Photography has nibbled at the edges of Jeff Hersh’s life since he was a teenager. He was photo editor of his college newspaper, worked in a one-hour photo lab where he also shot portraits, produced a Colorado cowgirl calendar, and did “drive-by shootings” for a real estate company.
But his serious jobs were in tech and he never considered himself a photographer until one day when he picked up his daughter Katie from preschool.
Embracing the Unknown
Sadly, Katie’s mom Lynda had recently passed away, and Jeff was suddenly a single dad with a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter. He was working full-time in sales but needed a job that dovetailed with Katie’s schedule — off during school holidays, finishing early enough in the day for snack time.
He had no idea how he was going to pull it off until Katie’s teacher handed him an envelope.
Inside were four professional photos of his little girl, taken by a studio photographer. Katie as a Harley rider, Katie as a cowgirl, Katie with sunflowers. He loved the photos — and knew that he could do the same thing.
Leap and the Net Will Appear…
Jeff jokes that those photos cost him over $25,000 because he bought them — as well as the L’il Angels franchise behind them. That was 15 years ago, and he estimates since then that he has photographed roughly 50,000 children.
Jeff, a warm personality with a ready grin, says, “It was enlightening — I had never photographed children before. It was about having fun and making them laugh. I wore Shrek shoes, did magic, learned to juggle. On my second day I was gang-tackled by kindergartners.”
Katie, now a stylish 18-year-old in tall black boots, gets up to demonstrate the no-fail icebreaker for even the most truculent, unsmiling child. Her dad puts out his hand, she gives him a low five, his hand rebounds and slaps him in the face.
They lean toward each other and laugh. “Works every time,” she says.
The Arrival of The Picture Booth
Jeff and Katie, self-acknowledged best friends, “fell backwards” into the photo booth business. When a Facebook message circulated several years ago requesting volunteers for Fairview High School’s 30th reunion, Jeff joined the committee. He offered to supply a high-end photo booth an entrepreneurial relative had put together.
It was a hit, and Jeff decided to keep the side business going. Boulder High’s reunion came next, and word started to spread. He’d raid stores after Halloween for Viking helmets, clawed slippers, mustaches, and oversized sunglasses. The Picture Booth was underway.
Jeff expanded to two booths a year later. (Katie interjects that for her pretty much her entire life a photo booth has been set up in the living room with which he is constantly tinkering.) “My philosophy was, if they will come, I’ll build it, ” he says.
Growing the Business…and the Technology
Jeff now has seven booths complete with state-of-the-art software (it allows patrons to send photo strips to themselves in real time via social media and soon will offer an option for celebrants to record video messages for their hosts), and since Katie graduated high school in the spring she is busy hiring assistants, going to conferences, and running the booths when she can.
A sometime model, actress, singer/songwriter, fashion blogger, and photographer in her own right, she’s not sure a future in the family business is for her, although she loves partnering with her dad.
“My whole life, all I’ve ever wanted to do was help out, but he would never let me. Now that I’m older I can, and that’s the most fulfilling thing. I’m in love with the fact that I can help him.”
Katie says working the booth is a blast because people are enjoying themselves. “Not everyone can be silly, and it’s fun to encourage them to let loose.”
Jeff ultimately plans a gentle segue away from child portraiture and into full-time picture booths. At 54, he says it’s getting a little more challenging to photograph the preschoolers at the same pace. He pays attention to how to streamline the booth experience with technology, and Katie is all about the aesthetics. Customer experience matters to them.
“I want to be more than just another photo booth,” he says, “that’s the bottom line.”