Photographer Grace Chon combines her background as an ad agency art director with her photography to create modern, lifestyle portraits of people and animals. Her clients include ad agencies, magazines, publishing companies, celebrities, non-profit organizations and TV shows. Her last agency job before she became a full-time animal photographer was at Deutsch in Los Angeles, where she created work for clients like Saturn and the California Milk Advistory Board (you know, those talking, happy cows).
Shoot What You Love
If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a Bachelor of Science in biology and an MFA in art direction. Originally, I wanted to be a vet and work with animals. But then I decided I wanted to be an art director. Somehow, I managed to combine my love for animals and my love for design into one awesome job.
What was your strangest assignment? Photographing a celebrity and his dogs for a magazine. He was completely neurotic and wouldn’t let me use any of my usual tricks (treats, squeaky noises, toys) to get my shots.
Which photographer would you like to meet? Any of the fabulously successful photographers who haven’t allowed overblown egos to turn them into complete jerks.
What famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? Bo Obama... and I guess President Obama too.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? My deliciously stinky, high-reward doggie treats. I call them doggie crack. I haven’t met a dog that can turn down them down.
Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? I’m still an art director through and through; and because of that, I feel like I’m still a ninja looking for things to fix and make the shot perfect. So I’ll retouch anything if it means I’ll end up with a flawless image. With people, especially celebrities, I use a lot of restraint when retouching so they don’t look like ten-years-ago versions of themselves.
From where do your best ideas originate? Most of the time, they hit me completely spontaneously and I honestly don’t know where they come from. But oftentimes I’m inspired while watching movies (even bad ones). I love looking at framing, composition, coloring and the use of light.
How do you overcome a creative block? I try not to freak out and feel like my best days are behind me. I try to focus on the things that make me happy even if they have nothing to do with photography; once those juices get flowing I find it helps my photography juices flow too.
Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? Gardening. I absolutely love growing vegetables and cooking seasonal dishes.
What music are you listening to right now? I think I’m supposed to say something really cool and indie here, but I’ll be honest, I’m listening to awful reality television and I like it.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? I’m a complete workaholic, but I never forget that my husband and two dogs are the most important things in my life.
What’s your favorite quote? The most frequent question I get asked by photography enthusiasts is “What camera and lens did you use for that shot?” I must get asked that at least a few times a week. So my favorite quote is by Julius Shulman who said, “The camera is the least important element in photography.” Amen.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Shoot what you love. And once you start figuring out what you like to shoot, stop looking at photography blogs and websites for inspiration. Shoot, shoot and shoot some more and allow your own voice and style to develop.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? Having a business mind is as important as having a creative one—especially if you want to have your own business.