Photographers Who Inspire | Tony Hoffer

Welcome to week two of our 2012 Summer Series of Photographers Who Inspire.  This week we are joined by the delightfully funny and incredibly talented Tony Hoffer of Hoffer Photography.  Great photographers are uncommon and are in a class of their own; then there are truly unique photographers like Tony and his wife Amy who raise the bar to another level with their own artistic element.  If you are not familiar with the work of Hoffer Photography, you are really missing out!  It is our honor and privilege to present to you Tony Hoffer!

 

Who or what was your original inspiration when you started your business? Who inspires you now?

I’m incredibly uninformed when it comes to the work of other photographers and I always have been. I enjoy creating the art much more than I enjoy looking at it. So for the most part, the only photographers I like are my friends that I know. That’s not just a current thing either. I know very little about photographers and pioneers from the past. It’s just not where my interest lies. So when I started, my inspiration was the staff of photographers that worked at the magazine where I worked. I wanted to make work that was good enough that I didn’t embarrass them with. Now, I’m much more inspired by our clients. By their ideas and hopes. Trying to give them a better looking version of whatever it is that they’re looking for.

What was the hardest part of starting your own business? What do you wish you would have known?

For most artists, then hardest thing is actually running the business. We’ve been lucky that we’ve never had to work too hard to get clients. But running a business was certainly an eye-opening experience at first. I had no idea how much it costs to have a real, sustainable business. I wish I had known that when we started. A while back we were just flying by the seat of our pants. For example, we didn’t know that we had to pay Sales Tax… Then when we finally asked about it, we got hit with a 2 year tax bill with penalties. That hurt.

You are well known for your unique and artistic style. How do you keep your work fresh in an industry that runs the risk of producing somewhat manufactured poses and looks?

The goal for us is to be different and LISTEN to clients. Those two things tend to go hand in hand. Too many people look the same because too many people are looking at too many other people for “inspiration” (aka copying). Art can certainly mean whatever we want it to. For us it means that we serve our clients in the best way possible… by listening to them. People are different and creative and their ideas are what makes our work seem different and creative. It’s really a pretty easy strategy that way.

Have you attended workshops in the past (which ones), and do you still attend workshops? If not, how have you educated yourself?

I attended WPPI one year. It made me realize that I don’t really learn well from listening to other speakers talk. I still believe in workshops though. We’ve taught a few and have been completely amazed at the progress and success that a lot of students have had. Quite frankly it’s been surprising to see everything that people are accomplishing.

Mostly I educate myself through reading, trial and error and by making mistakes. Whenever I’m feeling like I’m creatively tapped or in need of something new I remind myself to go out and be willing to make mistakes. It helps me so much.

What was your original gear and when did you start upgrading your equipment?

I started with a Canon Rebel XT and a Sigma 18-50 2.8. Pretty advanced stuff. I still use them to this day.

Ok, not really. I was working another job at the time so for the first year or two I used pretty much all the photo money to buy new gear.

Tell us about your favorite lens and why it is #1 in your camera bag over your other lenses.

The Canon 35L is by far my favorite lens because you have to work and you have to be good to make that thing shine. Taking a super-wide or telephoto lens automatically makes things look aesthetically different than the human eye. Since the 35 is so close to how people see, it really requires work and vision to get it to be interesting. I love the challenge of that.

Photoshop or Lightroom? Or both? How long does it take you to get your proofs to your clients?

LIGHTROOM! We’ve actually never processed photos in PS. We still use it, but very seldom. We actually put out a Workflow DVD in 2011 based on our love of Lightroom and InDesign.

Our clients always see a blog post within a few days. Then our portrait clients get their proofs in 1-2 weeks. Wedding clients are usually in 2-3 weeks.

How do you break the ice in the beginning of a session?

I thought about this for a while before realizing that we really don’t. I try to resist photographer cliches at all cost, so we don’t really play games with our clients. We talk to them as if we were talking to anyone else in our lives. When we start a shoot we ask them about their lives or about things we already know about them. At some point we start shooting. There’s not much science to it. We just try to keep people engaged and happy. Sometimes that means chatting for 20 minutes before we start shooting, sometimes we take a shot before we even say a word.

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?

Between the two of us we shoot anywhere from 400-600 photos for a typical maternity session. We usually end up delivering over 100. Sometimes more, but never less than that.

We would NEVER show an unfinished file to a client. This philosophy applies as much to this topic as it does to branding/websites/personalities: Never let clients see anything but your best foot forward.

Who helps you behind the scenes? Do you have an assistant or a famliy member?

Well there’s two of us (my wife Amy and I) that work full time with the business. Then we have an associate photographer (the amazingly talented Chuck Anerino) and a pair of Lindsays that do some editing and studio managing for us, respectively.

With the demand for digital images on the rise, do you offer them as part of your packages for your clients?

We offer them with everything we shoot, but we always charge for them. We have higher packages that include them as well. We never give them away. Photos need to be printed. It’s what they were made for. So our goal is either to have clients purchase printed products or pay enough for the digital files that they know we’ll scold them if they don’t print them!

Can you share a story of a difficult shoot and how you handled it?

I don’t really like to talk about difficult clients publicly. We all have them and if you want the scoop you need to buy us dinner :)

I can perhaps talk about what made our decision to stop shooting newborns and to ease off on family shoots. Over the period of a couple months (or years) there were a few things that we noticed that were making it difficult for us to shoot newborns. The first is that neither of us are very patient people. The second is that we felt like most newborn photography looks EXACTLY the same. Like incredibly similar. So we tried to do a different style and it just proved to be far too difficult to differentiate ourselves in that market. It’s not our strength. So now we refer those inquiries to others.

How do you handle family and close friends who want to hire you? Do you offer any discounts?

One of my biggest soapbox topics is about discounting. I’ve long been on record as saying that photographers should NEVER EVER discount their services. It hurts your brand, it hurts your feelings, it sometimes hurts your work and it almost always comes directly out of your pocket (since fixed costs rarely change). If a photographer feels they need to discount than A) Their prices are too high (This is almost never the case) or B) Their branding needs to get better (This is almost always the case).

So, with that said… No, we don’t discount. We do work for free and we do that quite a bit. It’s always on our terms and time. We love shooting and we love our friends and family. If we have the opportunity, we often offer ourselves up for them. But it has to be on our terms. As soon as someone asks us it feels like work… and that’s when we say no.

What is one thing we would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m an alien. While that’s not true, I bet you would be surprised to learn that.

People are usually surprised/alarmed/scared/grossed out by how tall I am (6’6″). But after you get to know me I seem like I’m only 6’5.75″

Name one person you would love to photograph.

I would love someone famous to let me photograph them my way. Celebrities never really interested me because (understandably) you have to work on their terms. I’d love for someone famous to fall in love with our work and let us do whatever we want. So with that in mind, the most unlikely person would probably be the Royal Family or someone like that who is extremely guarded.

What is on your “Bucket List”?

I really want to photograph on all 7 continents. So far we’ve worked on 3 (North America, Africa, Europe). We have enough connections to get at least 2 or 3 more probably. Antarctica would be tough and we hate the cold.

Aside from this wonderful IMB interview, what has been your proudest moment in your business?

I think there’s a few that stand out to me:

1. When I went full time and then when Amy went full time. All these years later we still cope with how to fully embrace self-employment.
2. When my dad contacted me to tell me about a photo I took that was his favorite ever… and I got to tell him that it was Amy’s.
3. Whenever clients fly us somewhere to shoot for them.
4. Getting to shoot in Kenya for an amazing organization that we supported for a long time (edukenya.org)
5. When our associate won two WPJA 1st place awards his first time entering.

Name two photographers you would like to see IMB interview.

Well I’m not sure that this would be practical for [IMB], but my favorite photographer is Nick Brandt and I’d love to see him interviewed anywhere by anyone. Other than that, I’m really interested to hear people who have been in business for a LONG time. Like 20+ years. Just to hear their experience and thoughts about relevancy.

 

 

I’m Tony Hoffer. My wife Amy and I own Hoffer Photography. We work and live in Downingtown, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. We suppose that we don’t exactly live a normal life, but we tend to like it that way. Not many people can say that their mom started their business by accident, that they work with their spouse or that they base buying a new house around a particular grocery store. But we can, we do and we did. We’re Amy and Tony Hoffer. We shoot weddings, portraits and just about anything else we can get our cameras on.

A few years back we got into this business headfirst, and with a little good fortune and a lot of amazing clients, it began to grow into what it is today. We love our jobs almost as much as we love the people that we get to work for. We’re laid back people. We smile a lot. We laugh a lot. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. But most of all we care about making great images. Over the years we’ve worked hard to do that for every individual and couple that we shoot for. After all, our job isn’t really about us, it’s about them.

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