise people most about you, whether it is photography related or not?
I guess my age.. I look very young, it’s probably the number one comment from new clients.. I look too young to be a photographer, too young to be a mom, sound so much older on the blog, etc. I AM young (33) so there’s a little truth to it, but I’m certainly not the high school or college student people seem to think I resemble. But I’ve always been a little “wise beyond my years,” or so I’m told, so I guess I should get used to it!

Tell us something else you’d like us to know:
One thing I’ve really enjoyed is using my photography for charitable projects. From small things, like complimentary sessions for families in need, to bigger projects, like my photo essay I Fight Like a Girl, photography is a wonderful gift you can give to those less fortunate. It helps that there is virtually no cost to the photographer, if you find a local organization that could use new images for their website or to promote an event, you can give them that huge value with only your time, and maybe a CD to transfer the images. It’s a great option for those who don’t have a ton of cash to donate to favorite charities, but want to be involved. And keeping projects like that on my radar keeps me totally focused and grounded.. to photograph a family with a parent or child facing almost certain death, knowing these images will soon be all they have left to hold on to, is both a great honor and a tremendous responsibility. And it makes all those other hassles, like the client who wants you to change the color of their shirt with your magic computer, so much less stressful!

And just because we want to know you better, fill in the blanks

Three things I can’t live without….
Assuming the obvious like family and friends are off the table… First diet coke, the one and only vice I have, I drink way too much but can’t bring myself to stop. Next my iphone, it’s my clock, my calculator, my calendar, my lifeline to help and humor, my outlet for online shopping and lately, my onthespot camera of choice for capturing little moments with the family. And finally,

I wish I had more…..
Time, money, all the usual clichés can go here.. really I wish I spent less time wishing for more and enjoying what I have!

The best thing about being a photographer is…
Wow! There are so many things I love about this job, but I’d have to say that moment when a parent says “This picture is just SO her..” because I know, as a mom, what it means to have a physical representation of the magic that is your own child.. every now and then I get an image like that of my girls and I find myself drawn to it, just looking over and over at every little detail of the little people I love so dearly. To be able to give that to my clients is truly an honor that humbles me daily.

The most important lesson I ever learned was….
I think it would be to always try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes before making judgments or decisions. Whether it’s the car that just cut you off on the highway, the customer that keeps arguing the same minute point, or the child who’s spent the entire day fighting and crying, everyone has their side to the story. The person in the car might be speeding to see a loved one in the hospital, the customer is more than likely just confused by linguistics and needs a more clear explanation, and that child could use a nap and a hug. From business to personal, taking that extra second to see things from the other person’s point of view has never steered me wrong. Even when I know I still disagree with them, I can make a better argument in my favor if I can identify exactly where the problem lies, and approach it from that perspective. Everyone just wants to be heard, and I’ve never met a person who didn’t appreciate hearing a conversation start with “I understand.”

My favorite time of day is…
The first ten minutes after I’ve dropped everyone off at school. Not only is the house perfectly peaceful, I love the promise of a new day.. clean to-do list, fresh diet Coke.. for about ten minutes I feel blissfully invincible. And then, you know, the rest of the day barrels me down before I can get half of it done. But I always start my days thinking this might be the day to make it happen!

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