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Mile Hi Photographer Photographer of the Month Interview

Who are you?
We are Chris and Julie Sharber – a husband and wife team. Weddings have been the core of our business; but in recent years high school seniors, families, and babies have really grown. We have been married for 21 wonderful years. We have two kids – Matt is 18 and Mallory is 16. We live in Evergreen and absolutely love the Colorado mountain life!

In our previous lives I was a Navy F/A-18 pilot, and Julie was a physical therapist. I have been carrying a camera everywhere I go since about 1988, and I’ve banged up more than a few lenses in my day by taking my camera flying on and off the aircraft carrier. Moving to Colorado naturally inspired the nature/landscape photographer in me; and then making an early switch to digital around 2000 really stoked the creative fire. It was the perfect blend of art and nerdy technology.

Julie got the photog fever after we started professionally. She has accompanied me on almost all of the educational seminars I’ve attended, and she has been a part of every single wedding and session I have done. Our work has always been a collaborative process even before she started shooting. She began carrying her own camera and shooting with me at weddings in 2007. She has really begun to launch on her own and now does her own maternity and baby sessions, as well as event photography for her favorite charities.

Did you go to school to study photography?
No formal photography school. When we decided to take photography to a professional level, we invested lots of time, money, and travel into as many seminars as possible. We sought out photographers whose work inspired us, and then went to learn from them in person. Some of the highlights were Yervant in Melbourne, Australia and again in Santorini, Greece; Jim Garner in Seattle, WA; Joe Buissink, Bambi Cantrell, Jerry Ghionis, and more.

How long have you been a wedding photographer?
We shot our first wedding in 2004. It’s the typical progression story… After harassing my family for years to be willing (or unwilling) models, my niece finally called my bluff and asked me to shoot her wedding. My initial reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding!” But we were persuaded to do it, had a blast, and so it began. Once we decided to pursue wedding photography professionally, we spent the next year doing several of the seminars I mentioned above. It was almost a year later that we accepted or first professional wedding job.


How would you describe your style?

I’d say our style is fun relaxed fashion elegance. How’s that for a summary?! We strive to have fun in everything we do, and try to ensure that our clients have more fun because we were there. But we always strive to provide our clients with something that is truly creative and artistic. Our biggest inspirations have been Yervant and Jim Garner, so our primary working style is to try to keep them moving, laughing, and loving, and capture the real expressions and moments that come from that.

How many weddings do you average per year?
We plan for about 12, but usually end up doing about 13 to 16 per year.
Do you have a few favorite wedding images you can share with us?

Where is your favorite Colorado location to take pictures?
Hands-down my favorite areas are the back alleys and nasty graphitti walls of downtown Denver. I just love the fact that I can go for a 1.5 hour session, walk around one city block, and get at least 10 or more totally different looks and backgrounds. So much variety and inspiration in such a small place. As far as venues, some favorites for a modern look are The Museum of Nature and Science and The Cable Center. Other favorites are Ten Mile Station, Wild Basin Lodge, and The Brown Palace.

What sort of equipment and software do you use?
All Canon gear ; 2 5D’s and 5DMkii, and a trusty old 20D; mostly all Canon L series lenses, 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, 30/1.4, and 50/1.8. Just acquired a 15mm fisheye, as well as some close-up filters for rings and details. We use an Epson P-5000 for download/ on-site backup. Back at the office, everything then goes on to a 3TB RAID-5 hard drive array, backed up onto two rotating backup drives that are stored off-site. (The pilot in me shows up here – major gear-head with lots of redundant back up systems!) Julie does almost all of our post-production using Lightroom and Photoshop CS4.

What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
Natural light whenever possible; 3 off-camera Canon 580EX Speedlights triggered with RadioPoppers when needed or wanted for drama; on-camera 580EX Speedlights as a last-resort, hopefully bounced. Also use reflectors for portrait work, and Lowell video light for after dark, dramatic night work.

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
Mostly our own actions that I put together using techniques that I learned at seminars, but also use lots of Kubota actions, Nik Effects, and now using OnOne Suite for some applications. Next thing to try will probably be Totally Rad Lightroom presets. The more we can do in Lightroom, the better.
What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
We are constantly reading professional magazines and scouring other artist’s web sites looking for ideas and inspiration. I keep going back to my favorite artists again and again to learn and be pushed by their work. I LOVE classes and seminars. I would rather just take classes all the time and not have to actually work! I just love to learn new things. As we’ve gotten busier, that has become harder to do. I’d love to take more time to learn like we did when we were getting started. MHP has been a huge help with that by making some top-notch training from the area’s best shooter’s available right here in town.

If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?
My first choice is obviously my wife Julie. I cannot imagine shooting a wedding without her. For those of you who shoot solo, you are amazing and I don’t know how you do it. It is so much work. I totally rely on Julie for ideas, inspiration, encouragement, perspective, crowd control (group shots!), bride pampering and care, etc. And she is an extremely talented shooter to boot! If I couldn’t have her, then I suppose it would be some of my heroes- Yervant, Jim Garner, etc. Their work never ceases to amaze me. One of my local heroes that I would love to shoot with some day is our own Travis Broxton. He is an amazing example of ridiculous talent combined with a tremendously positive attitude and genuine nice guy.

How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
I confess I am an over-shooter. Is there an AA type group for us? I need to go. Depending on the event, how many different places we go, how many hours, etc., we probably average 3500 images. Under 3000 is the low end, over 5000 is the top so far. We usually deliver between 600 to 1000 images to the client. About 50 to 80 of those will get some “extra treatment” with PS enhancements.

Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
There’s always something small that goes wrong, but remarkably, big things rarely happen. I’ve had occasional gear failure (camera stop focusing, flash stop working). But I’ve always had back-up gear to get me through. Most of the things that have gone wrong at our weddings were out of our control; rain at the outdoor wedding; everyone is always behind schedule; the limo gets tired of waiting and leaves without the bridal party (that’s happened twice). When those things happen the most important thing is to remain calm and be a confident, reassuring counselor and coach to the bride. Remind her that everything is going to be OK, that she’s going to have a fabulous day, and you’re going to have awesome images.

My biggest personal “go wrong” was showing up for an engagement shoot, opening up the trunk and realizing that my memory card wallet had fallen off of my bag and I had no cards. So I call the couple, tell them I’ll be 15 minutes late but not to worry. As I am backing out of my parking spot to rush to Office Depot to buy some cards to get me through, I crunch my car into the car behind me, all right in front of a cop! Being professional means you have to get through all of that, regain control, put your couple at ease and still have a great time.

What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
The most challenging thing for me is the self-induced pressure. I always have this feeling that my clients expect amazing magazine-cover art at every wedding, and I have the desire to always create something amazing. Sometimes there’s this fear that I will let them down. Finding yourself in an unattractive venue 30 minutes behind schedule with bad light and a huge crowd of people around waiting for you to do something gorgeous – that’s the challenge. Fortunately, if you keep pushing yourself, trying as many different things as you can think of in the little time that you have, you’ll end up with something that works, sometimes something that’s great.

Do you advertise? If so where?
When we were starting, we advertised in bridal magazines and online registries (The Knot, Wedding Sites and Services), and bridal shows. Now our only advertising is personal connections with other vendors and clients. We are strictly direct referral now. It takes time to build but it is the MOST effective advertising you can get.

What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
Education, education, education. If you want a hobby, then only study the artistic creative side of the business. If you want to earn a living, then study the business side. I am constantly amazed at the growing tidal wave of people who are working as professionals and charging pennies for their work and giving away everything. They are killing themselves and are undermining the entire profession.
Gain enough education and experience so that you can be technically competent. Then learn to have confidence in the value that you bring, and don’t be afraid to charge enough for it that you actually have something to keep when you are finished.
Find what you love to do and do that, and stop doing the things that you don’t enjoy. You don’t have to do everything.

Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
I hope it would be something like: fun, relaxed, creative, dependable…and did I say fun?

And the last question, if you had one wish…
I wish to be remembered as a giver.

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