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I first became aware of the Ramsdens through my wife, Erin, who followed their work religiously on Instagram. I’ve seen lots of Hudson Valley-based wedding photography portfolios, but their work stood out as being different.
For one thing, they don’t bill themselves as wedding photographers — as they say, they’re “love and adventure” photographers. They shoot engagements and weddings, but they also take couples on adventures and photograph the results. Their work makes good use of the Hudson Valley landscape, but they eschew the typical spots that everybody uses. Their photographs give the impression that they always know when to go just a little bit farther than is obvious.
Furthermore, their work has a unique shine — as if every photo they take is at golden hour. They have a knack for pulling out a different quality of light from their photographs, accenting details that others would miss.
One Sunday in early October, Erin and I sat down with the Ramsdens at Ella’s Bellas in Beacon, where we talked about their origin story, their approach to photography, the future of Poughkeepsie, and lots more.
How did you discover the Hudson Valley?
Caitlinn: I moved here when I was a little kid from Texas. Landed in Beacon, kind of never left.
Brian: I didn’t know what to do with myself after school. I thought I was going to get into computer hardware and software engineering, but that didn’t work out because the market was really flooded in South Africa, so I started in hospitality. I graduated and finished my studies, and instead of taking time off, I applied to a company that recruits here in America so I could come get some experience. Got accepted, worked in Boca Raton in Florida for a season, then came up to Westchester, did some work over there, and that’s where I met Caitlin. She was photographing a wedding.
Caitlinn: Where he was working!
How did you guys get into photography?
Brian: For me, it was through her.
Caitlinn: I’ve been taking pictures since I was a kid. I was at Ames with my mom and there was a hot pink Kodak point-and-shoot camera, and I said, “I want that for Christmas.” I was probably 7. I got it for Christmas, and that’s when it started — with my little hot pink point-and-shoot camera, taking pictures.
I went to college for it, and then when I met him, our schedules were so different and he was seasonal, it was all over the place. His mom is a photographer, his sister dabbles in photography, so I was like, “it has to be in you somewhere!” And I handed him my camera, taught him the basics of photography, and he was instantly as good as me. It pissed me off so much. And now he’s just getting better and better and better.
Brian: I was assisting her part time between work, and then once she started to get busier and busier, we were at a crossroads. I had to decide — would I give up hospitality completely and get on board with her, or would she have to find somebody else full time? I made the move, she showed me everything, and now it’s just experience I’ve built on top of that. Now we both do it full-time.
You guys have been killing it on Instagram.
Brian: Caitlinn runs our Instagram.
Caitlinn: I have a love-hate relationship with it.
Erin: So does everyone!
Caitlinn: It’s a necessary evil. It’s so annoying, but yeah.
Erin: I do social media for work, and the more I’ve done it for work, the less I’ve enjoyed it outside of work. It’s just work now.
Caitlinn: I used to enjoy it, and I have a personal account. I used to love posting on it, but I don’t even pay attention to it anymore.
Feed the content beast.
Let’s talk favorite places in the Hudson Valley. Let’s say you have a weekend where you’re not shooting a wedding — where do you like to go?
Caitlinn: That doesn’t exist.
Brian: And when we don’t shoot, we like to do nothing.
Caitlinn: We like hanging out with our dogs, in our house.
We like to go hiking. We’re very basic in that we love Minnewaska State Park. It’s our happy place.
I went to school in New Paltz, and I like being over there. We do a lot of winter hiking there, because that’s the only time we ever have a weekend free.
Brian: All the other time that we have when we’re not shooting, we’re spending time with the dogs and each other, and scouting new places to shoot and everything. It’s very difficult to take time away to schedule with our friends.
How do you find the spots that you shoot?
Caitlinn: My dad is from Beacon. Half of the places that we shoot are places that he showed me as a kid. That’s probably how it started — me wanting to shoot places that are adventurous and a little more out there, that’s definitely from my dad.
All sorts of little nooks and crannies around here — hidden waterfalls and stuff — he showed me as a kid. He hiked up Breakneck and Mount Beacon with me on his shoulders when I was like three. When I really think about it, my dad started it for me, and then I showed Brian all these places.
Brian: We try not to go to the places that everyone is shooting at, so we can stay different and stay relevant. We don’t like to take couples to the same old places.
Caitlinn: I know lots of photographers who’ll be driving and will see something on the side of the road. But we like to stop and go find out what that is and find spots like that, just through hiking, just through taking five minutes to go just a little further.
In the past ten or fifteen years, there have been massive changes in the Hudson Valley. When I was in high school, nobody who wanted to do anything creative wanted to stay here. And now it feels like this is the place where everyone comes after they “graduate” from city life.
How have you found the change, and what’s it like doing creative work and living here?
Caitlinn: I like it because I was always the opposite. I refused to go to the city to find my creative path — I wanted to find it here, however I can.
I don’t want to do city life. I like people, but I don’t like people that much. And I want to have my dogs running around in the forest and not having to poop on the sidewalk.
I’m really hoping the revitalization of the city of Poughkeepsie starts picking up a little faster. That’s something I feel very strongly about right now. Beacon’s already happening.
Erin: Have you heard that they’re considering making the YMCA an art museum? It’s been vacant for ten years, and it’s between two bids that are up for public discussion — one is a modern art museum, and the other is a community center with a daycare and that kind of stuff. I read a Poughkeepsie Journal article.
Caitlinn: They’re making some old Mason building into a high-end event space called Revel 32, on Cannon Street.
There’s also 40 Cannon, and that upcoming brewery [Zeus Brewing] with the rooftop view. There’s so much happening in Poughkeepsie, and I just want to see it keep going. There’s that food hall happening [the Poughkeepsie Hive] too — a big food hall with a commercial kitchen.
What do you hope to see in the next few years for the creative scene in the Hudson Valley?
I don’t know. I just want it to grow, and keep building. Particularly in the city of Poughkeepsie.
I’d like to see more educational workspaces pop up everywhere, and I would like to teach those.
That’s what I’m working on right now — we’re working on creating a photography workshop. We’re going to do one in January for experienced photographers, and I also want to start a beginner course. I feel like nobody around here offers a beginners’ photography course unless you’re in college or high school. What about everybody else?
Erin: What made you guys decide to move to Poughkeepsie, and what makes you passionate about Poughkeepsie revitalization?
Caitlinn: This is going to sound negative, but I moved to Poughkeepsie because I wanted to get out of Beacon. I felt like Poughkeepsie was where Beacon was 15 years ago. I felt like, in the evolution of this part of the state, that was the next step.
I always gravitated towards the part where the town of Poughkeepsie meets the city of Poughkeepsie. I always really liked those roads right there. We just recently bought a house right there.
I feel like it’s Poughkeepsie’s turn, just like it’s also Newburgh’s turn.
It’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s totally not. It’s a suburban area, but it has everything anybody needs. Also — last stop on Metro-North! That’s special.
Walk us through a typical day.
Caitlinn: A million emails. We both have workaholic tendencies. I wake up, emails, calling people, editing.
We just recently hired an assistant, and she comes over at around 11. Giving her her tasks. Editing a thousand photos a day. Creating presets for Lightroom. Trying to organize the workshop. We actually also recently hired a manager — she lives in Beacon.
Create timelines for weddings coming up. Constantly thinking about locations. Dogs. Life. We’re literally working 7 days a week, at least 10 hours a day. It kind of never ends.
What’s the split between Hudson Valley shoots and traveling?
Caitlinn: Ninety-five percent Hudson Valley. That’s our preferred — we like to stick to the Hudson Valley. We like to do destination weddings once in a while, but with our life… we have lots of animals, and just logistically, we like being here. We also like collaborating with the people that we’ve worked with before.
When you’re selecting locations for a wedding or an engagement shoot, do you have locations in mind that you want to shoot, or do you tailor the location to the couple that you’re shooting?
Caitlinn: I ask them what vibe they’re going for. Whatever their answer is, even if they don’t know how to answer it — I’ll ask them what they want. Do you want woods, do you want fields, rolling hills? I’ll give them different adjectives for scenes. And whatever they pick from there, I’ll brainstorm and give them one or two or three places and let them pick.
Ultimately, they choose. We try to cater to their lifestyle. I’d say about 90% of our clients are from the city, so some of them think that they’re adventurous or hikers when they’re not. We ask them questions to figure out just how experienced they are with hiking, to determine what we suggest. One person could think Vanderbilt Mansion is a crazy adventurous hike, and other people would think that’s nothing.
Through trial and error we’ve figured out people don’t always mean what they think they mean. We’ve definitely had people show up for a hiking shoot wearing high heels.
It strikes me that you’d better like the people that you’re working with if you’re going on mile-long hikes with them.
Brian: We don’t allow people just to hire us. They’ll make an inquiry with us, then we’ll let them know if we’re available and send them our rates. The next step, if they want to move forward, is to have a FaceTime meeting. And that way we eliminate people who are not a good fit for us. We need to find out if we’re a good fit for them as much as if they’re a good fit for us. Because we’ve done so many of them, we can feel if it’ll be a good fit. By the time we get to the shooting, we’re only working with people who are a good fit for us.
What makes someone a bad fit?
Brian: Somebody who likes your work but doesn’t give you creative control.
In order for us to get the photos that we need, we need to be creative, and they have to trust us. Every couple is different. You can never replicate exactly what one couple has with another.
You get different different days, different seasons, different lighting. People have to want their photos to be taken, and trust that the photographers know what they’re doing.
Caitlinn: We want to work with people who look at it as an artistic collaboration, and who trust us. We’re both giving to something, and they trust that we’ll do our best for them and that they should trust our suggestions.
Let’s say there’s somebody not from the Hudson Valley reading this interview. What’s the one thing you’d want them to know about the Hudson Valley that they don’t already know?
Caitlinn: You’ll experience the extremes of all four seasons. The people are generally accepting, friendly, and community-oriented.
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