Q & A with Graham Morrison
Welcome to another Q & A Session! Get to know Graham Morrison. Graham specializes in Portrait Photography. Enjoy the interview and if you enjoyed what you read, please leave a comment.
1. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in photography?
I actually started doing photography when I was fairly young. My mom purchased me my first camera when I was about 10 or 11 years old. It was a green Polaroid and I remember crying when my mom gave it to me because it was the BEST gift I had ever gotten. I remember posing stuffed animals/actions figures/Barbies/etc. That’s my EARLIEST recollection of doing portrait photography. Fast forward to the year 2007, when I purchased my first Digital SLR camera the summer before my senior year in High School. I spent the majority of that school year capturing my friends in their element, which was led me to develop a passion for portraits. Around the time of graduation, my portraits were becoming somewhat more elaborate and I splurged to buy a Nikon D300, which I still shoot with to this day. Around that time, I was shooting a lot of stuff and posting it to Flickr.com. I started to gain a lot of support and followers through there, which felt GREAT! For the first time in my entire life, I was finally getting some recognition for the art I was putting out there. I spent a year in my hometown after High school before moving to Charlotte. In that time, I really too the time to emphasize my passion for self-portraiture, and my “365: project on Flickr was an gaining a lot of attention. Some of the self-portraits from that year I spent back home are arguably some of the most meaningful photos I’ve ever taken. Every photo I posted was a visual interpretation of where I was at in my life at that moment. I moved to Charlotte in the summer of 2009 for school, studying photography at UNC Charlotte. I tried that for a year, but quickly realized that college wasn’t the place for me (at least not at that point in time.) I wanted to create my OWN connections. I wanted to teach MYSELF. I wanted to do everything on my OWN terms. Around summer 2010 is when I’d say my photography really started to take off and became something more than just a hobby. It became my voice.
2. Who are your influences?
As far as photographers go, David LaChapelle and Annie Leibovitz are two of my favorite photographers and greatest influences. Partly because they’re doing exactly what I want to be doing one day, but also because their photos have the ability to move me. I have one of David LaChapelle books, “Heaven to Hell” and every time I look at it I get so pumped up. I think to myself, “I can so do this, what’s stopping me?” In my personal life though, I’m greatly influenced by my friends. Most of them are artists in some sort of way, and they inspire me to continue doing what I love. Also, my mother was a huge influence. She was ALWAYS rooting for me in whatever I chose to do. Especially art. I think she saw potential in me that no one else saw, and she knew I was going to do something great with it.
3. Tell us about your photography. What kinds of shooting have you done?
I love photographing people. I can honestly say that portraits are my biggest passion. I feel like every single person in the world has a different story, and that story should be told in the most prestigious, beautiful, and fun way possible. I’ve worked with plenty of models and girls who get paid to look pretty, but I’ve also worked with friends, just regular people who are posing for pictures for the sheer fun of it. Either way, I love to represent people in the best way possible. I started out doing a lot of senior portraits. So here you have these girls age 17 or 18, probably a little self-conscious by default, and I have the opportunity to photograph them and make them feel great about themselves. Maybe a set of senior portraits isn’t the most epic gig ever, but it DOES give me the chance to make someone see themselves in the best light possible. I also do a good amount of shoots on my own, that have more of an editorial/fashion magazine feel to them. I’ve been lucky to get the chance to work with some amazing hair and makeup/stylists who have a great eye for what makes a photo look great. I look forward to working with more amazingly talented local artists because in all honestly, collaborations (in my opinion) make for some of the best shoots.
4. How do you come up with a concept for a shoot? How do you decide on a location?
Concepts for shoots come from a lot of places. For example, if I’m photographing a musician, I like to first listen to their music to get an idea of their style. I like to be giving creative freedom, but I also enjoy working with folks who have a specific idea in mind for how they want their photos to look. Honestly, I can’t really say where some of my concepts come from. I guess that most of the time, they just spawn naturally. Locations for me are one thing I always try my hardest to pay attention to. I come from a really pretty hometown, with tons of beautiful fields, abandoned houses, woods, old industrial buildings, etc. So I kind of started out with higher standards for how the locations for my photos should look. I try to photograph people in their element, so I usually take that into consideration when deciding where to shoot.
Dylan Gilbert: Breakfast at the Zoo
5. What type of equipment do you use?
I shoot with a Nikon D300, a 50mm portrait lens, a 18-105mm lens, almost always with natural light but occasionally with a few studio lights here and there. I prefer natural light to any sort of artificial lighting. I feel like my “style” has sort of developed around my use of natural light. I also use Photoshop a great deal in my photos. Not to really change the photo per se, but more to tweak the colors, lighting, contrast etc. It’s a digital photographer’s greatest friend in my opinion!
6. I personally like to use available lighting and a reflector when shooting an outdoor portrait. Can you share with us what your lighting technique is?
My lighting techniques often times vary depending on the type of natural lighting I’m working with. For example when I’m shooting a portrait around sunset, I like to use a lot of backlighting, to create sun flares. I hate harsh shadows on a person’s face, so if I’m shooting someone in mid-day I make it my number one goal to find some shade to shoot them in. Usually I just assess the situation before I shoot, and sometimes “happy accidents” with lighting make for some of the most unique photos.
7. I noticed that your photos on your Flickr page are mostly women. Is that a personal preference? Do you find working with women models easier?
It’s not really a preference; I guess it’s just a product of the fact that I surround myself mostly with women. I always have. Personally, I love shooting women because they all have such different behaviors while shooting. Some stand there awkwardly waiting for me to direct them, and some hop up on a table and give me all they’ve got. And honestly, I’m fine with either. I’d love to shoot with more men, but women will always be my favorite subject to photograph I’m sure.
8. How do you make your model comfortable during the photo session?
Well, I’m a very talkative person haha. Especially when I can sense someone else feels nervous/awkward. I usually do all of the talking so they don’t have to. Plus I’m sort of a goofy person at times, so I’m running around twisting and contorting my body to get the perfect angles, I’m sure they get a kick out of watching me twist all around like a pretzel. That’s got to calm their nerves. And SOMETIMES if the model’s REALLY nervous, we’ll have a few mimosas before we shoot. 😉
9. Why is Photography important to you?
Like I said earlier, I feel like photography is my voice on a grander scale. I can get my ideas and concepts out to so many more people through a photo than I can by just talking to people face to face. Also, art has the potential to move people and make them think about things they may never consider otherwise. If you can tell a story through one picture, and have it mean as much to someone as an entire book, then you’re doing something right. Also, I appreciate beauty to a great extent. And not just traditional beauty, I think that beauty can be found in everything and everyone. Sometimes when you least expect it.
10. Photographers are told to find and develop a personal style to set them apart. What would you say sets you apart from other photographers?
I can’t always put my finger on it, but I feel like a lot of my photos have this certain “it” factor that makes people know that they’re mine. I NEVER use watermarks; in fact they are one of my biggest pet peeves in the photography world. If someone can’t tell it’s your photo without some big hideous watermark in the corner running a photo, well then maybe they don’t need to know you took it. That probably sounds really blunt but I just hate watermarks haha. One thing I think that makes my photos stand out is the post processing I do to my photos. I try to boost the colors as much as I can get away with. And I’ll admit, I touch people up a little bit because I like to make them feel as beautiful as they truly are. Sometimes I’ll spend 5 minutes editing a photo, and other times I’ll spend hours. It just varies from photo to photo.
11. Do you remember the first photo you took that made you say, WOW!?
I really do. Especially since seeing my “first” work is so easy on Flickr since everything’s saved. It’s not eve that my first stuff was BAD… it was just so unthought out compared to the work I do now. I’ve learned to avoid clichés in photography, but I don’t let that idea own me. If I want to shoot someone on a railroad, I don’t avoid it like the plague just because that’s a common place to shoot. I do what I want to do with my photos, and my more recent photographs express that a lot more than much of my earlier work, I feel like.
12. How has social media helped you to promote your work? How much time do you invest in it?
I really don’t invest nearly as much time in promoting via social media as I used to. Back in the day I was on flickr for several hours a day talking to people, commenting and liking others photos, and participating in big group collaborations. Now I do most of my “networking” for my photos through Facebook. I use flickr for storage mainly. My website is a pretty good summary of my portfolio but I’m sometimes a little slow to upload photos to there. In 2012, one of my resolutions is to be to really commit to making my website and promoting a huge priority.
13. Where do you see yourself in the future as a photographer? Where do you think it will lead you?
I would love to work for a fashion magazine such as Vogue or Vanity Fair. Being an editorial photographer is my most specific goal. I feel like a lot of photographers in my age range have a more “here and now” outlook on photography, but I’m one of those who are in it for the long haul. I am lucky to have found my passion at such an early age. It may develop into something else one day, but the focus will ALWAYS be portrait photography. I’d love to travel more to see where else I might like to end up once I leave Charlotte.
14. What tips would you give to aspiring photographers?
I would say to stay busy. Try to plan a shoot once a week, even if it’s nothing HUGE just have something to show for your time. Surround yourself with other creative people who are passionate about what they do. Work with friends and peers who are good at hair or makeup. If you have a fashionable friend, have them style a shoot for you. Get as MANY people involved early on as you can. Networking is a HUGE aspect of photography; it’s all about who you know. Being technically good only gets you so far, you have to have something that sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. And make sure you are always having fun, even if it’s paid work, you should be able to leave every shoot with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step.
15. Finally, what other thoughts would you like to share?
I guess I would just like to say thank you to all of the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the past few years. Models, musicians, families, couples, hair/makeup people, stylists, people who have let us shoot at their homes and places of business. It takes a village to make a photo, and I can’t even begin to list the amazing people who have given their all to make my dream of being a professional photographer come true. I’m confident in my work, but I would be ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE without the help of my friends. I’m not lucky, I’m blessed. And this story has only just begun! :]
Thanks for reading!!
Click on the links below to find out more about Graham.
Facebook Page: Graham Morrison Photography
Flickr Site: MGM Photography