NORTH BEND – Mary Miller wants to take your picture.
The veteran photographer, with more than 21 years of experience, runs Down to Earth Photography, a four-year-old business with its focus tightly zoomed in on the unique needs of her clients. Originally from Michigan, Miller started her life-long pursuit of photography while at Michigan State University working for the school paper.
“I just grew and grew with that experience, on the job, in your face, out there … that’s how I really got my foot in the door, knowing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” said Miller. “I just fell in love with the idea of camera work.”
Miller also worked as a forensic photographer for the police department in East Lansing, Mich., taking photos of crime scenes and learning the technical aspect of her trade. “I got to do hard-core photography. It was important and necessary to take those pictures and [for them to] have worth and value,” she said.
After graduation and seven years in photojournalism, she worked for a real estate company in Los Angeles, specializing in architectural work. Miller then moved to the Valley in 1989 and began working as a freelance photographer. “Any kind of job that could get me with a camera I took on,” she said.
The idea for her own company had not taken root yet, and it took a trying experience to help reorient her life. She was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a debilitating condition that affects the facial nerves, causing them to weaken or become paralyzed. Although neither contagious nor permanent, it can devastate sufferers and end careers. This was not the case, however, with Miller.
“I lost the capacity to view the world. I couldn’t use my [right] eye, and I lost the capacity for quite some time to be able to communicate. Those were two very vital things to who I was at that point,” she said. “I worked though the next eight months to heal through that experience. I kept [practicing holding] my camera up to my eye, and used the left eye to shoot.
“At the end of it all, it is more about who you are inside and express[ing] yourself. And I decided at that point that I was going to photograph people, and take on that and enjoy myself. Anytime I have a camera in my hands, I am filled with absolute, utter joy.”
Since her recovery, she has dedicated herself to her passion, running Down to Earth Photography as a people-centered company. “Portrait work, weddings, anything that has a human interest level, showing families as they grow and evolve, [and] people as they change. It means the world to me,” she said.
To that end, Miller tailors her business to the needs of her clients. She doesn’t have a studio, and shoots her subjects on location, either at their homes or a particular place in the local area or even Seattle. If they don’t have a specific place in mind, she has several favorite locations and can help her clients find just the right shot.
“I’m about comfort level for my clients. For example, when I’m shooting a high-school person, I will photograph them and try to find out where they’re happiest. I like to get close to the mark of showing that person in a real and valid setting … and just touch the real, authentic them as much as I can,” she said.
For Miller, the end result of her care is always worth it to her customers.
“Quality is important to me,” she said. “The product has to happen with results that I’m happy with as well. I want the client to be completely and genuinely happy. I work to the best [of my] ability to get to that for them. If I’m not [happy], I’ll reshoot, which happens very rarely.”
This intense focus on her clients is vital to her company, she said, emphasizing that she enjoys developing relationships with her clients and getting to know them as people. “I’m very proud of my work. Each and every subject in front of me offers growth potential for me and a world of possibilities for them to look at themselves deeper, at whatever level they want to. I listen to their needs.”
She prefers to meet with her clients in person one or two times before a shoot, communicating via phone or e-mail, and then meeting them at the location of their choice. Miller will also work with clients short on time and sometimes doesn’t meet them until the day of the shoot. She says that the more time spent preparing, however, the better the process and end result.
“I am very varied,” Miller said. “It keeps it interesting for me … it’s hard to pigeonhole me, though.”
Miller lives with her husband and two children in North Bend and admits that she’s a bit camera shy herself. It’s hard for anyone besides her kids to take a photograph of her.
“I love being behind the camera,” Miller said. “It’s harder for me to be in front of it, but I’m learning.”
* For more information on Mary Miller, call (425) 941-5070 or (425) 888-5070. She can also be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.