All images by Travis Tank. Used with permission.
Austin, Tx based Photographer Travis Tank is one of the most candid and real wedding photographers that I’ve had the pleasure of talking to in a while. Travis’s story is a fascinating one that begins with him as a heavy metal kid in high school. Like all lovey dovey romantic stories, he met a girl; and she didn’t want to date a loser. Despite his not wanting to, Travis went to college, hated it, and started to work in photography. He liked it, and he kept at it.
He married that woman, and now they’ve got a wedding business, kids, clients, and almost no time to try to have a family life. It’s tough, but somehow they make it happen.
Travis’s story is quite an inspiring one.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Travis: I met my wife when I was at the tail end of my high school journey. I was a punk (in nice terms) and had no clear vision for my future. I was in a heavy metal band and was sure I was going to be a rock star. College was not in my itinerary and neither was a serious relationship however Nina and I kept hanging out and soon after we officially started dating she gave me an ultimatum. She said she wouldn’t date loser and that I should go to the local community college with her for photography.
I was never really into photography, although I took a few classes in high school but I thought until my rock career took off I might as well do something. Shortly after arriving in college (still a punk ass) I was told by many of my professors to quit. I never paid attention, never really cared because of course I was still going to be a rock star and this was just an in between. After the first semester the band fell apart and I realized I had no future, no career and if I didn’t learn this craft (which I had taken a great liking in) then I would be destined for a mediocre job that I would hate.
I focused 110% to photography, learning everything I could at school and online. I bought many tutorials, attended workshops, assisted local photographers and never stopped learning.
Phoblographer: What made you want to get into engagements and weddings?
Travis: Truthfully I never wanted to be a wedding photographer! I always thought I was still destined for the rock star life, so I wanted to be the next Annie Leibovitz, Joey Lawrence or David La Chappel. I shot for any local band or artist that would let me, however free gigs really sucked for there was high expectation with very little reward on my end.
When I was at school I figured I could probably get some easy gigs shooting anything for some money if I searched craigslist enough (I don’t recommend this path) and eventually I did. I got a second shooting gig for a wedding company where I think I got like $100. At the time I thought it was amazing because I was used to slinging sandwiches for $7 an hour and the idea of earning that much more was invigorating. As I kept accepting gigs I quickly worked by way up the company where I eventually became the office manager for our branch. I was earning way more than I did at Thundercloud so I quit that job and went full time into weddings.
“After the first semester the band fell apart and I realized I had no future, no career and if I didn’t learn this craft (which I had taken a great liking in) then I would be destined for a mediocre job that I would hate.”
Phoblographer: Tell us the story of the first engagement shoot that you did. What would you have done differently now that you’re more experienced?
Travis: Honestly I can’t even remember that shoot, I do know however that when I was working for that company (which is out of business now) I never was really taught how to shoot or deal with clients. I learned most of my posing or wedding skills by reading blogs, helping other photographers and just a ton of online study however I do remember I had a shitty old camera (probably like a 40D) and an equally as crappy lens. No lights, no reflectors, nothing.
I think I started my career by learning what not to do more than what I should be doing because the company I worked for way extremely disorganized and we never really vetted our photographers so quality control was a joke. Honestly I probably thought I did amazing on that first shoot and since we never really reviewed work I never heard differently. I know I walked into the shoot basically blind and honestly if I saw the shoot today I would probably deny shooting it. I do things much differently today from how I deal with clients from the beginning to set up a great experience all around.
“I shot for any local band or artist that would let me, however free gigs really sucked for there was high expectation with very little reward on my end.”
Phoblographer: Lots of your work seems to be all about natural lighting and fairly casual. How do you usually go about selling a creative vision like this to clients?
Travis: When it comes to style of work and selling that vision to clients I think most photographers need to rethink how they go about this. I have never had a couple come sit down with me who hasn’t seen our work, so the style we do has already been sold to the client by the time they sit down. What we are selling is ourselves, our expertise and the experience we offer to our clients. I know that my style is not unique and that I am not the best photographer in my area, so what’s left…..us. It starts from the time they walk into our studio, from the setting to the coffee pot full of fresh coffee and everything in between.
We want our clients to walk into an environment where they feel welcome, almost like they are inside a home and not a studio so that we can go beyond work and create a personal relationship. As photographers we are one of the most intimate of vendors and we go far beyond the vendor client relationship so why would we want to treat our clients just another person through the door! We are involved in some of the most intimate moments of their wedding, some moments that not even their best friends are invited to, yet we are supposed to capture these real moments and make them not look staged.
To do that you MUST have a great relationship where they trust you whole heartedly and you know your place to observe. Too many photographers make this day about them and forget this is not their wedding, so we have to walk the fine line between observation and obtrusion. So what I sell is us and the fact that we will be the most real and fun vendor you have.
“I learned most of my posing or wedding skills by reading blogs, helping other photographers and just a ton of online study however I do remember I had a shitty old camera (probably like a 40D) and an equally as crappy lens. No lights, no reflectors, nothing.”
Phoblographer: What are a couple of things that you try to stay conscious of when shooting portraits in regards to various body types? Do you get involved with the wardrobe planning too?
Travis: I am always body conscious when posing however I never really get involved in specific wardrobe choice unless asked. Too every client that books us, we send a welcome packet with a load of information from how we work, what we will need from the clients and tips to making every shoot the best it can be. There is a section for engagements inside the packet which has some basic tips including picking clothing but I never really want to steer a couple one way or another. The bride may want to wear a specific shirt because the groom bought it for her or it means something to both of them and who am I to say no!
I think posing is more important than clothes and making the shoot fun will leave your clients much happier than anything else you can do. I have noticed that the brides who are MOST body conscious are usually thin, when it is something inside the mind there is nothing that posing or clothing can do to help. In this case the only thing we can do is be honest with our clients and to ourselves.
Phoblographer: How do you get people who are in front of the camera to be a little bit less nervous?
Travis: You have to be confident in your skill set, posing and in yourself. Clients can see if you seem nervous or if you second guess yourself. Sometimes if I am trying something and it doesn’t work, I make a joke out of it and move on. If you can make your clients like you as a person, spending a few hours with them to shoot is easy but I am a HUGE people person so connecting with people comes naturally for me.
Phoblographer: How do you tend to balance the shooting side with the business and marketing side and while having an actual personal life?
Travis: That is a hard one and one that I am still working on. My wife and I run this business together, we stay at home during the week with our kids and work together every weekend. This is extremely stressful and balancing life becomes a circus act and I think our faith in Jesus helps us both when times are hard. We realize we have to have unconditional love and unending grace towards each other because in the long run our business will eventually fade out and we will be left with each other and our kids so what is important? “What good is it for a man to gain the world yet lose his soul” however paraphrased it is, that verse always sticks with Nina and I. Sometimes when I am editing and my kids come in to play I have to remember that work will always be there by my children’s adolescence is quickly fading, so no matter how hard it is I have to put down work.
When I put my priorities in the right order I find life to work more in my favor.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use.
Travis: We are all canon shooters and we probably bring a LOT more gear than more wedding photographers. We both shoot with 5d Mark 3 cameras with two 24-70 lenses. From there I take the 85 1.2 and the 100L macro and Nina takes the Sigma 50 art lens and the 135L. We use spider holster belts with two side pouches for our lenses. I also have a third pack on my belt which holds our iPad, expo disc and a few other miscellaneous items. We use mostly speed lights for receptions, however I do have the indra 500 which I use when overpowering the sun during some outdoor portraits. We have two ice lights and have found that to be the single most helpful lighting tool in my pack. We absolutely love the Ice Lights. We have a few other umbrellas, stands, ect but I know when we walk into a venue we probably look overkill although we use almost every piece sometime during the day.
Phoblographer: Where do you see your business in one year and how do you plan on getting it there?
Travis: I don’t really have a one year goal, instead I use the Gary Vaynerchuck method and have the BIG goal in mind. My wife is Portuguese and we are planning to get me and my children duel citizenship later this year. Her father is from the Azores, a small clump of islands between Boston and Lisbon in the middle of the ocean, which is one of the most exotic and beautiful places I have ever been. The plane ride is 4 hours from Boston and another 4 hours from Europe so it is a perfect middle ground destination so one day I hope to live there and own a destination workshop community. I want to have a place where between 20-35 people could fly in from all over the world to attend workshops from their favorite instructors. I don’t want you to think it would be only for photographers but I want a place where anyone can hold a workshop on a beautiful island in the middle of the ocean. I think waking up to oceanside sounds pretty good.