The advent of iPhones has caused many Americans to style themselves amateur photographers nowadays. But, as Tara Beth Robertson can attest, there’s a lot more to being a professional photographer than a simple point and click.
“It’s really a full-time, seven-day-a-week, almost 24-hour-a-day job,” Robertson said.
That round-the-clock schedule includes photo editing, networking, promotions and, of course, the actual photography.
Robertson, 27, said the latter was always a big part of her life.
“My mom was always very into photography as a hobby. When my brother and I were kids, she was always taking photographs of us. We have an obscene amount of photos of us as kids,” she laughed.
Robertson, a native of Virginia who went to high school in West Chester, Pa., got her own start with the craft during a high-school photography class, where she got to learn her way around a dark room. She started out studying journalism at Cabrini College but ultimately earned a degree in photography from the University of the Arts in 2012.
“I thought I wanted to be a writer for Rolling Stone at first, but I was continuing to take photos and decided photography was it for me. I took the jump and put together a portfolio and applied to art school,” she said.
While at UArts, she completed a one-year internship with local wedding photographer Christina Campbell.
Campbell later offered Robertson an assistant position, giving her a foot in the door to the wedding-photography industry — the crux of which meshes well with the root of her own passion for photography, she said.
“The concept of capturing a moment in time is so fascinating to me. That was my draw to photography from the beginning, that you could see something, take a photo and freeze it essentially to come back to years later and remember and relive that moment. That’s also what really drew me into wedding photography because that is such a huge moment for people. After the flowers are dead and the cake gone, the photographs are really everything you have left of that day.”
Campbell encouraged Robertson to start her own company, which she did in 2012. Her first wedding couple was Katie and Megan MacTurk.
“I owe my entire career to them. They completely gave me this opportunity to jumpstart my career. We were friends before and they asked if I’d do their wedding and I said, ‘I haven’t done this by myself before’ and they were like, ‘No, no, we trust you. We have faith in you,’” Robertson said. “I’m so glad they took the chance on me because that first year they were my only wedding and by the next year I had 17 weddings.”
Robertson has booked 20 weddings this year and already has eight scheduled for next year, with an expected boon during the height of wedding-planning season from December-March.
When couples contact Robertson for wedding inquiries, she may meet them in person for drinks or chat over FaceTime, though some have booked without even meeting her in person. She said getting to know your wedding photographer is always advisable.
“It’s always good to see if your personalities mix because that’s a big part of it; I’m the person who’s going to be with you all day long, so if you don’t like my personality that’s a problem. I’ve never had that happen, thankfully!”
Robertson spends an average eight-10 hours working on a wedding day, during which she, armed with her Canon 5D Mark III, amasses up to 4,000 pictures.
“Yeah … it’s a lot,” she laughed.
Within about two days, she does a “basic cull,” deleting any blurry or non-important images and selecting her favorites. Once she collects between 800-900, she uses software program Lightroom to edit the top 100 — “these are the ones that are definitely hang-up-worthy” — and posts them in a mini album on Facebook.
“I look at them as kind of a gift to the couple to hold them over until I’m finished with the rest of the photographs,” she said. “I know if it was me I’d want to see them right away, so the mini album gives them something to look at and show their friends and family.”
The process wraps up about a month later when she presents the full 800-900 edited images to the couple.
Robertson said she tries to stay away from posed photos as much as possible.
“My style is emotional and intimate and artistic. I try to really capture what makes these two people a couple. And I know sometimes photos can looked very staged and posed but I pride myself on being almost a hands-off photographer,” she said. “I don’t like to pose people to look contrived or artificial. And it helps that I get to know the couples and form a relationship with them, learning who they are as people. I think that connection comes out in my work because they become more comfortable and are able to be themselves.”
That she identifies as a lesbian likely helps her LGBT clients feel more comfortable, Robertson said.
“I’ve been told that some people worry that a straight photographer, even though he or she may not say anything, may be judging them. So I think that there is some level of comfort with my LGBT clients knowing that I’m not doing that,” she said. “But I think I have the same connection across the board. The couples I attract are so sweet, open, fun; I’ve never had a bad experience with a client. I’ve been really lucky.”
Robert’s LGBT client base has increased dramatically with Pennsylvania legalizing marriage equality last year, followed by this summer’s Supreme Court ruling bringing same-sex marriage nationwide.
“I was getting clients from places like Texas who were traveling to Pennsylvania or Delaware to get married because it wasn’t legalized in their state and now they’re asking me to fly out to those states to photograph their wedding because now they don’t have to travel. So that’s awesome,” she said.
Robertson had a same-sex wedding already planned in Pennsylvania the day after the SCOTUS ruling.
“They were really fun and so excited and called themselves my first ‘national couple,’ which was so cute,” she said.
The connections she forges with her clients also help to cut down on the day-of stresses that invariably crop up, Robertson noted.
“That’s one of the toughest things about being a wedding photographer; there are so many things that can go wrong and you have to think 10 steps ahead of everyone — of the wedding coordinator, the couple,” she said. “But I tell the couple if I see them stressing when I get there that, if I am calm, everything’s OK. I do this every weekend and I’m pretty comfortable with any scenario so it’s nice to see them take a deep breath and realize that, if I’m not stressing out, they shouldn’t be.”
That calm is rooted in a healthy amount of planning, organization and time management. While Robertson joked that such skills weren’t her forte in school, she’s developed a knack for prepping for deadlines.
“My whole job is one big project due on a certain date,” she said. “Google Calendar is my best friend and I love Post-Its.”
Robertson devotes a few hours per day to sit at her computer and revisit where each project stands; in addition to weddings, she also does engagement shoots — which come free for each wedding couple — family sessions, baby photography and more.
Her week’s schedule often isn’t solidified until the last minute, which she enjoys. Last week, all she had on the immediate horizon was an Aug. 15 wedding, but by early this week, she had two engagement sessions, a family shoot and a baby session booked for the week.
“It really depends on the emails I get and the time I have. For weddings, I pretty much know what I’m going to be doing a year out, but other things come in randomly and I thrive off of that excitement of what I’m going to get week to week.”
Most of Robertson’s clients come from referrals and she also uses social media to build a following — which can be time-consuming.
“I get clients from Pinterest and Instagram who’ve seen wedding or engagement photos I’ve posted. Social media has completely changed the game but it’s one of those things where, if you don’t use it, you lose it. So it keeps me working and focused all the time on getting my work out there. That’s one thing that I didn’t realize would be a big part of this job but it absolutely is.”
But, Robertson said, the job leaves little to complain about.
“I totally love it and the people I get to meet all the time. No wedding is the same and each week is different. I really can’t see myself doing anything else; I just want more of it. It’s my dream job, which is really nice to be able to say.”
For more information, visit www.tarabethphotography.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.