Q&A: Gerry Groeber and Arizona's Coolest Photo Booth

Courtesy of Red Photo Bus

Arizona Highways readers are familiar with the work and talent of Gerry Groeber, who's become a regular contributor of stunning landscape photos to the magazine — including the cover photo for our October 2016 issue. For the past several years, Gerry and his wife, Emily, have also been hard at work on a new project, the Red Photo Bus. Together, they restored a vintage 1975 Volkswagen and made it into a portable photo booth that can be used at events.

We caught up with Gerry and asked him about his work and his bus. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell our readers a little about yourself.
I’m a photographer from East Mesa. I’m also a technician, an improviser and an artist. I was recently in a job for seven years and my wife was in a full-time position teaching. We both needed to look for new work at the beginning of the summer, and we wanted to do something together that would allow us to use our individual gifts and strengths, so we decided to create this new business together.

Tell us about your history with Arizona Highways.
I had been working pretty diligently for a year, and I submitted some images for the 2014-15 photo contest. I received a Facebook message from another photographer friend, and he told me my photo was in the running. I didn’t know, and I jumped online and saw that I was in the running, and then received third place for that year. It was pretty surreal; Arizona Highways was something I had been shooting for, and I thought I’d keep trying and just see how I do.

Starting in September 2015, when I placed in the photo contest, I started working with Arizona Highways and was brought on as a contributing photographer. I helped with some photos of Salt River wild horses, and then I was in the April 2016 issue. In October 2016, I got the cover for the fall issue and two other images, including the back page, and then in December 2016, I got another one. While building this business, I’ve kind of taken the last year off.

How did you become a photographer?
I’ve been an artist for many, many years, and for the last three years I’ve been building up my photography business. Growing up, my father was a painter — even though he was a doctor, he loved to paint, so there was always art in my house. I grew up with a lot of books and magazines on classic landscape oil painters, so I always had that push in my life early on. I did some painting at one time, and all of that influence from those classic oil painters kind of shows in my composition. I put all those skills together with my eye for landscapes.

How did you come up with the idea for the Red Photo Bus, and when did it all start?
Emily and I wanted to do something different, something that we could do together that would utilize our skills and talents. Our daughter recently became engaged, and that kind of got us thinking of having a photo booth as a business opportunity. We wanted something that was unique, something that would be memorable and that would make weddings, parties and events much more fun and exciting. We did our first wedding a couple of weeks ago, and we’re doing a 50th birthday party in December, so that’s going to be really fun.

How did you make your idea come to life, and how long did it take?
It really hasn’t been a smooth road. The bus itself took a while to restore — we’ve been working on it for the past five years to get it up to a daily driving state. We got the bus and just wanted to get it restored, and at the beginning of the summer, we decided to convert it to a photo bus.

Designing the flow of the booth took some time. I looked online on how to build a booth and then customized it to our liking. I handmade the booth, which is removable. It took almost two and a half months to build the photo booth. Then I had to design the logo, which we use on the side of the bus and on social media. We also had to design the back of the bus, where people can get their props on in front of a vanity mirror. The props we use are quality props; we spent a lot of time looking for real, good-quality props.

What kind of technology does the photo bus use?
Because I’m a photographer, everything we use is state of the art. Everything is inside the bus; the photo booth is custom designed and fits inside. We have a 20- inch touch screen where you can see yourself as you pose in the booth, and all the lighting is professional portrait lighting. We use a 24-megapixel Nikon DSLR, and we also have instant sharing to your phone and social media when Wi-Fi is available.

What has been your favorite part about having the photo bus business so far?
I love that we actually become a part of the experience of the event. It’s not just a photo booth that sits off in the corner, that people visit if they have time. People are really drawn to it, and they love it. Everybody that we’ve shown it to and every event we’ve brought it to, it’s just a hit.

What do you see in the future for your new business?
We hope that we’ll be able to do events all around the Valley — from weddings to corporate events — and make people’s events that much better. We’re hoping to pick up a New Year’s party.

To see more of Gerry Groeber’s work, visit www.gerrygroeber.com. To learn more about the Red Photo Bus, visit www.redphotobus.com.

— Emily Balli

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