Sandy Sahagian Portraiture
How many people can claim to be a third-generation professional photographer? Sandy Sahagian’s grandfather did portrait and wedding photography in Tacoma up until the 1960s. Her father, Herb Alden, was a photographer for the Oregon Journal and then the Oregonian newspaper, in addition to writing a humorous weekly column entitled, “The Phantom Mailboat of Fanno Creek.” Her mother, who was also a photographer, encouraged Sandy to pursue it as a profession.
“It was hard to live up to the family standards,” Sandy says. “I thought it would be easy to be a photographer. But then I found out it was hard work and there was a lot to learn.” She didn’t give up though, and now has a successful business that she runs, with the help of her husband Steve, from her home near Cedar Mill School. Sandy's portrait clients include babies, high school seniors, people needing business portraits, families and couples getting married.
Sandy studied photography in college as part of her art minor. She went on to get three Masters degrees through the Professional Photographers of America. But she says she has learned the most over the years by spending time with other photographers and by taking continuing education courses offered by various professional groups.
In addition to portraiture, Sandy also offers photo restoration services. She started started learning the art of photographic restoration in the early 70's from other restoration artists. She continued by studying anatomy through courses in sculpture and light and shadow at the Portland Museum art school and continuing work with other restoration mentors. She started a wholesale restoration business when she was home with the new baby (now in her 20s) and did restorations and other photographic artwork for almost all the photographers in the State of Oregon.
She’s one of the few people who can still do hand restoration using pastels and airbrush directly on original photos. “It’s a dying art,” she says. “There are a lot of hackers out there doing computer work. But the goal is to make the photo look like nothing was done. To achieve that, you have to understand skin texture, bone structure, and light.”
But much of her restoration work these days is digital. She also offers montages that combine pictures of several family members, with color correction that makes them all match. She does all her work on-site, adding a level of confidence for people who trust her with badly damaged old family treasures.
Sandy’s first career was in the field of cosmetology. She uses these skills today, helping portrait clients with hair and makeup to create, “even more beautiful images. It doesn’t take much to really bring out the best in my subjects,” she says, “just placement of the correct color or density in just the right places.”
Sandy loves to work with people. She tries to get to know her subjects so she can portray them in familiar settings. An engagement portrait might include a trip to the beach. A family can be relaxed and happy in their favorite park or in their home. She will “scout” the location before the event, but she has to be flexible as well. “We had decided to take a family’s pictures in a special location in a local park, but when we got there on the day, there was a wedding going on! We had to move to another nearby park that I knew about, and it all worked out fine,” she laughs. And of course, location work also involves weather and other challenges, but years of experience have taught her to expect the unexpected and be ready for anything.
“My husband Steve is my assistant,” she explains. “He is a second photographer at weddings—he gets some great candid shots. He also helps with “herding” in large family groups, and he’s the entertainer, making sure everyone stays happy while I work with the technical part.” He also does a lot of “schlepping” and holds the reflectors to get the right natural lighting for many images.
Her home office, on the lower floor of her house, is her gallery as well as her workshop. She has a display of framing choices (framing is done offsite) and a computerized slideshow in addition to books of samples. She’s also happy to go to a client’s home to discuss a project.
Her back yard has been carefully designed to offer dozens of outdoor backdrops for portraits. “We spend a lot of time out here, working in the garden,” she says. “But it’s worth it, because natural light is best for portraiture.” There are arbors, benches, old barn wood and split-rail fences for subjects to lean on. She and her husband are considering adding a pond this summer.
These days, Sandy uses all digital camera equipment. “I got some imperfect results in the early testing of digital, but I kept with it, and now I get better results than with my old Hasselblad,” she says. Her camera equipment is large format and very high resolution.
Sandy recently joined the Board of the Cedar Mill Business Association. She hopes to help the group get better recognition in the community, and the CMBA Portrait Project currently at the US Bank is her first effort in this direction. She wants to do more business portraits and hopes that her involvement in the group will open opportunities for her.
To find out more about Sandy’s services, or to schedule a time to chat about your ideas, visit her website, www.sandysphotos.com, or call her at 503-297-2343.