Hart & Sol West: In California and Everywhere Else

Hart & Sol West (2)

In the past four and a half years of APW’s existence, an interesting thing has happened. I’ve gotten to watch as real life communities of APW-affiliated folks have sprung up. I can’t speak to the ones I’m not a part of (though I do hear about them through the grapevine), but I can speak to the one in my life. In the Bay Area, there is a tight-knit group of APW staff, sponsors, and other APW-affiliated folks. It’s been interesting to see this community go from professional affiliation (because yes, these sponsors will pull together to make any APWer’s wedding the best it possibly can be), to friendship borne from working closely, to the kind of people that bring you food when you’re sick, and pass on baby clothes and gear and goodness knows what else to each other. It’s an honor to see what happens in this very virtual space when it starts to play out in real-life space.

And central to all of that this year has been Maddie of Hart & Sol West, who’s also APW’s Associate Editor. The crazy thing about Maddie is that she started as one of APW’s first-ever readers (I mean, she found me within the first month). Then with some seriously forceful encouragement on my part, she started Hart & Sol Photography with her (now) East Coast partner Monica. Less than a year ago, Maddie of Hart & Sol Photography moved out to Northern California, and rebuilt her business for clients throughout California, while separately becoming APW staff. Maddie lives in this magic in-between space of being fully an APW Sponsor (I mean, girlfriend pays cash for her sponsorship), while also working for the site. It means she knows APWers in a huge variety of ways: she knows you as readers, and she knows you as clients. It means that while I work with her almost every day, she also has this magical other life where she shoots your weddings and brings back the most amazing pictures.

I could talk all day about how awesome Maddie is (but you know that), and how fun she is to hang out with (I took her on half of my book tour), or how fun she is in a party setting (duh), or how much you guys adore her as a photographer (which you can tell from the pictures alone). But what I really want to point out is how amazing her work is, and how insanely fast it’s grown from starting-out-photographer to oh-my-god-this-shit-is-SERIOUS. She’s on one of those growth trajectories where her work is virtually unrecognizable from one year to the next. And if you hired Maddie this summer, you got pure magic. God only knows how much more magic you’ll get next summer. I’ll meet you at the end of the post to discuss Maddie’s no-bullshit-pricing structure, and the fact that she is (I swear to God) two-thirds booked for next year, so you need to email her FAST. But first up, she has a letter for you.

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Dear APW,

When I started writing to Meg about what I wanted to convey in my sponsored post today, I kept getting stuck. It’s not that I had nothing to say, but that I had so much that I wanted to share, I didn’t know where to start. And then it hit me. What I really wanted to say, was thank you.

Almost one year ago exactly, my husband was offered an awesome job that required us to move across the country and start our lives in a place I’d never even visited before. It was an exciting prospect (No snow? What is this witchcraft you speak of?) but I was terrified about what it would mean for my baby business, which had only just started to get its footing back home. So I prepared to be bored for some time while I got on my feet out here.

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But I should have known better. Because then an awesome thing happened. The APW community, true to form, rallied around me and made my business possible again. Before our boxes were even unpacked (okay, technically that statement is still true, we’re slow to settle in) I had a full slate of weddings lined up for 2012. And not just weddings, but awesome APW weddings, with clients that I wanted to be best friends with, in new exciting places I’d never even been before. You didn’t care that I’d never shot in the city before, or that I had no idea what a San Francisco summer looks like, or that I’m actually totally terrified to drive through the mountains. You just trusted me to do what I love to do and to try and kick ass at doing it.

And I couldn’t be more grateful.

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I wish I had a more articulate way to say this, but thank you for making my job possible. I talk about this a lot in my personal life, but I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who will tell you yes when you need to hear it. They aren’t yes men, but more like, people who will tell you that it’s okay to want something for yourself and to give you permission to go for it. And APW is that for me. I can’t count the number of times I’ve put my fate in your hands. When this business was founded, there was no money for advertising. But with your support (and a wish and a prayer) it became something. Then I moved all the way across the country, and you got me on my feet again. When I changed my business philosophies to be more client friendly, you hired me because of it. All of these things, all of this hard work, wouldn’t have gone anywhere without you.

And then there is what happens after you make my job possible. You make my job awesome. This past weekend I was shooting a wedding in the mountains at a client’s family cabin. It was a real community affair, which are always my favorite. (I love when a couple’s family and friends make me part of the party and I can get to know people rather than hanging back as a fly on the wall. I feel like I’m able to produce a really honest portrait of the people who matter to you this way.) Anyway, a few hours into the reception, my client came up to me and told me I was the most popular person at the party. Um, say what? At first I was a little embarrassed (I mean, this was coming from the bride), but then I got over it and was just really honored. Because there is nothing better than going to work and feeling like your job matters. And that’s what APW weddings do for me, every. single. time.

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I remember that one of the first clients who ever hired us said that she didn’t want any strangers at her wedding. And while I thought it was genius at the time, I didn’t really expect it to become the mantra of how I run my business. But that’s what makes me tick. I don’t want to be some pushy stranger who tells you what to do for twelve hours. I want to be someone you can trust. Who will make you laugh and respect your family and be friends with your friends. And thanks to APW, I can do that.

So today I thought I’d renew my promise from last year, to return the favor by giving everything I have at every wedding, and treat your wedding like the mother effing boss that it is. I’ve been shooting in different conditions this year (I’ve fallen in love with at-home, campground, and backyard weddings) so I’ve also made a commitment to get amazing images even in conditions that are normally more challenging to photographers. In short, I promise to constantly challenge myself to make more awesome imagery, and to capture your partnership and your people in their most authentic states. Because after all you’ve given me, that’s the least that I can do.


RIGHT? So, after you’ve stopped feeling teary, let’s talk about the details of booking Maddie and Hart & Sol West. First, Maddie believes whole heartedly in totally up-front pricing. Forget hidden fees, Maddie doesn’t even have extra fees. She says, “My rates are $3,500 for weddings in California and $5,000 for destination weddings anywhere in the US (though I also do a small number of local weekday elopements, which start at $750). I believe in bullshit-free pricing structures, so my two wedding packages aren’t starting numbers (what you see is what you pay) and are totally inclusive of all travel, edited images, printing rights, and an engagement session. I just don’t feel like hiring a wedding photographer should be more difficult than finding a wedding photographer, you know?” But more than that, if you want Maddie to shoot your wedding next year, you need to get in touch now. She reports, “I only accept a limited amount of weddings each year, and I can’t believe it, but I am already about two-thirds booked for 2013! So if you are thinking of hiring me for next year, email me now before dates are gone!So send that email already. Maybe, like me, you’ll be lucky enough to work with Maddie. And I know you’ll send us pictures.

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  • Fermi

    This post gave me chills as I read it.

    • Agreed. I got chills from the images (STUNNING!) and the whole story! Maddie, you freaking rock!

  • Ryann

    Maddie & Monica shot my April wedding and they are awesome! Super great ladies that did a super job. They showed serious grace under pressure when some things outside of their control went wrong (which I didn’t even hear about until months later cuz they handled. that. nonsense.) I was blessed with some great vendors, but they were our (and our family’s) favorites.

    Book her. Seriously.

    • You are the best. <3.

  • Sara

    We just booked Maddie for our October 2013 wedding and couldn’t be more pleased! Every time she posts and/or posts new work, I see it and think, “Best wedding-related decision ever.”

    • Marie

      I have that same thought every time I see new work from Maddie as well! She will be shooting my wedding in two weeks and hiring her is still my favorite wedding decision. She’s been awesome to work with so far. I’m so excited to get married and I can’t wait to see the wedding though her lens. Cheers Maddie!

  • I’ve been engaged for 8 months and have only booked one vendor… MADDIE. Even though all of our other wedding plans keep changing like crazy and we question every decision we make, we have known from the beginning that we wanted Maddie to photograph our wedding. (Plus she’s been GREAT with all the changes!) All it took to convince us that she was the best choice was seeing her photos and one Skype session. I can’t wait!