What made you decide to become an outdoor/hiking/climbing photographer?
I had always packed a camera and made photographs on my adventures (growing up in Alaska, there were many). At first it was with the latest funky 110 camera gifted to me from my grandfather. In college I finally got my hands on a Nikon and a couple lenses that I packed around on our weekend excursions to the Alaska Range. My first serious personal project was a winter mountaineering expedition to the north side of Denali (20,320 ft) with a couple friends. That was the first time I thought about what I was doing as ‘work’. After successfully pitching the photographs to a couple magazines, I never looked back. Felt like this photography thing was going to work after all.
What's the most successful technique that you've used to build your business?
Starting out we would take pretty much whatever assignment came our way (except weddings and babies). We once took an assignment to travel around the country photographing pay phone locations for a client. Most of these jobs were lucrative, but not moving our business in the direction we wanted. The people we wanted to be working for were not going to take us seriously as a couple of skitzos. It was time to focus. A few years ago we revised our business plan and started working to create a brand identity to let prospective clients know exactly who we are and what we do. This process has streamlined our promotional efforts, style of photography and the type of work we pursue. Even though it can be hard to pass on assignments that don’t fit our style, the new level of professionalism has opened many more doors than it has closed.
What's your best business advice to photographers struggling with the business side of things?
Trust. Just like in any other business, your clients need to be able to trust that you will do the job or deliver work to their standards as promised. Of course you need to be a somewhat talented photographer to make a go at this. But not an ‘amazing’ photographer. I think to be considered a professional, you need to be able to create photography that will suit the client’s expectations, even when nearly everything goes wrong. And then do it again the next week.
What's your "Photoshop Philosophy"? What is your goal when editing?
Our style is clean, bright and real. Coming from a film background (photojournalism), we produce most of our work in camera, when it is happening. We rely on the in-camera jpeg settings to control the look or feel we want for a particular shoot. We’re not too fond of spending a lot of time in post processing.
What's your best tip for shooting outdoors in full sun?
Yeah, we do shoot a lot of our work in mid-day light. Unless we have strobes to add contrast to a set-up, we are big fans of using side lighting techniques. Let the ambient wrap around the subject. Otherwise I'll take back lighting or moving into the shadows over full frontal. Bright overcast and dusk are our favorite conditions to shoot.
What kind of companies hire out for your type of photography?
Our client base is made up of outdoor equipment/clothing companies and retailers, active lifestyle magazines, travel bureaus, travel book publishers, and associated stock agencies.
What was your favorite location you've shot?
That's a tough one. We keep going back to Sedona, AZ for backpacking and mountain bike work. Patagonia has probably been our favorite location overseas for travel and backpacking. Literally fantastic settings for doing our kind of work, plus post trek steak ad malbec wine.
How do you split up the workload between the two of you?
We definitely play on our strengths. Matt is in charge of keeping the work coming in and Agnes is in charge of delivering that work once it's done. She is the financial genius, keeping us on budget, investing, saving, coming up with the estimates and making up the budget for the next project. He keeps up on the technical aspect of digital photography and post processing, does most of the networking, and is in charge of putting our recent work out there. Out in the field, we 'see' images and work on the next set-up for commercial shoots.
What is life like on the go? What is your least favorite thing about traveling all over the world?
Our assignment load has us on the road six months a year. We usually break this into two month blocks with some weeks back home before heading out again. Lately we've been doing a bunch of 10-day turn arounds, which are not that much fun. Probably our least favorite aspect of a lot of travel is that it's hard to stay in shape on the road. Most of our time is spent getting to the next place, logistics, planning, packing and taking care of biz at some bar/cafe. There's actually not that much time for regular exercise like there is when we're at home. Usually we're only in a town for a few days before heading out again. There's a lot of work that needs to be done in those days, most of which includes sitting at a MacBook.
What is your favorite thing as a traveling photographer?
Our favorite is when we find ourselves in those outrageous OMG locations and get to work there all day (or week). We once had an entire week where we got to use Mt Everest as a background element on a backpacking shoot. You can't help but pinch yourself on days like that. Also there are the stories that we have from years on the road. Characters, places, situations that we would not believe otherwise.
Keep in touch with Matt & Agnes:
Avid! That one word sums up the duo of Matt and Agnes Hage. From their Anchorage basecamp, they pack more into six months than most do in as many years. But that's how you have to operate in AK if you want to get anywhere on your 'to do" list. Have you seen the size of this place?! We pretty much have our own continent up here, including 17 of the 20 highest peaks in North America, thousand-mile long rivers and enough wilderness for a lifetime of trekking.
Love to Travel! Though they certainly do plenty of work in teh Chugach Mountains right out their back door, they're known to go 'Outside'. HagePhoto has taken on photography assignments all over the American West, Canada, Pacific Islands and Patagonian Andes. And this all in the last year!