December 10, 2019
Today Lindsey and Evie welcome one of their best friends in the photography industry, the queen of adventurous elopements and an advocate for the outdoors, Abbi Hearne.
Abbi is an adventurer, outdoor advocate, climber, skydiver, and photographer based in the Utah desert. She and her husband Callen run The Hearnes Adventure Photography, specializing in intimate weddings and elopements all over the American west but mainly in Moab, Yosemite National Park, and Alaska. They lived on the road full time for three and a half years and recently bought a house in Moab where they now spend Spring and Fall while still traveling 6+ months of the year. Abbi has built her business and lifestyle around adventure and time in the places she loves most. While her business thrives she emphasizes her own love of the outdoors, trying to never become “too busy” to enjoy life outside of work! The Hearnes are at the top of their niche, often setting the course for others pursuing adventure wedding photography, and have done so in non-traditional ways that go far beyond the tempting all-in mentality of early entrepreneurship. They have redefined the world of elopements, pushed the boundaries of adventure in wedding clothes, and done so while falling even more in love with the environment and the landscapes that drew them to this business in the first place.
They dive ALL into how Abbi navigated her wedding photography business from Houston, Texas shooting big weddings to what she’s known for now: serving the niche of epic, high end, adventurous elopement weddings. They discuss practical ways she raised her pricing over time, how she became a lover and advocate for protecting the outdoors, AND how to balance the leave no trace stance as a photographer whose job it is to shoot in the outdoors. Abbi brings such a unique and NECESSARY perspective to being a destination wedding photographer. If you’re a photographer who has always dreamed of traveling and shooting destination elopements in especially beautiful places, this episode is a MUST listen.
Abbi began just like any normal photographer. When she picked up a camera for the first time she completely fell in love with the process. Throughout college, Abbi always had a camera in hand taking pictures of her friends and even a few senior portraits.
While in college, she began interning with a wedding photographer. She remembers getting home from her first wedding in the internship and telling herself she was never going to do that on her own. But, by the end of college Abbi had shot 10 weddings and the photographer ended up referring a wedding to Abbi. The bride happened to be a friend of Abbi’s and asked her to shoot the wedding. Abbi said absolutely not, but the friend didn’t take no for an answer.
Abbi finally said yes and asked Callen, her husband, to second shoot the wedding. Callen learned how to work a camera a week before and the two bought a camera on the way to the wedding. They ended up crushing the wedding and had a ton of fun working together.
This is when Abbi really decided to go full time with photography and give it a try. She began her business and starting watching every free webinar and youtube video there was on photography. The two booked a few weddings by word of mouth and from there, grew their business in Texas for two years.
Then, they began road tripping out west. Abbi has always been obsessed with Yosemite and made it a goal to travel there more. Their goal was to build their business while still taking time off to travel out west. Their business very cleanly transitioned from shooting big Texas weddings to more elopements and shoots in national parks. Eventually they hit the road full time doing what they are doing today.
Their business changed as their lifestyle changed.
Having a personal brand is so huge, especially for photographers. Abbi and Callen put a huge emphasis on this. Abbi truly believes the most strategic things they have ever done are to be fully themselves, live the life they want, and set their goals towards this life. Their business naturally followed this because they are pursued their dreams which inevitably attracted like minded clients.
Abbi’s biggest advice is to go to the place you want to shoot. Want to shoot in Utah? Go to Utah. You are not going to convince someone to hire you in a place if you have never been there. You have to show that you enjoy that place, it matters to you, and these are your values.
Obviously taking great photos and having a business was important for Abbi and Callen, but the biggest drive in their business was because it was their passion and what they wanted out of life.
Abbi’s job allows her to spend more time in Moab, Yosemite, Alaska, and the outdoors in general. It was so important for Abbi and Callen to put their passions first and then have their business follow.
When they first hit the road, they had zero weddings booked. They had a goal to live on the road and shoot at least three weddings a year in order to live in their camper behind their Subaru in public land in Utah. That was their big dream. Obviously it ended up working out a lot better than that! It all came from their desire to be in the outdoors and spend more time doing the things they loved and building a business that facilitated that.
It’s their lifestyle as well as their business and that truly has been the biggest thing to allow them to build what they have built.
Abbi will be the first to say that pricing makes her anxious. For Abbi and Callen it has always been about analyzing the value they bring to the table.
When couples receive their gallery and say it was 100% worth the investment, that is when Abbi knows her pricing is spot on.
Anytime they raise their prices, they bring up the value as well. Abbi truly believes that the value should be beyond what the price is for their clients.
Photographers often think that since they have been in business for a certain amount of time they should raise their prices. But, you should really be thinking about if you are bringing the value up. Are you more valuable now than you were a year ago? The answer is typically yes, but you need to analyze how this is so.
If Abbi and Callen receive more inquiries than what they can book, this is usually an indicator that they can raise their prices.
Abbi and Callen feel confident in the energy they bring to the table and have had so many couples at the end of their shoot say, “I don’t need to see photos. This was already worth what I paid.”
One of the biggest things to think about is that there are different people with different budgets all over. A lot of people will naturally think that if you have a huge budget you are going to have a big wedding with a massive party and fancy place settings. Or if you have a small budget you are going to have a small wedding in your backyard.
But, anyone that has shot a wedding knows that people who have a small budget can still have a ton of guests. Or there are people with a huge budget and will have a 50 person wedding. Abbi has never noticed the budget actually dictating how many people are present at a wedding.
The average wedding is $35,000 in the US. Think about if you have 200 people at your wedding what that $35,000 would look like compared to if you took that money and spent it on an epic trip for just the couple.
So many couples get engaged and as they begin to plan a traditional wedding, look at the options and prices of convenient venues, and dive into the guest list decide that eloping is the best choice for them. They may stumble across one of Abbi’s photos on Pinterest and know that that is what they want their wedding to look like. Paying for Abbi is often only half of what they would have initially spent on a venue, and they may even have some extra money in the budget for a helicopter tour.
Couples see how much further their money will go and what experience they will have if the budget for their wedding is just spent on a few people doing something versus buying dinner for 200 strangers.
Abbi has always cared about the outdoors and her impact. When they started adventuring on their own out west they began to learn how to camp respectfully. When they started their business, Abbi remembers seeing a few photographers shooting in Moab and would walk straight through the crypto, a very fragile soil in Moab. They would step right through it and even have their couples standing in it. Or she would see people in Yosemite going into the meadow past signs that say “Restoration Area”.
She wondered how someone could spend time in such a beautiful place and basically exploit it for their own gain. Abbi saw this not just with wedding photographers but also influencers on Instagram. This was always so frustrating so she began researching to see how she can teach others about this. It was surprisingly met with some negativity. People were either saying they were going to do their own thing or “community over competition, don’t tell me what to do”.
Often people truly don’t know. Anytime you call someone out for doing something wrong they are going to be defensive. Abbi has found that the best approach is to nicely call someone out so they will hopefully make better choices next time.
For Abbi, it has always been about self regulation. National parks are severely underfunded and understaffed. There isn’t going to be a ranger with every photographer to tell them what to do and what not to do. We can each take an initiative as grown adults and learn what is right and wrong and what is having a negative impact. It is important to care about the place. It gives us so much and the least we can do is respect it when we are there.
There is no such thing as perfection. Our existence in the outdoors has a negative impact. That is just the truth. Every trail, every road, ever car exhaust hurts the park. But you can take the initiative to not hurt it more than necessary and then give yourself grace when you mess up.
People need to realize that these places are not as tough as we think they are. They need our help and our defense. It needs to be a relationship. It shouldn’t just be that we go to Yosemite and take what we can get from it and come back and benefit from the land and the land pays the price.
It takes one set of footprints for thousands to follow. If you get an incredible photo by breaking the rules people are going to copy that photo. It’s inevitable.
It’s always something Abbi is figuring out. It is a balance. Abbi trusts her gut instincts when posting on Instagram. For example, Abbi has often shot at Taft Point, a sheer cliff that drops off 300,000 ft. You do not want to mess up when you are there. It has become so popular for wedding photos and people who have never hiked are going out there for the first time. Abbi has seen photographers pressuring their clients to go closer to the edge. Because of this Abbi has stopped posting certain photos.
Abbi also realizes that it is not her responsibility to monitor what other people do. She knows her expertise and her couples’ abilities and analyzes this to make a decision. She can not control what other people do when they see her photos.
Abbi and Callen are extremely experienced and while they could technically take a client out hiking or on a glacier, they have a strict business rule that if anything requires more than standard hiking equipment they require the couple to hire a guide. Even if they are totally equipped to do so, they have chosen they do not want to be responsible for a rescue or teaching them how to repel while taking wedding photos. They believe that hiring a guide is a great way to ensure that you have the safety regulations, someone to get you to the location, and medical equipment on hand. Abbi always recommends taking a guide if you are at all uneasy about a situation or place you are taking a couple.
Abbi’s biggest recommendation is to take baby steps towards enjoying adventure. If you have never hiked a day in your life, then find a local trail. If you live somewhere with no access to the outdoors, then start saving for a trip.
Just get out there. Go to the place, start falling in love with it. Truly, step one is to be so in love with these places that you can’t imagine doing anything that takes you away from them. This was the biggest driving factor for Abbi and everything else came after that. And obviously bring your camera and take a ton of photos.
Abbi and Callen chose to live on the road because they wanted to live in Western US. At the time they were in Texas and couldn’t afford to move, but they did have their Subaru and tiny camper. They knew they could live in public land where there was free camping and explore around the western part of the US. They had in their minds that they would either return to Texas, or their crazy pipe dream that they would fall in love with a place enough to live there. (Spoiler alert: They did! It’s Moab.) It started as a 3 month sabbatical to travel around the US and then return to Texas. The more they talked, the more they realized coming back to Texas wasn’t going to happen. So, they hit the road with no plan. Ten months in they bought their van that they lived in for a year before buying the truck that they now travel half of the year in.
It was always about spending as much time as possible in the places they loved. They fell in love with Moab, Yosemite, and Alaska. When they first started the business they shot all over the place, but now they have zeroed in on those three places.
There is no where in the world that Abbi has been that she didn’t wish she was in Moab at the time. It feels like a part of her soul is in Moab and Yosemite.
Living on the road provided an inconsistent lifestyle and lack of routine. For the first year and a half they didn’t have any friends on the road and that was really difficult. It was hard to leave the amazing community and church in Texas. They began to make friends a year and a half in through the different activities they were doing. They started this whole journey and the hardest thing was the lack of community but now Abbi looks back and realizes the community she has now is what has carried her through the difficult parts of life on the road. It took a lot of work to develop those friendships but they now have a consistent community in Moab and Yosemite. They also have a lot of friends who are mobile as well. It’s like having neighbors that live all over the world with you.
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