July 01, 2011 — “I imagine that I have always been drawn to parent-child relationships because I never really had one,” Ana Brandt explains. “At 4 years old my mother left both my younger brother and I on the streets of Manhattan and simply walked away. Thank the Lord angels were watching over us!”
When you look at Brandt’s images you can clearly see her fascination with capturing the joy of people and relationships. After spending time in foster care Ana was adopted by a loving family who gave her a camera as a gift one year. She was completely mesmerized by it. “It was a whole new world. Since I have no images of my first five years of life, this only added to my passion.”
Her love of photography remained with her through her college years and early work life. Ana would photograph everything and anything, and as she puts it, “I took every photography course known to man.” But her true passion was, and still is photographing people, something she practiced regularly with one of her favorite subjects—her grandfather. “He had so much character. I loved photographing him and did so whenever I could, until he passed away at the age of 97.”
As her siblings became parents, Aunt Ana would photograph her nieces and nephews. “I loved seeing them all brand new, and that early stage of life was something that just captured my soul.” It was more than just photography for Ana. To her it was a way to see and record that special connection between child and parent. “To me it was all about capturing that special moment in time.”
While working as a Web designer for a firm in New Jersey she met her husband Geoff. “He was so easy to talk to, we talked about anything and everything.” When Geoff asked if she would consider moving to California Ana jumped at the chance. “We were recently engaged but somehow I knew this all was meant to be.” They would marry only a week after arriving in California. “We just left our cars in California, hopped a plane to Sedona, AZ and married that weekend.”
Ana’s decision to make pregnancy images her specialty came about when she was pregnant with her first child. Although she had done some pregnancy photography, the idea of making it the core of her photography business did not happen until she was visiting her obstetrician. She says, “the idea popped into my head.” Not one for wasting time, Ana asked her doctor if she could post a small sign in her office asking that pregnant woman contact her for a free photo session. “I didn’t know it then but it was the beginning of a whole new career and my first true model call.” Within weeks Ana was contacted by a number of women willing to sit for her. She began by focusing on maternity images to develop her posing and lighting style. A month later Ana decided to add newborn photography as well. “From there it all just grew,” Ana explains.
Now, 10 years later, and with three children of her own, Ana’s idea of pregnancy and newborn photography has blossomed into a very successful business. Her studio is located in Tustin, CA, and is a very busy place where Ana spends a good deal of time planning and shooting her images. “My current studio was ideal for my style since it has this huge skylight in my shooting area that gives me beautiful natural light.” Ana supplements natural light with a large 52-inch silver Photoflex reflector she says “lights a face like magic.” For newborn images she prefers very soft light and will make use of the natural light from her skylight, but will not hesitate to add light from studio strobes and soft boxes as needed.
When she is not in her studio, she may be found shooting on location or running her “TAoPaN” (The Art of Pregnancy and Newborn) and “Pure Posing” workshops. She has also authored three books. Her first, The Art of Pregnancy and Newborn, was published in 2007.
When I asked about the workshops and how they came about she says, “After the first book was published, I started getting a lot of requests for workshops.” Ana has run seven workshops so far this year, three in Tustin and then four others in New York, Maryland, Texas and Chicago. She limits each workshop to no more than six to 12 people so that she can, as she puts it, “keep things focused and give each participant some undivided attention.”
Although Ana shoots both black-and-white and color images, she is most passionate about black and white. “There is just something unique about a black-and-white image that makes you look deeper to see what it’s conveying.” A self-proclaimed black-and-white purist since she began, Ana even sets her camera to monochrome when she shooting black and white. “It baffles my students but I shoot in RAW and JPEG, and if a client wants black and white only, that’s what I set the camera for. Sure I love color and enjoy shooting that as well, but for me, black and white just has a distinctive look.” Ana’s images are all digital these days. She currently uses a Canon EOS 5D and three Canon L lenses: the EF 70–200mm f/2.8L, 24–70mm f/2.8L and 85mm f/1.2L. “These three lenses are my favorite, but for me it’s the photographer and not the equipment that creates the image.”
Ana emphasizes that her Web site has been instrumental in growing her business. “Every person that calls has already been to it, reviewed the images and usually books a session on the first call. But I have to say my biggest source of new business is referrals.” As someone with what seems to be an endless number of ideas, Ana decided on a two-prong approach: First she started a referral program and then created displays she would place in several successful obstetrician offices in and around Newport Beach, CA. Recently she has started placing similar displays in a large chiropractic center. “This has also given me some great referrals.” Today, nearly two-thirds of her revenue comes from pregnancy/newborn, with a growing number of clients that return to her for their toddler and family portraits.
When Ana is not raising a family, shooting, or running workshops, she is adding to her blog or supporting her students through an online forum. But with so many things going on in her life, how does she keep up with it? “I built my business around my family and not the other way around. There are days when I am closed so I can be at school plays and other events. It’s important that you not let your business run you, but you run it.” Ana adds, “My adopted mom was always on the go. She had master’s degrees in divinity and psychology; worked as a minister, teacher and therapist and raised five children. So it’s something I grew up with; to me it’s the norm.”
Ana points out it’s not just her ideas that have helped her grow, but also the fact that she puts her ideas into action. One such idea was for a line of gowns she calls “Mama Gowns.” In just two years she has over 10 designs and has sold more than 500 gowns to customers as far as Australia and Spain. She also added a line of diaper covers that she points out “are simple but needed.”
Even with all the success she has had so far, Ana is quite modest about her accomplishments. “I just try to do the best I can with each idea and make every day count. Where this will take me one never knows!” But when you consider how far Ana’s ideas have taken her, one needs little imagination to see where she will be in the next few years. See more of Ana’s work at www.anabrandt.com.
Peter Kotsinadelis is a writer/photographer living in Pleasanton, CA. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.