For the past two years, Beth Hontzas has been photographing our amazing FACES of Birmingham series. With a degree in photojournalism and a 12-year stint photographing for Southern Living, Beth has honed her skills as a lifestyle photographer with a singular ability to capture the essence of the moment, whether it be the love in a first look wedding moment, the miracle of a newborn baby, yummy food or the beauty of an exquisite home interior. Today, we turn the camera around and focus on Beth! Welcome Beth Hontzas, today’s FACES of Birmingham profile!
How did you get your start in photography?
I was so blessed with a mom, dad and sister who encouraged me to pursue photography as a career. After earning a degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri, I worked with a premier portrait and wedding photographer in my hometown of Jackson, MS. After six years there, I moved into the world of magazine photography here in Birmingham, AL. As a staff photographer at Southern Living, I worked primarily in the foods department photographing the fabulous recipes produced by the test kitchen staff. It was a dream job to say the least! After 12 years at the magazine and a new job of motherhood, I decided to take the leap of faith and start my own photography business.
At what age did you get your first camera?
My parents gave me my first Polaroid when I was 12. My sister and I burned through several packs of film right away!
Did you have any mentors along the way?
Throughout my career, I have benefited from professionals willing to teach me how to bring out the best in the subjects, enhance my lighting techniques, hone my editorial skills and master the business side of running a studio. Most importantly, I learned the importance of paying this forward, and I try to do so whenever possible.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own photography business?
There is a wealth of information available from talking with other professionals, assisting on shoots and signing up for workshops. I have met photographers from around the world when attending workshops and conferences, and I have maintained contact with them. There is great value in networking with others in your profession, especially if you are a one-person business!
Do you have a favorite local charity?
Absolutely! My favorite local charity is The Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs. They provide services for children who are at risk for developmental delay. Our daughter Athena, who has Down syndrome, started therapy there when she was just 3 weeks old. Our experience there changed not only her life, but ours as well. God added another blessing in our family three months later. Our cousin had a little girl with Down syndrome. It’s incredible having someone so close to share this journey. It’s also comforting to know that these “twin” cousins will always have each other!
How has motherhood influenced your photography?
Having a daughter with Down syndrome has opened my eyes to a whole new world of beauty. I have learned to capture the essence of every person I photograph by trying to see the world through their eyes, instead of trying to pose them in a way that conforms to mine. This allows the photograph to speak to who the subject is, rather than the technique used to create it.
Is there a “perfect” age to capture the wonder of childhood? Any tips for parents about how to document their own little miracles?
I love photographing children of all ages, but there is something magical in 3- to 5-year-olds. Talk and listen to them while shooting, and their sweet innocence and sense of discovery will be reflected in the photographs. There is usually a very small window of opportunity, and you have to be prepared to capture it. For technical advice, I recommend you turn off the autoflash on your camera and place your subject by a window or doorway. Start asking questions, sing a favorite song … and then shoot a lot very quickly because children are distracted in no time!
What about some practical/technical advice for amateurs?
Always look for the light, not just a pretty background!
We all have countless pictures held captive on phones, in hard drives or uploaded to social media sites. Can you give us some recommendations for storing those images, as well as pulling them off our screens and into a more tangible display?
Back up, back up, back up those precious images! Back up your external hard drive with more external hard drives, discs and online storage. But most importantly, have prints made! The lab that I recommend to family and friends is mpix.com.
What are some of your favorite Birmingham locations for shoots?
Birmingham is full of beautiful spots for shoots! If you want an urban look, just drive around downtown and look at the light reflected off of the lighter buildings. They are like a huge soft box waiting for you! Or drive a little way out of town and pull over to a beautiful field (as long as you’re not trespassing!).
How about your favorite local spots just for fun — shops, restaurants, special places?
I absolutely adore downtown Homewood. And I happen to have my studio there! It is full of so many unique shops. My favorite lunch spot is, of course, my husband’s restaurant, Johnny’s!
What are three things that you couldn’t live without, other than faith, family and friends?
It is hard to top those three, but I definitely enjoy my cozy cup of coffee in the morning, my sweet dog Lucy and my quiet time at the end of the night to reflect on my many blessings.
Thanks for letting us turn the camera on you today, Beth, and for sharing so many useful suggestions! Learn more about Beth’s photography at her website, Beth Hontzas Photography.