An awkward teenage girl who sees herself as beautiful for the first time. A genuine laugh from the high school boy whose mother says he never smiles. The grandmother visiting from England who may never see her granddaughter again. Two brothers joking with each other just days before one is off for his first tour of duty in the military. Photography is all about capturing the right moment, says Alicia Berardi, the longtime owner of Ivy Photography in Grass Valley. The more loose, light, fun and natural the mood, the better the photo.
“A good photographer gets people to relax and be themselves,” said Berardi. “That’s what I think sets our business apart. You have to be able to read people.”
While Ivy Photography has a contract with Nevada Union High School to shoot senior portraits, as well as student events and clubs, much of her work is done at her cozy studio beneath her mother’s picturesque home off of You Bet Road in Grass Valley. There she can step outside for stunning outdoor settings or transform her studio into a broad range of sets, thanks to state-of-the-art lighting, roll-down backdrops, blackout shades, digital retouching and a large slide screen and projector for viewing and choosing photos, which can showcase various hues, tones, sizes and frames (which she also sells on site).
“What’s wonderful about my job is that I get to see people during the highlights of their lives or significant moments,” she said.
One of Berardi’s favorite projects is what she calls “milestone sessions,” where she’ll first photograph a mother’s belly while pregnant, then her newborn, then the baby at three months, six months, 10 months and so on.
While the bulk of her photo sessions document happy life moments or transitions, there are the poignant ones too, such as taking a portrait of a terminally ill family member or going through her files and finding old photos of someone’s relative who has since passed away.
“We keep everything,” said Berardi.
“When a family loses old photos or wants copies of something from years ago, they know we still have it. It can bring back beautiful memories of someone who’s been lost.”
Ivy Photography was launched in 1991 by Berardi’s mother, Louise Ivy, who was trained in formal portraiture and the art of classic portrait lighting, having studied under the renowned traditional portrait and wedding photographer Monte Zucker. She was known for her fine art portraiture, impeccable lighting and knack for setting just the right background scene.
In 1996, after Berardi received her bachelor’s degree in fine art photography, she and her mother were partners in the business for the next decade. Since Ivy retired in 2006, Berardi has expanded her offerings, including her love for shooting portraits outside.
“I have the traditional, classic Monte Zucker training in portrait lighting,” she said.
“But I love to take it to an outdoor setting. I love being challenged by new locations.”
Clients have gotten creative over the years, she said. Some have gone so far as to bring along their horses or all-terrain vehicles for photo shoots.
Ivy Photography is also well known in the world of nonprofits, as Berardi often donates her services to fundraising raffles and organizations, such as The Friendship Club. She’s also made a point of offering affordable senior portraits, in addition to higher end packages.
While Berardi grew up watching her mother photograph people, her passion for photography really kicked in when she took classes in college. Now she says she feels blessed that her mother has left a legacy and thriving business — and Ivy is known to pop her head in the studio occasionally, as she lives upstairs.
“There’s real value in being professionally trained, and I feel it’s important to stay up to date when it comes to equipment and training,” said Berardi.
“A new couch loses its novelty before long, but if a portrait gets lost in a fire, for example, people are devastated. That’s why we save everything. Years down the road, a portrait becomes priceless.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.