Q&A: Wyoming Wedding Photographer Hannah Hardaway

hannah hardawayThere’s something really interesting about Hannah Hardaway, and that is her passion. She is passionate about everything from her wedding photography business in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to her love of skiing (she was an Olympic skier!), traveling, and living a great life. We asked her a few questions about her life, her business, the transition from skier to photographer and what it was like to attend our Career Training program back in 2008.

Read on to let Hannah inspire you today!

All photos created and copyrighted by Hannah Hardaway unless otherwise mentioned.

(<<< Headshot created by Dan Armstrong for Skiing Magazine.)


Tell our readers a bit about yourself, Hannah. What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about living life to the fullest. The older (and hopefully wiser!) I get, the more I realize that for me, that means savoring each and every day… and planning lots of fun adventures and excursions to drag me out of work mode. As a small business owner there is always more work that I can be doing, and often it is hard to just walk away and take a break. Besides that, I am passionate about being outdoors, skiing, mountain biking, surfing, traveling, exploring new places and cultures, cooking and eating delicious, healthy food, and doing yoga. I also have recently started shooting film again and that has been really fun and inspiring.


You were a member of the U.S. Ski team and an Olympic athlete prior to attending our Career Training program in 2008. Um, wow! What brought you to photography?

Actually, skiing! I know it probably sounds like somewhat of a weird transition, but as a professional skier I got to “work” with a lot of professional photographers and also looked at a ton of photography in the process. I am very grateful that I was able to travel around the world with incredibly talented and amazing photographers and pick their brains to my heart’s content (when you are on multi-day–and sometimes weeks–long photo shoots there is a lot of downtime!) I definitely learned a lot about what goes into and makes a great photograph from being on the other side of the lens, but even more importantly I learned a ton from just hanging out with and talking to the photographers that I skied with. One in particular, my good friend Dan Campbell in Park City, Utah even helped me decide which cameras and lens to buy when I was first started getting into photography and also would take the time to carefully look through my photos when I would come back from trips and critique them for me. He is still a great friend 😉

(The photo below is an image of Hannah skiing in Azerbaijan. It was taken by Dan Armstrong for Skiing Magazine.)

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What was it like to go from the intense atmosphere of being a national athlete to joining us for Career Training?

There were actually some pretty big similarities between my 9 years on the US Ski Team and my time at RMSP. In a lot of ways, being a professional athlete can be really intense like you mentioned, especially constantly needing to perform at your highest level, but in some ways, it also was a pretty simple existence (maybe not quite as simple for athletes now that there is social media and you are always supposed to be posting about what you are up to!). As a professional athlete, you have to really narrow your focus and that can be very liberating in a way. Once I was out of high school and on leave from Cornell University where I was getting my undergraduate degree, I just had to focus on taking care of myself — eating well, getting enough sleep, and training. My time at RMSP was similar in that I basically cleared my schedule for 6 months and moved to Missoula where my only focus was on eating, sleeping, learning, and photography. I loved being able to completely immerse myself in photography all day, every day. I learned so much that summer and fall… and had a ton of fun in the process (not to mention, I went on lots of great adventures and built lifelong friendships!) I chose to dive in head first and really enjoyed the intensity of Career Training. I still look back at my time at RMSP as one of my favorite periods of my life. I was also blown away by the caliber and accessibility of the instructors… you absolutely could get whatever you wanted out of the program if you were willing to put in the time and energy.


What did attending CT mean for you?

Attending SI and CT more than anything gave me the confidence to be a full time professional photographer. In anything that I do, I like to do my absolute best, and it admittedly takes a lot for me to feel “qualified.” I wouldn’t have just gone out into the world and announced that I was all of the sudden a professional photographer and been comfortable figuring it out along the way, as that is just not the type of person I am. I like to do my homework and really work on whatever it is that I am pursuing before I claim it. After my time at RMSP, I felt fully prepared and qualified to make the leap to being a full-time photographer, and I did. RMSP gave me the credibility (most importantly to myself!) to say and believe that I was a professional photographer. I also learned a mind-blowing amount about photography, and left with a toolbox full of people and resources to consult when I bumped into any roadblocks.


Why is photography important to you and your lifestyle?

I love photography for so many reasons but one of the biggest reasons is because it encourages me to slow down and really engage with the world around me. It also gives me a platform to interact with people whom I might not have otherwise.


What does your life look like right now? How are you making a living?

I make the majority of my income photographing weddings during the busy summer months (usually the end of May through September) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming as well as photographing a few winter weddings here too (I absolutely LOVE winter weddings and I wish more people chose to do them!!!) I also really enjoy photographing weddings outside of Jackson and am trying to figure out how to market my wedding services to adventurous couples who are getting married in faraway lands as well (Bali, Italy, Japan, anyone?) As far as other paid work, I photograph a lot of children and families; do a fair amount of food photography for local chefs and restaurants; and I shoot the random editorial or assignment work here and there. My personal work is more travel and documentary oriented and usually is shot during the off seasons. My husband and I try to travel for 1-2 months during the spring and fall when things really slow down in Jackson. I find that I am most inspired to photograph when I am on the road. We are heading to Europe for a month starting Monday, super excited about that!


How did RMSP’s Career Training program prepare you for being a wedding photographer?

Wedding photography is incredibly challenging. It is a dynamic mix of documentary photography, action, portraits, landscapes, food and detail work, and indoor low-light photography all in a short time span (i.e. you pretty much have no breaks for 6-10 hours straight) and with no “re-dos” (you definitely don’t want to miss the kiss!!!) It is also a highly charged emotional setting where you can be navigating difficult family dynamics and often, stressful situations. At RMSP we were exposed to and learned the ins and outs of all different types of photography and that has been really key for me in becoming a wedding photographer.

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What do you love about photographing weddings? What would you change if you could?

For me weddings are incredibly rewarding because of the couples that I get to work with. I have been working on really trying to put myself out there more online and in my marketing materials so that I can attract more like-minded clients that I really resonate with and it has been working. I love that I get to be invited essentially into peoples’ innermost circle on one of the biggest days of their lives. It sounds cheesy to say, but it really is an honor… and the emails, calls, and notes that I get when people see the images we created together, those make all the hard work worth it. Hmmm, things I would change? I really don’t like when couples email every photographer in town to price shop and don’t even take the time to look at your work or read about you to see if you are a good fit for them.

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What would you say it takes to be a wedding photographer?

First and foremost to be a wedding photographer you really need to love weddings. One of my big pet peeves is photographers who shoot weddings “for the money.” Weddings are a monumental milestone in my book. (Two people committing themselves to each other for a lifetime!?! That is a big deal!) Anyway, I really feel that it is a job that shouldn’t be taken lightly and that if you are going to photograph weddings it is your responsibility to show up for these people with your full support, good energy, and with you’re “A” game every single time. If you can’t do that and don’t really care about them and their day, you shouldn’t be photographing weddings. Besides photographing weddings for the right reason, in order to be a good wedding photographer you have to be resourceful, quick on your feet, personable, technically proficient, and oh yeh, make sure you get some really creative shots while you are at it too!


Why did you choose RMSP for your education? What convinced you?

My photographer friend Alexa Miller (http://www.alexamiller.com/) told me about RMSP one day when we were on the chairlift freeskiing together in Jackson. She talked about how it was a practical school that taught all about photography but also taught you how to run a business with your photography skills once you graduated so that you didn’t come out of school and not have a clue how to make a living. A couple of months later, I basically just woke up one day and decided that I wanted to go, jumped online and signed up. For me, I loved that it was a short, intense program that I didn’t have to commit multiple years to and that wasn’t going to leave me swimming in debt. I also was excited to get to live in Montana for a bit. Everything about it just felt right to me.

Did you consider any other photography schools before choosing RMSP?

Not really. I already had a business degree from Cornell University and had thrown around the idea of going back to school to pursue a Masters of Fine Art but I never got to the point of looking too closely at schools for that.

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Do you have any wisdom for the budding photographers of the world?

Stay humble. No matter how good you are or how much you think you already know you can ALWAYS be better. Keep learning, growing, and evolving as an artist… and also as a human.