By Dianne Stone, Published in January in Guilford Woman Magazine
when natural talent, serendipity, hard work and opportunity meet.
From stay-at-home mom to award-winning photographer and owner of Aesthetic Images Photography (AIP) of Greensboro, Natalie Carter Hyde’s professional rise is a fascinating and inspiring story of what happens when natural talent, serendipity, hard work and opportunity meet.
To meet Natalie Carter Hyde is to love her. Just ask any of her clients. Hyde’s laser focus on delivering the best photographs for her clients, tempered with a natural warmth that is under-girded with palpable strength of character makes her a force to be reckoned with in the photography world.
Whether a new or decade-old client, for a portrait or an event, Hyde is fiercely passionate about each of her “people.” And if you spend any time talking with her about her craft, words like “authenticity,” “discretion,” “love” and “relationship” pepper the conversation. These values, coupled with exceptional talent, have shaped the culture that she and her husband, Jeff Hyde, have worked to establish at Aesthetic Images Photography (AIP) since 2006.
And it seems to be working.
With four full-time employees who have been on board for eight or more years and more than 600 weddings under their belt⎯not to mention corporate clients throughout the Southeast⎯AIP is thriving. Their client list includes some of the most recognizable family names and company brands in North Carolina.
As she opens a folder for a wedding she’s preparing for, stacks of loose papers with intimate notes about her client’s family history are visible, representing hours of preparation. “This is what I do. It’s that important to me. I want to know about the table cloth that’s been handed down for generations on the cake table. I want to know about the loud, boisterous uncle who everyone loves. These are the things that represent you in that moment in your life. And that’s what I want to capture.”
“Photography is essentially documenting time and relationships. And today, there are lots of options to do that, from cell phones to plastic cameras and on and on. Cell phones are great for capturing spontaneous moments, but my greatest fear is that people won’t print those photographs and those photographs will be lost forever.”
Is she concerned about cell phone culture impacting their business? Not really. According to Hyde, she believes that it has made people appreciate what AIP does even more. “People come to us when they can’t do it themselves. And we love being the ones entrusted with that responsibility.”
While the details are important to her, her clients’ trust of her is even more precious. “We’re in people’s spaces … we’re in their closets picking out clothes for them. And we’re in their most vulnerable and important moments. That’s why things like discretion, judgment, sensitivity and old-fashioned good manners are critical to the work we do.”
What is her favorite subject? There isn’t one, says Hyde. She says the ideal photograph conveys emotion and movement. Similar to the literature she studied during her college years, “it tells a story; there’s a setting, beginning, climax and a conclusion to every photo shoot.”
Hyde is also a stark advocate for the fundamentals of photography, but not from a legalistic perspective. Hyde believes that “once a photographer has expertise in the basics, it frees them to let their creativity flourish to capture a moment in a way that only they can.”
Love of Photography Born at Home
Where was this passion for beautiful photographs birthed? In her childhood home in New Jersey, where coffee tables were full of her parents’ photography books, including the likes of Avedon and Karsh that now reside in her Greensboro home. It was born while helping her father as he developed photography in their home’s dark room. According to Hyde, spending time there was like being in a “secret, smelly dark world where the two of us were just creating and being together as these photographs came to life.”
Though a financial expert by trade, her father’s love for photography and cars couldn’t be bridled. His job with a Manhattan bank afforded him the opportunity to travel to Asia and Africa, among other continents, developing business. He would seek every opportunity to photograph the culture and cars.
Stepping out of her home office, Hyde pulled out an aged piece of paper about the size of a driver’s license and smiled a mischievous smile while shaking her head from side to side. Gazing at a quarter-size image of her strikingly handsome father, she explains, “He made this. It was a fake photographer press pass that allowed him to get into the inner circles of Formula One races and other social events to take pictures.” His creativity alone, much less the courage it took to pull that off, is just a glimpse of what made him a larger than life figure to many people who knew him.
Sadly, when Hyde was just 12 years old, her father died suddenly from a heart attack. Nevertheless, Hyde persevered and graduated from high school at St. Mary’s College in Raleigh, N.C. and continued her education at Ohio Wesleyan University where she received her BA in Literature. After college, possessing her parents’ zest for travel and adventure, Natalie was ready to explore.
Stirred by Family
Her next adventure landed her in the United Kingdom, where she completed her Master of Arts degree in Literary Theory and Criticism from the University of New Castle. During what was to be a brief stint in the States to see family, Natalie met her future husband, Jeff, and never returned to Britain. Within the year, they were married and Greensboro, her father’s childhood hometown, became her own.
In 1998 and 2000, Natalie and Jeff’s two boys, Joe and Henry were born, respectively, and Natalie embraced her next adventure: dedicating her time to raising her young boys. During that time, Natalie made a discovery that would once again spark a new venture.
While preparing to renovate her family home, Natalie came upon a trunk filled with her father’s most treasured photographs. As she devoured each photograph, memories of time with her father in his dark room came rushing back, igniting an untapped passion for photography. Her next step became clear. She wanted her own “real camera.”
It wasn’t long before Natalie was taking pictures for her sons’ Greensboro preschool and the accolades started rolling in. With her mother’s encouragement, she enrolled in basic photography class at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) under Abigail Seymour. Later that semester, at her professor’s prompting and with her help, Hyde submitted some of her work to the prestigious 2003 Maine Media Workshop.
Summer in Maine was Turning Point for Hyde
Weeks later, Hyde learned she had been accepted to the Workshop, for which she received a full scholarship, and would be studying under the internationally-lauded commercial photographer Bobbie Lane. Soon after, with her husband and boys full support, this stay-at-home mother found herself on a plane to study photography under one of the industry’s most talented photographers.
Shortly thereafter, Hyde began working as an associate photographer for AIP. She immediately began pursuing certification with the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), which is the largest governing body of professional photographers in the U.S. Securing that certification, joined the ranks of only two percent of photographers in America.
In 2006, the Hydes purchased Aesthetic Images Photography (AIP) and in 2007, Jeff made the decision to leave the restaurant business to join her at AIP. His natural ease with people and operational strengths made him the perfect addition to the team. As Jeff led the business side, Natalie was freed up to do what she loved most, photograph.
A self-described introvert, Natalie’s favorite place in a room is in the background with her camera, archiving the moments living themselves out before her. Over the years, she has photographed individuals ranging from smock-wearing four year olds to Heads of State, including US Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. In addition, she and AIP have photographed for the likes of Vanity Fair, The New York Times and Town and Country magazines.
But one of her most treasured memories among all of this? That their business “allowed us to home school our boys in high school, so we could travel, learn, work and explore together,” says Hyde. Sharing her wanderlust with her children has been especially important to her, yet it’s clear that while she is traveling to do her work, her heart still resides in North Carolina.
Before homeschooling her sons, they both attended Caldwell Academy in Greensboro. Possessing a natural affinity for Caldwell, Natalie was thrilled to accept a part-time position there to teach her passion beginning in December of 2017. Hyde’s excitement about the position is evident, “I absolutely love it. I love the kids and everything about it.”
In addition, Aesthetic Images Photography cares about the communities where they do business. They do pro-bono work for organizations like Family Services of the Piedmont, The American Heart Association, Lawndale Baptist Church (where they are members) and Restoration Place Ministries. Outside of Greensboro, AIP provides pro-bono services for TAG in High Point, N.C. and the Sunday Supper in Raleigh, N.C. They believe in and support the causes in which their clients have an interest.
Her new venture into education will be joined in the first quarter of 2018 with AIP’s expansion into a new space in Raleigh. While Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem remain the heart of their business, they have experience significant growth in Raleigh and Durham. While excited about this new space, Natalie and Jeff are equally enthusiastic about bringing on new photographers with new ideas and passions in the Triangle.
The Team is the Strength of AIP
One of the Hydes’ core principles is to play to their employees’ strengths, which naturally provides a broad spectrum of creativity. Jeff explained, “Every member of our team can do almost any role or task in the operation. However, our primary roles are in the areas we are most passionate about.”
For example, Jamie Dinkins, AIP’s Professional Photo Editor, joined the team as an intern in 2008 and has turned natural talent and passion into design expertise becoming a vital member of the AIP team. “Jamie, has actually been nicknamed ‘The Enhancer’ because that’s what she loves and where she excels,” says Hyde.
Likewise, Evan Greene, who has been on board for 3 years, “is brilliant at the technology side of post-production,” says Hyde. On the other side of the camera, you’ll find photographers Jon Eric Johnson, Dana Kanfoush and Scott Russell who work alongside AIP at weddings, corporate and political events and wherever AIP needs them.
Natalie and Jeff are quick to express how grateful they are to collaborate with such exceptional photographers and to have enjoyed such long-term relationships with each of them. “The photographers we work with have their own distinctive style” says Hyde, “and when we are covering an event, our clients benefit from the whole of that creativity and talent.”
Natalie’s wisdom for aspiring photographers? “It’s competitive and you have to love it to pursue it. Be prepared to work hard and know your craft. Master the fundamentals because that will actually free you to be your most creative self. And let your work be authentic. Because if it’s not authentic, then it just doesn’t matter.”
What does the future hold for AIP and Natalie Carter Hyde? “I see AIP growing and diversifying and adapting to new technologies just as we have for more than 10 years now. And me? I’ve worked with some clients now for over a decade archiving every important moment for their families, from christenings and portraits to weddings and anniversaries. I truly love my people, my clients. I will be 100 years old and photographing their grandchildren. That’ll be me.”