The Photographer Project: Banner Adams

Portraits by Diana Deaver

What’s your birthdate?

April 12, 1973  (Happy Birthday, Banner!!!!)

When did you first pick up a camera?  Tell me about that.  

I’m sure as a curious toddler, surrounded by equipment, I grabbed one of my dad’s cameras. My dad was a professional photographer and I grew up tagging along on his photo shoots and working with him in the studio and darkroom at a very young age. When I think back to those times now, I feel nostalgic and sentimental and warmed by the memories of hours spent with my dad in the darkroom.  Sometimes talking, sometimes silently lost in our individual thoughts, watching and learning and feeling loved and safe. Ironically, now, as a mom with a slightly different perspective, I cringe at the thought of a child playing with those toxic chemicals, but I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

When did you know you had a talent for photography? 

Idk

I have a hard time with the word talent.

Can I take a pass on this question for now? 😉

Natural talent or learned process?

There’s that word again. Haha.

Both. I think a person can have a talent for and/or an interest in something, but it’s very important to understand and care about the technical aspects of the process as well. I have a letter my dad wrote to his grandmother when I was 5 in which he told her all about his pig-tailed, scraped-kneed little Banner. He described going to the gas station with me as “an event” because I insisted on learning how to pump the gas myself and wanted to know how everything worked. Ha.

More toxic chemicals. I sense a theme…

Back to the point.

I think having a natural curiosity about and love for the world around you is one element that allows one’s natural talent to unfold. Being curious and interested about the physical/mechanical aspects of the equipment and different techniques of lighting, etc allows a photographer to loosen up and feel relaxed and confident in his or her knowledge base, and therefore open to inspiration. I’ve had countless clients tell me how frustrated they get when they know how they want one of their images to look, but lack the knowledge or skill to translate that vision using a camera. 

So, you ask if it’s a natural talent or learned process?

Short answer. Yes, both.

What do you love to photograph?

Luckily, I can find visual inspiration and interest just about anywhere, but I would say even as early as sixth grade, I’ve been mostly interested in photographing babies and toddlers. That’s probably because when dad was photographing that age group, I was in heaven. I was never a big fan of baby dolls as a little girl. I usually had the real thing right at my disposal. People of any age really fascinate me. I love landscape photography, too and really admire those who can make beautiful art and can support themselves financially that way. I don’t have the patience for it on a regular basis. Some of my landscape/product photographer friends laugh at that statement because they said they don’t have the patience for babies and toddlers. I love to incorporate the landscapes (and architectural elements) when I’m shooting people on location.  I like the tight, simple shots, but enjoy the challenge of  incorporating an interesting setting. For many years I shot about 50 weddings a year in Charleston (and some in Richmond, VA where I was raised), and I remember SUCH a vivid dream I had in the middle of a particularly busy wedding season. I woke up ecstatic because, in my dream, I had been given a remote control to the sun! 

Who are some of your photographer icons and/or mentors?

Well, my dad was the first and his gift for connecting with people was just as strong, if not stronger than his technical skills. I certainly would not want to offend anybody with the odd little tidbit but I’ll take that chance. While my dad loved photographing anybody, he admired that his least favorite subject was a “stuffy businessman.”  When they came into the studio for head shots or business portraits, he would have them seated on a geriatric toilet seat so they would not take themselves so seriously. Seems bizarre, but it really was a genius way to disarm his more serious subjects. Of course, he would oblige his clients with more serious expressions, but as these men grew older and later became grandfathers, I know their children cherish some of the more lighthearted expressions. He had a great sense of humor and put everyone around him at ease. I think that is such an important part of being a good portrait photographer.

 As for photographers who are more icons, I would include

Annie Leibovitz

Richard Avedon

Ansel Adams

I also love the work of Richard Israel who only lives a few hours away. I would love to meet him one day. I know plenty of people who know him personally, so it seems like something that I could make happen, but my schedule and life is so packed (I’m sure his is as well), that I don’t see that happening any time soon, so I will just continue to admire his work from afar for now. 

How has photography changed from when you first became involved with it?

I’ve been involved with it my entire life, but I would say photography has definitely changed more in the past 5-10 years than in the previous hundred. Technology had made photography more accessible and easier to “learn” and experiment with and less expensive (in some ways). On the positive side, people are more likely to try it out and experiment and create or record some really amazing things. Unfortunately, many new professional photographers are much less knowledgeable about the important technical aspect of photography. I think learning the rules before you break them is priceless. For example, learning the basics of f-stops and shutter speeds and processing your own film and developing your own prints provides a more comprehensive knowledge base than just looking at an image on your cellphone and deciding if it ‘turned out ok.’  The act of planning a shot in advance then analyzing an image and making adjustments with exposure, lighting and composition doesn’t seem as likely with new photographers who have never shot film before. That’s a sweeping statement. I’m sure many of them do. I just mean its more likely than before the dawn of digital.

You get to have dinner with 3 other people, alive or deceased.  With whom would you dine?  What would you ask them? 

I know you said only three, I would give almost anything to have a family dinner with my parents (my mom just passed away at the end of August and my dad when I was 18) and both my boys (ages 14 & 10).  I would have very few questions, but would just love to watch them interact and get to know each other at this time in my boys’ lives. I would love for my boys to absorb some grandparent love and wisdom. 

Do you know when you have a spectacular shot, or does that come about in the editing process?

I usually know as soon as I make the exposure, but I also find unexpected gems when I look at the outtakes or experimental shots during post-production.  

What makes you feel connected to your subject? 

Emotion. Laughter or tears.

Common experiences or learning about an experience they have had that I could only imagine. 

What are your thoughts on editing?  Like it or abhor it?  Do it yourself? 

I do it myself and for the most part, abhor it. It’s not so bad if I’m doing some fine art or playing around with a portrait session, but it was brutal when I was shooting so many weddings and editing thousands of images into the wee hours. Please don’t misunderstand, my clients are paying for a final piece of fine art, so I want it to be perfect and I want my client to get what they want. That being said, I find certain retouching tasks boring, like removing a stray hair from 100 images, at the client’s request, or most recently, making a little girl’s bright-white hair bow match the antique eggshell lace collar of her grandmother’s dress. It looks better in the end, but the process, to me, is slightly more fun than doing my corporate taxes. A client once said her mother was disappointed that her daughter’s front tooth fell out the day before her formal portrait session and asked me to replace the tooth for the final wall portrait. The mom didn’t mind the missing tooth  but the grandmother was paying for the session, so we were both happy to oblige. It wasn’t time consuming, but it was 3am when I got around to it and I was feeling punchy, so I gave the little girl a gold tooth and a big gold chain and sent it to the client. We both laughed then I sent her the one that her mom had in mind and everyone was satisfied. I have to crack myself up sometimes. 

Is there any genre of photography that you’d like to explore further?

Really anything! I rarely carve out time to just shoot for myself anymore because I need to support my family and ‘keep the lights on.’ Professionally, I dabble in interiors and a little commercial work. I might enjoy doing more of that in the coming year. While my business is portrait based, I find that my clients are comfortable enough working with me that I get pulled into other types of photography and get to see work with them in their particular industries.  It’s a cool over lap when it happens and I enjoy seeing the family side and the business side of an individual. 

How would you handle a difference of opinion with a client? 

Typically, my clients hire me because they love my work and trust me with all aspects of the shoot and finished product, so I rarely encounter a difference of opinion. If a client has something in mind that I hadn’t thought of or a special request, I am usually quick to oblige. However, many years ago, I was shooting a New Year’s Eve party for a famous person and I had a temperature of 103 and mastitis and was beyond exhausted from taking care of a toddler a newborn and running the business. When I entered the venue, it was stunning, but very dark. The hostess approached me as I was bringing in my equipment and requested that I use no flash because it “makes us look washed out.” I smiled and said ok. I knew, under the circumstances, the images would be awful without some fill-flash bounced off walls and ceilings, so when the host (famous guy) came in, I started taking some test shots from the other room with a long lens as he bent down to unleash a precious litter of hound puppies. I quietly approached the hostess and said with a smile “I would love to show you some of these shots I just took of Mr. Famous with the puppies”. I scrolled through them and she “ooohed and aahed,” and said they were wonderful and that she was so excited about having me there. I then said, “And here is what the image look like when I didn’t use my flash.” Needless to say, I got to do it my way. 

What advice would you give an up and coming photographer?

Work for another photographer first, before going out on your own.

Be teachable. Be transparent.

Remember that no task is beneath you (within reason). 

Do not rush out and buy every piece of equipment you think you might need or every bell and whistle.

Above all, respect and cherish your colleagues in the industry. I deeply value my connection to my photography peeps. Its nice to have friends who understand the challenges of the industry that your other friends might not fully understand. More often than not, when I do have those rare relaxed visits with my photog friends, we rarely discuss the industry. We are always there for each other as friends and photographers. After Diana took our portraits, Marni reminded me of a time years and years ago, when I found myself to be the only person in my household who was not projectile vomiting the night before a huge wedding. I was trying to find out who might be able to cover for me, should I fall ill and was so touched by the responses and willingness to help out. Likewise, I am also always willing to help out a friend in need and honored when asked. When Leigh Webber was supposed to be on bed rest years ago, I was happy to shoot with her at one of her weddings and was ready to take over, if necessary. Of course, I reminded her what ‘bed rest’ meant, but kept my lecture to a minimum and had a great time working with her and helping her out.

What are your social media handles?

Instagram: banner_photo

FB: www.facebook.com/bannerphotography

Website: www.bannerphotography.com

What makes you feel pretty?

Pamela Lesch and Diana Deaver do!

Candids provided by Banner

2 thoughts on “The Photographer Project: Banner Adams”

  1. My favorite photos growing up are from Banner’s dad. Kirk was a genius and he certainly passed his genius along. I wish we lived closer for her amazing talent.

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