Featured Photographer: Gene Higa

Named One of the Top Ten Wedding Photographers in the World, Gene Higa has got mojo. He has shot weddings all over the world from Spain to Greece to Peru. We love his style, his artistic eye, his composition and the dynamic photos he captures from exotic locales. Take a look below…they speak for themselves.

Thanks for sharing your story Gene…these are some good words of advice:

How did you get started in photography?

I discovered photography in college. I was studying art history at the time, when my mom suggested I take a photography course. As they say, mother knows best. THANKS MOM! So, I dug up my dad’s old 35mm film camera and took a beginning black and white class. I soon fell in love with the art of photography and watching my print develop in the darkroom. I took every photography course I could, spending most of my free time in the darkrooms and all of my money buying film. Having so much passion, I wanted to surround myself with photography. So, I got a night job working in a professional lab. There I learned about everything in professional photography–developing large rolls of film, seeing that pros were shooting portraits, weddings and so much more. Working in the lab opened my eyes to the possibility of pursing photography as a career. After several years of working in the lab, going to school during the day and busing tables on the weekends, I had to make a serious decision. How was I going to get my foot in the door? One of my teachers at the time, pulled me out of class during a class critique. He encouraged me to be a photographer and asked if I was interested in being his assistant on the weekends. He was a professional wedding photographer. I thought this would be perfect. I could help him on Saturdays, bus tables on Sundays and keep my night job at the lab. I was now immersed in photography. Photography became the driving force for everything in my life. There I was carrying his bags, learning to use a light meter and changing film in Hasselblad backs. Hard work, but I was learning so much. I would also take notes on what we were doing during the wedding. My notes would read, roll 12, frame 6, exposure f8, flash 5.6, 150 lens at 10 feet. I did this every time there was a situation I didn’t understand. Like why was the flash pointed up at the ceiling and not at the subject. Or metering the off-camera flashes. Then at night when I saw his film coming through the lab I would grab his film, develop it, grab my notes and physically see what his exposure was. I was teaching myself how to properly expose film at a professional level. Now, when we would be out shooting in the church or at receptions, I could set up his exposures for him and be a step ahead of him. Something I still do in my head.

Now, I’m just a step ahead of my bride. A buddy of his needed help in the studio. I thought that I really wanted to get this job. But, I would have to quit school to do it. So, I got the job and now was learning the business side of professional wedding photography. I had the best of both worlds. In the studio I was learning studio lighting and classic portraiture, album layouts, paperwork, consultations and all that fun stuff. But, one thing I noticed was both photographers were always turning down work because of price or availability. One day I mustered up the courage to ask if could take a couple of shots at the wedding or even be considered for a referral. My very first shot at a wedding is below of the bride walking down the staircase at Pebble Beach. I was so nervous, that I only took that one shot. That shot still hangs above my desk, it reminds me to not forget where I came from and how all this began. After that shot got published and was blown up for the bride’s home, I got my first referral. I didn’t have a portfolio to share with her except what I shot in college, so I took her to a beautiful spot and sold her on me and not my lack of wedding photography.

Funny, I still do that today. I charged the bride $500 and I shot it all in film. Being so excited about the wedding, I actually overshot it and could not afford to get her film out of the lab. So, I had to work overtime in the studio and make the money to get her 5×5 and 4×6 prints out of the lab. But, the wedding turned out great. I then took 20 images of the wedding that I loved, called coffee houses in affluent areas and toured my prints for the next 12 months. I made postcards with my packages, I had $995, $1295, and $1595 packages. I gave myself 6 months to go for it. I added up all my expenses for one month and saved that amount times six. I quit school and all my jobs. I lived off my savings for the next 6 months. Guess what, the packages sold like hotcakes. If I received a call for a wedding, I set up the meeting in the coffee house where my prints where hanging. It became my studio, and booked 37 weddings my first year. I was in business. I have been shooting weddings for 16 years and I still thank my mom for suggesting I take a photography class with a trip to Hawaii every other year.

Who have been your influences in photography?

I love all types of photography. But, our coffee table is covered in photography books like Vanity Fair portraits, Sebastiao Salgado, and David La Chapelle. We have subscriptions to W, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Love and miss Monty Zucker and Don Blair. PDN used to do this article called 30 under 30. Loved that! But, I really like fashion photography, like Niegel Barker.

How would you define your style of photography?

I shoot amazing portraits. My gift is I know how to pose people and can create strong, elegant and fun portraits anywhere in any lighting situation. I’m good with people and that is a plus on the wedding day. I know how to use light to enhance my portraits. But, I throw in a dash of photojournalism, fun, landscapes and details. I do it all because I am a wedding photographer and my goal is to tell stories. My style is a story teller with amazing portraits.

What is one thing that has helped you grow your business?
60% marketing and 40% photography. I figure, I am good photographer already, but the trick is to come out of nonexistence and be given more opportunities to be a photographer. What’s the point in being a good photographer if no one ever knew I existed.

What is one thing that has helped you grow as an artist?
I am an artist by nature. For that I have my aunt to thank. She took me to galleries when I was a kid. So, I was always exposed to art. I still do that today and love all art. I can spend days in the Smithsonian. But, I always have the mentality that I want to learn something new. Right now I’m learning Final Cut Pro.

What is one failure that helped you grow as a business person/artist?
Making money is easy, keeping it is the hard part. I have to learn to be better with my money. I love to buy nice things and go to nice places. Frugal is my new motto in life.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to a person that is in the first few years of their photography business?
Your success will be defined by your opportunities.

Check out his site at http://www.genehiga.com.

Gene is offering an awesome, upcoming seminar, “The Album Workshop,” in Sacramento on Nov. 7. For more information, take a look.