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Ahead of the Pack: Amy Beth Harkess

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Photo by Megan Eckers

At seven I already felt certain of two things.

1. I never wanted to get married.
2. My wedding would be the biggest, bestest, most sequined and silky celebration ever to rock New York City where I would live in my penthouse while staring on Broadway and raising German Shepherd puppies.

I’ve always been comfortable with contradiction.

Here’s what I’m certain of now:

1. “Bestest” isn’t a word.
2. If I were to get married I’d employ Chicago wedding photographer Amy Beth Harkess.

Influenced by a strong background in nature photography, Harkess’ focus on details separates her from the pack. (Because there’s totally a roving pack of slathering wedding photographers in Chicago. I think they live under the viaduct on Western.) For the past five years Harkess has photographed weddings, commitment ceremonies and unions professionally in the Chicago area, as well as across the country. She spoke with Our Town about film vs. digital, her equipment and, randomly, Kanye West.

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Photo by Amy Beth Harkess

Our Town Your website says “What I love most about photography is how it changes the way I look at the world, even when I don't have a camera in my hands!" Tell me more.
Amy Beth Harkess As I started spending more time taking photos, this strange thing started happening; I saw amazing moments everywhere. What had once been an annoying long commute because of a rain storm turned into seeing the most amazing reflections of headlights and wet cars in the puddles on the pavement. As a photographer, I'm often focused on an end result that I'm going to share with other people. It's been refreshing to remember that the passion I have for photography is often due to those little moments, and I don't have to have a camera to see them.

OT You were trained as a musician, what made you decide to work as a photographer?
AH I always enjoyed taking pictures, especially of nature and wildlife. After running into a throng of photographers at the Chicago Botanic Garden (who had been annoying me because I somehow feel my membership card makes it my territory), I joined their online photo club. Through that, I found and joined [another], run by photographer Gina DeConti of Imaginative Studios. [When] Gina asked if I'd be interested in doing wedding work, the wedding photography bug bit me and I can't imagine not being a photographer. Also, I highly overestimated the need for bassoon players.

OT What gear do you use?
AH My digital gear is all Canon professional gear. I have two camera bodies, an assortment of lenses including wide angle, standard/normal range, telephoto and macro [plus] supplemental lighting equipment. I've also adopted a lot of abandoned and unloved film cameras. The ones most frequently in rotation (and most likely to tag along to a gig) are my Canon A-1 (an old manual 35mm camera from the 80s), a Canon EOS 3, my Mamiya 645 and my Polaroid 440 Land Camera.

OT You work with digital and film. What are the pros and cons of each?
AH Digital photography has come so far. The pro cameras allow us to shoot in near complete darkness. Because memory cards are reasonably priced, you can take as many photographs as you'd like, without worrying about the price per frame. On the other hand, more files means more editing time. Digital is also a little unforgiving at the extreme ends of light. Ever have a photo that looked lovely, except that the sky was white, instead of the blue you remembered it being? Blame digital. Film can handle those extremes like nobody's business. Instead of a bright, white, almost glowing wedding dress, you can see all the intricate lace the bride spent hours choosing. And you can see all the creases in the groom's tuxedo instead of a big black blob. Film slows you down. You pay for the film and you pay for developing and scanning, so each frame impacts your profit and bottom line. This often means that a photographer takes better, more thoughtful photographs. But film photography is not cheap. Also, there are no color films that do well in low light situations. So if I am stuck in a dark banquet hall for a reception, and I want to photograph the gorgeous lilac table runners the groom’s aunt made by hand, I'll grab my digital gear. There are lots of photographers who stick to one or the other, but using the best of both worlds makes the most sense for my photography.

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Photo by Amy Beth Harkess

OT What are the best and worst parts of photographing weddings?
AH The best is getting to hang out with couples on one of the best days of their lives. Not only do I get to share all the laughter and tears and beautiful details (and cake), but I get to let them relive that day through their photographs. And the day almost always ends with lots of hugs. How many people get to say that about their job? The worst is what I call the wedding hangover the day after a wedding: sore feet, an aching back and a resolution to cut back on how much gear I carry.

OT Can you share any tips to facilitate a positive wedding photography experience?
AH Of all your wedding vendors, you'll be spending the most time with your photographer [so] make sure you like your photographer on a personal level. Also, take your photographs with the wedding party and your partner before the wedding. I know for some, the tradition of not seeing each other is very important and I respect that if my clients insist. But getting those photos out of the way before the ceremony means you can spend the rest of your wedding day enjoying and celebrating with family and friends.

OT You love Kanye West so much he’s mentioned on your website. What’s that about?
AH I love his music. If you lay down a track when your jaw is wired shut, you get some mad props from me. I love that he's always pushing the boundaries of his art. There's this tiny, secret Kanye part of me that wishes I could just say what I think and produce whatever type of art I want. I live vicariously through his antics.

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Photo by Amy Beth Harkess

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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This page contains a single entry by Sarah Terez-Rosenblum published on December 14, 2011 3:28 PM.

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