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May 13, 2010

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER INTERVIEW: PETER GARR

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Written by: Lawrence

“I focus strictly on wedding photography.  I believe that it’s better for me to be a GREAT wedding photographer than a mediocre “everything” photographer.”

Portrait by: http://www.maggieharkov.com/

PAST

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: In your early years of high school, were you involved in the yearbook ? What sparked your interest in photography?

PETER GARR:  I’ve been taking snapshots as far back as I can remember.  Early on I would shoot using my dad’s Kodak 110 pocket camera.  When I was about 12 or 13, I finally got my own camera — a Kodak Disc.  I had a lot of fun with that little Disc camera.  Around the same time, I started shooting with my uncle’s Nikon FE 35mm camera, which is how I learned to operate a manual 35mm SLR.  I still have that camera and love bringing it out from time to time!  By the age of 15 or 16, I wasn’t interested in photography as much as I was interested in playing drums and making music in punk and metal bands, but I was always the default photographer for family and social events.  By the time I was 19, my new love was computers and digital technology.  It wasn’t until years later, when digital cameras started to hit the market, that my interest in photography was renewed.  It was when cameras became little computers that my passion really started.

I took a trip to visit my old friend, Robert Orth (http://desertphotographer.net/), in Tucson, Arizona in 2003 when my interest really sparked.  I showed up in Tucson with my little Canon A40 digital compact camera only to have Rob take me on several day-long photography field trips throughout the Arizona desert.  Although Rob was shooting a Canon EOS 10D, I was still impressed with the photos I took with my A40 and from then on all I wanted to do was shoot!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Do you still have photos taken from the early years when it all started? What were your subjects? Are the  digital photography pictures online to share with everyone to compare with your photography work today?

PETER GARR:  The photos from my early digital days were mostly of my wife (my girlfriend at the time) and her four sisters, plus anything and everything along the way — birds, flowers, streams, and trees… especially trees.  I love taking photos of trees!  Sorry, but these photos aren’t online for public viewing.  However, if you come to my house I’ll make sure to torture you by making you sit through a long, boring slideshow of my early “work” along with my running commentary.  Hahaha!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  What books did you read at the beginning of your wedding photography career that helped you prepare for today? Title of book, author and price of book please…just messing around, the title of the books should be fine thanks to google search. Do you recall any other resources that you referred to heavily to help you prepare for the wedding photography business? We want to know what the must have resources are to fully equip ourselves when and if we ever plan to take that leap of faith into wedding photography.

PETER GARR:  My favorite books pertaining to photography, and the ones that have taught me the most are:

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
Fast Track Photographer by Dane Sanders
À Propos de Paris by Henri Cartier-Bresson
The Business of Studio Photography: How to Start and Run a Successful Photography Studio by Edward Lilley
Wedding Photography: Art, Business & Style by Steve Sint

I also spent a lot of time reading and posting on some online forums, including:
Digital Grin (http://www.dgrin.com)
Open Source Photo (http://www.opensourcephoto.net/forum/)

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  What was your very first professional wedding photography job? Was this purely out of luck that you were at the right place at the right time?  How did you get your first wedding photography job? Once you had your first job under your belt was it difficult to get another wedding photography job? What did you do to acquire more work besides providing awesome images?

PETER GARR:  In 2005, my wife gave me the original Canon Digital Rebel as a Christmas gift.  This was a huge leap forward for me from my A40.  I was eager to do great things with that camera.  The year prior, I shot, for free of course, one of my sister-in-law’s wedding with my A40 compact.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen photos from a wedding shot by an amateur hobbyist using nothing but a 2.0 MP point-and-shoot with direct flash in a low-light chapel, but it sure left A LOT to be desired!

My good friend Danny Baker of Epic Imagery (http://www.epicimagery.com) has been a wedding photographer for more than ten years.  I’ve known Danny since before the camera bug bit me.  Shortly after I got my Digital Rebel, I asked Danny if I could tag along with him to assist on a low-key, off-season wedding for a mutual friend of ours that he was shooting and that my wife and I were invited as guests to.  Not only did he have me join him to assist, he also let me shoot as a second and he even paid me a few bucks!  I’ve continued to shoot with Danny many times over the years and he’s been instrumental in my career.  Many of my favorite weddings that I’ve shot have been with Danny.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: After your first photography job, What was the next photography gig you obtained and how did you go about your execution? Did you apply all that you’ve learned in all the photography books you’ve read ? Did you buy more photography books or accessed any more photography resources to help you jump to your next big step in the game of photography? What tools do you recommend that are a must have that helped you get to where you are present day?

PETER GARR:  I spent my first year as a professional photographer strictly second shooting for other studios.  After my first job second shooting for Epic Imagery, I continued second shooting for Epic, and I still do to this day.  I also started calling and emailing other studios asking if they needed a second shooter and responded to classified ads on Craigslist from studios looking for second shooters.  In my first year, I must have been a second shooter for over a dozen weddings between three or four different studios.


In January 2007, one year after my first job as a second shooter, I booked my first solo wedding for March 2007.  In February, I booked another wedding for that summer.  At the time I was doing business under the name “In The Moment Photography.”  One thing I learned was that I needed to personalize my brand in order to connect better with people, so I changed the name of my business from “In The Moment Photography” to “Peter Garr Photography.”  My name is actually Peter Garabetian, but since my long Armenian last name has always been a struggle for most people to pronounce, spell, and remember, I shortened it to just the first syllable, from Garabetian to Garr, and, as they say, the rest is history.

I didn’t buy any new books or other tools at that time, although I was blessed by a very generous gift given to me by a close relative.  At the time I knew I needed to buy some new lenses and other gear in order to take the next step in my photography.  I had already bought myself a new EOS 30D body, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens, and I was renting a Speedlight whenever I had a second shooter job.  Prior to booking my first solo wedding, I reached out and asked a relative for a small business loan in order to buy the gear I needed.  To my amazement, rather than giving me the loan, he offered to buy the equipment for me – free and clear!  It really is exceptional to have someone care enough and believe in me enough to be so generous.  I don’t take this generosity for granted at all and I know how powerful the spirit of giving is in the lives of both the giver of  and the receiver.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without the faith and graciousness of others.

So what tools do I believe are a must have? Without a doubt — relationships.  Without the healthy and positive relationships I have with family and other photographers, I would never have had the opportunity to work as a second shooter with all the studios I have.  The experience as a second shooter is how I learned about shooting weddings.  Working with different photographers and observing their varied styles of shooting, interacting with subjects, and their approach to the entire wedding.  No two photographers are the same, so having exposure to different photographers while working as their second shooter has helped me immensely.  Also my relationship with my relative who, instead of giving a loan, gave me the equipment I needed.  As people, and as photographers, relationships are the core of who we are.  We need to reach out, ask for help, offer to help, and be genuine in everything we do.  I always hear David Jay echo a quote by Tim Sander which states that, “Your network is your net worth.”  That’s so true.  Here’s another book I recommend that helps with this subject, “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnagie.

PRESENT

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What keeps the money rolling? Your brand  and reputation in the wedding photography space is possibly a huge factor to your longevity? Am i right?  Do you have any recommendations on brand building for weekend photographers trying to get into professional wedding photography?

PETER GARR:  My advice for brand building is, first and foremost, personalize your brand.  YOU are your brand.  In a business that’s built on personal relationships with clients, I found it important to personalize my brand.  That’s why I changed my brand name from “In The Moment Photography” to “Peter Garr Photography.”  There can be a dozen “In The Moment Photography” brands in America, but only one “Peter Garr.”  Also, be yourself and be genuine.  Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.  People can sense a fraud and nobody likes to do business with a fraud!

Also,  there’s so many photographers who can take a great photo, and most clients don’t know the difference between a great photo and an average photo.  The quality and style of my photography can set me apart only so much.  What I’m banking on setting me apart is me — my personality, my genuine interest in meeting new people and capturing what’s important to them — things that not just anyone sees or senses.

When I started as a wedding photographer, I was a weekend warrior like many.  I had a full-time job as an I.T. Systems professional that I hated and all I wanted was to be a full-time photographer.  When I took a leap of faith to leave my day job in 2008, I thought I was a full-time photographer, but my time was actually split between being a photographer and a stay-at-home dad to my beautiful baby girl.  It was frustrating and challenging at times (it still is), but I wouldn’t change it for anything.  I had a very slow off-season last year with no wedding bookings from the start of winter until early spring.  In years past I would book some family portrait sessions or even some holiday events over the winter in order to generate some revenue during the off-season.  This past winter I had nothing booked, but I still had bills to pay and mouths to feed.  So what did I do?  I  humbled myself and took a part-time computer service job to help pay bills.  With the economy the way it is, every pro photographer I know is feeling the strain.  If you are also, know that you’re not alone.


Also, I see so many photographers trying to be like other photographers, attending workshop after workshop, hoping to learn some special secret to success.  My advice is to save your money.  There are some good workshops out there worth attending, but you don’t need to go to every workshop in town.  Instead, I recommend getting out there and shooting.  There’s nothing that can compete with real world experience.  Meet with other local photographers, pool your money together to hire some models (or find models to volunteer) and practice.  Reach out to other photographers and offer to assist or second-shoot for them.  Also, there are so many free and inexpensive resources available to photographers to learn from, both on-land and online.  For example, there are free SmugMug User Group meetings in almost every major city in the United States.  At the Los Angeles SMUG that I lead, we have many of the top photographers in the industry come out and teach other photographers every month, and it’s totally free.  All are welcome, all are loved!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:   What is currently in your photography bag? Please be as detailed as possible for those starting out photographers that want to be just like you. Are you mainly doing digital photography?  From your photography equipment arsenal, what do you bring for your photography engagement sessions? What do you bring for your wedding photography sessions?

PETER GARR:

I only shoot digital and here’s the list of my equipment.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Battery Grip
Canon EOS 30D with Battery Grip
Canon EOS 20D with Battery Grip
Canon Speedlight 580EXII
Canon Speedlight 580EX (x2)
Canon CP-E4 External Battery Packs (x2)
Canon ST-E2 Speedlight Transmitter
Canon EF 15mm 1:2.8 Fisheye Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm 1:2.8 L USM Zoom Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L USM Zoom Lens
Canon EF 50mm 1:1.4 Prime Lens
Canon 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM
Sandisk Ultra II and Extreme III Compact Flash Cards
Boda v3 Lens Bag
Tamrac 698 Rolling Photo Backpack
CameraSlingers Straps
Manfrotto 055MF4 Pro MagFiber Tripod
Manfrotto 488RC2 Compact Ballhead
Manfrotto 681B Monopod
Manfrotto 3229 Monopod Quick-Release Head
Various Light Modifiers, Flash Diffusers, and Bounce Cards
Powerex 2700 mAh AA Batteries
MAHA MH-C801 Battery Charger

For engagement sessions, I always bring two camera bodies — one to use and one as a backup.  I also bring two Speedlights — again, one to use and one as a backup.  I usually bring all my lenses since they all fit in my Boda v3 Lens Bag.  There’s no reason not to.

For weddings, I pretty much bring all my camera bodies, Speedlights, lenses, monopod, tripod, CP-E4 External Battery Packs.  Basically everything I can fit into my Tamrac Rolling Backpack (it’s HUGE!).

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:   What is your favorite image in your current photography portfolio and why? How did you approach the photographic execution? Give us a glimpse on how you construct an image from scratch.

PETER GARR: Currently , this image is my favorite.


I love the simple beauty of the bride, Nicole, in the photo.  Her bare neck, shoulders, and ear just moments before she adorned those features with her wedding jewelry.  The sweeping curves of her face, ear, shoulders, and hair.  Her freckles, closed eyes and long, fan-like eyelashes.  Even the single lock of hair resting on her left shoulder.  I took this photo candidly and it’s a great example of “less is more” and how you can get a great photo during the most fleeting moments.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:   Do you have a photography studio? Is having your own photography studio space essential for a professional wedding photographer? Has any of your photography engagement sessions ever take place in a studio? If not, where do you mainly photograph the engagement sessions? Could you reveal to us 3 of your favorite locations  and why?

PETER GARR:  No, I don’t have a physical studio.  In fact, I work at a desk setup in the middle of my living room.  I don’t believe it’s essential to have a brick-and-mortar studio nowadays, especially for wedding photographers like me who shoot 100% on location.  However, for me, my greatest struggle in my business is that I don’t have a separate workspace in my home.  Working in the living room poses many distractions for me, especially with my 3 year old daughter running around and competing for my attention.

I used to meet with my clients at coffeehouses like Starbucks or Peet’s, but I found those places to be too distracting an environment for a number of reasons.  Besides the distractions, coffeehouses don’t project the type of atmosphere I want when meeting with clients.  I’ve recently started meeting with clients at the lobbies of four or five star hotels.  Although hotel lobbies are still not as intimate and controlled of an environment as meeting at my own studio, they are far better than coffeehouses.

My favorite locations for engagement sessions are whatever locations are important to my clients.  I make my engagement sessions all about my clients.  I always recommend to them we hold their engagement sessions at locations that are important to them — where they first met, where they went on their first or favorite date, where they got engaged, a locations that has special meaning to them like a shared interest or hobby.  Obviously, the location should have good light and be conducive to photography, but it’s not about me and what I want, it’s about my client’s and what they want.  Their engagement photos should mean something to them for their entire lifetimes, not just be a place they went on some random day because it was “where the photographer suggested.”  It has to hold special meaning to them!


LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What types of commercial gigs are you currently involved in now and how did they surface? What are your recommendations on how we photographers diversify our wedding photography offering to the marketplace?

PETER GARR:  I focus strictly on wedding photography.  I believe that it’s better for me to be a GREAT wedding photographer than a mediocre “everything” photographer.  Expertise in one area of photography is important to me and to my clients.  However, I do shoot the occasional family, newborn, or maternity portrait as well as corporate and private events, but my passion and expertise is wedding photography.  I don’t advertise or market my non-wedding work, so all non-wedding work I get is from referrals or assignments from studios I partner with.  My brand is as a wedding photographer.  I think marketing any other type of photography dilutes my brand.

FUTURE

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What are your immediate goals as a wedding photographer?  Are you planning on releasing any how-to books? What are your recommendations to people thinking about starting a photography book?

PETER GARR:  My immediate goals as a wedding photographer are to network more with wedding coordinators/planners and to continue to improve my photography skills, which I believe is a lifelong process.  I’ve come to realize that the photography industry is saturated with too many workshops and books, which mostly rehash the same things.  I have no authority to write a book when there are photographers with many more years of experience and insight than me.  The industry is full of photographers who want to be the next authority or workshop superstar.  I know that growing my business by having excellent relationships with my clients and with other wedding vendors who are happy to refer me and to provide positive testimonials are the keys to my success.  I’d like to shoot more destination weddings and hope to shoot my first international destination wedding someday soon.  At the end of the day, I’m a wedding photographer, and shooting the weddings of happy, loving couples is what pays my bills and is what I love to do.


LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: A lot of professional wedding photographers are starting to run workshops. Will you start offering workshops in the future?

PETER GARR:  I don’t know what the future holds, but at this time I’m not looking to run a workshop.  However, I organize and lead the Los Angeles SmugMug Users Group (SMUG).  SMUGs are monthly meetings that feature speaker presentations by prominent photographers, mini workshops, shootouts, and fun social activities.  SMUGs are free and open to all professional and advanced amateur photographers, whether or not they have SmugMug accounts.  All are welcome, all are loved!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  I am sure you’ve read many articles discussing how in the future videography and photography will be one? What are your thoughts on that and how will you evolve to the new morphed medium?

PETER GARR:  I recently bought a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and love how it shoots video.  Shooting video is a whole new and slightly different world for me.  I agree that wedding clients can now have the best of both world with photo/video Fusion.  Some of the Fusion work I’ve seen by photographers like Robert Evans is amazing!  I hope to have a Fusion sample completed soon.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Ok so thinking about the future and how it is very important in any endeavor especially the professional wedding photography business. What do you suggest wedding photographers do in the future to solidify their presence in the photography industry? What will you do to ensure that you remain on top, not taking into account your photography niche?

PETER GARR:  Learn everything you can about business, including sales, marketing, accounting, and communication.  Go to a library, enroll in community college classes, join Toastmasters International, read business blogs.  Always keep learning about business and human nature!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Thank you again for your time and giving back. What would you like to leave for us photographers to think about when moving forward with wedding photography for the future? If you have any words of wisdom will be appreciated.

PETER GARR:  Learn your craft and respect your clients.  This is essential to any successful business.  Network with other photographers and wedding vendors.  If you can, avoid loans and credit cards.  Don’t throw your money at every workshop that comes around.  Instead, get together with other photographers and learn from each other for free.  Share your knowledge and take the lead.  Be humble and make your business about serving your clients and your community with the very best you have to offer.  Everything else will fall into place.

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About the Author

Lawrence
Lawrence Atienza is a Jack of all Trades and Master of ALL. Whether it be in the realm of Advertising/Advertising operations with over 10+ years of experience to dabbling in the creative realm of photography and founding/writing for http://www.PhotographySILO.com, Lawrence Atienza gives his all. You can find him on Google+,Twitter and the major social media outlets.




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