Today I’m bringing you another interview with a fantastic wedding photographer from D.C.  Sarah Bradshaw is a full-time local and destination wedding photographer whose primary goal is to capture timeless moments that will be admired for generations.  Her classic approach, coupled with her passion for marriage, comes together to form an elegant style that focuses on capturing and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Sarah, thanks for doing this interview with me.  I learned a lot and was inspired by your passion and the way you approach your business.  Thanks so much!

Listen to the interview below or download it here.

Follow the links below to view more of Sarah’s work:


Greg Hahner Studios: How did you get started in photography?

Sarah Bradshaw: It started when I was working for a non-profit in Chicago.  Throughout my time of working with them, there was always the question of, “What am I going to do next?”  I spent about 3 years working for that organization, and spent all of that time praying about the next step.  I picked up an interest in photography during that time, but I didn’t actually do any shooting, I was just interested in it as a concept.  After praying about it, I determined that photography was something I wanted to pursue.

I eventually decided that I wanted to do missions photojournalism full-time.  I spent a bit of time overseas, about a month in Thailand and about 3 weeks in Kenya doing mission work, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t a good fit for me and my giftings.  Because of my personality, that kind of vagrant lifestyle wasn’t suited to my personality, and it wasn’t a good way to express my interest in the work.

I ended up moving back home and started second-shooting weddings for another photographer in my area.  I ended up falling head-over-heels in love with weddings and wedding photography.  It’s taken a long time to actually love the business-side of photography, but I’ve fallen in love with being a business owner as well.  I’ve been full-time for six years now, and it’s been a huge joy and blessing.

GHS: Briefly describe for us your business and its core

SB: When I first started out in business, my entire goal was missions photojournalism.  I wanted to tell true stories of God’s work in the world.  I believe He is actively at work bringing glory to His name, and I wanted to find a way to showcase that.

I place a lot of value on my business’ core values and beliefs.  A few of my core-beliefs include:

  • Believing that every person is made in the image of God and is therefore beautiful, thus I should shoot them in the most beautiful way possible.
  • Believing that everything I do is meant to be done for the glory of God and to the best of my ability.  
  • Believing that coffee is something that should be consumed every single day.

These beliefs, among many others, help to keep me focused and filter my business decisions; everything from the way I do networking/marketing to the way I use my advertising fund.  I think that if I invest in people and if I’m building up people and strengthening relationships, then I’m living my life well.

GHS: What drives you as a photographer?

SB: The primary reason I shoot weddings is because I love marriage, and I love marriage because it pictures the gospel.  That is the big reason I get up every morning and spend my life trying to provide quality wedding images for couples.  I do think you can have a really strong, gospel-centered marriage without having any good wedding pictures, or even without having a photographer there at all, but there’s something about seeing the day you committed yourself to another person well-documented that helps to strengthen and remind you of your vows.  Because of this, I want to be able to provide the best quality services possible.

It almost becomes a bit of a game for me.  I challenge myself and ask question like, “How fast can I get these images back to my clients?  I told them 90 days, can I turn them around in a week and shock their socks off?”  Or, “How can I increase their love for each other and increase their love for marriage while still maintaining my role as a professional business owner?”

What I love about business is just the chance to provide for my family, and working for myself gives me a lot of flexibility to grow relationships.  I have a friend who’s getting ready to move, and they’re putting their house on the market, so I get to go photograph their house for them.  I love having the opportunity to use my gifts to help other people.  It’s just a huge blessing that I can halt my day and go bless others in that way.

GHS: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a business owner?

SB: Everyone has different challenges that they face.  Everyone has different personalities, and I think everyone has different emotional capacities for things.  My biggest struggle has been the fact that I don’t have a boss.  I thrive off of structures, and I love being told what to do.  I want to know what the expectations and I want to know if I’ve measured up to them or not.  Without a boss, I don’t have that, and I don’t get feedback on whether I’m doing things well or not.  That’s been a huge challenge for me.  I’ve had to work really hard and come up with some creative solutions for myself that help provide that structure so that I can actually be successful.

I’m not good at just getting up in the morning and working, I need to know what my goals are for the day.  I use a day planner called the Day Designer, and it lays out a daily schedule, a daily to-do list, and the top three goals for the day.  I have to really focus on those top three goals for the day and dictate to myself what I’m going to do each day, and this tool has really helped me stay on track.

I think another challenge for business owners is the fact that most of us that are self-employed didn’t get degrees in business before getting into business.  Learning things like tax law, and accounting methods, and government requirements for small businesses can be really overwhelming and confusing.  And trying to find time to focus on business while still creating momentum in business is hard.  Questions like, “How do I get clients talking about me?” or, “How do I get people interested in my business?” get mixed in with other priorities such as paying taxes on time and making sure you stay on top of your bills.

It can be daunting at times, but it can also be fun and challenging.  There’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from being able to look at something and say, “I built this, I created this”, with the realization that this is something God has called us to do.  I would not still be in business if I wasn’t convinced that this is what God has called me into.  I’m fully convinced of that.

GHS: Where do you go to get your inspiration?

SB: I really love architectural photography.  I love structure, lines, and grids; those are a huge inspiration to me.  It might sound weird, but I think if you look at my work you’ll see that I love vertical shots and I love placing my subjects within strong architectural themes.  One advantage of living in D.C. is that there’s a lot of beautiful architecture, it’s like one big playground all the time.  I’ve got the best backdrops in the world!

I also glean inspiration from 1940’s and 50’s fashion magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Just looking at the work of older, experienced photographers who are really gifted at understanding light and form is fascinating and inspiring.  I also find inspiration from looking at editorial photography.
I think the biggest inspiration for me as a wedding photographer comes from the couples’ story.  I always make sure to spend time and put effort into getting to know my couples because I want my wedding pictures to reflect them.  If they’re a super-goofy couple, then we’re going to do super-goofy pictures, because that is a good reflection of who they are.  They wouldn’t look natural in a super-stylized, posed photograph.  More-dramatic couples, however, are perfect for those sorts of images, and if I were to do goofy images, they would feel awkward and uncomfortable.  So really, inspiration for me is about capturing the couple for who they are, and figuring out what that practically looks like.

GHS: How do you go about photographing images that reflect a couples’ story?

SB: I think it’s a process of analyzing and experimenting.  I always try to meet with my couples before shooting their wedding, and I do everything I can to book an engagement shoot with each couple.  Engagement shoots really give me an opportunity to see how couples interact with each other in front of the camera, and it really gives them an opportunity to see how I work and how I pose them.

I do have a list of about 10 poses that I can pull out of my back pocket and use for just about any situation, and I add slight variations to make the shots unique and special to the couple being photographed.  I’ll often ask myself questions while shooting, trying to evaluate what poses feel natural for the couple I’m photographing, and which poses would feel awkward or out of character.  Some poses can be challenging to pull off for certain couples, but I think almost any pose can be modified to photograph most anyone.
I love Pinterest, and I’ve got a board called The Pose Book.  I take time every now and then to sit down and go through poses, analyzing the positioning, the lighting, the expressions, the surroundings, and really try to break down what I consider to be good poses in my head so I can re-create them on a wedding day.  It’s really a process of analyzing and determining what poses best suit the couple I’m photographing and figuring out what I have to do to pull those poses off.

GHS: What would you say is the purpose of photography?

SB: Photography freezes time into a single frame.  It enables us to capture moments as they happen and preserve memories so that we can be reminded of those special moments later in life.  The purpose of wedding photography is to have a couples’ most important day of their lives memorialized and preserved for generations.

My goal when shooting a wedding is to shoot it with the grandchildren in mind.  70 years later, these pictures will still be relevant, and for that reason I want my work to be really classic, to have staying power, to be timeless.  Because of this, I try not to follow fads or styles that will go out of fashion.

I think the purpose is to invest in generations.  A basic question most people ask is, “Where did I come from?”  Ultimately we’re created by God for his glory, but we also ask these questions concerning our family genealogy.  Having pictures supports and answers questions regarding our origin and our heritage.

GHS: Do you have any advice for beginning photographers who are looking to get into the professional market?

SB: Become obsessed with light.  Master it.  Everywhere you go, look at the light.  When in a room, try to figure out how many colors of light there are.  Pay attention to how the sunlight changes color throughout the day, and from season to season.  Study how light bounces off of different surfaces, and how the directionality of light can change the entire feeling of a scene.  Study light all the time.

A second piece of advice would be that good art begets good art.  If we train our eyes to see good art, or if we just place good work before our eyes, eventually we’ll begin to see good art in real life.  Though some people are gifted with an “eye” for art, much of the ability to see is in the nurturing of the skill.  You truly can train your eye to have good taste.  That’s one reason I like Pinterest and spend time in art galleries so much.

When it comes to business, the most basic things you can do are get a business license, develop a business plan, and set aside 30% of your earnings for taxes.  Those are three of the biggest steps you can take.

Ask lots of questions.  There’s a wealth of information out there.  Google is a great resource when it comes to answering questions concerning photography, business, and anything else!

Fear is a bad excuse, it’s not a good enough reason to not follow your dream or to not do things well.

GHS: What are some successful methods you’ve found to promote
your business?

SB: My best business promotion is, and always has been, word-of-mouth.

Second to that would be blogging.  Blogging is a great way to promote yourself.  I blogged 5-6 days a week when I first started, and that was a great way to boost search-engine-optimization and made it easier for my clients to find me.  But I think the blog world has changed since then, and people get overwhelmed with the amount of information that gets posted everyday.  I have backed off of blogging a bit, but I still try to do it at least 3 days a week.  I think consistency is king in this area.

I think genuinely loving people is the ultimate way to promote yourself.  Showing genuine interest and support for your fellow photographers in the marketplace is huge.  When other photographers know that you support them and care about their business, they’ll show the same courtesy to you and possibly recommend you to others.  I’ve actually gotten a lot of work from referrals by other photographers, and it really builds camaraderie amongst your fellow colleagues.

GHS: In looking back over your journey as a photographer, what is the greatest take-away for you?

SB: Living by fear is the worst possible way to live.  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind.  I’ve found that so often a fear of failure, or a fear of disappointing others, or a fear of not meeting my own expectations, only serves to keep me from loving people like God has called me to.  I’ve made so many decisions based out of fear that I regret; I’ve never made a decision based out of fear that I’m thankful for.  I always regret the decisions I make out of fear.  Often we give fear a different name (stress, discomfort, etc.), but I’m realizing more and more how many ways I’ve let fear rule my decisions.  I think confronting fear is the best thing anyone can do as a person, as a photographer, and as a business-person.

A second thought would be to just do the work.  There’s a common mindset amongst business-owners that says, “Do what you’re good at and outsource the rest.”  I think outsourcing some of the work is good, but I think we fall into this mentality that we should only have to do stuff that we enjoy and are passionate about.  If you examine history for the last 6,000 years, you’ll see that most people worked so that they could feed their families, not because they found identity or purpose in it.  I think we need to adjust our thinking and come at our tasks with gratitude, realizing that this is what God’s given us to do and it is a wonderful way to provide for our families.

A third one would be, don’t be afraid to turn off the noise.  Unfollow blogs, get off Facebook, stay away from Pinterest for a while.  There truly is only so much creativity we can gain from looking at other peoples’ good work.  At the end of the day, we just need to get out and create.  We need to be the ones who are cultivating our own eyes, not always staring at what someone else has created

GHS: Do you have any other words of advice you could share with fellow photographers?

SB: Write your goals down.  In a study done at a Princeton MBA class back in 1972, students were surveyed to find out what percentage of the class had physical written goals.  It was found that 3% of the class had written goals, while 13% had goals that weren’t written down, and the rest of the class didn’t have any goals.

A follow-up study was done 10 years later on the same students, and on average, the 13% of students that had goals that weren’t written down were making twice as much as the students that had no goals.  But the 3% of student that had physical written goals were making on average 5-times more than all of the rest of the students combined.

I think it’s worth thinking about writing down where you want to be, what your goals are for you as a photographer, as a business-owner, and as a person.  When we write goals down, in a sense we hold ourselves accountable to achieve them, and I think that taking time to dream and taking time to strive for something more is important.

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