It’s undeniable that being from Globe impacts Tanner Yeager’s work as a photographer—how he runs his business, his subject matter, and more.
Yeager, who was born and grew up in this area, says that being from a small town gave him an “an opportunity to know what it feels like to have a reputation” relatively early on in his career. Starting out in a scaled-down, rural market gave him an accessible entry-point into the business. He explains, “It would have been super hard to go to Phoenix and start off as someone with no experience. I would have never made money.” Yeager, 23, now lives and works out of Scottsdale.
He says that that in place like Globe, “your circle is way tighter. Everyone knows what you’re doing, so the words of encouragement are usually a lot more sincere. There are people who have your back no matter what.” Although he’s working to build his a name for himself as a photographer on a national level, he still takes his reputation in his hometown very seriously. “I still I feel like my reputation in a small town is more important than in a city like Phoenix because it’s so tight knit,” he says, adding with a laugh, “If I do a family photo shoot here, I have to make sure that stuff is delivered because it would get blasted on Globe Garage Sale if not.”
Yeager didn’t grow up with dreams of being a photographer. Instead, his passion for the craft was ignited during the learning process. After high school, he remembers using a borrowed camera to take pictures of a rodeo in town and having the realization for the first time that photography could be a viable way to make a living. “I ended up making like $300,” he says. He recalls thinking at the time, “that’s more than I make in one day of work.”
His experience shooting the rodeo facilitated a major change in direction for Yeager. “I was getting ready to go into the Air Force—I got accepted and everything. My grandma and I sat down and had this heart to heart and she told me to follow my passion.” After that conversation, Yeager decided not to join the Air Force. “I went and took a loan out and got a camera. It has just been job after job after that,” he says.
Yeager grew up racing BMX, traveling all over the country from age eight into his mid-teens. When he started working to develop his career as a professional photographer, he was most excited about action sports like BMX. “That was my main desire,” says Yeager, “to do action sports photography and get to live vicariously through action sports.”
It’s not hard to see the parallels between Yeager’s background in BMX and how he approaches photography. “I want to push myself out of my comfort zone every chance that I get and with photography I get to do that. I’m not put in a box to do one thing every single day,” says Yeager. It makes sense then that he feels like her learns the most from his shoots that go the worst—the ones where he is just thrown into the fire.
Completely self-taught, Yeager reached out to mentors in the field to gain experience. Yeager says that the knowledge of photography that he has built up over the past few years, “came from mentors more than school, or YouTube. It was hands-on—literally begging people and annoying them, just every single day, saying ‘I want to shoot with you. Help me.’” He worked connections that he already had in the BMX industry in order to learn as much as he could.
He remembers a particularly influential conversation with one of his mentors, “I just picked his brain and I guess I like caught on fire that night.” They talked about settings and everything the the camera was capable of. It was just one example of how Yeager characterizes how he developed his passion for photography, “I started finding passion when I started learning about photography.” For anyone looking to get started with photography, or just improve their skills, Yeager offers the following advice: “learn the fundamentals and consistently keep learning.”
For the first six months to year of his career, he mostly shot things for friends. However, he remembers one particular shoot early on as a turning point. After a BMX race in Phoenix, he posted some of his photos to Facebook and “one of the biggest companies in motocross ended up reposting them […]The fact that a large company like that saw interest in my photos in the first year was something that was really, really made me dig for that kind of feeling [of accomplishment] that I got over and over again.”
“One of the coolest parts about photography is knowing that people appreciate your work,” says Yeager. He also loves how frequently he gets to travel. When he and I sat down to talk he had just returned from California and was going back the next week. His work has also taken him to places like Mexico and Colorado. He’s hoping that one day he will be able to land a job photographing the Olympics.
Until then, he’s working on “growing in a way that’s positive and impacting other people.” Yeager would like to book more and bigger corporate clients, putting him in a financial position to be able to give away his services to worthy clients. He recalls one particular shoot with Special Olympics that he calls “one of the most humbling shoots.” He remembers that “everyone was struggling, but everyone was having so much fun.” As he continues to grow his business, his goal is to be able to do jobs like the Special Olympics one for free.
“My goal for the next two years is to have an amazing team that is willing to help impact people in a positive way as much as I am,” says Yeager.
Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Edible Baja Arizona, Modern Farmer, Punch, Serious Eats, and elsewhere. Her first book, Beyond Canning was published in February 2016.