Let me introduce you the amazing Christine Neely.
I can call myself blessed to know Christine. She is a talented Photographer, Designer, and Founder & Philanthropist at Grace & Heart. She is also incredibly sweet, unselfish, smart, and just such an inspiration to my life.
If you would ask me to describe Christine with one word, I would say LOVE! She has shown me the beauty of sharing, teaching, learning, laughing, and overcoming anything in life. Since I met her, my life perspectives have changed. We are all here to reach our dreams and that is what she is doing. She has helped me not only with my website, but she has helped me grow as a person and in so many ways. I’m so very thankful. Please check her awesome work.
Christine thank you for sharing all your talent and for helping others to grow among you. Keep shining in this world, we need more people like you.
Where is your home?
I currently live in Saratoga, NY. It’s about 3 hours to NYC, 3 hours to Boston, or 3 hours to Rochester – truly the center of everything!
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would be your home?
I would probably love to move back to Tucson, AZ. I would love to move to Southern France, but at the same time I love the life I’ve created in the United States.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Cozy! I’m cuddling with my dog, Karma, while typing on my laptop.
Did you go to school to study photography?
Yes – I studied Studio Art with a concentration in photography (alongside a second degree in Psychology) at the College of Saint Rose as well as an MFA at the Academy of Art in Fine Art Photography.
How long have you been a photographer?
I first held a camera in my hand in 2008. I’ve grown since that time. My first job with a camera in my hand was a Christmas season at Picture People in December 2008, followed by a true photography internship as a Second Shooter, Editor, & Studio Manager for a large & popular wedding photography studio. I began my own business in January 2011.
What will be your expertise as a photographer and why?
I began as an event photographer, however my passion is “people.” I blame my psychology degree & my bleeding heart! I love the variety I get at the moment, as I ease into specializing in “bump to baby”… and I adore working with Birth Photography because it’s so raw & real. But I also love working with models, pets, children, families…. and although I’ve distanced myself from weddings, I love the occasional offbeat & unique wedding. I think the variety bleeds into my specialized genres, allowing me to see things in the way which I do.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I shoot with the Nikon D800. In the spring, I’ll be adding a D810. I also have a fun collection of lego pinholes, Diana F+ cameras, 35mm, and a Mr Potatohead Pinhole with a red nose as a safelight/shutter!
What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?
I need very little besides my camera! However during a long birth, I value my monopod to help maintain the energy which I try to keep high during the long labor & delivery. I’m recently obsessed with my lightsaber – errr I mean my Ice Light. It’s fantastic for adding neutral colored lighting to a portrait session. Do I need a monopod or an Ice Light? Not particularly. I think my education and experience have been the most valuable accessory I can bring with me wherever I go!
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
The 50mm f/1.4 for sure!
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
I bring my hotshoe flash with me to every portrait session, but I rarely use it. Flash can be bothersome for laboring mothers, so I bring my Ice Light with me to every birth photography session.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a shoot?
I use auxiliary lighting to fill when natural lighting is either unavailable or inconvenient. A dim room, a client who cannot move closer to the lighting because of limitations or geography, or a planned studio session to maintain a warm atmosphere for a newborn are examples of when I would use flash or strobes. I would use a reflector if lighting was close, but not the right direction. All of these measures would simply “fill” where natural light could not.
What is your favorite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
I feel confident and professional with my 2Big Quadra by LaCie (Mirrored Raid External Hard Drive). It gives me peace of mind, and that’s extremely valuable!
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
Every image is passed through Photoshop, even if it’s very brief. I believe that it polishes a professional image. 50% are simply double checked in Photoshop, while the remaining images are retouched for acne, a stray hair across the bridge of the nose, etc.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
My watermark tool from Paint the Moon! Other edits are primarily a boost in vibrance, exposure, contrast, etc.
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
Mac for the win!
Can you share with us 10 awesome Christine Neely images?
How do you feel about cropping an image?
For client images, I maintain a 2:3 or 3:2 ratio – it’s easiest to frame or to crop for a preferred size frame. I believe it’s the most universal.
What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such awesome imagery?
Probably human psychology for my client images, as well as communication. Seeing eyes light up when a mother speaks on a childs face, or seeing a couple respond to each other’s touch? Those are skills which I acquired as a dual major in art & psych, as well as skills which I’m more sensitive to as a deaf individual, because I communicate strongly through body language & facial expressions.
Alongside my client work, I also produce fine art. Many of my images are inspired by movement & muscles, as I am an avid runner and health buff. They’re also very much inspired by disability in any form, as my own is an “invisible” disability. I have a number of people very close to me who have visible disabilities, and that contrast between how noticeable our differences are have made me question quite a lot as an individual and thus as an artist.
I find it quite impossible to divide my professional & my personal life, because my clients often become my friends & my passions cycle around my head when I’m working. I think my imagery is quite simply inspired by being human!
How do you educate yourself to take better photos?
Oh, so many ways! In the past month, I’ve read blog posts, asked for feedback from both peers & clients, toured art museums, & discovered new anthologies of photo essays. If I have a technical question about photography I’ll either revisit my grad school textbooks or research online. I’m truly a curious person!
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on assignments?
I do not work with an assistant for portrait sessions unless I’m under physical stress, which is quite rare. I will, however, find a professional birth photographer to be on call for a mother if I’m scheduled for a non-negotiable appointment. When I shoot the rare wedding, I will work with a second & occasionally a third shooter.
How many images do you average per session and how many do you usually present to your clients?
For a 1 hour session, I will shoot about 150 & I will give the best 40-50 images. For a two hour session, I will shoot about 300 & give the best 80-100.
Where would be your dream destination session?
I would adore shooting in the mountains in Sedona, AZ against the red rock!
How do you make your clients feel relaxed in front of your camera?
I’m a massive dork behind the camera. I tell funny stories or turn the session into a game. Imitation, telling them to “squish a bug with their hands”…. it’s all common place during a child session. Boudoir sessions are usually accommodated by the client’s favorite music.
What is your favorite recent image you have shot recently? Can you describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc. also your thoughts when creating the image and what it means to you?
I have had so many diverse experiences with lighting, and I feel very comfortable with all of it. The most profound images which I create are often related to volunteer sessions – they warm my soul. The most recent notable session was a portrait session for a 16 year old foster child with special needs, hoping for a family for Christmas. He had the sweetest outlook. The images, which are private, truly show how his personality shines. Volunteering confirms to me that I’m doing a job which I was made to do.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about your work?
Again – the people are more challenging than the photography. I feel like I was blessed with the experience of learning photography with a 35mm camera & film. It’s helped me to walk into a room & know without looking at the back of my screen what my settings should be. It’s made me confident about my technical skills. The most challenging thing for me is often the start of getting to know a client – making blind suggestions until I hit the nail, trying to know what makes them tick. It’s SO important when making a series of images which reflect someone who is at first very unknown to you. The images need to be captured intimately. I have a very high standard which I’ve set for myself, so I tend to be the hardest on myself when I don’t automatically “know” my clients. It gets easier! But it’s always when I stress the hardest.
How did you overcome your challenges?
The biggest challenge which I’ve overcome & simultaneously my greatest source of pride is making a job for myself after becoming deaf at age 17. I was originally aspiring to become a linguistic specialist. My entire family & circle of friends are both highly educated & quite intimidating – engineers, lawyers, doctors, and the like. I felt pressure in early college to conform & to become a scientist or another equally “nerdy” field. I fell into photography accidentally – through a liberal arts elective in painting. I had to prove to my parents, as to myself, that I could make my photography business a genuine career path for me. I’m still overcoming challenges because I don’t ever want to call my business “good enough.” Theres always the next picture, the next amazing client, the next exciting offer, or the next volunteer session to feel warmed by.
A photographer who inspires you?
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
Grad school! I haven’t taken a class yet. I do wish to attend classes or to participate in webinars, however unfortunately there are no opportunities with interpreters, captioning, or other options for the deaf to allow me to appreciate them to the fullest. I was blessed with an “ADA Bubble” when I was in school, receiving assistance so that I could understand 100% of the coursework. Although public courses such as CreativeLive SHOULD offer captions, they do not.
What is Christine Neely’s advice?
What is your Motto?
Expect Uncertainty. Embrace Ambiguity. Live Gloriously.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
Very important! It’s your elevator speech, your cyber-handshake, or your first “hello” for a client. I think it reflects who you are as an individual & a business owner as well as providing all the “rules & regulations” for your clients. It helps them understand what to expect from you & your services. A poor website is more confusing or less personal.
If not a photographer, what would you have been?
If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have thought I would become a linguistic specialist. I originally entered the University of Arizona on scholarship for that very reason. After losing my hearing, I thought I might become an art therapist. I worked for 1 summer in a rehab, detox, and psych ward & the most meaningful interaction I had was to advocate for a woman with cancer to be moved from a psych hold into hospice care. I felt like it gave her closure. I decided after that internship that I was more destined to become an “art advocate.” Photography was my happy place, while simultaneously giving back & making ends meet. I haven’t looked back since!
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
I have a photographer’s wishlist! I hope to photograph adoption or surrogacy birth photography. I also hope to soon finish a series I have underway with individuals with visible scars & adaptations as a statement where I ask people to stare at what they typically look away from. Scars show strength! It’s going to be a beautiful series and I hope you check back for it.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue photography?
Keep trying. Accept where you are at the moment & embrace that theres always room to grow.
As a professional, I love that years from now my business will be even more sustainable & diverse. There will always be room for improvement no matter how many years I’m behind the camera!
For a new photographer, it will take time to create your business. Appreciate where you are now. Keep your old work. It’s amazing to compare what a difference 5 years makes! Don’t put your business ahead of your photography skills. Grow both as the need arrises. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
Psychology! I love people. My client work is inspired by my “microwave relationships” with my clients. It’s how I’ve interpreted my friendship with them, describing who they are. I was drawn to psychology as a way of understanding my own feelings as I experienced loss – it’s called Thanatology. After growing my knowledge about the Psychology of Grief, I continued learning about the Psychology of Relationships, of Child Psychology, and more. Theres an age old joke about how psychology & art, alongside english, are all the “unemployable degrees” – however psychology is a life skill everyone should have. It helps to put others before yourself, to understand what they’re thinking & what’s important to them, & basically how to be a human. In inspired by how I process my effect on others, how others effect me, & how other people think.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
Nope, I would have done it all over again in a heartbeat.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera…
… I would probably document people & animals when they think no one is looking. My dog, for one, would love a portrait of herself grabbing cookies off the counter! In all seriousness, kids do the funniest things when they think no one is watching. So do animals. I would probably capture those tiny moments, unaffected by my visible presence.
I’ve learned the most from…
… my mistakes. I’ve taken business gambles which didn’t work out as I had wished. I’ve over processed my images. I’ve under-quoted for large projects. I’ve pulled all nighters to get jobs done. I’ve made mistakes to know that they don’t work for me.
What talent would you most like to have?
Height! It’d be a whole different frame from up high.
Something you’re still learning?
I’m always learning something. And even if it has very little to do with photography, it still leaks into my professional life. Right now I’m learning balance. I’ve become quite the workaholic!
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My boyfriend – My best friend, Mr. Man & the Bread to my Butter. And my fur babies. I’ve got a black lab named Karma (sometimes she’s good, sometimes she’s bad) and my two cats, who are royal acrobats inside our Christmas Tree at the moment. I love them all!
What is your greatest fear?
Besides seaweed? Haha I’m rather fearless, but I wouldn’t enjoy skydiving.
Something that is overrated?
Something you’re saving up for?
My Nikon D810!
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous or dead who would it be?
Where you’ll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Cuddling up with Mr Man & my stinky dog.
Your favorite film (movie) of all time?
The Fall by Tarsem Singh
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
Evan Rachel Wood – I love her!
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Pay off my student loans. I’m a child of the 21st century! With what was left I would travel to Tibet or Southern France
And with whatever is left, I would put it in our “Future Fund.”
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Chatty, Resistant, Optimistic, Stubborn, Quirky
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
Having a firm hold on the balance between my professional & personal life, without sacrificing a thing. Photographically I would like to be specializing strictly in Bump to Baby (maternity, newborn, birth)
And the last question, if you had one wish…
I wish for my business to mature at twice it’s speed! I’m excited to see where it’s going, and excited for the opportunities which come with greater experience.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Christine Neely?’ What would you say?
Don’t be. There can only be one. In the words of Dr Seuss, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
Carmen Reese Photography specializes in newborn, maternity, baby, child, senior, family and wedding photography in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and surrounding areas.