PHOTO © HAGEPHOTO
ALASKAN MOUNTAIN HIGH: Internationally-certified mountain guide Joe Stock climbs the West Ridge of Mt. Chamberlin on the northern flanks of the Brooks Range, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Shot as part of a Powder magazine assignment, the Hage’s climbed Chamberlin’s West Ridge with Stock to make the first ski descent of the 9,020-foot Mt. Chamberlin, the highest peak in the Brooks Range.
Agnes Stowe and Matt Hage lay huddled together in a sleeping bag at the high camp on Denali. Shielded from a bitter, four-day storm under the relative warmth of their tent, the native Alaskans and photography partners discussed their future.
All images © HagePhoto
HagePhoto, as the partnership became known in 2007, began with Hage. Originally a physics major at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF), Hage had always been an avid mountain climber. During a 1996 Denali ascent, he brought along his Nikon FM2 to document the trip and, on a whim, sent his photos to Climbing magazine. The publication not only ran the shots but sent Hage a check for licensing his work—a first hint that there may be a lucrative world beyond the life of a physics grad student. It was soon after that Hage’s love of the outdoors took over: He changed gears, enrolled in UAF’s photojournalism program and became passionate about telling stories with photography. After graduation in 1998, he took a year-long internship in Climbing’s Colorado offices and—afterrealizing he wanted to work in the field, not behind the desk as a photo editor—returned to Alaska to work on staff for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
“I had to get back to my backyard and learn how to shoot—the best way to do that is for a daily newspaper,” Hage says. “You shoot four things a day, which is a fantastic way to learn anything and everything and get confident.” He began shooting for magazines and news services and went full time freelance in 2001. “It’s challenging to give up a steady paycheck, but if you want to go beyond daily newspaper shoots, you have to do it,” he says.
It was also around this time that Hage met Agnes Stowe, a fellow UAF graduate and avid outdoor enthusiast with a degree in civil engineering. “We hit it off in 2005 and started doing everything together, including outdoor trips and traveling,”Hage remembers. “I would have these photo assignments, which we ended up incorporating as part of our travels”
In 2006, after Hage had spent a considerable amount of time freelancing, he and Stowe (by then a couple) had the idea to collaborate. She took a leave of absence from her civil engineering job, and he lined up a string of assignments coinciding with a year-long road trip through the Western United States. Not only was the trip (taken in their Chevy Tahoe) successful, but Hage found that Stowe (who was already familiar with how to use the products and gear they were hired to shoot) could serve as a model and collaborator.
“We picked up clients pretty fast,” Hage says. In 2007, the newly formed team was hired by SureFire Flashlights for it’s biggest project yet—a catalog shoot in Hawaii. “This was us working together with a crew for the first time, on location for four days, and it was wild. We’d brainstorm scenarios that justified a $1,000 pen-sized LED flashlight that shined five miles away.” The resulting middle-of-the-night shots included Agnes (as model) repelling down a waterfall, longlining kayaks into the ocean from the top of a sea cliff and rock climbing above the crashing waves sans ropes. The client was pleased—and Hage has been booked solid ever since. Stowe quit her job, and Hage-Photo was officially formed.“We’ve been very fortunate,” Hage says. “When we decided to go ahead with the business, we had a handful of solid magazine clients and equipment and clothing companies. But we also spent a lot of time in coffee shops and public libraries just setting up groundwork. There are many things to figure out once you get into commercial and advertising photography.
” Logistics, budget and creativity all play a part in HagePhoto’s success, but having a business partner to photograph and strategize with is invaluable. “Matt is in charge of getting us new clients and assignments (promotion, marketing, project ideas),” Agnes says. “I take over after that with putting together estimates, contracts and travel arrangements.” Every year, they set goals and create a business plan, factoring in yearly purchases, retirement fund contributions and investments, with Agnes serving as the financial mastermind. While 2010 was mostly made up of commercial advertising shoots and providing stock submissions, as the economy improves, HagePhoto is now reconnecting with editorial and magazine clients.
“We definitely work together to create our images by combining our ideas,” Agnes adds. “When I’m not in front of the lens on an adventure, I’m the one paying attention to the details so Matt can focus on the compositions and exposure. My job is to keep things running smooth, from changing lenses, batteries and cards to moving lights to directing and keeping the talent focused. Sometimes the job is to distract the client from breathing down Matt’s neck.”
While Hage says the duo devours online sources like PDN, ASMP and various photo blogs, the best resource for starting their business came from other photographers. “Having people you look up to and e-mailing them with questions about how to do something is key,” he notes. “When we travel, we get in touch with other people and meet with them to talk business. Now we get calls and e-mails from younger photographers who would like to get started with magazines or other genres of photography; I did the same thing when I started freelancing.”
Hage also attributes much of their success to being optimistic about the photography business. “Since the economy went south, we’ve been constantly surrounded by people who talk about how bad everything is, but we’ve stayed optimistic, and we didn’t even feel a recession,” he says. “Our assignment load is always increasing and we refer one assignment a month that we can’t take. I really feel strongly that things are what you make of them. It’s a great time to be a photographer because there are more Web outlets than ever, and businesses are constantly updating their Web sites.”
This outlook has paid off. For HagePhoto, not much can top shooting for Black Diamond Equipment in the Himalayas this past year—using the foothills of Mount Everest as a backdrop. Or the Grand Canyon trail assignment they just wrapped to shoot backpacks, tents, trekking poles and headlamps. With discussions of a Japan location shoot for MontBell next year and editorial and stock clients keeping them constantly traveling, personal time is a rarity. “You really can work yourself to death if you start a business that does well,” Hage says. “Every day that you shoot entails four days of desk time, from setup to client delivery. The biggest challenge is to find a balance between work life and personal life.”
IN ALL CONDITIONS
…Huddled back inside their high camp tent on Denali’s West Buttress, just hours after Hage’s 2009 proposal, the couple whispered in the darkness about where they would get married—most likely on one of the mountains they’d climbed together. But as the storm brewed around them, three days of cold temperatures (to minus 20 F), blowing snow and continuous winds (gusting 80 to 100 miles per hour), which hammered their tent and nearly blew it flat, began to make an impact. As planned, in 2010 Hage and Stowe were married. In Hawaii.
CAMERAS: Nikon D3 and D700
LENSES: AF NIKKOR 14mm f/2.8D ED, AF NIKKOR 20mm f/2.8D, AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II
LIGHTING: Nikon SB800 Speedlights, Pocket Wizard radio triggers
BAGS: Lowepro (but have been liking Think Tank more and more)
ADDITIONAL GEAR: Diana F+, Holga, iPhone 4
COMPUTING POWER: iMacs at the desk and MacBook Pros on the road. Western Digital hard drives.
EDITING SOFTWARE: Aperture-based workflow and Adobe Photoshop CS5 for heavy lifting.