Picture This

Author: Shannon Sickmon

Great photographs can capture a moment or create a legacy. Most of us have high-quality photography equipment in our pockets—our cell phones—so sally forth and create beautiful images. Two people in Cherokee County have created venues that set the scene for you.

Meghan Gardner and Jake Washer own Mayberry Acres, which offers several photographic venues with multiple stages that help you discover your inner Ansel Adams and capture gorgeous pictures, even if you don’t know a lens from a light bulb.

Mayberry Acres offers photo-ready locations and sets on the family’s seven acres in suburban Canton. Mayberry at the Mill is a photo depot in downtown Canton. While both sites are open to the general public, The Loft at Mayberry is open only to professionals. All the locations are artistic and creative playgrounds for professionals. For the rest of us, the photo venues offer a chance to record family memories and tell our stories. Meghan and Jake have created a series of sets that are like Disney for photographers and their subjects.

Interestingly, neither Meghan nor Jake came from an artistic photography background. Meghan owned a children’s boutique, and Jake worked as a remodeler and carpenter. Jake needed a workshop and lovingly recreated a general store on their property. That store is still in use today in their outdoor photo sets. The two owners were also avid antique collectors, which translated to furnishing their barns and general store, and the results are stunning.

While working at the boutique, Meghan built a relationship with a few photographers, so on a whim Meghan contacted one to see if he’d like to use their home for a professional shoot. That year four photographers heard the buzz about the beautiful property and came out to make their photographic images too.

In the second year, more than one hundred photographers came out. Today the pair can boast more than 1,400 photographers on its VIP page, with numbers growing every day. Meghan says the two properties have photographers coming from all over north Georgia as well as Alabama and even Tennessee. The sites feature quite a few indoor and outdoor sets, many of which change with the seasons. Meghan and Jake even provide realistic snow for Christmas shoots when Georgia weather isn’t cooperative.

Meghan, a petite blonde with a bubbly personality, has an unerring eye for detail. Her artistic sensibility and sense of whimsy inspire every set. Her partner and companion, Jake, is slender and quiet. Using his carpentry skills, Jake singlehandedly constructs every set in the space according to Meghan’s exacting standards, and the sets are flawless.

The venue at their home focuses on rustic outdoor sets, but with the same movie-ready eye for detail. Meghan describes it this way: “At the house I try to keep it realistic. I don’t want models to feel like they’re just up against a backdrop. I want them to feel like they are actually a part of the scene. When we set up trees, we layer them, so models and photographers can walk through the trees. The snow is falling and they feel like they are caught in that moment.”

Meghan says, “The feedback from the photographers has been phenomenal. They were having to tote props and come up with the setups on their own for sessions, but we take that stress off them. Now they can show up one minute before their session and know that everything will be ready to go and the way they want it.”

The couple expresses the fact that they have been blessed to be able to do what they love, and it has given them the opportunity to be involved in some exciting experiences. Meghan recounts the event that literally changed their lives. She and Jake were asked to create sets for a Christian music video filmed at their outdoor location. The video featured prominent Christian artists Danny Gokey, Evan Craft, and Redimi2. Meghan says that being involved in that video was the catalyst that inspired them to open their newest location at The Mill on Etowah.

When you first step into the bright, airy space that is The Photo Depot at Mayberry, the first thing you feel is a marked sense of reverie. Meghan and Jake have created a location that evokes your memories of every great moment from your childhood, travels, and lighthearted fun. Their space creates new memories too, and lets you direct them.

Meghan has created scenes such as a bakery and café, complete with tile floors, pastel decor, and delicious-looking treats on display. Another site offers a handcrafted flower wall. She has recreated a 1980s-era roller rink, complete with Day-Glo paint and arcade games. The 1950s beauty parlor looks like it came off the I Love Lucy set. You’ll find a vintage 1960s-era kitchen with a bubblegum-pink refrigerator and period-authentic tile, table, and chairs. You can choose settings such as a beach cabana, record room, or the colorful Froot Loops set, a cereal-themed dream.

The upstairs loft in the indoor location is reserved for professionals and is suffused with natural light. There Meghan and Jake created quiet, homey sets. The loft, Meghan notes, is most popular for lifestyle sessions.

Both sites offer great rates for small or large groups, and all packages include goodie bags. You can add custom themes, colors, and even banners for your group event. The Mayberry photo venue has been an instant hit, and it’s easy to understand why: Meghan and Jake made the art of photography accessible to everyone, and they made it fun.

Meghan’s eyes sparkle when she talks about the clients having fun on shoots. “We had a senior living facility come in here . . . a group of ten, all with walkers or in wheelchairs. They were great. For the photos there was an elderly man throwing around money and jumping on the motorcycle. The participants were all hooting and hollering. It was the first time they’d been out in many months. They had a great time, and that is definitely why we do this.”

Meghan and Jake also hope they can use their space to change the community for the better. Meghan states that their faith has always inspired them to give back, and in this regard she and Jake have gone beyond the call of duty. As she says, “None of this would be worth anything if we couldn’t do something with it to help others.” In the few years they have been open, they have set up multiple fundraisers and charity drives.

Last year they took donations for Thanksgiving dinners and managed to feed twenty families in the area with a full dinner, including a turkey or a ham. They initiated a toy drive for children at Christmas and got enough toys to make hundreds of needy children happy. This year they will provide a Christmas Tree Walk at the outdoor location. More than fifty local photographers will create and set up themed trees, and the public can vote on their favorites. The photographer with the most votes gets five hundred dollars’ worth of studio time at the venue, and all proceeds will go to the Thanksgiving food-box drive this year.

Mayberry Acres is more than a business to Meghan and Jake. It is a labor of love, and it is apparent when you talk to them.

For more information visit MayberryAcres.com or contact Meghan and Jake on Facebook @MayberryAcres.