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Family owned photography in the digital age

December 8, 2010

by Shaune Mushaw

Most people who live in the Pine Hills are probably familiar with the Trustco Bank building on Madison Avenue. However, confusion might ensue when they see glimpses of beautiful wedding photos glowing from the building’s second story at night. These photos are the works of Joe Elario and his son, Joseph Peter, or “J.P.”—the two men behind the Joe Elario Photography business, housed up the back stairs at 1084 Madison Ave.

J.P. Elario in his office at 1084 Madison Ave. (Shaune Mushaw)

Since it was founded by the elder Elario more than 30 years ago, Joe Elario Photography has grown into much more than a wedding photography business—especially at the hands of J.P., who not only assists his father in wedding shoots, but also shoots engagements, babies, runs the business’s website and writes photo blogs as a form of exposure and a way to keep in touch with past clients. “I’m really grateful to have the following I have on my website,” said the younger Elario. “I love nothing more than when someone comes up and says, ‘I’m a blog stalker, I follow your blog.’”

Born and raised in Albany, the son of “Big Joe” Elario, now 29, began going to wedding shoots with his father, 63, at the young age of 11. He began like many other young aspiring photographers, with a 35mm camera and black and white film.

“I just love taking pictures. We had Polaroid that was always in the house and I loved picking it up off the table and taking pictures of people,” said “Young Joe.” From there, he earned an associate degree in applied science at Sage College, from which he graduated in 2001, and continued for one year at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA. “It was there that I realized I’d rather work, because I had been working that whole time at home anyway doing weddings,” said J.P.

Since leaving school and becoming a permanent fixture in the Joe Elario Photography business, the younger Elario has brought new features of the business to life through his own style, which is slightly different from his father’s. Although the two Elarios still do wedding shoots together, J.P. said his father has a more candid or documentary style, while he approaches shoots with a more relaxed look and prefers one-on-one time with brides and grooms. “Weddings are my number one,” he said, but continued, “sometimes I enjoy engagement shoots a little bit more than weddings because I can spend more time with the couples”

It is this time spent with the couples that makes an “Elario shoot” different from typical photo shoots and keeps

Photos displayed in J.P.’s office (Shaune Mushaw)

clients coming back for more. About 40 percent of the wedding shoots they do are for clients who had already done an engagement shoot with J.P. The younger Elario takes great pride in the fact that he and his father always get to know brides and grooms. He  acknowledged how important it is for couples to feel comfortable during a photo shoot—especially in a wedding atmosphere. “You’re going to spend your wedding day with these people, you need to like them,” he said.

The comfort that comes in photo shoots done by the J.P. is a direct result of his genuine enthusiasm for not only his job, but the couple as well. His favorite part of engagement shoots, he said, is about a half hour in, when the couple trusts him and they are “vibing.” “I can always feel that moment with an engaged couple,” he said. His clients can attest to this, as his excitement is clearly visible when he gets what he calls “the shot”—he is known to jump up and twirl around when it happens.

Natalie Staples, a repeat client who chose Joe Elario Photography for her engagement session and wedding, continues to vouch for the business and affirms how the younger Elario makes clients feel comfortable. “J.P. makes you feel so comfortable; nothing is posed, everything is so real,” said Staples, whose fiancé was originally nervous about doing an engagement session.

Like in engagement sessions, J.P. also has a favorite part of wedding shoots because it gives people a more “behind-the-scenes” look. “I really love bride preparation photos,” he said. In addition, he enjoys the minimal amount of time he gets to spend with only the couple on their wedding day. “I love photographing just the bride and groom one-on-one…the images I can get of just the two of them alone are really special,” he said.

The Joe Elario Photography business is now coming off a typically busy fall season.

Fall is JP’s favorite time of year for a lot of reasons. “The color, the mood, the fall lighting. It’s just a whole different ball game than the rest of the year,” he said. “It’s busy. It’s crunch time. You go into September and you know the next six weeks are going to be insane.” Many people choose to have weddings and engagement sessions in the fall because of the bright colors and scenery and because they do not have to worry so much about extreme temperatures. The business’s website, run by the younger Elario, is currently rife with photos and stories from these brightly colored fall weddings and engagement sessions.

Screenshot of the Joe Elario Photography website, which features J.P.’s blog and recent photos

JP has enjoyed updating the website since it was created in the early-mid ‘90s. “We were one of the first local photographers to have a website,” he said. After discovering the concept of “blogs” in 2006, the younger Elario never looked back. He started a blog section of the business’s website as a means to share his most recent work, and from there it evolved into a useful tool for various aspects of the business itself.

“It’s a monster I must feed. Now it is my client-booking tool,” said J.P. Not only has the blog allowed new clients to find Joe Elario Photography, but it also allows old clients to keep up with these two photographers whom they have come to view as friends, and sometimes inspires them to book sequential events—often following the age-old expression, “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” “J.P.’s blog has really put them on the map, and he does a great job of keeping us all drooling for more blogs,” said Mona Dudek, another former wedding and engagement client and avid blog-follower.

Natalie Staples, who returned to Joe Elario Photography for her wedding photographs last June also still follows the website. “Even after I’ve gotten married, I still go back to his blogs because I love looking at his pictures. I just feel like they’re so real,” she said. In addition, many people who eventually book Joe or J.P. for their events start off by looking at the blog.

Dudek, who has earned the titles “No. 1 Fan” and “blog stalker” through her constant blog commenting, used the blog as her basis to choose them in the first place. “When [my husband] and I started planning our 2009 wedding, one thing was among the top priorities: photographers…One look through the blog and it was decided,” she said. “After so much ‘blog-stalking,’ how could I not want to do an engagement shoot?”

Even months or years after their events are over, clients of Joe and his son’s continue to rave about their work. “After the wedding day, the flowers wilt, the cake is eaten, and the dress is tucked away. However, when I flip through my album, I get the same smile on my face as the first time I saw my husband for our ‘first look,’ and am amazed all over again,” said Dudek. Staples also agrees with this sentiment, stating that the business’s rates were “totally worth it,” and adding that it was “money well spent.” “I would tell the brides, ‘make room in your budget, pictures are all you have in the end,’” she said.

Although this father and son mainly shoot in Albany, Saratoga Springs, Lake George and New York City, they do entertain inquiries that require travel, and they have even gone as far as Chicago for a shoot. They also give all of their wedding clients a customized book of their photos, and a “wedding website” to view and order photos. It is this service, enthusiasm and attention to detail that makes potential clients of Joe Elario Photography ultimately choose them in the end, and makes past clients come back for more.

“Our style, reputation and reliability has always set us apart from everybody else. I think a huge thing is my personality and passion,” said the younger Elario. -30-

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