The difference between a good and a great photographer is the understanding that their craft is more than just taking pictures. They are documenting and memorializing a legacy, special moments and memories that can’t be re-lived in person but can be remembered through a frame. Erin Hanson is one of those great photographers. To her, photography is more than equipment, lenses, latest trends and a day booked in her calendar. Her passion for photography came to life at her very first wedding shoot. “When I think back to that shoot, I can still perfectly picture five images. They were all of the bride just laughing and having fun. I was overwhelmed at the thought that I was able to capture that much joy and realness for people.”
Erin did not intend on being a photographer. She originally went to school and majored in psychology with a minor in photography. After a year, however, she made the decision to follow her passion and calling for photography. At the time, she and her now husband Adam, were attending the same college. “Adam had just decided to work for a non-profit and I remember him saying, ‘Thank God you’re going to be a psychologist because I’m going to be so poor.’ Then I broke it to him that I was quitting school to be a photographer. We were both like, oh my goodness, we are going to be so poor!”
Following her dream and dedicating her time to continually perfect her craft has helped Erin build a successful business. Even for someone who doesn’t know much about photography, looking at Erin’s photos you can see there is something different about how she looks through the lens. She isn’t just looking for a perfect shot, she is looking for the perfect moment. When asked what her style of photography is, she says, “I like those legacy type photos. The ones when someone can look back and say, that is exactly how I remember my mom or that looks so real. The kind of photos where you can feel the emotion when you look at the faces in them.” Capturing real moments and the emotions that go with them is what drives Erin to continuously take picture after picture.
There is a natural inherent skill to photography, but there is also a technical side. Erin went to school for one year in Chicago to study photography-- the rest was all field experience. Over the years, she has learned that following any sort of trend leaves her regretting the results. Trends change, meaning you have to always be re-inventing your style of shooting and editing. Erin prefers to stick to shooting real film and editing the digital files to look like the original film. She does not mess with the colors or lighting too much. That’s how she keeps it classic. Being able to combine talent and technicality is what makes Erin successful, but there is something else. “Making a connection with the client, getting to know them is how you get amazing photos. It is all about taking the time to draw out people’s personalities.”
That’s why Erin has an unofficial partner-- her husband. Over the last 14 years, Erin has shot too many weddings to count. Her husband Adam has been with her at every single one. Erin does all different types of photography; engagements, pregnancy, newborn, family and of course wedding day photos. Wedding shoots take the most time and having Adam with her is a huge help. “He’s like my brain. He makes sure I don’t get hit by cars and I don’t leave bags laying around.” When it comes to wedding day photography, Erin and Adam would both tell you every wedding is different. Everyone has a different family and when two families are becoming one there are many different dynamics to capture. Each wedding Erin has shot has left a lasting impression on them both. Erin remembers one wedding where the father of the groom sang to the bride, a song from her dad who she had lost before the wedding day. “It’s in those moments where so much love for not even your child, but for who they are marrying and taking them in as their own, those are the weddings where you can see they get it. When it’s not about the wedding, it’s about the marriage and the love. That’s what I love to capture in a frame and then give to the family as a memory they will always cherish.”
Being a photographer has opened the door to some unexpected experiences. Like the time
she was asked to shoot a destination wedding-- in Italy. “I remember on the airplane, standing in the bathroom line on this huge airplane, on this forever flight, and people asking what I was traveling for. Everyone assumed I was shooting a wedding for a famous person but I wasn’t. This destination wedding was literally cheaper than having a wedding in the states! The couple just had to pay for plane tickets and a place to stay. Plus, they got really incredible photos!”
The other unexpected experiences have been the connections she has made and kept long after the photoshoot is done. “You get so invested in their lives because you get to know them during milestone moments.” Following one person from an engagement shoot, to a wedding day shoot, to a pregnancy shoot to a newborn shoot is incredible. Being able to walk alongside the evolving life of a person is a gift and she often thinks, “I can’t believe I get to do this for a living.”
Erin is not just taking pictures--she is capturing a legacy.
Tips From the Expert
Looking to capture your own moments? Erin says you can take great family photos right on your phone! Here are her tips:
Stop having the kids look at the camera. Just capture them playing and adventuring. When you look back, you will remember the moment and WHY you wanted the photo in the first place.
Abandon the “cheese.” Some of the best photos I have of my own children were taken with either myself, or my husband, doing something silly behind the camera. Make those kids laugh!
When indoors, have your subject face towards the windows. Place yourself in front of the window photographing towards them. The correct lighting, and knowing where to place your subject, is key. Also try turning off all the inside lights if you have a brighter house. Using only natural light produces a beautiful photo.
Don’t just take one snap. It’s so easy to take multiple photos on your phone and just delete the ones with blinks, silly faces, or the ones that just went wrong.
When taking a group shot, always have the family look at the person taking the photo for a few shots, and then look at each other for other shots. Ninety-nine percent of the time it leads to laughter and a great shot and memory.
Follow Erin on Instagram @erinjhanson. You can also check out her website at http://erinjeanphoto.com to see her photos, read her blog and book an appointment.