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derby logo120Elaine Derby has been a portrait photographer for 28 years.  After closing her downtown Syracuse studio two and a half years ago she now lives and works in Ithaca.  She has photographed hundreds of children from infants to four- year- olds over the years.  Since moving here she has expanded her specialties from children's portraiture to include high school seniors, pregnancy, and business photography.

"Whether I'm doing a child or an adult or a high school senior the part I enjoy the most is getting to know them and getting them to feel comfortable enough to trust me so they can be themselves," she says.  "That's important, especially with the business owners I have been working with, because a lot of women especially don't like to be photographed.  So my job is to help them feel comfortable enough so they can show a part of themselves that is hard to show.  I'm good at allowing people that space."

Originally from Middletown Connecticut, Derby moved to Cato in 1973.  She lived there for 36 years, running a successful downtown studio on James Street in Syracuse for 14 of them.  But she was no stranger to cameras when she decided to become a professional photographer.

"I got my first camera in fourth grade," she recalls.  "I used it a lot.  I've always been fascinated by people's faces.  I always took pictures of people.  My Uncle Frank was a wonderful black and white portrait photographer.  His portraits were very inspiring.  So I've had an interest in photography since I was very young."

derby girl© Elaine Derby Photography

In high school she continued taking pictures and learned how to develop her pictures in a dark room.  After graduating she got more serious about it.  She landed a job at a Syracuse advertising agency that included taking pictures.  When she left that job she started her own business, just doing what she loved best.

"I had a friend who was booking musicians for the music hall in Oswego,"  he recalls.  "She would send people my way to have head shots taken.  That got me started.  And I did some weddings when I started out.  I had a studio above my garage.  In 1996 I opened my studio in Syracuse and my business really took off."

Part of her success came from word of mouth, part from the location of the studio, and part from referrals.  She made friends with the owner of a nearby children's clothing shop owner, who sent her a lot of clients, and, of course, the clients wore clothes from the shop when they posed for their portraits.

"I felt comfortable working with children.  I had a lot of patience with them.  It takes a lot of patience to work with children, so it seemed to fit.  It was something I became good at so it seemed natural for me to do children's portraits."

She still loves working with children, both in her home studio and on location.  A typical session begins with a consultation, a few weeks before the actual shoot.  She discusses what they will wear and where the portrait will be taken.  If it's a location portrait she often visits the location to scope out the best time and lighting angles.  The actual photo session takes about two hours, which allows the subject to become comfortable, and allows children enough time to cooperate, if only for a portion of the time.

derby boys© Elaine Derby Photography

Her nearly three-decade long career spanned a major shift in photography, when film cameras were very quickly replaced by digital.  She had been working with Photoshop to touch up portraits, but moving entirely to digital photography was a wrench.

"I was resistant at first," she says.  "I was a die-hard film photographer and I had recently gotten a Hasselblad, which was a big thing for me.  I thought it would be the camera I would use for the rest of my life.  It was a wonderful camera with a square format that worked really well with children.  I loved this camera and I didn't want to give it up.  I still miss my Hasselblad.  I finally sold it a couple of years ago, but I would love to have another one some day."

Derby and her husband moved to Ithaca to be near family and because of area attractions.  She says that Ithaca as a tourist destination benefits her business as well.  In fact, many of her Syracuse, Rochester, Oswego and Central New York clients still use her services, coming to Ithaca for a portrait session, then spending the rest of the day sightseeing.

derby elaineElaine Derby in her Ithaca studio

In addition to her regular portrait business Derby has been working on a special project depicting woman healers from the Ithaca area.  The exhibit will open at Studio West on May 1st, and two of the images were included in the State of the Art Gallery exhibit that opened a few weeks ago.

"I was inspired to do this project because I feel that women all over the world are experiencing a spiritual awakening that is helping to bring our world back into balance," she says.  "We're at a critical time in history where we need more of the feminine energy to help us evolve towards a more kind, loving, and compassionate world.  I feel that the energy they are creating is not only healing others but is helping to heal our planet as well.  I want to honor the work of all women healers, and help them to be recognized for the important work that they're doing."

Derby loves to do location work, especially outdoors when the weather is nice.  But whether it is outside or in the studio her main focus is on depicting aspects of her clients that tell their story in a unique, attractive way.

"Just to be able to photograph them in a way that shows who they are, and with business owners my goal is to show a better image for their business -- that is fun to do because most of the time people will say, 'Well no one has ever been able to bring that out in me before.'  So it is very rewarding to do that for somebody, to help them see their own beauty or show a part of themselves that will help them reach out to people, or a business owner to reach out to their audience," she says.  "Or, if it's a child, something that touches someone's heart.  It's a beautiful thing for someone to treasure for the rest of their lives."

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