With 10 years of experience as a professional photographer, Vancouver-based Hannah Tabert decided it was time to finally stretch her entrepreneurial wings and start her own photography business. With her relational approach to photoshoots, Hannah lets her subjects’ guide her lens, capturing those elusive moments of authenticity:
“I think that at its core, photography is about telling people’s stories. That’s why images are valuable; they tell those stories.”
We spoke with Hannah about how she came to love photography, the influence fashion has had on her career, and her experiences as an entrepreneur:
HT: Honestly, I wasn’t immediately taken with photography. When I first started taking pictures I was like, “this isn’t real art, this is cheating!” I thought painting was real art because you have to create it, whereas with photography you’re just capturing an image.
In high school, I took an intro course for digital media and learned the basics. I started taking cameras out on the weekend. I would take thousands of ridiculous, terrible photos, partly for projects, but also for my own enjoyment. I started thinking, “Okay, maybe this is real art,” and once I accepted that, I found I really liked it. I started doing shoots for friends and classmates, and through word-of-mouth, I slowly started getting more clients.
At first, photography wasn’t my focus, but it was a constant - it was always there - and I ended up being good at it.
HT: I think if I hadn’t had the fashion influence, I probably would’ve stayed where I started, in the sphere of family and maternity sessions. Fashion exposed me to editorial shoots, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise, and allowed me to develop connections in the fashion industry.
Fashion is a whole other world, and I’m glad to have access to it. Photography and fashion are very compatible, and I love being able to work with other creative people on a shoot.
I like to bring that approach of working with others to my client shoots as well. I want to make their session a collaborative experience, so I work to create an open environment for that to happen. I’ll ask them questions like, “What are you envisioning?” or “Is there something you’d like to try?” to tune into their expectations. I find some people are happy with me directing them, while others want to be more involved. Either way, I try to create a space with my photoshoots where if the client has an idea, they feel comfortable sharing. If the energy is there, I want it to be able to flow.
When clients contribute their creativity to a shoot, it can end up being really magical.
HT: My approach, especially during photoshoots, is very relational. A big priority for me is to get to know the client, to make sure they’re having an experience they enjoy by creating that connection with them. I’ve worked really hard to find a balance between my creative vision and including the client as part of that process. Balance is really important, and when you’re successful at making people comfortable, being aware of their needs and feelings during a shoot, you’re going to get better photos.
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HT: For me, it’s about allowing real relationships to feed the creative process.
From the moment I meet a client, I am myself. I don’t want them to feel like this is just a transactional experience, so I’m really warm and open with them. I try to create an environment where they can relax. I make it personal, checking in with them and asking questions about their lives and how their day’s going throughout the session. They end up giving me little clues I can use and draw on to make their session and photos more meaningful.
HT: Whenever I get asked this question, I always come back to how cool it is that I get to build all these relationships and I have access to all these situations that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Photography gives you a reason to be somewhere, and it invites people to you. They see your camera and think, “Hey, you’re interested in what’s going on in the world.”
While I was studying fashion, I went to Cambodia for a three-month internship. While I was there, photography gave me purpose; it motivated me to go into places tourists don’t usually go. People were always interested in me once they saw that I had a camera, and it allowed me to interact with them in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
I think that at its core, photography is about telling people’s stories. That’s why images are valuable; they tell those stories.
HT: It’s been really good! Part of me wonders if I should be more freaked out than I am [laughs], but I think that’s a testament to the fact that this is the right path for me.
I’ve had this business for 10 years, and over those years I’d built up something of a client base and an online presence, but I wasn’t planning on going full-time until the beginning of the summer. Last spring I had a moment where I realized that I had nothing left to lose - that this was the perfect time to take a risk - so I said eff it; I was going to do something I was passionate about. I didn’t want to play it safe anymore; I was going to go off on my own and have this adventure!
For me it was definitely the right call. People have been so supportive and encouraging, and I feel like I’ve been attracting a lot of positive attention. It’s been really great so far. There’s still a lot of work to do, but it feels good.
HT: That’s a good question; it’s actually changed a lot over the years. When I first started out I loved editing. I still enjoy it now; it’s such a creative process, but I think my focus has shifted. Now I’m excited to explore the more entrepreneurial side of things, like finding leads and meeting new clients.
Recently I met a family that found me through Focal, and I came away from that shoot thinking about how they really were my ideal client. Their attitude toward the shoot fit really well with my style, and afterwards we ended up just chatting about travel and parenthood for half an hour. I find that sort of thing so rewarding, exploring the relationships that can be created through photography.
I think that’s what my photographic process is really centred around: relationships, and the creative energy that comes with them.