This commercial photographer spotlight features outdoor adventure photo team Matt and Agnes Hage. From their Anchorage base camp, the two branch out to assignments all over Alaska, the American West, Canada, the Pacific Islands and the Patagonian Andes. HagePhoto has worked with clients including Backpacker, Outdoor Life, Backcountry, Cascade Designs, Frommer’s Travel Guides and more.
What first got you into travel/adventure photography?
Matt: I had always packed a camera and made photographs on my adventures (growing up in Alaska, there were many). At first it was with the latest funky 110 camera gifted to me from my grandfather. In college I finally got my hands on a Nikon and a couple lenses that I packed around on our weekend excursions to the Alaska Range. My first serious personal project was a winter mountaineering expedition to the north side of Denali (20,320 ft) with a couple friends. That was the first time I thought about what I was doing as ‘work.’ After successfully pitching the photographs to a couple magazines, I never looked back. Felt like this photography thing was going to work after all.
How long have you been working as a professional photographer? How did you make the transition to full-time?
Matt: My entire income has been made from photography since 1998. There wasn’t much of a transition for me. I pretty much dived right in during college, working for the campus newspaper, freelancing for local media and submitting to magazines. Life was simple and didn’t require much money. I lived in a cabin for $200 a month and drove a $300 car. This allowed me to take on the smallest of assignments. I would bust my ass for them, deliver quality work and try to impress with a professional attitude. Then I’d be able to negotiate a fairer rate the next time. At one time, I was the highest paid AP stringer inAlaska and caught hell from the bureau chief for it. But he still called on me pretty regularly.
How do you enjoy working as a photo team? Do you think this gives you an edge over other shooters?
Agnes: We’re very lucky that we enjoy spending a lot of time together. When we were getting started I had a full-time engineering job that limited us to getting out in the field together on weekends and traveling two weeks per year. That didn’t cut it for very long. Working together full time does have its advantages. It has greatly increased the amount of work we can get done, both on assignment and at the desk. We’re very good at dividing up different aspects of our business to allow us to handle more clients and a larger assignment load. In the field, we collaborate on the photography, refining each other’s ideas.
Where do you find inspiration? What’s your creative process?
Matt: We look at a lot of photography from folks that we admire, personally and professionally. Coming across outstanding imagery in the areas we work in really gets us revved up. We have an ‘inspired’ wall that gets filled with photography that motivates us or gives us ideas to incorporate into upcoming projects. Out in the field we continue to work ideas for the project at hand. The assignment usually involves some sort of brief or shoot list. From here is where we start what and where we are going to photograph.
Traveling in such rugged areas of the globe you have to be pretty prepared. How do you equip for a trip in Alaska?
Agnes: Traveling in Alaska is easy for us; pack it up and hit the road. But when you have six duffle bags spread across the country of Argentina that becomes a little logistically challenging. Typically when traveling we pack all clothing and equipment for each project into separate duffels. This makes for less packing and repacking on the road. On extended trips, such as 10-weeks in the Andes or two months in the Himalaya, we’ll shoot a project, return to wherever we’re basing, swap out gear/clothing and head back into the mountains. In the Andes, we had four projects to shoot from Mendoza to Patagonia. We’d leave a large duffel at our previous lodging to be collected on our return to minimize the number of bags we’d have to drag all around the country. That was too funny.
What are challenges you’ve faced starting your business and since then? What have you done to overcome these?
Matt: Starting out we would take pretty much whatever assignment came our way (except weddings and babies). We once took an assignment to travel around the country photographing pay phone locations for a client. Most of these jobs were lucrative, but not moving our business in the direction we wanted. The people we wanted to be working for were not going to take us seriously as a couple of skitzos. It was time to focus. A few years ago we revised our business plan and started working to create a brand identity to let prospective clients know exactly who we are and what we do. This process has streamlined our promotional efforts, style of photography and the type of work we pursue. Even though it can be hard to pass on assignments that don’t fit our style, the new level of professionalism has opened many more doors than it has closed.
Where do you see your work going in the next 10 years, and the industry as a whole?
We’ll continue to do work for clients in the outdoor recreation, adventure travel and active lifestyle genres, but we’ll be doing larger productions for these clients. This will involve a video aspect; something we’ve been dragging our heels on. We also have a couple publishing projects that have been on the back burner way too long. The next decade? The demand for high caliber photography will continue to grow along with the amount of media space that work will need to fill.
How can our readers better their own photography?
Engage in good-natured competition and criticism with other photographers and creative types. Put your work out there; online, shows or presentations. Let people know that you’re not just looking for that pat on the back ‘sweet pic,’ but honest opinions that they might have. Of course feedback from those you look up to is going to push you more than comments from a photographer whose style you don’t really respect. But take it all in before dispatching some of it as BS.
Any secret principles to success? What does it take to make it as a photographer?
Matt: That would be trust. Just like in any other business, your clients need to be able to trust that you will do the job or deliver work to their standards as promised. Of course you need to be a somewhat talented photographer to make a go at this. But not an ‘amazing’ photographer. I think to be considered a professional, you need to be able to create photography that will suit the client’s expectations, even when nearly everything goes wrong. And then do it again the next week.
Where can we hear more from you or see more of your work?
You can see our work regularly in magazines such as Backpacker, Canoe & Kayak, Women’s Adventure or Outdoor Life, or on our website at http://www.hagephoto.com. We update our blog site blog.hagephoto.com weekly with recent photography from our adventures, travels and assignments. And of course we have pages on Facebook www.facebook.com/hagephoto and Twitter www.twitter.com/HagePhoto.