Jen’s Journey

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Providing Lasting Memories
By Bill Hedrick

There are those unforgettable moments along life’s journey that make a lasting impression on us, and those memories never fade with the passing of time. When those moments are captured on camera, they can often change the course of one’s life and career. Such a moment took place when Jen Hargrove was only about 6 years-old and, although she did not witness it happen, her father captured it on film. The resulting image was something Jen would never forget and one which shaped her vision as a professional photographer to this day.

It was at Christmas time in Wyoming more than 40 years ago at Jen’s grandparent’s home and just about everyone was asleep except one inquisitive little 2 year-old. As Dad came looking for the youngster, he caught a glimpse of something that both shocked him and made him chuckle. Sitting there in the light of the Christmas tree was his little boy trying to light one of his grandfather’s cigars with an old lighter. Dad grabbed his camera and quickly photographed the event before taking the cigar away from the little boy. The lighting from the tree provided perfect illumination, and the printed image provided lasting memories of both the event and the photographer who captured it.

All these years later, it is that one image that inspires Jen Hargrove. “I pray every day that there is just one image of mine that stands out years after I’m gone. I still want just a little of the talent that my dad had. That is what initially led me to photography,” Jen explains. “I don’t want to be famous, but I want my work to be remembered.”

Every photographer has a story about how they took up photography as a profession. For some, photography evolved over the years from an early fascination with a camera. For others, like Jen Hargrove, it came out of necessity. A decade or so ago, she was a hairstylist; a couple of car accidents left her with nerve damage to her hand. Using a pair of scissors was too painful to do all day but holding a camera… not so bad. It all started when Jen’s daughter needed some senior portraits, and Jen decided to get out her old NIKON film camera and do it herself. Next, her daughter’s friends asked her to make their senior portraits and things began to snowball. “So, I got a business license, sales tax ID, accountant, insurance… and off I went!”

Jen’s next logical step was to join the Professional Photographers of America, her local guild, and the Intermountain PPA where she currently serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors as well as other key positions. In addition, she got involved with the PhotoPro Network, the Kentucky affiliate at that time. “That’s where I met my friend, Cindy Dover,” says Jen. It was along that route she soon met Phaneendra Gudapati, or “PG” as we know him down in Texas, who encouraged her to enter the image competition at the Texas Professional Photographers Association. “PG told me that this image competition was one of the best in the country. He was right. There were almost as many entries in the TPPA Image Competition as in the entire Western District. I was blown away.” Jen has been entering TPPA Image Competition ever since.

Over the years, Jen’s photography has evolved and changed. “In the beginning, I wanted to be an action sports photographer… a female Kevin Jairaj. I would photograph hockey, football, basketball, rodeo or just about any sports that would hire me to do team portraits, and maybe some portraits on the side,” she explains. “Then image competition happened, and I opened a studio and learned more about lighting. At first, I was really into high-key lighting, but then I developed a love for dark, dramatic lighting. And then came water images and abstract images.”

When COVID took the country and our profession by surprise a few years ago, many professional photographers were forced to shift gears and to re-evaluate their own livelihood. While some photographers decided it was time to quit, others saw it as an opportunity to grow. Jen Hargrove decided to close her retail studio and now operates using on-location studios and pop-up studios. “We have an enclosed trailer for transporting our studio equipment. That could be in a client’s home or office, etc. We also photograph in boutiques and shops for Keepsake events or fund-raisers as a themed event. Sometimes the pop-up sets are styled by the shops where we hold the event.”

The most common setup Jen uses today typically consists of a large softbox on camera-left, a large shoot-through umbrella behind and to camera-right, and two gridded strip boxes on either side. Of course, the setup will vary from subject to subject. “With dogs and character portraits, the main light is sometimes a boomed 33-inch Mola beauty dish with a 20-degree grid,” says Jen. “My lighting consists of four to six Godox AD200s, and my camera is my NIKON D850 with a 70-200 mm lens.”

Although Jen still photographs children, pets, seniors, and character portraits, the subject matter that she loves the best nowadays are waterscapes and waterfalls… something she began during the pandemic. As she explains, “Sometimes it’s waterfalls, and sometimes it’s waves. Sometimes it’s a long exposure where I do a small amount of editing and sometimes, I turn it into an abstract image. No matter what, I’m happy there. Giving myself that joy has also renewed that joy in my portrait work.”

In fact, none of Jen’s character portraits are taken in her studio today. They are created in an on-location studio during a pop-up event or a workshop, another photographer’s studio, a client’s home, or even a hotel lobby. In most of her award-winning character portraits, the subjects themselves are often Master Photographers or spouses of Master Photographers. Interestingly enough, one of her entries in TPPA Image Competition this year was a WPC Gold Medalist.

Improving one’s imagery is an ongoing process, and it goes much faster when you have other great image makers who are willing to share their time with you. In Jen’s case, there have been a number of people who made a big impact on her career. “I’ve learned some very helpful retouching techniques such as Frequency Separation that I use on skin and especially on dogs. It’s amazing for fur. But the game-changer for me has been the History Brush. Thank you, Richard Sturdevant!”

Until she met Dan McClanahan, Jen was using only one or two lights. “Dan is pretty much the Obi Wan Kenobi of lighting! He taught me how to use Kicker Lights… another game-changer.” However, Jen will be the first to tell you that it is the support of her family, especially her husband, Tim, who accompanies her to workshops and seminars. “He has been the most amazing, supportive partner anyone could ask for.”

Photography has been an enjoyable journey for Jen Hargrove and she shows no indication of slowing down. Throughout her career, Jen has adapted to what was going on in the world and has listened to her clients as to their needs. During a time when things were changing, Jen found a way to make it all work for her and thus created outlets for new income. Now, she is compelled to share that knowledge with others. Today, Jen Hargrove is part of the Miller’s Professional Imaging Speaker Team. “Teaching others has become one of my greatest passions,” she says. “To be able to help someone in some small way is the greatest feeling in the world.”

Jen’s father passed away when she was 22 years-old but she thinks of him each time she picks up a camera. The image of a mischievous little boy sitting in the light of a Christmas tree, trying to light a cigar, never leaves her mind. That image reminds her why we all do what we do. It’s all about giving others a lasting memory of a time in their own lives that can never be replaced.

Learn more about Jen Hargrove and view her amazing images at
JenHargrovePhotography.com.