Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 3, 2014

The hometown photographer: Bridgette Harmon-Smith

Bridgette Harmon-Smith building up local photo studio

By Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Bridgette Harmon-Smith spent an hour last week trekking beside the Wabash River, armed with a camera.

Her target? Bald eagles.

It was a rare expedition for Harmon-Smith, a professional photographer who spends most of her time taking pictures of people in Peru and Miami County.

“We just jumped in the car and went and had fun,” she said. “That was pretty different for me, because it’s usually just work, work, work. It was nice to have a fun hour chasing down eagles.”

But it’s those little outside-the-box adventures that have pushed the 30-year-old Peru native to hone the craft that’s made her business, Harmon Photography, the go-to place for pictures in Miami County.

Harmon-Smith has spent the last decade building up her studio, which this year celebrates 10 years in the city at 288 E Main St.

It may be a decade since she started her business, but Harmon-Smith has spent most of her life refining and improving her photographic artistry.

Even as a kid, she said, she loved taking pictures with her old point-and-shoot camera during family vacations. When she started attending Peru High School, Harmon-Smith began shooting pictures for the yearbook.

She really enjoyed that, so after graduating, she headed out to Massachusetts to attend the Hallmark Institute of Photography. She completed a two-year degree there in just 10 months.

“It was very, very intense, but the best part of it was everything was hands-on,” she said.

Then it was back to Peru, where she got a photography job with Walgreens. During that time, Harmon-Smith started shooting weddings and other gigs on the side, until she had enough money to open a studio.

And when she was 20 years old, that’s what she did.

Now, Harmon Photography has contracts with all three Miami County school districts to shoot yearbook portraits, and Harmon-Smith has built up a reputation as one of the best baby and maternity photographers around.

Her baby photos were so good Dukes Memorial Hospital decided to hang her work in the maternity ward instead of the generic art usually found in hospitals.

“That’s pretty awesome,” Harmon-Smith said. “Nurses I run into tell me sometimes, ‘I was having a bad day yesterday, so I went up to the maternity floor and just looked at your pictures.’ That’s really cool.”

Her photos also recently got the attention of the Professional Photographers of Indiana group. During its annual convention in January, Harmon-Smith earned the Top Ten award for artistic and technical skill.

She now plans to submit a package of photos for the regional contest, which could earn her a spot in the national Professional Photographers of America competition.

“You get some big credentials if you win nationals,” Harmon-Smith said. “You definitely get some bragging rights. But the real benefit of entering these contests is they push you to be a better photographer.”

And that’s something Harmon-Smith is all about.

Every year, she attends a workshop at the Winona School of Photography, where she picks up tips on some of the new developments in photography.

After heading there for seven years, Harmon-Smith is now an instructor at the workshop, where she passes on her art to other budding photographers.

Then there are things like the impromptu eagle expedition that she said also help push her outside her comfort zone and expand her experiences as a photographer.

Harmon-Smith also is going after two degrees offered by the Professional Photographers of America. By next year, she said she hopes to earn a photographic craftsman degree, which is awarded for photographer’s service as an orator, author or mentor.

She’s also working her way toward a master of photography degree through the PPA.

“To some people, things like that matter,” Harmon-Smith said. “But some people could care less. If you can’t take a picture and capture the emotion they want, then they don’t care about my awards or degrees.”

In some ways, you could say Harmon-Smith is an old-fashioned photographer. She likes to avoid using Photoshop to alter or enhance photos, although she will if a client requests it.

She also encourages everyone she photographs to get physical prints of pictures instead of just a CD or digital copy. Having a photo in your hand has a deeper impact on people, she said.

“Some days I kind of get mad about how much technology has changed the photography business,” Harmon-Smith said. “I started on a film camera, so I’ve seen the change. Sometimes it gets frustrating and it’s a hard battle. But I have to remind myself that I have to keep going and do what I need to do to survive and lead the way.”

Although technology has altered the way people take and produce photos, Harmon-Smith said it hasn’t changed her approach to taking good photos of her subjects. It’s a matter of making people feel relaxed, and capturing a true moment, she said.

“I always try to be personal. You may walk in the door as a stranger, but you’re going to leave as a friend,” she said.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.