Emilie Sommer Sandifer, owner of emilie inc. photography
, is a Maine wedding photographer powerhouse. Her company also runs the popular coastal wedding blog, Love & Lobster and a nonprofit called Pink Initiative. Emilie's team is the photography partner for our 2012 Real Maine Wedding of the Year contest in Portland. She slowed down long enough to answer some questions for us...and we sure are grateful!
How did you get started in photography?
I had an old 35mm camera as a kid that I chased after our family dog with relentlessly. By high school, a formal photography class and teacher who I credit with my career and should have named our first born after, sealed the deal. I honed my passion in the darkroom rolling film reels, tapping fixer, burning and dodging until I was tossed out each afternoon. The position of yearbook editor enabled my obsession even more. Not even out of high school and I was hooked!
I headed to college to learn more, earning a degree in photojournalism at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University in New York. There I was the photo editor of the daily school newspaper and studied for a semester abroad in London with a National Geographic photographer. Diploma in hand, I moved right away to the nation's capitol to take photographs for USA Today. My first assignment was to photograph the President. No pressure, right?
When I wasn't scooting around Capitol Hill, I was criss-crossing the country shooting professional sports teams, controversial headline news, behind-the-television-scenes of the Miss America pageant, and even Oprah. I was 22 years old and on top of the world! But I felt like I needed to see more, do more. So I applied for a grant through the White House News Wedding Photographers Association and won! It opened doors to do work with Agence France-Presse, The Washington Times
, and The Washington Post Magazine
. The latter turned into my next resume stop and before long, I moved over to an editing position on The Washington Post
news desk—the youngest photo editor ever.
Honored, but hazy on an office job, I eventually entertained the hunger to be shooting more regularly by photographing weddings outside of my 9-5 (or, er, 4-midnight, whichever the week might bring). Emilie Inc. was born in 2003. I moved to Maine from D.C. in 2004 after photographing my cousin's wedding on the Marginal Way in Ogunquit and I haven't looked back since. Why couples want to be photographed in front of the Washington Monument, I'll never understand. A beach ceremony and lobster bake reception? Yes, please!
What do you love about wedding photography?
What I don't love about wedding photography might be the shorter answer! Feeding off my natural instincts from covering deadline events for newspapers, I first and foremost adore the opportunity to be the exclusive photographer within the parameters of a set timeframe. I know where I'm going and for how long, and for the most part, what is going to happen. I don't have to worry about elbowing my way through a mass of photographers for position and my couples are happy to see me, unlike some assignments I covered where gaining access was tricky and sometimes unwelcome!
What happens in between the start and the finish is what rings my bell because no matter how similar in structure, every wedding is always, always, always different. The location, the weather, those pretty and personal details, sure. But I'm talking about the meat of why I do what I do: the emotion! The interaction between the couple, their family, their friends! The movement and the moving moments of the day. It's like being handed a photo assignment for the newspaper and having all the who, what, where and when fields filled out, but then a big empty blank in the description section as that has yet to be written. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
What is the biggest challenge you face when shooting a wedding?
"Shooting weddings" and "challenge" definitely belong in the same sentence. Photographing a wedding is hard work—end of story. Being both literally and figuratively on your toes for 8, 10, 12 hours a day in the rain/heat/snow/bright sun/dark dance floor, etc., isn't easy. Multiple locations, tight timelines, and couples who are too caught up in the logistics to truly enjoy it make for a challenging day. It's not for everyone, that's for sure. I personally love the challenge, or else I wouldn't have sustained for nearly 10 years doing the same thing.
What should clients know about your style of photography?
I don't fake anything. I take my job very seriously and am flattered to witness such a rite of passage in the start of a family history. I don't create pictures, I capture what's happening in front of me. It's photojournalism through and through, and the only way I know to shoot. Drawn from my school and newspaper roots, it's documentation in its purest form.
When you're not behind the camera, what do you like to do?
If I'm not shooting, my time is shared between being in the office and being a wife and mama. We have six photographers at emilie inc., a studio manager, a designer, a writer, and a summer intern. It's a fun and very full operation! In addition to weddings, I run Love and Lobster, a coastal New England wedding inspiration blog; Roots Workshop, a weeklong wedding photojournalism intensive workshop; and Pink Initiative, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit for wedding vendors dedicated to raising funds for breast cancer. Will is my and hubby J's 14 month old luvbug, my motivation to be the best mother possible. I hug each and every mom at my weddings a little tighter since becoming one myself! It's a mighty awesome job. Life is full!
How can the couple help YOU on their wedding day?
Nothing! Ignore me (I'm serious), and have fun! That's it. And if you need me to do anything beyond take pictures—I've often stepped in to wear the hat of coordinator or friend many times throughout the day—I've got your back. I've been to hundreds of weddings, which I assume my couples have not, so it's my pleasure to help out whenever I can in whatever capacity!
Where will your business be in the next 5 years?
Looking back on where my business was five years ago is the best gauge to predict where it will be five years from now. We're one of the few actual studios (multiple photographers) in the area and managing the day-to-day business of the business is exciting to me. I used to "play office" when I was a kid, so it's the part of the equation that helps fulfill my dream job scenario from my childhood. The sky's the limit, I've always said, and I'll be sure to keep you posted!