During my years as a member of the Daily Photo Community at SmugMug, I’ve had the pleasure to become acquainted with many talented photographers, professionals and amateurs, and all passionate about creating images. One such photographer is Colleen M. Griffith, a professional photog who hails from San Francisco, CA. and who was gracious enough to share her background, perspective and some outstanding images with us here at 2 Guys Photo.
Please tell us about yourself Colleen.
My name is Colleen M. Griffith and I currently work as a full-time freelance professional photographer. You can find more of my work at www.colleenmgriffith.com and connect with me at http://www.facebook.com/colleen.griffith
I grew up in the northeastern part of the US, but am now based in the San Francisco bay area of California. I currently utilize photography to create fine art and provide services in the areas of advertising and marketing, stock photography, studio and environmental portraiture, pet portraiture, event coverage, weddings, and photo safaris.
While I have spent roughly a decade taking photos, my small photography business is relatively new. My first career was in the field of Chemical Engineering, Operations Management, and Change Transformation. My intention is to continue part-time consulting in those fields due to a love of those roles and the opportunity to make a difference, while primarily continuing to focus on and grow my photography business.
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?
My passion for photography was ignited when I purchased my first point and shoot camera with the idea of capturing my experiences during my adventures. Like just about everyone else I know who is passionate about photography, I wanted to capture how I felt during those moments, and put it in a proverbial bottle, to be savored again and again. Over time, my style has evolved and I especially enjoy images with vibrant color and dramatic light that evoke an enduring emotional response. For my portrait work, I aim to capture candid shots of people “in the moment” in a natural environment.
My learning of photography has been largely through hands-on experience, on-line communities and forums, publications, workshops, mentoring, and texts. I also actively seek out feedback and new learning experiences.
How and when did you become a professional photographer and what challenges did you face?
For me, I’d say the biggest challenges were in building a personal brand as a professional photographer and educating myself on, and executing, the business aspects of photography. Personally, I enjoy the creative and production side of photography more than the marketing, sales, legal, and accounting sides of my business. So, for me, the continuing challenge is ensuring I’m spending the necessary time on those crucial things I’m less fond of doing such as cultivating new sales channels and developing and executing effective marketing strategies.
A great resource for budding photographers thinking about or already engaging in professional photography is the book “Professional Business Practices in Photography” by The American Society Of Media Photographers.
What’s in your bag and what are your go-to applications for post-processing?
My primary camera is a Nikon D700 and the three lenses I most often use are a 24-70mm f/2.8 ED Nikkor; a 70-200mm f/2.8 ED VRII Nikkor; and a 105mm f/2.8, VR Micro-Nikkor lens. I also find my tripod and Acratech ball head are indispensable.
For environmental portraiture, I like to travel light since I always incorporate multiple locations, and typically a short hike, in any photo shoot. So my bag generally includes two wireless Nikon TTL strobes (SB900, SB600), a light reflector and associated accessories (light stands, gels, clamps, light modifiers and reflectors, filters, spare batteries, etc).
My go-to applications for post-processing are Aperture (for general processing), Photomatix Pro (for HDRs), and Photoshop (for layers, plug-ins).
Colleen, in looking at your website, I see your many professional portrait and wedding galleries, and it’s clear you have mastered an aspect of photography that many of us find daunting, namely lighting. What advice would you have for someone trying to improve their ability to light a subject for a good portrait?
Thanks for the compliment Ed. 🙂 In terms of learning, I recommend combining a good book (or books) on the concepts and theory of lighting along with a local (in-person and very hands-on) class or series of workshops to get the feel for how those concepts work in the real world. And of course, practice, practice, practice. The advantages of learning the theory of lighting really become evident when in the field and tackling a difficult lighting situation – this theory and your understanding of your cameras’ operating mechanics, will allow you to quickly set up your environmental portrait shots and capture beautifully exposed photos that are great straight out of the camera.
The majority of my portrait work is environmental and I use Nikon exclusively. So, there are three books I really like for this area: “The Nikon Creative Lighting System” by Mike Hagen – he provides both instruction on lighting theory and specifics on using your Nikon equipment. “Lighting For Outdoor & Location Portrait Photography” by Jeff Smith and “Available Light Photographic Techniques for Using Existing Light Sources” by Don Marr – both provide great advice and show with examples, how to find the best light and take advantage of the many different situations you’ll find yourself in. Start by taking your flash off the camera and/or using reflected light (use a reflector as your light source or bounce the flash off the ceiling).
When you’re shooting for fun, what do you like to shoot and why?
I am a bit infatuated with San Francisco’s bridges and other iconic structures as well as nearby Lighthouses, beaches, and natural tidal pools along the Pacific coast. I especially love on-location environmental photo shoots that incorporate these locations as a backdrop.
In addition to photography, anything that involves adventure or experiencing new cultures or beautiful scenery is my passion. Some of my favorite past-times include rock climbing, water sports such as windsurfing and sailing, and traveling. I really enjoy combining these passions with the art of photography.
Many photographers run into “dry spells”. How do you stay motivated to keep on shooting? What (or who) inspires you?
I find the huge body of creative work that is readily available these days via the internet and social media as highly inspirational. I am an avid consumer of anything photographic in nature and am always asking lots of questions. It’s amazing how quickly technology in the digital photography world changes, especially in the area of post-processing – and so creative avenues seem boundless there. Networking, social media, and on-line communities help to keep me on top of these tools, further develop and maintain a creative edge, and inspire me.
As a child and through my teens, I took a lot of art classes and do occasionally still find time to paint. So my photography is also influenced by the great portrait and landscape painters of the 19th century. Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, and Monet are my favorites. I have visited Musee d’Orsay several times and was finally able to see the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris last year. I am also a frequent visitor of museums when I travel as well as a member of the local museums in the SF bay area – I always make a point to see the traveling exhibits.
What are your future photographic plans?
In the near future, I plan to spend more time on the business side, specifically in the areas of sales and marketing since I feel my past bias has been to focus largely on the production and creative side.
What advice do you have for someone who is either just starting out in photography and/or anyone wanting to improve their photographic skills?
Actively participate in a few good on-line photography communities and social networks. Start sharing your photos with the community and commenting on others’ photos as well. You will learn and grow by leaps and bounds by doing this. The best way to get started is to just put it out there, with no fear, and see what happens. I bet you’ll be pleased with the result. 😉
Thanks so much Colleen for taking the time to share your experiences and vision with all of us at 2 Guys Photo.
Be sure to visit Colleen’s website to learn more and view more of her work. – Posted by Ed