Louisville Dance Photography - Aer Portrait

I'm Alex Bays...photographer and owner of AER Portrait.

I have been a portrait photographer for over five years.  I was introduced to the Louisville Performing Arts scene through Louisville Turners Circus.  From the first show I photographed for Turners I knew that capturing creative and dramatic imagery for Louisville performers was something I wanted to do.  Over the last few years I have collaborated with dozens of performers, showcasing their talents in creative and dramatic images that are now hanging in their homes, gyms, and studios and I would love to work with you!

AER Portrait is pronounced “Air Portrait.”

And now for the “Ah Ha” moment…

The name AER Portrait comes from the word “Aerial.” See what I did there? Now you get it. When I was introduced to the world of performing arts in 2015, everything fell under the Alex Bays Photography brand at the time. If you read the My Story section of this page, you’ll know that I got my start into portraiture through high school seniors and family photography. As the performing arts side of my business began to grow, the styling of those photos began to really clash with everything else. I had these more dramatic, contrasty photos of performers wearing very little clothing right next to a high school senior or a family photo. It looked odd to me; something had to change. Enter the AER Portrait brand.

AER Portrait launched in late 2016 as a brand 100% dedicated to photographing Performing Arts and Fitness style imagery. AER is aimed at taking your artform and turning it into art for your home through the creation of dramatic and impactful photos that showcased the years of hard work and dedication put into honing your craft.

As AER has grown and evolved my vision of the purpose of AER has shifted too. Originally, AER was to be a brand dedicated to Performing Arts and Fitness Portraits in the Louisville, KY area. However, with every session I noticed a common theme between them all; the sessions became like a small celebration of the journey that each performer had taken to get to the level of skill they were at.

The very first shoot under the new AER Portrait brand was a Performing Arts and Fitness portrait session with CirqueLouis.  The aim of the session was to create a different style of promotional material that focused on the fitness aspect of training as an aerialist.  Shadowy, contrasty, dramatic photos that showcase muscles; no big deal right?  Technically yes, but something happened that I didn't see coming.  The performers were mindblown.  They couldn't believe that they were in fact the ones in the photos.  They all know they're fit; they have to be to do what they do.  But, they had never seen themselves in a light that really showcased that fitness.  The rest of the shoot was full of excited performers kicking each other off set so that they could do another move or pose.  The shoot became this celebration of all of the hardwork they had put in over years of training to develop the muscles and fitness they have. In that moment, I had found what AER was to become; a portrait studio dedicated to creating images that celebrated the uniquely beautiful stories of everyone.

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For the last two years I had seen performer after performer leave their sessions with this new found sense of self-confidence. They all had the, “I can’t believe that’s me” experience. I kept thinking to myself, “Why does this feeling have to be limited to just Performers and Fitness junkies? Doesn’t everyone deserve to have that feeling?” So I began to really think about what the real mission of AER Portrait was. If I just said, “What is the common denominator across all of my photoshoots, regardless of whether it was fitness or performing arts?” I kept coming back to that sense of celebration and self-confidence that each person left with. The fact they were celebrating themselves. But what were they celebrating? That was the difference. For some it was dance, others fitness. But there’s a story behind that. They didn’t just wake up yesterday and say, “tomorrow I’m going to be an elite aerialist.” Years of hard work went into developing the fitness and skills to be that elite aerialist. They were celebrating that journey, or story. In that, I found the common denominator. An AER Portrait session is always a celebration of the story of the person being photographed.

In 2019, I launched this new idea of “Celebrating Your Story” and that our lives and the journeys that have been taken to get to where each of us are today are unique. No two are identical. The cool thing is, there is no such thing as the “perfect” or “ideal” story and that makes it beautiful. Our bodies are one medium through which that story can be told. For some, its spending countless hours in the gym working towards a set of goals to maximize their fitness. For others, their bodies tell the story of a home full of kids and running from practice to practice, event to event, leaving very little time left to spend on yourself. There are infinite story arcs that could have been used for the previous example but, they’re beautiful and they all deserve to be celebrated. So that only leaves one question left:

What’s your story?

Since AER Portrait is all about documenting and telling the stories of eveyone I photograph, it’s only fitting that I tell you a bit of my story. Without fail, at some point within every session I get asked the question, “How long have you been into photography?” It's a fair question and definitely one to break the ice in the beginning of a shoot. I usually give a fairly brief summary in a sentence or two but, why not go ahead and expand and even show some pictures from the beginning?

When I was 12 or 13 years old my parents purchased the original Canon Digital Rebel with the intent on using it to take pictures of my brother and I playing baseball, soccer, and every other thing we were into at the time. Photography was not really on my mind of becoming a business or even a hobby but, the curiosity surrounding all of the things the camera could do had definitely peaked my interest.

Fast forward a few years to when I was a freshman in college, my mom upgraded her camera so I took her old one back to school with me. At that point I really started to learn about photography. I'm someone who typically feels that if you're going to do something, you might as well give it your best effort and devoted attention. I began reading anything and everything I could online about photography. I discovered CreativeLive, at the time a brand new free online photography workshop company, and would stay up into the wee hours of the morning watching some of the industry’s best and most well-known photographers teach on different photography related things. But watching and reading only get you so far; the only way to truly cemented what I was taking in was to go out and practice.

Throughout my entire college career, I was a part of a student organization called the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and each year we competed in a design series that challenged students to design and build an off road racecar. This became a major subject of my photography. Documenting all of the work that we did each year to compete provided me with the opportunity to test out the new things I was learning about photography. Additionally, my brother was also in his senior year of high school and playing baseball. I would take my camera to every game I attended. I learned a different set of skills there; capturing action in low light. Little did I know how important these lessons would be a few years down the road.

I started finding that my passion was really photographing anything with people in it and started leaning towards portraiture as I moved forward. I started doing senior and family portrait sessions and really thought that was where my photo business would end up. Then, in 2015, that changed.

A friend of mine, who is also a photographer, asked me to help him video and photograph a circus in Louisville. First thought, “There’s a circus in Louisville?” I agreed and little did I know that one decision would completely alter the direction that I envisioned for my photography.