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Grandfather’s photo passion lives on

Technology takes business from film to digital

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
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(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
Acting as photographer Amanda Koelling’s assistant, Nicolle Manus blocks out some of the sunlight over model Ashley Mosher with a reflector.
Caption
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
Over the 79 years Persona Studios has been in business, they have taken countless photos of high school seniors. This small handful of photos are a small example of the variations they provide.
Caption
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
Persona Studios is located at 602 First Ave., Sterling. John Persona, grandfather of current owner Kathy Henson, opened the photography studio 79 years ago.
Caption
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
Outside of the studio, Amanda Koelling and Ashley Mosher arrange barn doors to be used as a backdrop. The backyard of the studio it is fully landscaped and has other staged sets including a rock wall, waterfall, wagon wheels and several smaller props.

STERLING – Kathy Henson, 54, owner of Persona Studios, is a third-generation shutterbug. Her grandfather, John Persona, opened the photography studio 79 years ago.

Her father, John Jr., also was passed the photo gene. Henson essentially grew up in the family studio.

Photographer Ashley Mosher’s son, Bentlee Lawrenz, is learning what that is like firsthand. An entire wall of his growth has been documented and displayed at the entry of the studio.

“Grandpa took hundreds of pictures of me when I was a baby, too,” Henson recalls.

As much as things are the same, and as many styles that find their way back, times have changed a lot. Since Henson took over the business in 1980, she said, and evolving technology has posed a huge learning curve.

“The evolution of digital can be a blessing and a curse,” she said. “I didn’t like it when it first came along. Now, I do. It is so easy. When you had film, you didn’t know what you were getting.”

Photo editing can also be tricky, but her entire staff does a little of everything, she said.

The full-service studio offers all variations of photo sessions, with the staff of seven working as a team.

Photographer Mosher, 22, said that during consultations the staffers share ideas with clients. They discuss location, poses, props and the variety of printing options they offer.

Once a plan is set in motion, two assistants work with the person or family to help make sure each detail is taken care of.

“We want them to be happy with everything,” Mosher said. “Sometimes they come in with a picture they found online with an idea they want to re-create, and we do our best to make that happen.”

Added Amanda Koelling, 30, “We love when people come in with ideas and we are able to create their vision.”

Aware that not everyone has an idea how to be a “model,” they often show people exactly what pose and direction to face.

“We will get into position and show them, ‘This is what we want you to do,’ rather than just telling them,” Koelling said. "We have two assistants who make sure everything is just right, every hair is in place, and things look good."

The team enjoys shooting outside and taking advantage of natural light. The backyard of the studio is fully landscaped. It also has staged sets, including a rock wall waterfall, barn doors, wagon wheels, and several smaller props.

Although two indoor studios are available, many customers prefer to go on location, where the staff happily totes as many props as needed.

“Every year, every session, we want to do different things,” Koelling said. “You find though, everything eventually comes back into style. We have a lot of urban brick wall type settings, farms, railroad tracks, abandoned buildings, and we are always on the lookout for that type of thing when we drive around.”

The team is involved in area schools as well. Aside from basic portraits, the photographers shoot high school prom, homecoming and other dances. This year they covered 13 schools.

They also shoot sporting events for yearbooks at no charge to the schools.

Because of time constraints, they no longer do weddings unless it is by special request.

Henson said doing what she loves is her favorite part about her work.

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