Last Shoot

This weekend marks a milestone…

About ten years ago some friends of ours saw how much I was enjoying photography with my first little point ‘n click camera and gifted us with an SLR camera we never could have dreamt of purchasing ourselves. Just a few weeks later we were approached to do our first wedding shoot. Wifey Dagmar and I were sooo happy our friend Barb helped us for our first few weddings as we gradually learned the ropes.

Since then we’ve gone through cameras and lenses and lighting systems and props, constantly upgrading our equipment best we could over the years – Dagmar was “the bossy one” who would organize the shots and get everyone organized, I was the quiet one behind the lens pushing buttons like a madman, spending weeks or months afterwards editing each shoot. Every year we did a few more wedding shoots, sprinkling in high school senior photo shoots and family photos in our schedule whenever we could. We kept quite busy, and had a good time!

But things change… It gradually became apparent that my Beloved Alpine Wifey was struggling physically to get through a wedding (a wedding shoot often lasts ten, twelve, fourteen hours – with the photographers on their feet nearly the entire time). I don’t know if our customers could tell or not (I doubt it), but I could tell. She wasn’t able to hold or carry a camera for long, and she’d need to sit and rest quite often. She quit helping me with smaller shoots altogether, and we had a wedding where it was apparent that she just couldn’t do it any longer. At one point she was so exhausted and distracted by the pain that she kept reverting to her native German.

“Maybe you should call Sara,” she said the next day. “I didn’t do vell yesterday. Sara could maybe help you with the next vedding?”

“Sara? Sara who?” I asked.

“Sara, you know, the happy little twinkletoes with the little blonde girl?”

“Wait, Sara’s a photographer?” I blinked a few times. “Really?”

“Really. You should creep people’s Facebook pages more often. Her pictures are good. Call her and see if she’ll help you. Vait, I know you. I’ll call her, you suck at phones.”

We’d done work for Sara Krause on several occasions. Had she TOLD me she was a photographer, I would have panicked and spent a zillion hours second-guessing every edit I made to one of her photos… And Dagmar was right – not only was she a photographer, but a very good one! She quickly became my Number One Ace Photography Assistant (I hate to call her an “assistant,” she could easily run her own photography studio, but “associate” sounds odd to me).

The next few years HippieBoy Design expended our photography quite a bit, Sara and I both learning new photography techniques, updating editing software, and doing various shoots every week. We quickly got to the point where we couldn’t keep up with the editing. Each hour of shooting often equals between four and six hours of editing; an average wedding shoot means about eighty man-hours of work in post-production. In the winter and early spring of 2015 we decided to add a few more folks to the HippieBoy Design team to help out – Matti Smith, Stacy Harpeneau, and Lexi Millikan. Things were looking up! We were busy, had a ton of stuff booked, and were expanding. Yay!

But then Wifey’s health issues really began to overwhelm us a bit. In April she was no longer able to work, and shortly afterwards she started having seizures – with the added bonus that she’d sometimes quit breathing or have an asthma attack during the episode. It was very clear that it wasn’t feasible for me to be away from home very often or very long as we needed someone to come and watch Wifey whilst I was gone. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that we couldn’t book any more photography. “We’ll honor our commitments and do the shoots we already have booked,” I said. “I’ll keep all the archives and my website and whatnot so our customers can still get in touch with me if they need to. But I’m going to quit booking new shoots.” I felt bad – I was hoping to have more work for the HippieChicks as we’d just got everyone trained and had our workflow hammered out, but they understood.

Last summer we were still very busy with wedding shoots as well as just a few smaller shoots that had been booked in advance. Both Sara and I felt a sense of relief when we finished the season last fall. We both truly enjoy photography, but I was trying to adjust to my new role as Wifey’s caretaker, and Sara was a bit overworked and needed a bit of a break. I e-mailed her this spring, “We just have two weddings this summer that were booked in 2016. It’ll be fun to do those – I’m looking forward to them! It will be odd, though, when we’re done… We’ve been doing this so long it’s hard to imagine not having a shoot on the calendar.”

We did one wedding shoot about six weeks ago. This weekend is our last shoot.

I’ve had folks we did wedding photos for call us years later to take photos of their children, we’ve done senior photos for awkward 17-year-olds who called us years later as confident adults to do their wedding photos… We’ve had the opportunity to travel a bit, doing shoots in Des Moines, up north of Sioux Falls, at the lakes. It means a lot to me that I’ve remained friends with quite a few of my customers through Facebook and other channels – I like the thought that we’re not just hired photographers, but friends. I have absolutely no idea how many photo shoots we’ve done in the past decade, but it’s a lot. And whenever I trip over old photos on my computer it brings back so many good memories of the shoot, meeting the people, all the goofy things that happened during the shoot (and there are always goofy things happening), it all comes back in a flash.

So, tomorrow I’ll charge up my batteries, pack all my cameras and lenses up, load the lights in the car, set out my suit ‘n tie out one last time… And on Sunday I’ll unpack it all and put it away. I have a space ready in the basement where I can set up my lights and do macro and hobby photography and store the rest of my gear. But it will be strange not to have three cameras and two tripods in my office, memory cards scattered on my desk, battery chargers filling every spare outlet in the room, invoices and contracts filling my little filing cabinet, six external hard drives full of photos whirring away on my desk.

I’ll miss it.

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