Design Aglow Cinema: Meet Anna Mayer

Meet Anna Mayer, a photographer and cinematographer who is leading the pack in innovation in creating original keepsake films for portrait clients.

Tell us a little about yourself, Anna.

I was a photographer even before I held my first camera at the age of nine. Growing up the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of professional photographers and the daughter of a hobbyist photographer and filmmaker, creating and capturing the moments of life was as natural as breathing.

Having this creative career that affords me the privilege of documenting moments through films and photographs is one of the greatest joys of my life.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in cinematography.

I am a professional photographer and filmmaker living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but more often than not, it seems, living out of a suitcase as I travel the country capturing films and photographs from Massachusetts to California to Texas. Growing up, my entire life was captured on film. Everything from my first step, to the school play, to my first time bombing a ski hill in Colorado, was captured on Super8, and then VHS, and then film. My dad then took those mediums, added music and created these deeply emotional and so very meaningful movies of our lives (my dad was 30 years ahead of the wave!). I watch those movies now with my own children.

In 2009, I had a thriving photography business and a brand-new Canon Mark II. The day I took it out of the box I shot my first family film; a short story of my 3-year-old daughter and her babydoll. I was hooked. It wasn't until 2012, however, that my personal life afforded me the time and mental space to truly embrace filmmaking. I started to dig deeper by taking classes and immersing myself in this whole new world. The more I learned, the more enthralled I became, and the more I realized how much further there was to go. Capturing these moments in a beautiful and cinematic way is something I believe families will one day consider as necessary as taking a family portrait. Family films and video is the future, but only if it goes beyond a moving photograph. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. . .

How do you describe your style?

My style can be summed up in one word: emotional. Although, I do see humor and delight in life with children, my first response is always one of heartfelt emotion. I cry when I edit a photograph of a family I have seen grow up through the years. I tear up when I see a little hand reach up for Daddy's. Those are the things, the easily-forgotten details, that I love to capture, whether through films or photographs, for the families I serve. Because, I can tell you from experience, those little things, and those little people, will be grown and gone in a heartbeat.

When discussing cinematography with potential clients how do you communicate its benefits over a more traditional photography session?

For me, the best way to sell a family film to a client is simply to show them what I have done for others. They need to connect to the films and to the idea on an emotional level. The people I have captured tell me that they saw this film, or that one, and it just spoke to them. They knew they needed to have me capture their family with my eye and my heart in much the same way.

What is one thing photographers would be surprised to learn about cinematography?

Filmmaking is a whole lot more collaborative than photography. I spent the last 12 years as a one-woman-show. When I show up to capture a family it’s always been just me and my camera. To capture truly excellent films (where the shaking camera or bad audio don't take away from the message) there is a whole lot of gear and many more technical decisions and actions you have to be aware of. Even just carrying the equipment is a chore for one person!

I have learned to open myself up to sharing with other filmmakers and allowing them into my process as well as working with non-filmmakers to help me get things done. It may be possible to make a good film with a Mark III and a lens, but it making a great film would be much easier with a Pelican case full of stabilizers, a backpack full of audio gear and a couple of assistants.

Filmmaking is so much more about storytelling than photography. You can photograph a family in 3 outfits and 5 locations and put together a gorgeous gallery. But if you shoot a little footage of each of those 5 locations and throw it together and call it a "film" the only people who will watch all 3 minutes are mom and grandma. The rest of us will be bored within seconds. You have to tell a story. It doesn't have to be fancy or complicated; it can be as simple as "Packing up the car, driving to the beach, playing in the sand and falling asleep on the way home, where daddy carries the kids to their beds." Story is what drives us to stick around and watch. Some of the most watched YouTube videos (ok, all of the most-watched YouTube videos) are not cinematic art, they are crappy cellphone videos with a great story. Story is everything.

In what ways are you able to upsell clients that purchase cinematography from your studio?  

This is really best done through the emotion of a film. What I have found is that clients who might choose me as a photographer because they want to capture the joy and spontaneity of their family life in, say, a wall gallery, also love the idea of capturing more. As far back as 2007, I would capture the children's voices; I would take my little voice recorder, a technologically simple tool by today's standards, and have them sing me a song or tell me a story. I would then surprise the parents by including the adorable audio in their image slideshow.

A product (the DVD slideshow) that had previously been passed over by most clients was suddenly a $250 must-have upgrade. In much the same way these parents LOVE their wall galleries and look at them everyday, they LOVE their keepsake albums and thumb through them with their children now and then, but what's not to love, maybe even more, than the sight of their little one snuggling up with the family dog, singing their favorite preschool song or tasting ice cream for the first time in a MOVING picture?

I see family films as a separate but just as emotionally compelling offering. I wouldn't trade my wall gallery (that I gaze at every morning over coffee) for anything, but gratefully I don't have to, because I can enjoy that awesome gallery and then turn on my TV and see my daughter at 3 years old, loving on her dollies and singing "You are my Sunshine." That's a win in my book.


Anna Mayer is a much loved and sought after child and family photographer with clients all over the United States, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Chicago to San Antonio, Texas. Anna’s honest, happy images capture the joy and magic of childhood. Her ability to connect with children and families coupled with her smart business sense has taken her from a part-time adventure to a full-time business in multiple cities across the U.S. Being mother to four active and adventurous children has honed her ability to see life through a child’s eyes and a mother’s heart. Her work continues to inspire families and fellow photographers alike. Anna is featured in The Design Aglow Posing Guide for Family Portrait Photography, available on Amazon and in your local bookstore.

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