I have sent out many, many interviews to a variety of photographers, But there were none I was more excited about that interviewing Hunter! Although we’ve never met in person, I feel that he has influenced my business in the ways of branding and a customers experience, more than anyone. Hunter is a Wedding Photographer, Based in Cleveland, Ohio. I have read over his tips for photographers and I try to emulate his ways of branding and providing a excellent customer experience. He is known for his customer service and high quality images, All I aspire to do is to have a faction of his success. Lets get to it.
It would be awesome if you could give a little history on you and your photography career?
The arc of my photography career really mirrors that of others. My father (below) put a cheap SLR camera in my hands when I was ten and I never let it go. After shadowing photographers during high school career days, I convinced myself in college that I needed to pursue a serious career. Photography went into the closet during college. Afterwards, I picked it up again as a hobby while I spent more than a decade working in technology. About 5-6 years ago, I began to get really serious about photography after a life changing vacation to Costa Rica. More than ever, photography became an insatiable passion. About 4.5 years ago, friends asked me to photograph their wedding. I insisted they hire a pro, but they wouldn’t consider anyone else. 2010 was a slow year, but I was taking on some work. In 2011, I had work coming out of my ears, but I thought it wasn’t enough. By October, 2011 it became clear that something had to change. So, I left my substantial career in technology and I’m now proud to call myself a full-time photographer.
Are you a self taught photographer or did you have a mentor that showed you the ropes or did you attend school?
I am exclusively self-taught. That’s not to say that I just went out and started booking clients. You really can’t do that. For years, I dedicated myself to learning the craft and technical skills on my own. I became prolific in my work and really challenged myself to constantly improve. The effort I invested probably exceeds what most people put into photography school. They don’t know it, but people like Jonathan Canlas, Jose Villa, Jay Eads, Kirk Mastin, the Brothers Wright, David Hobby, and Sally Mann are my mentors. Well, Jay knows he is.
[W]as there a defining moment when you knew that it was time to take pictures professionally or was it a gradual transition?
Yes, there certainly was a defining moment. I had just finished shooting a wedding for friends after being reluctantly dragged into it. My wife was present at the wedding as a guest. My brother came along just to help me. At the end of the night, we stood in our hotel room and popped a bottle of champagne and had cupcakes. As soon as the cork was out of the bottle, I knew everything had changed. It had to change. This is from my first wedding and it’s still in my portfolio -
Sometimes when I am shooting photography it feels very spiritual and photo ops simply present themselves as a gift….do you ever feel that way and do you think there is such a thing as someone really having a “natural eye” for photography?
When my work is going well, I can definitely feel the excitement. Occasionally I will chimp my camera and see something magical. I look for real emotions in my photos and when I spy one, it still get excited. Some may certainly have a more natural eye than others. Possessing a gift may make it easier for them to learn, but it’s certainly not a given. Anyone can learn to have a great eye, and those with a gift can waste it away. In short, I believe anyone can become great. No matter your gifts, you must hustle. I’ve gotten some lucky shots. But my best work is deliberately forged.
Do you rely on lighting (natural, or artificial), or do you rely on dark-room/computer manipulation?
My photographs depend on a few things. First and most important is emotion. Core to my style is to represent real emotions whenever possible. I can only achieve that goal at the time of capture. Similarly, I also look to capture the other aspects of my style at the time of capture – good exposure, the right colors, dream-like lighting, etc. I really prefer to not do much manipulation afterwards. As for natural vs. artificial light – I use good light. I really don’t care much about the source. That being said, I tend to favor natural light for the greater simplicity.
Do You Have A Favorite All-Around Lens…If So What Is It?
Absolutely! When working with digital, it’s my Nikon 50mm f1.4. When working with medium-format film, it’s my Mamiya 80mm f2.8. While the focal lengths of these lenses are technically different, they are actually very similar. Once you factor in the different between medium-format and 35mm digital, the perspective of both lenses is the same. Both are great all-around lenses and the wide apertures create dream-like worlds.
In general, during a wedding, how many pics would you say you take and how many would you deliver to the client
I take too many, plain and simple. This is actually an area where I am still working to improve. I over-shoot constantly, but I am getting much better. My goal is to shoot less, but keep more, because it will improve my editing workflow. As for client delivery, very good question. I edit extremely tight and honestly believe that there is such thing as too many photos. I typically deliver 400-600 for a full day wedding. Anything more would be over-kill. I feel like my clients would lose the story with too many photos.
I started my business doing nothing but custom packages. I would ask my clients what they wanted, and would quote accordingly. But that approach created a problem. When faced with a blue-sky question of “what would you like”, many didn’t know how to answer. So, I decided to create three simple. They were based on what current clients already wanted. I kept the packages simple by offering one base of services, and then adding a little more at each level. Pricing was tough, and still is. Basically, my price reflects three things – the bare minimum I need to charge to stay in business, giving my customers the best work I can afford, and acting as a throttle on demand. The throttle part is important. If I price too low, then I booked up fast with non-ideal clients. If I price too high, then I don’t book at all.
Trust Me, You are known for your service and your “Gifts” for your clients, What made you decide to change your entire company?
I’m glad I am know for both of those things. The concept has been with me since day one. There were a couple things that drove me to build my business around service and appreciation. My father is a small business owner and I have always watched the dedication he shows to his clients. Service level is paramount for him, and it has become paramount for me. I’m certainly not the best photographer ever, so I make sure to provide the best service. Also, my wife and I love to eat out. Like any other diner, we love good service and a little appreciation. Often we go out of sushi and our local joint gives nice little extras to those sitting at the sushi bar. My desire to show clients appreciation has it’s inception in sushi dinners. This idea has become the core of my brand – give appreciation and achieve such a high service level that clients believe I gave them a gift. I want to be so good that they forget they paid me.
What is the ONE lasting impression you want to leave in your photos?
A feeling of lightness and positive emotions. Joy, maybe.
What is your number one tip for branding for other photographers?
Above all else – know your ideal client and go after them with your branding.
What are the pros and cons of being a photographer? Please be specific
Crap, it’s all cons. Seriously, unless you can’t live without being a professional photographer, than don’t do it. I have no weekends. I have few holidays. I work 12 hours-a-day and would make more money asking “would you like fries with that?” But, and this is a big “but”, I am soooo happy. I’ve never been happier in my life. Photography is my dream, so it doesn’t feel like work. My advice – unless there is no other choice, don’t become a professional photographer. Instead, be the best damn amateur you can be. There is lot’s of respect in that.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you want to be? Why?
Tough question. I used to be a technology project manager, but I’m sure I don’t want that again. I love auto racing and wine (clearly not together). I could be a driver or a vintner.
What type of reading do you do on a daily basis?
Massive amounts. While I do from time to time, I’m not the type to sit down and read a book. My reading is mostly online and comprised of either news or photography. In the news I watch business, technology, science and sociology. There is a lot of inspiration to be found in science overall. In photography, I constantly look for new influences, visual styles and voices. I’m looking for inputs to my own vision so that I can constantly grow and mature. I spend about 1-2 hours daily reading. A little more on Sundays.
What made you decide your type of client? and what did you use if anything to help you find out?
Finding my type of client was really about finding me, or my friends. I’m the kind of person who keeps a very small, but very intimate group of friends. In my ideal client, I hope to find people similar to my friends with whom I can relate. And it’s worked! Some of my clients remain friends with my wife and I until today. After all, everyone wants to work with people they genuinely like.
Again, many many thanks!