‘More than just a picture’
Photographer Sarah Elgersma has a special knack for working with small children.
No wonder, she’s around them every day.
The 25-year-old works full-time as a receptionist at Wee Care Paediatrics, the business founded by her paediatrician father, Stephen West.
In her spare time however, she’s focused on capturing precious moments between couples and families. Sarah E Photography has gained momentum over the past year-and-a-half, entirely through word-of-mouth.
“My husband [Randy] and I came back to the Island in June 2013. Since then I’ve had a lot of families e-mailing me,” she said. “I actually finished up 2014 shooting over 50 family photo sessions.”
The experience has taught her that she’s capable of a lot more than she originally thought.
“I’ve learned that I can run a business and a pretty successful one at that,” she explained.
“It’s not that I didn’t think I was capable of that, but it can be pretty intimidating when you start a business from scratch on an island with lots of other talented photographers who are well known.
“I have had to start from scratch and from the ground up.
“It’s taught me to be very thankful for the clients that have trusted me and those who have jumped in with me and were willing to go along this road with me.”
Her secret for getting great photos from even the youngest of clients? Using songs from the hit Disney movie, Frozen.
“I find using Frozen is a really useful tactic and I am really good at singing those songs,” Mrs Elgersma said.
“If the children’s attention is starting to wander, we sing Do you Want to Build a Snowman?
“You just have to have patience. So when parents get frustrated with their children or stressed out I remind them it’s okay.
“If they don’t take the perfect photo then at least I got some good ones of them laughing or playing.”
Mrs Elgersma said she isn’t just about taking people’s pictures, handing them over and moving on. She tries to create a genuine connection between herself and her clients.
“I like to refer to them as ‘my families’, or as ‘Sarah E families’, on social media,” she said.
“And I just love that each year I see the same families come back. It’s more of a personal relationship that I have with people, that’s why I refer to them as my families.”
Her blog (www.sarahe.com/blog) has helped to establish a connection with her clients even before they go out on their first shoot. On it, Mrs Elgersma shares everything from life lessons to her Christian faith.
“That’s one thing I like about my blog,” she said. “It’s a stepping stone for my clients to get to know me, even before we meet.
“Usually I try to blog three or four times a week by sharing current photos and answering questions I have been asked. I like that they know who I am, that I am not just taking their photographs. That way when we have our session we can talk and get to know each other.
“By the time I leave my session it’s like having met with friends and that’s very important to me.”
She didn’t intend to become a photographer.
She studied English and planned to become a journalist when she enrolled at McMaster University in Canada.
But she quickly realised that wasn’t the area she was most passionate about. In 2008, she went on a life-changing trip to Swaziland, in Southern Africa, with Christian organisation, Adventures in Missions.
“I was there for a month spending time with the children there,” she said. “That whole time I wouldn’t stop taking pictures and I realised the pictures I was taking were pretty good.
“I always liked photography but thought you couldn’t make a career out of it. Growing up you are taught to be a lawyer or doctor.
“I was very set on becoming a journalist. I like blogging and writing short stories. But after I came back in from that summer, I said, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life’.”
She changed her major at McMaster to art history and, at the same time, started taking photography specific courses at Niagara College.
“I don’t know how I managed two degrees at once, but I had a lot of support from my family and my husband’s family,” she said.
“It involved a lot of driving because my school was in Hamilton, Ontario and the college was in Niagara.
“They were an hour-and-a-half away from each other. That was insane but I did it, which was awesome, and made me realise I’m a lot more capable then I thought I was.”
Before graduating she spent two summers working for Ikonica Images, a wedding photography company in Toronto.
These days Mrs Elgersma is happy she decided to follow her passion. “Right now finding time to photograph everyone is hard because I mainly do it on Saturday when I’m off from work.
“With blogging and trying to answer e-mails, it can get really busy. Still, I wouldn’t change it for anything because I love it.”
She said there’s no greater reward than the one she gets when families e-mail her back to say they love the photos.
“For me photography is so much more than just a picture and I hope that is what my clients see when they get their photographs back from a session,” she said.
“I want it to be so much more than just a picture on their computer screen, but like reliving a special memory with the people closest to them.”