Spotlight Interview with Anni Graham

photo by India Earl

If love and adventure is your thing, then you’re in for a treat – we had the pleasure of interviewing wedding photographer Anni Graham about her biz! Anni talks with us about how she doesn’t let social media rule her, but how she rules social media. Living her life with the greatest amount of intention and purpose, these attributes have carried into a flourishing business where Anni has found her preferred photography niche: elopement and intimate weddings. Get ready to dive deep into tips, insight, and wedding photography that is going to make you feel all the feels.

all photos by Anni Graham

Introduce yourself! – how long have you been shooting and how old is your business?:

I’m Anni, a Portland-based destination elopement photographer. I am in my eleventh year of photography, but my wedding business is only 1.5 years old. Before weddings, I was a freelance photojournalist working for various non-profits, magazines, and outdoor gear companies while also getting my degree and traveling the world (I have a small obsession). Weirdest fact about me is that I grew up in India (yes, the country) and moved to the US when I was 18, so travel and culture have played a huge influence on my life and my work.

Where do you find inspiration?

Spending time in the outdoors. My brain fires differently when I spend hours on a trail. It gives me space to think and dream without any distractions. Travelling has always been a huge source of inspiration – learning the different ways people interact, the traditions and values they base their lives around, the varied landscapes that people live in. If I lived in a mountain town in the Swiss Alps, I would see the world from such a different perspective, and that fascinates me. I love film too, if you’ve never been to the Banff Film Festival, then you are absolutely missing out. I remember the first year I went and saw the film Cascada (you can watch it on Vimeo) and I had to leave the room because my whole body was numb from so many goosebumps. I couldn’t stop thinking about that film for months.

Is there any specific figure/person who has influenced your work?

It’s hard to say because I feel like every photographer that I meet, I learn something from them. Each person is good at something that I’m not and they have all influenced me to be a better photographer, business owner, and friend.  

What has been a memorable roadblock in your journey to becoming a successful, confident wedding photographer?

I actually didn’t love wedding photography for a long time. I worked as a second shooter for multiple years at weddings that were very formal, timeline driven, and high-class. It all felt like an extravagant production to me and the couple would hardly have a chance to enjoy the day. I tried to be a wedding photographer, shot a few of my own weddings along the way, but I don’t think I was that good and I definitely didn’t have the passion for it.  It wasn’t until I discovered elopements and intimate weddings, where the focus is on being together, feeling everything, and capturing the day as it happens, that it all clicked for me. That was last year. I would say the biggest roadblock was trying to pursue something that I didn’t love, and as soon as I found my passion, my business exploded on its own.

What’s a goal that you’re working towards?

My first is finding a better work-life balance – that’s a huge one right now. My second is transitioning into mostly only shooting elopements in 2019. That’s a hard goal because it means making myself available for the more spontaneous elopement inquiries (aka saying no to other opportunities) and betting on myself that I can make this big transition. And lastly, learning to say no.

What are you doing to market your business to couples?

It’s a whole combination of things that start with a really good relationship with my couples, which creates amazing and meaningful photos that I then share on social media and my website.  Instagram is a great platform to share new work and tell stories and I probably get 25% of my inquiries from there. The other 75% is generated through SEO, Pinterest, wedding blogs, and referrals from my couples, vendors, and other photographers. My top priority in all of this is creating meaningful experiences and images for my couples though, because no matter how well I might be marketing my business, if the product isn’t solid, then it won’t sell.

Tell us about an engagement session that stands out to you the most and why.

Backpacking to Havasu Falls. First off, it was quite the adventure just getting there. My husband and I took a side road coming from the Grand Canyon that looked like a shortcut, but it took us about seven hours longer than it should have. We camped at the trailhead and met the couple the next morning (they drove all night from LA) to start our 10-mile hike into camp. The hike really wasn’t that bad, but we were definitely tired and coming around the corner to see the most insane waterfall you’ve ever seen was just wild. We just stood there without saying anything to each other for a good five minutes in absolute disbelief that it was real. We spent two nights at the falls, waking up early to take some photos and then spending the day swimming, hiking, telling stories, and cooking together. After we hiked out, I got a message from the couple saying they were in tears because it was truly the most magical thing they had ever experienced and it was so unreal. I will never forget those two days we spent together.

What are your 3 favorite questions to ask prospective clients?

  • What do you value the most?
  • What do you want to feel when you look back through your photos?
  • What about my work did you most connect with?

Walk us through how you connect with your couples prior to the wedding day?

Emails from day one. My inquiry email sets the tone for our relationship, communication, dreaming together, and excitement. I usually move into a phone call or Facetime from there, and I require it before officially signing a contract. I highly suggest either an engagement session or some kind of in-person meet up if possible (harder for travel weddings) so we can get to know each other on a more personal level, get some practice behind the camera, and have fun! The few weeks leading up to the wedding, I make sure they are doing well, see if they have any questions with the timeline or suggestions, offer any support that I can. Since I travel for almost all of my weddings, I arrive the night before and attend the rehearsal/dinner to get to know all the most important people at the wedding so I can be sure to capture them. For elopements, I just come over to say hi and have a beer. It’s all the interaction that we have beforehand that makes my work that much more meaningful when I can capture exactly who the couple is in a unique way and I am more than just a “vendor” but someone who is investing into their lives for years to come (with photos).

What are you doing with your branding to attract clients?

Branding is the core of my business right now – it’s so much more than a logo and a set of images that create expectation. Branding for me is everything. By that I mean that I had to dig deep within myself to discover why I am a wedding photographer.  Once I discovered the answer to this question, it changed everything in the business for me. It determined what kind of couple I wanted to be working with, where, how, when, all those specifics became so clear. I have branded a personality that I am attracting clients to and the more specific I become, the clearer and clearer my work becomes. I then use all of this on all my visual platforms – my website, Instagram, blog submissions, etc to share exactly who I am and what I love so people who value that will instantly connect with my work.

What is your data management workflow?

I cull all my photos in a culling software called Photo Mechanic and import the best of the best onto my computer, LaCie Rugged Hard Drive, and iDrive (online cloud backup). If I am traveling and don’t have access to the internet and cannot upload my images onto my cloud backup, I keep them on my memory card until it’s backed up in three places minimum. It means I carry a large collection of memory cards and the extra investment into them is a safety net for me. Once I am home, I move the project onto a G-Raid drive at home (much more reliable than a portable hard drive).

How do you keep your business organized? Do you use a client management system?

Yes! I use Honeybook and it is amazing. I used to have my own system of emails and calendar reminders, and I’m pretty good at remembering everything in my own head, but with such a huge quantity of information, I needed somewhere to offload it all and create systems to remind myself of what I have done and still needed to do.  Honeybook does all that and more.

How do you organize/schedule your work week?

It all depends on how many days I have at home before my next trip.  I usually have about four days a week to organize. Day one after my trips is to relax, take care of personal things, maybe go on a hike. Day two is tackling emails, administrative tasks, blogging, planning, booking travel, anything I need to prepare for. Day three and four are finishing up all my editing so I don’t carry anything into my next week.

How much of your time is taken up by social media?

There is this app that records how much time you spend on your phone and that was a huge wake-up call for me. I discovered that I spent an average of four hours a day on my phone, the majority of that was social media. Big wake up call! Once I realized the insane amount of attention I was giving my phone that I could have spent outside, in nature, with my husband, doing something life-giving, I made some changes. I still want to be a part of the community on Instagram, but I let go of the need to answer every DM and every comment. I have a no phones allowed policy when I am editing and I turn off notifications after 7 pm. Now when I am actually on social media, it is intentional and not mindless, I am actually interacting more, creating better content and captions, and it’s not for four hours a day!

List all of the gear that you bring to your weddings:

Do you have any bucket list locations that you hope to shoot at one day?

Fjords in Norway, South Island in New Zealand, Northern Cascades in WA (coming true this fall), Alaska (coming true next summer), the Sand Dunes and cities in Morocco, Tanzania or Kenya (a safari wedding), Patagonia (coming true next spring), Peru, Ladakh (Northern tip of India), Nepal, and Tibet.

I have such a huge love for massive open landscapes with huge features like cliffs, waterfalls or mountains.

Do you have any advice for those who are just beginning to pursue a photography career?

There really is no better education than practice.  These fancy cameras and presets can give the illusion that taking great photos is easy, but I feel like most people forget to actually discover the basics – lighting, composition, camera mechanics, posing, etc. These things take time, don’t rush your process, and discover what you really love about it – and pursue that. Don’t take those few years of discovery lightly, they are essential to every successful photographer.

Describe your editing process?

I have created my own presets Anni Graham Presets and have one pack out at the moment called the Yosemite Pack.  I edit all my images myself in Lightroom and do light retouching in Photoshop.

What’s playing in the background while you edit?

A movie. I feel like I’ve watched everything on Netflix, but really watching a movie entertains my brain and gives me a way longer attention span to edit for hours on end. Sometimes I watch a movie that has a similar location or color scheme to what I am editing which makes it all the more fun. If I’m editing a session from Hawaii, I watch a movie that is based in Hawaii. If I’m editing a session in the desert, watch a movie in the desert. Simple as that.

Best advice you’ve ever received about being an artist, business person, or happy human?

“There is more in you than you think.”

My professor in college taught me that one, over and over again. It had a huge impact on me because if you think about it, you are most commonly the only person who is stopping you from growing, moving forward, taking risks, and believing in yourself. Occasionally there may be people in your life that are actually stopping you, and it might be wise to remove yourself from their influence, but more common than not, it’s just you.

Is there anything you want readers to know about that you’re working on or where they can learn more from you? 

At the end of last year, I released my first pack of presets called the Yosemite Pack and the feedback I’ve received is insane. I get messages from photographers on the daily expressing how the presets have given them a sense of confidence and freedom that they didn’t know existed. It has truly been an empowering experience. I have another pack in the works that I hope to release by the end of 2018, so keep an eye out for that.  I also offer Skype and in-person mentor sessions that have sold out six or so months in advance, so I’ve been exploring the option of an online workshop where photographers can purchase and access the information at any time. I’m also speaking at seven different workshops this year, four have already happened but you can find all the info for the future workshops on my website under the tab “For Photographers.”

Where can people follow you and your work?

Instagram and my website are my most updated platforms:

Thanks again to Anni for taking time out her schedule full of adventure and photographing intimate weddings to answer a few questions for the Photobug Community!

Is there a photographer or videographer you think would be a good fit for our Spotlight Interview series? Tell us below!

(1) Comment

  1. Kim

    Thanks for this great article. Anni do you have any referrals for help with SEO? I have no clue.

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