Photographers Who Inspire: | Angela Weedon

by Liz LaBianca
Please welcome Dallas area photographer, Angela Weedon.  Angela and her husband Matt have been photographing the families of Dallas, TX since 2000. Angela provides amazing insight and advice in this Photographers Who Inspire interview.  Be sure to check out her website and beautiful studio located right next door to their home!

Who was your original inspiration when you started your business? Who inspires you now?
Honestly when we started, there weren’t too many other people doing what we do. Matt and I had just returned back to the states after living overseas — we worked as scuba instructors and dive crew on a live-aboard dive boat in the Pacific, and we supplemented our income with underwater stock photography. We had tons of photo equipment that needed to be put to work! I began taking photos of my nephew and friends’ kids. After taking dark room classes at a community college, I knew I wanted to specialize in black and white fine art photography. In addition to our small client base at the time, I shot for Christine Meeker, a photographer out of Houston, as her Dallas base. She and her husband Mark have a wonderful business, and they priced their work very well. I learned so much from them (and was very inspired by them) in that year. I think right now who inspires me most are Bobbi and Mike, out of Indianapolis. We had our family photographed by them last year. With each blog post I see from them, I am amazed at the emotion and FUN they bring out of their subjects. I really think the rapport and ease a subject has with the photographer makes or breaks an image. Of course, I am also very inspired by Barb Uil….who isn’t? ;)

What was the hardest part of starting your own business? What do you wish you would have known?
The hardest part of starting our business was figuring out that I couldn’t do it all on my own! In the beginning, I was answering the phone, doing the shoots solo, doing the sales, printing everything in the dark room myself, etc. Well that lasted about 3 months. I think I had a total of 5 hours of sleep that whole time. Matt was still marketing his travel photography to magazines and books when I asked him if he could answer the phone and start assisting me at the shoots to change the film and hold the reflector. Well that quickly morphed into him running the entire business, being the most amazing photo assistant/ kid wrangler in history, and having such a great relationship with our clients that we joke he is the most popular therapist in Dallas. These moms tell him everything! ;) Matt had always had is own business. He went to his first tax preparation seminar at age 12 for his lawn business he owned for 10 years! I am a firm believer that if you want your business to actually be successful, it must be run with someone with a business mind. I really don’t have that, so we make a great team.

Tell us about your favorite lens and why it is #1 in your camera bag over your other lenses
That’s really hard because there is not just one. For outdoor shoots, I can for sure say my fav is the Canon 70-200 2.8L. I just got the new version this fall and I really love it. I know there is a lot of buzz in our industry that Nikon is sharper than Canon, especially with that lens, but for me it works great. I just need to make sure to shoot it pretty fast… 1/320 as a minimum….and it’s tack sharp and super fast! I think my “look” is achieved by a long lens, and since I work with Matt assisting in sessions, it works for me to have some distance from my subject. I know photographers working solo need to stick with wider lenses for that reason, but I really do not prefer the perspective of 50mm lens with portraits. In studio, I use 3 lenses pretty much equally- I use the 50mm 1.2 when working with a newborn on a bean bag, so I can be very close, the 100 mm macro for close up faces and baby parts, and the 85mm 1.8 for all other studio portraiture.

Manual Focus or Auto Focus
The only time I ever do manual is when I’m having a hard time with close up baby parts in low light. Otherwise, I am always shooting auto focus, center weighted. Then I recompose.

Photoshop or Lightroom – or both. How long does it take for you to get your proofs to your clients?
Both. Our office assistant Amy imports the RAW images into Lightroom, where she does basic color and exposure tweaks. I then come in and fine tune the files in the Lightroom catalog and burn those to jpg. These are then our proofs. All fully edited images — those ordered as portraits or albums by clients or seen on my site or blog — are finished up in Photoshop by our digital guy, James. He is amazing. The proofs are ready about a week after the session.

With the demand for digital images on the rise – Do you sell your Jpegs?
Nope. Since we focus our product line on fine art wall displays and heirloom albums, each ordered image gets a lot of time and care in editing and retouching. We want to have control from beginning to end on the production of each piece because we truly want our client to be receiving and hanging on their wall the best quality possible. We do know that people want digital versions of the images, so we provide social networking/digital frame sized files of every image ordered or house within an album. They are delivered with the final product on these really cute wooden flash drives burned with our logo.

How many photos do you typically take in a full session? How many do you edit and do you ever show your un-edits to clients?
Humm, it depends. In a studio session I might shoot 200-300 images. Outdoors maybe 500. That seems like so many when I type that!!!! I used to keep a shoot to 2 rolls of film, 72 frames max! But since our style has evolved into capturing the emotion, energy and joy of kids and families, I really need to shoot a lot to capture just the right moments. We typically proof about 60-80 frames. I know it’s the cardinal sin of many photographers to proof so much…..but it works for us. Our goal is to make an album from each of our sessions, so we want to present a lot of really wonderful images from which to build the album. Our proofs are color corrected and cropped, but are generally not fully edited and retouched (except for head swaps as needed and retouching that is integral to the image). Our clients do see select fully edited images from their session on my blog and in the recommendations that we give with each proof presentation.

How do you handle Family and close friends who want to hire you? Do you offer any discounts?
Ugh. That’s so hard. I love gifting our family and friends with what we do. I absolutely hate to exchange money with them though. We try to trade services a lot so we don’t have to do that. As an example, one of our best friends is an attorney, and he set up our will for us years ago. So whenever we photograph their family, we do it as a gift and know that he will help us out with his expertise as needed. Another friend of ours is great at videography, so he just videoed a session that we did and is working on a promo video in exchange for portraits of his own family. If there is really nothing to trade, I typically do the session without a fee for friends and family and give them discounted prices (25 to 50%, depending on the product), or just make gift prints that I like and give them. It’s just yucky doing business with those you love and sadly I cannot accommodate their holiday sessions because there is just not enough time in the day.

How do you break the ice in the beginning of the session and get families to loosen up?
Matt and I like to start each session photographing the kids without the parents. We get down to their level, playing and joking around a lot before we ever bust out the camera. Matt is a total nut and kids love him, so it typically does not take very long at all. When the parents see their kids having such a blast, they are already loosened up before we ever put them in front of the camera.

Ok – I admit it, before a shoot I take photos on my camera of inspirational poses so that if I am on a shoot and get “stuck” I know that the first 10 images will quickly get me out of my rut. Do you have any tricks or tips that you want to share with us?That is such a good idea! I’ll have to try that. Whenever I am in a rut in a session, I like to just change my lens and shoot as if I were shooting for me and not the client. Not thinking too hard is liberating.

We have all had the hard clients. Can you share a story of a difficult shoot and how you handled it?
Well I can honestly say that our clients are really great and I don’t have any horror stories or anything like that. But a couple years ago we were hired to do a family session in Aspen. Not bad, huh? The problem was that the kids were 4 month old twins. We had decided on 2 sessions while there, one with the immediate family and one with the extended family. OK, well the day of the first session the parents decided that they did not want to be in any of the images. And the babies of course were not even sitting up yet. And the client insisted that we do the session right after their morning nap, at 11:30 am. OK, so 2 babies at high noon who don’t sit up, outside. Hard but I guess doable because we brought a bunch of buckets and things to put the babies in. But then the client decided at the last minute to include the 2 year old and 3 month old cousins in the the images as well. Oh my. So there we were in a forest (needed the shade due to the time of day….no Aspen mountain vistas in those images) with 3 crying babies and a restless toddler in baskets and laying on blankets. What a mess. It was a good lesson for us to remember to call the shots for our sessions, even if the client seemingly has the upper hand. I think about what kind of images could have been made from that session had we insisted on different circumstances, and it makes me sad. :(

If you weren’t a photographer, what would be your dream profession?
Running scuba diving charters with Matt around the world, or having a b and b on a beach somewhere.

Who helps you out behind the scenes? Do you have an assistant or a special family member?
Oh man, I have so much help! Of course, my husband Matt runs the show. He handles all things business, accounting, client relations, ordering, etc. He also assists in sessions. He is Mr. Everything. Then we have the amazing Amy, who works in our office with Matt. She starts the proofing process for all our sessions, packages orders, begins card and album design, and is there to help pick up our kids from carpool when I am tied up in a session. And we also have James, who has been with us for 10 YEARS!!! I cannot believe that! We hired him originally to take over for me in the dark room when we wanted to get pregnant. When we switched to digital in 2006, he then switched to doing all the file preparation and retouch. What so cool about James is that he moved to Thailand 4 years ago! He, his wife Oiy, and son Liam live in Bangkok. We share all our files via iDisk, and he clocks between 40-50 hours a week working exclusively for us.

You just won the jackpot ..what is in your dream camera bag?
Well I guess I don’t need to win the jackpot for this, but I’d like to get a little 35mm 1.8 lens for my 7D that I keep in the house. Dreaming big here! ;)

Have you ever taken a Workshop? Which one and was it worth it?
When I first started 12 years ago there weren’t workshops like now, so I lived on for a while. A few years ago, I decided to take a couple. I went to one of the first Kelley Ryden/Tracey Raver workshops in Nebraska. I learned so much from them, even though I had been photographing newborns for lots of years. They were so awesome and my sales from our newborn sessions actually doubled after shooting using their techniques.

Name one person who you would love to photograph
More Operation Smile kids. I got to accompany an OpSmile medical mission to Honduras in 2007, and it was a life changing experience. Photographing the transformation of the children before and after a surgery that gives them a smile puts all of our blessings into perspective. I’d love to witness it again.

What was your original gear and when did you start upgrading your equipment.
We started out with Nikon 35mm equipment and a gorgeous Contax 645 medium format system. We just sold the Contax stuff last year. :( We switched to Canon after one miserable year shooting the Nikon D2X when we went digital. It was a bad camera. Bad, bad. Since then we have used the Canon 5D, and now I’m onto our second 5D Mark II. I am so not a gear girl….if it works, that’s great. I’m never chasing down the latest and greatest. We are still using the same Photogenic lights in the studio we have had for a decade.

Seeing so many photographers burn out and quit their business – how do you avoid falling into that trap?
-Don’t try to do everything yourself.
-Outsource or hire an assistant.
-Stay away from too many forums. I think the veil of the computer screen is dangerous and people just act too unkindly in our industry. It’s such an energy suck!
-Charge what you are worth!! Do a cost analysis of your business and make sure you are making a decent wage for your family. The prices that some photographers charge are just crazy town….and when they give all the files on disk, assuming that they are all retouched and edited….I just cannot imagine how buried the photographer must feel. It’s no wonder photographers are “retiring” after 2 years in business.

What has been your proudest moment in your business?
Photographing kids this fall that are taller than me, that we had photographed as newborns. The trust and loyalty that our clients have shown us through the years makes us very proud.

What would we be surprised to find out about you?
I am scared of the moon and all things celestial. I cannot explain it, and I know it is very odd. ;)

What is on your Bucket list?
Spending a month or so in Palau with our kids. That is where Matt and I worked for 3 years in the western Pacific, and we’d love to live it again through our kids’ eyes.

Hi and thanks for giving me the opportunity to share here!  My husband Matt and I are a husband and wife photo team celebrating our twelfth year of photographing the most beautiful and fun families of Dallas, Texas. We specialize in showcasing the love and joy of families in beautiful wall portraits and heirloom albums.  We have two really great kids ourselves…Ava is  8 and Cal is 5. Our studio is located right next door to our home, so we can spend as much time with them as possible.  In our former lives, Matt and I worked as scuba instructors and traveled around the world photographing tropical imagery for magazines and books.  These days our travel takes us around the country photographing families that have grown up with our art on their walls.  It’s a real blessing.

In addition to photographing families, our passion is giving back. Our studio has proudly supported Operation Smile since 2005. Since then, we have been able to provide the funds to help save over 200 smiles!

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