Those of us lucky enough to call the Tampa Bay region home know what a strong sense of place — both in natural beauty and diversity of neighborhoods — we live among.
But for visitors and wannabes, the images beyond beaches and sunsets posted daily on social media may not give such a clear image.
That’s why we decided to tag along with three local photographers who seek the perfect backdrop for must-see locales.
Here are their insights into top choices and experiences, both indoors and out, and their advice on what distinguishes an object d’ arte from a simple snapshot.
Jorge Alvarez, Alvarez Photo
Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn stands in a rowboat inside photographer Jorge Alvarez’s St. Petersburg studio at 150 22nd Street S., ready to shake your hand and presumably drum up support for the Tampa Riverwalk.
Buckhorn’s image is on canvas, but Alvarez has made him appear nearly touchable. It’s hard to temper the impulse to greet the mayor with gusto.
“I try to capture that special spark of the individual,” Alvarez says of his passion for realistic photography.
Alvarez often seeks that spark from his home base, a custom-built studio stocked with features that allow him to photograph everything from people to cars to pool escapades. The studio garage can fit a semi truck; a loft area features natural light from different angles, depending on the time of day. Having such access to lighting, Alvarez explains, makes having such a space invaluable.
When he ventures from his controlled environment, locations like Pass a Grille and hotel rooftops make his must-see list. Alvarez travels worldwide for shoots but is loyal to the Bay Area; his portfolio includes the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders calendar. On-site, the studio dressing room autograph wall gives a glimpse of his varied clientele, including infomercial icon Tony Little.
Speaking of the area’s allure, Alvarez maintains that while Miami remains a popular locale for photo shoots, the Tampa Bay Area offers a tremendous alternative. Beaches from Siesta Key to Treasure Island are less crowded than South Beach. Securing permits for commercial shoots is often easier and less expensive here. For the man whose parents emigrated from Cuba when he was a boy, the region is without measure.
“From stunning houses to numerous locations for great shots, it’s a wonderful place to photograph - and live,” Alvarez says.
Aaron Lockwood, Aaron Lockwood Photography
Throughout his 14-year career, Pinellas Park-based photographer Aaron Lockwood has spent many weekends shooting weddings at some of the most picaresque places in the Tampa Bay Area. His weekdays are devoted to corporate shoots, portraiture and editing, but Saturdays and Sundays are bright with bouquets and pomp – and memorable Bay Area beauty.
Ask Lockwood to name his favorite local spots captured with his Canon Professional cameras, and his list sounds like a local travelogue. There’s downtown St. Petersburg’s Renaissance Vinoy Hotel with its classic feel and delicate tea garden. The Don Cesar on St. Petersburg Beach, equal parts elegance and scenic beachfront. Fort Desoto makes the cut as well for its miles of possibility and varied terrain.
“One of the main benefits for photographers here in the Bay Area is that we can shoot year-round in amazing conditions,” he says.
His clients range from the Northern bride who envisions sunny nuptials to local corporations looking to hone their image with professional shots. Lockwood enjoys the wedding scene and the relationships he builds with couples. He also considers corporate work a growing niche and believes professional photography can improve a company’s image.
“A local business can benefit from a local photographer who understands the market and takes the time to understand their goals,” he says.
One day, he hopes to capture a wedding in Alaska or Hawaii. Until then, he’ll keep shooting in his local paradise, building relationships with the couples whose “I dos” he’s immortalized. Often, those same people bring their children to him long after the wedding bells have quieted.
“It’s neat to see their families and be a part of that legacy,” he says. “And it’s good for business, too.”
Carol Walker, Thomas Bruce Studio
It’s been 30 years since the owner of St. Petersburg’s Thomas Bruce Studios began to photograph professionally, and nothing quite compares to the moment she brought a film starring Brad Pitt to the area. For eight years Carol Walker was a film commission manager, charged with enticing production crews to shoot movies in Pinellas County. She photographed local points of interest and submitted them to Florida’s film liaison in California.
Everything from beaches to restaurants to local flora were ready subjects. When shots of dog track Derby Lane landed on a director’s desk, he saw a perfect match for his movie Oceans 11.
“This was before everything was digital, so the director was relying specifically on the pictures I took in order to decide whether to shoot there,” Walker says.
Walker spent eight and a half years as the film commission manager until Devinson won her over with his passion for portrait photography and she began to focus on the style. In 2009, Walker took the reins of Thomas Bruce Studios. Studio manager and fellow photographer Becky Jordan joined the staff in 2012.
Walker now finds fulfillment in taking senior portraits, using a classical style that is synonymous with the studio.
“Highlights and shadows for dimension – that’s how you create a portrait photograph and not a stock, flat picture,” she says.
And that’s how the self-proclaimed ‘portrait photographer,’ who is drawn to a merging of the classic and the modern, takes pictures of families, newborns and more: with Rembrandt lighting and classic technique.
“It’s not just the camera that makes a difference,” she says. “An appreciation for the process and the realization that photography is an art form leads to a great shot.”