Balancing act

A marriage of skills works beautifully for Geoff and Lara White

By Jeff Kent
Images By Geoff and Lara White
First published in September 2005

Geoff White had let his left brain rule the roost for years, but the creativity and holistic outlook of his right brain was begging for attention. In photography, these two aspects could synthesize.

Finding success in professional photography isn’t easy. Finding success right out of the gates is even tougher. Finding success right out of the gates in the high-end wedding market, well, that’s a real feat.

That’s exactly what Geoff and Lara White set out to do in 2002, when they opened their wedding photography business. Geoff, trained as a computer engineer, is the former owner of a Silicon Valley company that he started with a friend in 1997. The sale of the business in 2001 brought White both money and time, but no clear mission in life. It seemed a good time to take a trip.

A longtime photo hobbyist, White got himself a Winnebago, grabbed his camera, and embarked on a soul-searching three-month tour of the United States and Canada. “That was me saying that I’m really serious about photography,” says White. “I pursued it passionately for those three months. Lara joined me for a couple of weeks at one point, and friends joined me here and there, but it was mostly just me, me and the photography.”

White knew by the end of the tour that he was bound for professional photography. It was Lara who then provided the impetus to start a business in wedding photography. She had a background in wedding and nonprofit event planning, so a joint venture with Geoff in the wedding photo market seemed like a logical step.

“I am intrigued by the passion and the ritual that’s involved in weddings, and I was excited to get into that industry,” says Lara. “I’ve spent thousands of hours looking at wedding magazines and attending different events.”

The Whites decided to go after the high-end wedding market from the start. But can you just snap your fingers and go from being a nobody in the industry to someone who commands seven grand a wedding? “We are in a good situation here in the Bay Area. Most of the younger people have professional jobs, and so more financial means than in other areas of the country,” explains Geoff.

“And photography is a higher priority at their weddings,” adds Lara. “For many of our clients, photography is the one splurge area.”

The Whites started client recruitment at bridal shows. They invested in a top-notch booth and positioned themselves at the top of the price pyramid. This drew only a select group of inquirers, but that’s exactly what they wanted.

“In the beginning, we were dealing with a fairly specific group of people,” says Geoff. “Our initial clients were planning their weddings themselves. Photography was their one big-ticket item. We appealed to them because of our attention to service.”

In his earlier career, Geoff had let his left brain rule the roost for years, but the creativity and holistic outlook of his right brain was begging for attention. In photography, these two aspects could synthesize. Mastering the technology of digital photography came easily, freeing him to focus on artistic development.

“Technology is not something photographers can hide from,” says White. “Change in the industry has been accelerated because computers have come into it.” In addition to the art, “a certain level of technical knowledge is required,” he adds. “It’s balancing the right-brain and left-brain activities.”

Still, the two sides don’t always meld. That’s where Lara White’s organizational skills take over. “Geoff tends to rely on my background in events,” she says. More so than Geoff, she sees the wedding day as a process. “I have a keen sense of what’s going to happen before it happens. I can help Geoff get organized and be prepared for what’s going to happen next.”

“Then I can focus on being in the moment,” says Geoff. “I get in this zone where I’m not thinking about f/stop-this or shutter-speed-that, or what happens next. I’m scanning around, looking for images.” The Whites coordinate the coverage via radio headsets.

In this two-photographer combo, Lara handles many of the close-up, must-have shots—the couple saying their vows, the exchange of rings, the kiss, the bouquet toss. Geoff, usually dressed all in black, roams the space, looking for spontaneous, conceptual images. Nicknamed “The Ninja Photographer” by wedding guests, he’s often seen darting this way and that, climbing over obstacles, dangling precariously to capture unique angles.

The Whites also work together to get different perspectives on key shots. During the exchanging of the vows, for example, when the bride and groom typically face each other, the photographers will assume places on either side of the couple to get images of each face.

By complementing each other’s skills, the Whites are able to cover all the bases, yet each is free to create distinctive, innovative images.

“I’m a big fan not only of different angles, but various viewpoints as well,” says Geoff. “We try to capture everything from the miniscule to the grand. At a wedding, you have all the people, all the relationships and all the details that the couple spent a year creating. Being able to capture all of those elements on the fly and with great expression and composition, and then afterwards [post-capture] adding your artistic flair to it, that’s what makes the difference.”

To see more work from the Whites, check out www.geoffwhite.com.

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