Spotlight Interview with The Hearnes

all photos by The Hearnes

This month’s photographer spotlight interview with The Hearnes is full of adventure, beautiful locations around the United States, and a look into their van life! Abbi and Callen ditched their home roots and headed on the road full time last year. With a schedule that’s always changing and leading Abbi and Callen to be on the move, they are able to explore and find new hidden gems of places all over the US. Whether they are spending time with their dog or photographing their couples, they are likely hiking and being present in their surroundings. Abbi and Callen’s unique lifestyle is a dream come true for their adventurous spirits!

Introduce yourself! – How long have you been shooting and how old is your business?:
My name is Abbi Hearne and I am the primary photographer/dreamer/editor/manager/etc. of The Hearnes Adventure Photography. My husband, Callen, and I live on the road full time in our van, traveling all over the western US shooting adventurous weddings and elopements in beautiful places. I have been a full-time professional photographer for over three years, but 2017 was our first full year on the road focusing on our little niche of adventure weddings.

Describe your workspace/studio.
Well, we live in a small van, so my “workspace” changes constantly. I often work in the van at a little table Callen made for me, but my preferred space is the Grand County Library in Moab, Utah. I love that library so much I have a sticker for it on my computer! I also work in various coffee shops all over the West, and in desperate times you can find me sitting on the ground behind a building plugged into a dirty socket…

Describe an average day for you.
Well, I don’t think I’ve had an “average” day since we hit the road, but we often wake up somewhere beautiful, open the door and let our dog run free, make some breakfast, and then drive into town so I can get work done while Callen takes Charlie on a hike. I try to work efficiently so we can have plenty of days “off” to explore together. Family time is the main reason we chose to live on the road, so finding a work/life balance is super important for morale!

Where do you find inspiration?
Exploring new places with Callen is when I find the most inspiration, whether I’m considering that trail as a potential elopement location or I am just falling more in love with the landscape and getting rejuvenated for the next stint of work. I also draw a lot of inspiration from fellow photographers – I love browsing people’s blog posts, reading what they love about their most recent gig, and hearing photographer’s stories from their interactions with couples. This industry is all about relationships, so I try to stay connected and form friendships with other photographers when I can!

Is there any specific figure/person who has influenced your work?
There are a few, but the two that come to mind are India Earl and Benj Haisch. India is a queen at relationships, her work is so real, and she does an amazing job at capturing every aspect of a wedding day (or weekend!) from the way the light hits the leaves to the glances exchanged between family members. Benj represents longevity and resilience to me. He’s been in this industry for a long time and continually produces inspiring, new work. His work is consistent and beautiful, understated but so mind-blowing.

What has been a memorable roadblock in your journey to becoming a successful, confident wedding photographer?
I’ve always had a lot of confidence, but I will say a major roadblock I’ve faced is assuming the best of people and getting taken advantage of. I tend to trust people too much and after a few instances of sharing information or, in one case locations, with someone just to have them turn around and use it in a way that hurt me. I’ve learned not to blindly trust everyone and to realize some people are different on the internet than they are in real life!

What achievement, moment, or success are you most proud of?
Honestly, I have yet to have one big moment of success, but 2017 was an incredible year for me. It was full of some many wonderful moments that continually added up, reminding me that this hard work keeps paying off over and over again. People’s messages, comments, other photographers telling me they’re inspired by me – it never gets old. That being said, the most powerful moments have all been in secret, when our clients message us after seeing their photos for the first time or when their friends pull us aside on the wedding day and say “they’ve been talking about you guys their whole engagement!”

What’s a goal that you’re working towards?
This year was a year of growth and lots of business, so next year we’re working to facilitate a great work-life balance that allows even better relationships with our clients and more time to enjoy our own adventures.

If you could go back and tell yourself anything during your first month of business, what would it be?
Don’t share your locations with anyone, and keep doing what you’re doing because this is going to be better than you could’ve ever imagined.

What’s your favorite image of yourself?
That’s a tough decision, but one that I really love is a self-portrait of Callen and I soaking in a hot spring in the mountains right next to our van. Honestly, life on the road tends to be hectic, stressful, logistically difficult, and almost never glamourous. But sometimes, we have perfect moments like this one. Soaking in a hot spring together while the sun sets behind the mountains and our dog runs through the field around us…life doesn’t get much better and it wouldn’t be possible without all the hard days and sacrifice it takes to live on the road while running a successful business.

What are you doing to market your business to couples?
Our main things are SEO and Instagram. From the beginning, I always focused on SEO because social media is finicky and can change at the drop of a hat, but Google seems to be a pretty consistent source of information. I have been blogging for years and when we hit the road full time I knew word-of-mouth wasn’t going to be very helpful, so I poured everything into SEO. I also love Instagram so much and have been using it since I was in high school, so growing a successful Instagram for our business felt natural and has always been fun to me. I’ve never felt like Instagram was a task or a requirement, and I’ve loved the friends and clients we’ve made through it!

What’s the most unique/fun place that you’ve had a client meeting?
Almost all of our client meetings are done over Skype or phone call since we are full-time mobile, but a big one that stands out to me is Skyping with one of our couples from the lodge in Yosemite on a gorgeous rainy day, planning their summer elopement in the park. It was so special to be sitting in the valley, just off a fun adventure, helping a couple plan their wedding day in the same place.

Tell us about an engagement session that stands out to you the most and why.
This session with Ash and Tom will probably always be one of my favorites. We actually met these two in the most wild way – on Thanksgiving Day in Moab, Utah, we were napping in our hammock in one of our favorite canyons near the landing area of a popular BASE jumping exit when we heard some hollers from above and knew a group was about to jump. We took photos of them as they exited and floated down one-by-one, and ended up getting an email address from one of them to send photos later. Ash and Tom were in the group, and after receiving their photos they started following us and eventually booked us for an engagement session. The original plan was for the session to end in a BASE jump, but we ended up having 50+ mph winds the entire time, so jumping was not an option. They took us to this gorgeous spot and we had so much fun running around, playing in the wind, and embracing the wild desert weather. They were so sweet together and it felt like destiny that we got to connect with them. The hike back in the dark was super memorable, talking about skydiving and future dreams. We had a great time and left feeling like they were the exact type of clients we want to serve.

What are your 3 favorite questions to ask prospective clients?
“What do you love to do together?”
What is your vision for your wedding day?”
And my all-time favorite: “If your friends described you two as a couple, what would they say?”

Walk us through how you connect with your couples prior to the wedding day?
Connection is a huge part of our business. We have a lot of information about us on our site and our Instagram, so before they ever even contact us, they know who we are and what we’re about. From the very first e-mail, I share a ton more about us and our process and ask 4-5 questions about them that will help me get to know them better. After that, we often set up a Skype session or phone call to “meet” and then throughout the planning process I am very involved – our brides often text me photos from their wedding dress appointments, send me excited emails when they book vendors, etc. I try to be as involved as possible and most of our clients see me as a friend – by the time we meet in person we’re hugging, not shaking hands.

Do you stay friends with your couples after the wedding?
Absolutely! We’re gone on adventures with couples afterwards, met up for coffee when we come back through their area, and of course – we stay connected through social media 🙂

What are you doing with your branding to attract clients?
US! Our biggest asset is ourselves, our personalities, our passions. Our clients hire us because they love that we adventure. When I see photographers say they focus on adventure, but their Instagram stories are consistently fancy coffee shops, brunch places, and expensive nights in cities, I feel like they are marketing to the wrong crowd. Our clients love that when we have a day off, we go hiking or rock climbing. They love that we drive across the country for fun, not just for gigs. I think creating a brand consistent with your personality is a great way to attract the right clients and prevent burnout in yourself.

How do you get your clients comfortable in front of the camera?
A huge part of it is that pre-session or pre-wedding friendship. By the time we are together to shoot, they feel like they’re hanging out with buddies. That helps them be so much more comfortable! We also try to meet up for food or drinks beforehand (or bring our own) and often meet up before a session to crack open beers and chill in the van! It helps everyone get comfortable and we get to learn more about how they interact together before ever bringing out the camera. I also think being a husband/wife team helps a lot, our couples often say their session felt more like a double-date than a photo shoot!

What is your data management workflow?
I work from a 15” MacBook and always have data in at least three places. After a gig, I import photos to my computer and then immediately back them up to an external drive. I back up that drive once a week to another drive that is a direct copy and stays in a different location. I’ll edit the photos and then import them to my client gallery and after delivering the gallery, I clear the photos off my computer. The gallery stays online for 10 years, so it’s like an extra jpeg back-up. I also try to keep photos on cards until I deliver, but sometimes we shoot 4 elopements in one week so I end up clearing the cards.

How do you keep your business organized? Do you use a client management system?
I use HoneyBook and LOVE IT. I seriously can’t imagine my life without HoneyBook, especially since our business has exploded. We shot 51 adventure sessions in 2017. There is no way I could’ve kept up with that on sticky notes!

Do you have any tech hacks to have a more productive business?
Close the social media tabs and stop picking up your dang phone 🙂 Let’s be real, if we all designated one hour a day to social media and ignored it during work hours – we’d be WAY more efficient! I also religiously use PhotoMechanic for importing/culling quickly and I have blogging worked into my workflow, so when I deliver a gallery I am ready to blog it and be finished with the photos!

How do you organize/schedule your work week?
It’s a total toss up for us depending on where we’re “living,” what adventures we want to do that week, and what gigs we have. Because we specialize in small weddings and elopements, we often have gigs Monday through Friday but it varies every week. My life is a constant logistical junkshow of finding time and space to edit photos, answer emails, and help brides plan their adventurous wedding day!

How much of your time is taken up by social media?
Too much. I spend a lot of time browsing, mindlessly scrolling, etc. I am trying to get better about it. In reality, if I used social media solely for business I could do everything I need to do in 2 hours or less each day.

How has social media affected your business?
In every way possible! The way we run our business on the road, I honestly don’t know if it would be possible without social media. We are able to put our personalities and life out in front of so many people, which inspires and grows our niche every single day. We’ve had so many clients that were planning a traditional wedding until they came across our social media and were inspired to change it up.

List all of the gear that you bring to your weddings:
(2) Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 35 1.4L
Canon 50 1.2L
Canon 16-35 2.8L
Canon 24-70 2.8L
Canon 70-200 2.8L

The exact lens set-up depends on the location, but I most often use my 35L and Callen uses the 16-35L and 70-200L interchangeably.

How have you continued your photography education?
I am a very independent learner. Even before photography, I’ve always been really good at building skills by observing others. When I started my business, I learned so much by seeing how others were doing things and I still do that all the time now. I also believe practice is the best education, and I am pretty much always taking photos. We’ve been really adamant about documenting our own adventures, so I was doing “adventure sessions” well before our first paid gig.

Do you have any bucket list locations that you hope to shoot at one day?
Of course! Mostly secret canyons and corners of the Utah desert, and a few high country peaks in Yosemite. I’m always mentally saving locations for those brave clients that trust us to bring them anywhere! I also really want to shoot a wedding on a glacier one day. I’ve always been obsessed with ice and used to paint it all the time when I was in art school, so a glacier wedding would kind of be full-circle for me. Oh, and Mars. If we make it there in my lifetime…I’d love to shoot on a planet that entirely resembles my beloved Utah desert 😉

What is your favorite image that you’ve taken? Can you describe how you created it? What is it that makes it different? This is nearly impossible to decide, but one that really stands out is a photo of Castle Valley during an epic sunset/desert rainstorm. It was one of those perfect place at the perfect time moments, but it was anything but luck. Callen and I have an unspoken rule to do our best to be outdoors for every sunset when we’re in Moab, and we often try to get to one our favorite spots in time for it. We have a few spots within 10 minutes of town we’ll go to on a normal day, but when the weather suggests an epic sunset, we’ll drive as long as an hour to get to the right place. This one was just after a typical afternoon storm, but we figured it would sweep through Castle Valley and we went to a favorite overlook in the mountains to watch. It ended up being the most beautiful show of nature I’ve ever witnessed and Callen, being the saint that he is, ran back to the car to get my camera so I could watch the whole thing and shoot the tail end of it. These photos are absolutely beautiful and will be printed huge on our walls when we have a house one day.

Do you have any advice for those who are just beginning to pursue a photography career?
Shoot as often as you can. If you have a goal in mind for where you want your business to go, study the hell out of people who are where you want to be.

Describe your editing process?
I edit nearly everything starting with Mastin Labs Portra Pushed presets and tweak from there to fit the setting, mood, and location of the photos.

What software/applications could your business not live without?
HoneyBook, Adobe Lightroom, Squarespace, PhotoMechanic, and Jpeg Mini.

What gear would you recommend for a beginner photographer (camera body, lenses, etc.)?
An entry-level DSLR (I used a Canon Rebel) and a cheap prime lens (mine was a $100 Canon 50 1.8)! Learn it like the back of your hand, and then start upgrading based on your individual needs.

What’s playing in the background while you edit?
Either a podcast or the “Yosemite” playlist I created for myself on Spotify that starts with “Always Gold” by Radical Face every time.

What’s your biggest pet peeve in the wedding industry?
Hmm, it’s a toss-up between when photographers assume my job is easy because I shoot in beautiful locations, negating all of my hard work, sacrifice, and skill that goes into our work, OR when photographers travel to a beautiful place and fixate on getting a shoot there instead of enjoying/exploring the place for themselves.

Best advice you’ve ever received about being an artist, business person, or happy human?
Complacency kills. It’s something I was taught when I learned to skydive, and it’s obviously applicable to skydiving, but I’ve found it applies to literally everything. Ideally, I’d live in a way that I’m never complacent and I’m always striving to learn more, be better, smarter, healthier, stronger, etc. When I find myself being complacent about business, or social media, or photography, creativity, relationships, anything…everything suffers.

What’s next for your business?
A lot of adventures, deeper relationships, exciting new places, and more miles on the van. We absolutely love what we’re doing and want to do more of it!

Is there anything you want readers to know about that you’re working on or where they can learn more from you?
I am partnering with a fellow leader in the Adventure Weddings field, Maddie Mae, to lead a workshop focused solely on adventurous elopements this February in Yosemite National Park. We sold out our first set of dates within one day of launching, opened up a second set of dates a few days later, and sold out again! We are so excited for this workshop. We have a lot of dreams for the future with this platform, but are waiting for our first round of dates (and at least a month to debrief I’m sure!) before we make any more announcements. I can say that my degree is in Education and it’s something I very passionately about, so you will almost certainly be seeing more opportunities from me in the future!

Where can people follow you and your work?
The best way to keep up with us is through Instagram, and if you’re interested in more of our personal lives/van life on the road, @abbihearne as well. We also have an active blog on our website and a Facebook page.

Thank you to The Hearnes for taking a break from their van life to share some behind the scenes of their adventurous weddings and photo sessions! If you loved learning more about some photographers in the industry, then check out this spotlight interview with Jacob Loafman!

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