by Emma Speckman
Sept. 2, 2014. When he was 10 years old, Bob Caldwell developed his first roll of black and white film. Today, he shoots with a Nikon DSLR and there are no darkrooms involved, but he still loves the craft just as much as he did back then.
Caldwell grew up in Gastonia, then attended and graduated from Appalachian State University in 1972 with a degree in marketing. He went on to study photography –“focusing on portrait photography”—at a technical school in Asheboro.
He returned to the High Country, launched Bob Caldwell Photography and has since established himself as one of the area’s premier event and family photographers.
When he married his wife Sharon in 1983 he taught her the trade. Now Sharon handles most of the duo’s wedding photography and has built quite a following in the area.
“I’m still learning, even at the age of 63, from her,” Caldwell said.
Though they accept clients for practically any type of photo session—from weddings to sporting games, to sorority and fraternity functions to birthday parties—the duo has spent most of the last few years focused on family portraits.
Caldwell personally believes in the importance of documentation. At certain key points in your family’s history, he said, you want more than a photo you can take on a cell phone.
“Nationally, people are professionally photographed five times in their lifetime on average,” he said. “Weddings, family reunions, social functions… there has to be a special reason for it. Everyone has a cell and can snap their own photos.”
He sees it as his job to make sure a family’s personality shines through in a professional photo session. He makes the setting lighthearted and he treats each client as a close personal friend. In fact, he often becomes friends with the clients afterward.
“We work for local people,” Caldwell said. “You hope photographers aren’t just technicians or just artists. You hope they’re good people with good hearts. The camera is secondary.”
When celebrated bluegrass musician Doc Watson died in 2012, Caldwell photographed the funeral free of charge, as a gift to Nancy Watson, Doc’s daughter.
Bob and Sharon’s office is inside their home in Boone. Framed photos show off the artists’ work. When discussing potentially working with a client, Bob and Sharon use a different approach than most photographers they know.
“When I was in college I hated the idea of being a salesman,” Caldwell said. “I hate to be sold something. I’m still the same way.”
He never discusses money with a client right off the bat and does not have a set price list. Instead, he tries to work with individual clients before a scheduled session to decide what they really want from the experience. The end result is a collaborative effort between photographer and subject, he said. Sometimes the family has a set idea in mind and they work from it, but other times Caldwell might decide to move a session to the Blue Ridge Parkway for better lighting.
“I want to make sure I’m the right photographer for them,” he said. “Price is important, but what are you buying?”
Every photo out of Bob Caldwell Photography comes with a 100 percent guarantee; if you are dissatisfied in any way with your photos your money will be refunded. They tell this to every client up front, but so far they have never had to use it.
“If you work with people and you like working with people it all works out fine,” Caldwell said. “It’s a personal job. It’s not a business job. If someone’s happy—there’s where we get our referrals.”
A display of Bob and Sharon’s photography can be seen now at Boone Mall through the month of September. The couple is also promising a discount to celebrate “Family Portrait Month;” The family portrait session is discounted by 50 percent, and any purchase from the session will be discounted 20 percent.
For more information about Bob Caldwell photography and to see examples of the team’s work, check out www.bobcaldwellphotography.com.