July’s Sigma SuperFan is actually a couple! Alex and Lila Trejo of Northern Virginia, outside of DC, work together as photographers in their studio; as well as being husband and wife! We were struck by their shared passion for photography, and their love for Sigma lenses. Here’s the details from our great chat with our July #SigmaSuperFan!
Alex and Lila Trejo are a husband and wife team who support each other’s art photography and shoot weddings as Studio Trejo. After working together in a gallery and studio space in Philadelphia, they now live and work in the Washington DC area, in Northern Virginia.
Lila is a native of Washington, DC, whose dad used one of the bathrooms in their home as a darkroom while she was still a baby. “I don’t remember particularly formal training as a kid, but my dad would let me take pictures and teach me where to brace my arms and when to breath in and out so as to be as still a possible clicking the shutter. Seems not as critical these days with super fast lenses and digital equipment, I still do it without even thinking about it.”
Whenever she wasn’t at her office job (though often her design and photography skills came into use there somehow), Lila photographed candid moments of friends and family—informal portraits capturing a subject’s inner personality. After growing up in Northern Virginia, she moved to New York City where she discovered an interest in and studied jewelry design, selling her work in local boutiques. After ten years, she moved to Philadelphia, where she met Alex.
Alex was born in raised in Philadelphia. He studied architecture and worked in that field for about a decade before he realized that his hobby of photography was actually more of a passion. This realization conveniently coincided with a major slowdown in building and found the freedom to forge a new career path. He took a photography class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and looked for every opportunity to create a body of work and show it. After exhibiting in local coffee shops, events and galleries, an opportunity came up to take over a gallery in the city. Having one’s own gallery to present and sell work, constantly seeing the response from strangers walking in, and even supporting and exhibiting other artists’, was an invaluable experience. Currently, Alex works with a local firm, DS Creative, photographing homes and portraits for Real Estate professionals in Northern Virginia, as well as other freelance architectural work with DC area architects and engineers.
People used to visit the gallery and, after enjoying the work on the walls, would come and ask “Do you shoot weddings?” Most time the answer was “Where would we find the time?” though we did shoot weddings for family a few times. When we left that gallery space, we decided to find a hybrid space where we could show work and have studio sessions and meet with wedding clients. That’s when we really started working out what our strengths and weaknesses are and how to work together as a team.
Is photography a passion or a hobby?
We are both pretty passionate about photography—it was one of the first things we found we had in common when we met. It’s really the one thing we always want to do. We typically pack our camera bags in the trunk everywhere we go ‘just in case’. Having recently moved, we want to build a new client base in the Northern Virginia/DC metro area, and we are plotting our next move (like a studio/gallery space in the very cool converted-prison-now-artist-studios, Lorton Workhouses, in our area.)
What kind of images do you shoot?
Alex principally shoots dreamy landscapes and architecture. Lila is more into details, nature, and people. One can see this especially when they go out shooting together, point in the same direction, and get totally different images. When it comes to shooting weddings, Alex is fantastic at directing and posing portraits and capturing critical moments, and Lila really loves when people, including children, sort of ‘forget the camera’ and just relax and precious interactions are captured. “One of the reasons we really like to do an engagement shoot with a couple a month or more before the wedding is that we learn a lot about them and break the ice. On the day of the wedding, we’ve already shared some laughs and we’re not adding to their nerves. We take pride that many couples have said that we made them feel at ease—that we’re professional, yet relaxed. No one needs more stress on their wedding day!”
Tell us about your first Sigma lens
We bought a Sigma 24-70 2.8-4 about 6 years ago. And then we invested some money from a wedding we booked into faster zoom lenses. That’s where our first 50-150mm 2.8 came into our lives. That was a great, great lens. Was...because one day we met some friends for brunch and Lila’s camera took a hard tumble to the floor when we got up to greet them. Trying not to ruin everyone’s time, we just enjoyed brunch and brushed it off. Later on when we realized the lens was damaged, we felt sick. A well meaning friend said—”well thank goodness it was just the lens and not the camera.” What restraint it took not to burst into tears!
That’s not how this works! We shipped it off to Sigma to get it repaired and waited anxiously. The customer service was phenomenal, but the lens was discontinued and we were offered a very fair deal to replace it with the latest model. Now we’re totally over “The Tragedy”!
Meanwhile, Alex needed a super wide for his fine art photography and once he got his 10-20mm, the world literally opened up. Besides not having to get completely on the ground to capture some of his dramatic architectural shots, he has been so happy with the images he can produce with the right lens and filters.
Was it a discovery or a research project or a recommendation?
Research. Actually, we probably do a little too much research on glass! Our wishlist is a bit too long. But there are so many opinions and reviews out there–and many of them quite biased. One thing that has been super helpful for us is having rented some lenses through a service, we’ve purposely tried different brands of the same lens to see the difference for ourselves and we’ve come to the conclusion that Sigma lenses are top quality and worth every penny, even though typically way fewer pennies than others!
When was the moment you realized that Sigma products were special to you?
Recently we went to a nearby wildlife preserve on the Occoquan Bay on a rainy day. It was the first time we’d found time to really go out with both our favorite lenses at the same time. We both came home and uploaded our images right away and both of us were so happy. We realized we both had the gear that was right for us and we were able to make the images we longed to make.
What differentiates Sigma from other manufacturers that you’ve used/worked with?
Everyone has to make that decision when they decide to invest in a DSLR what brand they’re going to choose and stick with. And conventional wisdom dictates that if you buy the lens that matches the brand of your camera, you’ll get the best results. But our experience with Sigma, compared with first and other third party lenses, is that the lenses are always equal to or better than anything out there. And maybe because we had a mishap and were treated so well, we have more of a connection with Sigma as a company with real people who are pretty awesome to their customers. Sigma is the only brand website we’re always going back to to see what’s new.
What is your most memorable day as a photographer
It’s more of a most memorable two weeks. We chose to wander around Ireland for our honeymoon and for two weeks straight we explored a beautiful land, cameras in tow, with a few pub stops along the way, naturally. On the West Coast, we spent a day in Connemara and fell in love with a misty, wild, yet peaceful terrain. The images from that day are a part of our life (and decor!) and transport us to an amazing time and place in our history together.
Dream shoot/dream equipment/dream photo?
Lila recently declared “I’m not shooting another wedding without that Sigma 85mm 1.4!“—she just loves the buttery goodness of that perfect portrait lens and would love to just spend her days making artistic portraits of people, especially friends and family, with an array of perfect prime lenses.
Alex would love to travel through Europe shooting as much old world architecture as possible. When he needs a respite from the city, to go out to the countryside and find a misty lake, stream, pond, or river and shoot it. Equipment: 17-50 2.8 and his trusty 10-20mm super wide.
One atypical thing in your camera bag?
Lila tries to always keep a protein bar because it’s so easy to get lost in a shooting expedition and postpone eating for ‘that light!’
Alex carries a flask he purchased in Ireland—it can get cold on a long shooting expedition and good to have a little something to share.
Who is your photo inspiration? Why?
Lila: My photo inspiration isn’t actually a photographer. When I studied Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors, I was really struck by the depth of understanding of the objects he painted and how he created portraits that were so much more than they seemed. I think when I shoot detail I’m trying to understand that subject, to study it. Wyeth could paint a room, or a set of objects, as a portrait of a person represented by these inanimate things. I am drawn to photographs that tell a story, even portraits can tell as story. I aspire to make images that make you want to know more of that story (or make one up!)
Alex: Alfred Stieglitz. He was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an accepted art form. He and the Photo-Secession group of the time created these ethereal photographs by manipulating the image during capture (vaseline on the lens, soft focus filters etc.) or in the printmaking to create these beautiful images that capture the imagination. I have many books on the history of the subject and of the pictorialist movement which keep me inspired and confident to make the images I see in my mind’s eye.
What inspires you?
Lila: I’m inspired by the simple beauty you find when you slow down and really look at something, or someone. Once a photographer friend flippantly said, “you can tell how a person feels about someone by how good or bad they look in the pictures they take”. I don’t know if it’s true, but it still stuck with me in the sense that I choose to take my time and find everyone’s true beauty because everyone has it. That’s part of the fun of shooting weddings–when you follow the gaze as one looks upon another person with total love you can see what they see. That’s pretty awesome, and inspiring.
Alex: I’m inspired by dramatic beauty, finding something good about a subject and pushing yourself to create ways to make it amazing. It’s there, and the search for it–whether finding a better angle to shoot the happy couple, or waiting for that perfect light on a landscape–once you find it you feel it. Then click.
What do you know for sure about Sigma?
Sigma makes awesome lenses. The construction and image quality continue to impress us. Their customer service is excellent. We are excited to see what Sigma adds to their lens lineup.
What is your prize lens choice?
Nikon mount 50mm F 1.4 EX DG HSM.