Digital image world took photographer by storm

Scandia is home for Verna Pitts

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

As a professional photographer, the last thing Verna Pitts wanted in her work was a digital camera. She grew up with film cameras and eventually translated her love of photography and artistic talents with the camera to a business.

Verna Pitts

A native of New York, Pitts quietly absorbed her father’s passion with a camera and soon found she was equally taken. While her father tried to work his magic with the camera into a business, “he never figured out how to make a living with it,” Pitts said.

As an adult living in Minnesota many years later, Pitts recalls being in the same boat as her father in terms of wanting to use photography to make a living. And as a professional, she was not about to begin using digital cameras “because it wasn’t art,” she recalled.

Then came the surprise Christmas present a decade ago. As she unwrapped that first point-and-shoot digital camera, Pitts had reached a crossroads. How could she at least not play with the camera?

“I had a lot of fun with it,” she said. “I fell in love with digital photography.”

The rest is history, as the old saying goes.

Today, as the owner of Verna Pitts Photography, Pitts shoots nothing but digital cameras in her business which has its studio in downtown Stillwater at 421 Main St. It’s the second studio for the Scandia woman who began her photography business with a studio in Minneapolis.

She is primarily a wedding photographer with 75 percent of her work garnered through weddings. Pitts says digital photography has made her a much better story teller as she records an important event in a couple’s life.

How it Started

Pitts wound up in Minnesota after graduating from a marketing school in New York City. In 1978 she was recruited by Target and landed in the Twin Cities where she worked as a buyer for the next six years.

Then came marriage and raising four sons. She put her family priority first, but began toying with the idea of using her love of photography as a business as far back as 1984.

Like her father, she found herself “trying to figure out how to make a living with it” over the next 10-15 years. There was family time, but she also worked as a waitress.

It wasn’t until 2004 that Pitts made the move and started her photography business. That was a year after she moved to Scandia. It was slow going at first and she gained experience by tagging along with other wedding photographers, shooting pictures and learning from the best.

“I learned the craft from the pros,” she said.

Her first solo wedding contract was a tough challenge, she recalls. She was hired to shoot the wedding of a Japanese woman and a Chinese man, both doctors, who completed the ceremony under their unique cultures with separate photo shoots.

A small sample of the work produced by Verna Pitts of Verna Pitts Photography. The Scandia woman has a studio in Stillwater. (Photo courtesy of Verna Pitts Photography)

She formed her limited liability corporation in 2005 and by 2007 had a studio in Minneapolis. She later moved the studio to Stillwater. “I wanted to be closer to home,” she said.

It wasn’t until 2007 that she was able to make a living with a full year of photography jobs on the books.

Pitts says she has built her business on delivering professional service that comes with a personal touch. She goes to extra measures to get to know her clients well before the camera is raised once, Pitts said. After spending time getting to know a couple, she believes she is better able to deliver a product that truly shows “what their love looks like on them.”

Local Ties

While Pitts bases her business in Stillwater, the studio is only open by appointment. The Stillwater location is a destination point for many couples who can make a full day of their visit to the river city.

Pitts has become an active volunteer in Scandia and has used her camera skills to help with benefit projects. She has partnered twice with Scandia resident Jenny  O’Brien, a graphic artist, to help raise funds for two area families going through tough times.

They created 18-month calendars that relied on business and community leaders from Scandia and Marine on St. Croix who are photographed in unique and comical scenes.

It’s the right thing to do, Pitts said of this avenue for her photographic skills.

“We are called to help people,” she said. “God gave us these gifts. We knew the need was there.”

The calendars were immensely popular and quickly sold out. Pitts and O’Brien will likely team again when the need is presented. “What a great thing for townspeople to do,” Pitts said of the photo subjects who dropped their guard to help with a good cause.

Pitts likes her life in Scandia and takes comfort in the fact that she has found a way to make a living with the camera. It has taken time, but good things come to those who are patient, she believes.

“I just love what I do,” she says. “It is truly my niche.”

Not bad for a digital photography convert who “went reluctantly” to the digital world.