Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BEHIND THE LENS: Sarah Hancox, Ontario, Canada

Even though we are hundreds of miles apart, we can identify with Sarah completely. Raising a family and changing our tune from the corporate life to a photographer's life - what better life can there be? Sarah leveraged what she learned in the corporate world to her business fundamentals when she became a photographer around the same time we did, about 4 years ago.  Having kids, - trying to stay sane - changes you.  Our life direction takes on a new meaning and seeing through the lens of a camera help us all "see" things in a new way.  We are excited to introduce our new friend, Sarah Hancox!

Your Name: Sarah Hancox
Your studio/business name: Sarah Hancox Photography
Location: St. Catharines and Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada

Your Style

In 50 words or less, how would your clients describe your photography?

Calm, peaceful, simple and emotional are words I've heard. What I really work towards and what I love in an image is one that makes you FEEL something. I want for my clients (and myself) to look back at their images in the years to come and not just remember how they and their child looked or what they wore, but how they felt about each other at that time.

I found when I was selecting images for this post that I chose mostly all relationship images and I considered changing that. But, clearly it's the type of image that I love the most and it's what I feel i'm best at...so I’m going with it.

Are you self-taught or classroom trained?

A little of both. My educational background is in business which has helped me immensely on the business side. Photography is a second career for me and after I left the 9-5 world I began taking photography classes at my local college. This taught me the basics of shooting in manual mode, the “rules” of photography, lighting and portrait photography. However with that being said I would attribute most of my learning through trial and error as well as from an incredible online community of other photographers. 

How many years have you been a professional photographer?

3 years. 4 if you count the year I worked for free while building my portfolio.

Where do you want to take your photography business in 5 years?

This is such a tough industry to stay alive in so if in 5 years I’m still at it I’d be pretty happy, LOL. But really, I am right now in my first year of being able to do this full time now that my kids are all in full day school, so I would like to see my client base just continue to grow. I hope to see my existing clients to continue to come back and see progression in my own skills and creativity.

Basically, I would like to just continue to be able to do what I’m doing...because I just love it:)

Is there a photographer who inspires your style?  Who would that be?

That's hard to say. While I think I am definitely inspired and influenced by some current trends in photography, particularly lifestyle photography, and there are many photographers whose work I love, I don't think I have just one or even a few that directly influence what I do or how I do it. In fact I do try to make a point to avoid looking too much at others work in an attempt to stay true to my own style.

One thing I do is look back on my own work and pick out certain images that I have taken that I really love and look at where my strengths are and try to improve and grow from that.

Favorite location to take photos?

I love shooting outdoors in a quiet place that offers some privacy and little distractions for kids. I avoid anywhere with playground equipment or generally anything that may cause a child to scream at the top of their lungs “No pictures! I want to go to the park, I want ice cream, I want candy”. You  get the idea here?

Generally I prefer a natural setting like a walking trail or a beach or my clients home.

Favorite vacation spot?

I like to go somewhere different every time and I really can't say that I have one favorite spot as I tend to love everywhere I vacation. However I can tell you what my best vacation “experience” was. About 5 years ago my husband and I drove our three young kids out to North Carolina and rented a little beach house right on the ocean. It was very low key, we spent our day's hanging out on the beach and walking to the pier every evening for ice cream and the arcade. We ate, we drank and basically just spent time with each other. There was one morning that i'll never forget! I woke up out of nowhere at about 4:30am, which is bizarre for me as I am by no means a morning person. I headed out to the porch overlooking the ocean in pure darkness. Then suddenly I saw a sliver of light pop up over the ocean. I sat there, alone, and watched as the sun rose out of the ocean. Once there was just enough light I made my way down to the beach. Waves were crashing and birds were flying all around me...it was as if I were the only person in the world and this scene belonged only to me. And as cliché and cheesy as it may sound...I was changed by it. 

Your Business

What was the pivotal moment when you decided to become a photographer?

I would say that it was more of a series of life events rather than one moment. It's funny because although I’ve always enjoyed photography as a hobby, I never imagined that this would be my career. In my twenties I had a great job in human resources that I genuinely enjoyed and I had zero intentions on leaving it. But then, slowly, my life began to change as I had children. After baby number three I had gone back to work and our lives were just insane. The kids were in daycare and out of the house sometimes from the time they woke until near bedtime. I was making meals at 11 o clock at night for the night after. I was mopping floors and doing laundry at midnight. There was just no time together, I was treading water and I was exhausted. I felt like I was failing both at home and at work and was really disappointed in myself for not being able to manage it all. And then out of the blue one day I just quit. Not to become a photographer, but just because I was done.

Afterwards I went into full mommy mode trying to make up for what I had missed. I read books, took loads of pictures, went on the vacation I just mentioned above and basically reclaimed myself. And somewhere in this re-discovery of myself I realized that I didn't have to choose between a career and my family...I just had to do what I loved and on my own terms. And so the photography career began. 

What’s the best marketing tip that has worked for you?

I really love Seth Godins book the Purple Cow.  If you haven't read it, it discusses companies like Starbucks and Apple who practice simply being extraordinary as their marketing approach as opposed to old school advertising methods.  So with that in mind I focus on providing a very personal service to my clients, treating each client as if they're the only one and offering only products that I love.

What’s the most surprising thing a customer has asked you?

I once had a guy email me asking to do some marketing images for him. He sent me a link to what he had in mind and the first picture I saw was of hands pointing a gun straight out. That was a little freaky:). Still not sure why he asked a child photographer to do that, LOL.

I passed on that job.

Favorite print lab?

Pro Dpi. I love their deep matte prints! Willow Paper Works here in Ontario is also pretty awesome.

Your Gear

Are you Canon or Nikon?


If you could only have one lens on a photo shoot, what would it be?

50 1.4

What brand bag do you carry your camera in?

An old nine west diaper bag. It has so many little compartments and the bottle holders are perfect for extra lenses. I'm kind of cheap like that.

What gear would we find in your camera bag?

I'm actually not really as much of a “gear head” as I should be. I use a Mark ll and have at 40D as my back up. I have a few lenses on my wish list and sometimes rent but primarily I stick with my 50 1.4. I also have a 17-85 that I rarely use. A flash that I rarely use as well.

Are you a natural light fan or strobe fan?


Are you PC or Mac?


Your Tips and Tricks

What post processing tools do you use?

I'm a Lightroom girl all the way. I use photoshop only for design and the odd cloning. Most of the time I just bump up exposure slightly and play with the black slider. Lately I’ve really been into Kelly Hatchers moody presets, but I do tone them down quite a bit. 

Do you shoot in Raw or Jpeg?

Raw....because sometimes I mess up:)

Best advice you would give your 20-year old self?

I don't think I’d say much. I'm a woman of few regrets. I've made plenty of mistakes and bad decisions but I think I’ve learned from them and they make me who I am now. And I like me now.

However, if you were to ask me what I’d say to my teenaged self...well that would be a different story. I'd give that kid a good shake. But by 20 I was doing okay :)

Best advice you would give a new photographer?

Step out of your comfort zone.

What site do you use for your photography and why?

When I was first staring out I was on Flickr all the time. Some of the groups in there really cover and discuss the basics of this business.

Now I belong to a few Facebook groups but don't really spend too much time there.

What Else Should We Know?

1.                  I have the three awesomest kids ever! Liam, Lucas and Lilli aged 10, 7 and 6.
2.                  I'm a proud, crazy hockey mom..goalie mom to be specific.
3.                  I like wine...a little too much. Red in the winter, white in the summer.
4.                  My strange addiction is nachos....it's a bit of a problem.
5.                  Im a strange combination of the sappy, sensitive type with a sarcastic sense of humour.
6.                  I was born in Blind River, Ontario.
7.                  My husband (Simon) is ridiculously funny and makes me laugh all the time.
8.                  I love new age self help books. Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra are my favorites.
9.                  I get stupidly excited every time I get a new client.
10.              I like to make moms cry...in a good way.

What was your worst photography experience?

My biggest nightmare is doing a bad job for a client. Early on it happened. I had a shoot, the pictures were crap, I had to call the client and tell them so....in a roundabout way. It was awful! Enough said.

What would surprise people most about you, whether it is photography related or not?

I don't have many photos hanging in my home. I am a terrible critic of myself and find flaws in almost every single photo I take of my own family...to the point where I can't bring myself to hang them. It's pretty stupid when I think of it.

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

Three things I can’t live without….

1.                  my kids...obviously.
2.                  My blackberry (although I wish it were an iPhone).
3.                  Nachos:)

I wish I had more…..

Discipline or character to be the person I read about in all my self help books. More time to photograph my own kids and family members. More creativity.  More money to grow my business. More Facebook likers (currently 19 away from 1000). More clients. More clothes. More of a clean house!

But..whatever!!! lol:)

The best thing about being a photographer is…

My absolute favorite thing is hearing my client’s reactions to their images. It makes me feel like what I do is meaningful.

I also LOVE being my own boss. I've never been one to take orders and have always been a “my way” kind of girl..so this works for me really well.

The most important lesson I ever learned was….

To live in the moment. Although it's still a struggle.

My favorite time of day is…

As much as I love my kids and husband my favorite time of day is at about 8:30am on weekdays when everyone leaves for school and work. My mornings are pretty hectic trying to get everyone ready for their day and then suddenly, the house is silent, i'm alone to enjoy my coffee while I check out Facebook before starting my own day.

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