Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BEHIND THE LENS: Michelle Kirnan, Northeastern NC and Southside Hampton Roads, Virginia

We met Michelle while trying to find ideas for a CD case on our Moms Who Click Facebook page.  Sometimes, you just need a little inspiration from your fellow photographers.  Michelle provided ideas, links and samples.   Words can not express how much we appreciate her generous spirit.  And we gotta say, she is clever, resourceful and of course, takes beautiful photos.  Thank you Michelle for your assistance, your passion and most of all your enthusiasm.  And now without further ado, we present Michelle Kirnan........

Your Name:  Michelle Kirnan
Your studio/business name:  Michelle Kirnan Photography
Location:  Northeastern NC and Southside Hampton Roads, Virginia

Your Style

·       In 50 words or less, how would your clients describe your photography?  Captivating, real, dramatic, touching.  I had to ask, and these were the responses I received. 
·       Are you self-taught or classroom trained?  Self taught, mostly from the internet and some books.  I love taking workshops too.  However, since I’m introverted and shy, I prefer to take workshops online.  creativeLIVE is fantastic!  I attended a local workshop and was uncomfortable.  I’m anxiously awaiting Katelyn James’ next workshop!
·       How many years have you been a professional photographer?  Am I a professional photographer?  Why didn’t someone tell me?!  JK – I honestly feel like I’m living in a dream.  I started my photography page on facebook September 9th of last year.  I shot my first paid session shortly before that.
·       Where do you want to take your photography business in 5 years?  I’d like my photography business to be full time (I’m currently part time and maintain a part time day job).  I’d like to be more comfortable with posing and lighting, especially indoors.  I’m currently trying to set up a home studio, and I’d love for that to carry me through the winter months when clients don’t care to be out in the cold.  
·       Is there a photographer who inspires your style?  Who would that be?
I wouldn’t say that there is a photographer who inspires my “style”, but there are so many photographers who I admire!  To name a few: Katelyn James, Amy McMaster, Amber Anderson, Julie Clegg, Marta Locklear, and Nikki Tibbett, and locally Kelly Willette, Cathy Benton, Deb Perry and Amanda McGhee.  I admire these women not only for their AMAZING work, but also for who they are.  They each try to help other photographers and have helped me personally either directly or indirectly.  I also love Bobbi + Mike, Zach & Jody Gray, Beth Jansen, Hoffer Photography, and of course, Jasmine Star.
·       Favorite location to take photos?   Wherever my clients are relaxed and comfortable.  I love beautiful, golden hour light!  Also, in the center of my house, between my front and back doors – it has fantastic light!  When I wanted to set up an area to do Easter mini sessions, my husband was wondering why I wanted to do it in the garage.  He knows that I love shooting in the center of the house, so he made a backdrop stand for me, and I set it up in the foyer.  I opened the front door for more light and all was good!  
·       Favorite vacation spot?   
      Waitsfield, Vermont.  My husband’s grandparents have a timeshare there, so we visit almost annually.  We’ve shared so many memories with them, but they’re unfortunately unable to make the trip anymore.  We now go without them at their request.  I love returning to the same place – we never feel like we have to wear ourselves out to see everything.  You know…those vacations that you come home from and feel like you need a vacation to recuperate?  LOL  The restaurants are fantastic!  They serve mostly food from the local farms, and there are no chains.  We love to hike and although we live near the beach, we prefer the mountains.  They’re called the Green Mountains for a reason – everything is so green!  We of course love Ben & Jerry’s too!  ;)  We just returned from there last week, and our hearts were broken to witness the devastation from the recent flooding.

      My husband and I don’t like to fly and feel that there are so many beautiful places to see right here in the United States.  Before our son joined our family, two of our favorite vacations were to Cape Cod/Martha’s Vineyard for our 10th anniversary (we went April 2000 and it was perfect!  I got to see the foggy beach just as I imagined it) and Mt. Rainier in Washington and the surrounding area.  We put 3,000+ miles on our rental car trying to see it all, from the Columbia River Gorge to the Quinalt Rainforest and Ruby Beach, Seattle, Mt. St. Helens and of course Mt. Rainier.  It was fantastic to stand on a glacier in a short sleeve shirt (and get major sunburn!  LOL).  That was a vacation that we had to come home to recuperate, but we loved every minute of it!  That was also the last time I was on a plane.  :D

Your Business

·       What was the pivotal moment when you decided to become a photographer?  I don’t think there was ever ONE moment.  As I stated above, it was something that I dreamed of, even as a child.  I’ve always loved taking photos, as well as looking at photos.  I’ve even purchased old photos from garage sales because I love the look of them, and try to imagine who the people are in them.  I didn’t have a hobby for years, and my husband always encouraged me to find something.  I started with scrapbooking, but didn’t have much time for it once our son joined our family.  But of course I took lots of pictures once he came along!  Once I received my first DSLR, I just couldn’t stop – I wanted, and still want, to learn, learn, learn, and shoot, shoot, shoot!  My family got tired of it so I had to find other people to shoot.  :D
·       What’s the best marketing tip that has worked for you?  I only started a business because of facebook.  I don’t know many people (again, I’m an introvert), but facebook is an incredibly powerful tool.  There’s a reason so many photographers are on there (sometimes all day, every day), and it’s not because of the quality of the photos we upload!  Tagging our photos spreads our work to such an extent that so many people can experience it.  Social media of all types…it all helps!  I blog and use facebook.
·       What’s the most surprising thing a customer has asked you?  Hmm..I just can’t come up with anything for this one!
·       Favorite print lab?  Color, Inc.

Your Gear
·       Are you Canon or Nikon (or –other):  Nikon
·       If you could only have one lens on a photo shoot, what would it be?  50mm
·       What brand bag do you carry your camera in?  Kelly Moore Kelly Boy.  I’m not really a girlie girl, so I loved this bag as soon as I saw it.  It’s heavy, but it carries all I need.
·       What gear would we find in your camera bag?  Nikon D700, Nikon D90 (back-up), 50mm, 85mm, 105mm macro, 35mm, speedlight, diffuser, various filters, batteries, memory cards, cleaning pen, model releases, mints, bug spray, powder and lipstick (for emergency use for clients).  I finally feel that I have a good selection of “necessary” lenses.  But there’s still more on my list!  ;)
·       Are you a natural light fan or strobe fan? Both!  I’ve mostly worked with natural light, but feel that in order to take my work to the next level I need to learn OCF.  I’m just starting, and it’s not easy, but I love a great challenge. 
·       Are you PC or Mac?  Mac.  I’ll never forget the look on my hubby’s face when he presented me with the Kelly Moore bag I requested for my birthday last year.  He then surprised me with a MacBook Pro.  His face was filled with such pride, it brought me to tears!  (He’s my biggest supporter!)  I of course knew that Macs are known for their graphics and such, but I was scared to death – what was he thinking?!  But I have to say that I learned it immediately (even more quickly than my Director of IT hubbyJ).  Macs are so intuitive – it all makes perfect sense.

Your Tips and Tricks

·       What post processing tools do you use? Adobe Bridge, Camera RAW and Photoshop CS3.  Lightroom is on my list for sure!
·       Do you shoot in Raw or Jpeg?  Always raw!  Once I started shooting raw, there was no looking back.  ;)
·       Best advice you would give your 20-year old self?  There is a reason for everything.  You may not understand it for a while, sometimes even years, but there is a reason! 
·       Best advice you would give a new photographer?  I’m still new, so this is just as much for myself as anyone else! Believe in yourself.  Take chances.  Open yourself to the possibilities. There are so many wonderful photographers out there who are willing to help.  Yes, it’s wonderful for your loved ones to tell you that you have talent and can do this.  That support is so amazing, and it drives us daily.  But when you open yourself to others in the field, you’ll find a different kind of support…a support that is validating.  While we all hear about the over-saturation of the market, blah blah blah, there are people who are as beautiful as their work, willing to help and encourage you.  When I get down or question myself, I think about some of the people I listed above who I admire.  They do amazing work, and several of them have taken the time to help ME, to encourage ME.  That means something – they see something in me.  And that warms my heart and encourages me when I truly need it!  Also, you don’t need to spend a lot of money in order to get started in the business.  I’ve been very fortunate to find lots of wonderful freebies and have never spent a penny on marketing templates or actions of any sort.  Put your money into education and gear!
·       What site do you use for your photography and why?  I currently use Blogger, but I’m looking to change things up after the first of the year.  That’s what the slow season is for, right?   I plan to move to Wordpress because I feel that their blogs are more professional looking.  When I started my blog I needed it to be free (along with everything else – I didn’t believe I could do this).  I think I did pretty well – I started with a template that I customized to my liking and have learned some coding along the way.  (Thank you Coffee Shop Rita!  She has amazing tutorials and freebies.)  I think I’m ready to take the next step.   I started a website using my Mac – did you know that you have stuff on your Mac to create a website?  My hubby is an IT guy, so of course we already had a domain.  But I want a blogsite – I prefer the simplicity, so I took down my website.  Blogs are what I always look for when looking at another photographer’s work.  I want to see their latest and greatest.  My work has changed a lot in the last year, and I hope it will always be improving!

What Else Should We Know?

·       What was your worst photography experience?  I can tell you that I have a REALLY hard time with mosquitoes!  I try to remember my bug spray in my camera bag, and things do not go well when I forget!  Oh, and once I found that there was a wedding being held at the garden where I planned a session, so it was closed.  I learned a valuable lesson that day – always call that particular garden to ensure they’re open.   This just happened at my last session – I dropped my camera…on the pavement…and the garden was packed with other photographers who saw it happen.  Gah…so embarrassing!  Thankfully my camera survived.  Don’t tell my hubby, ok?  I’m not exactly graceful!
·       What would surprise people most about you, whether it is photography related or not? As a child, one of the (many) things I wanted to be when I grew up was a photographer…for National Geographic.  (I don’t know how I thought that would work with a family!)  My first job was a costume girl at an old time photo shop at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, and I quickly moved to the position of photographer, which I had wanted all along.  
·       Tell us something else you’d like us to know:  
      I almost wasn’t “a mom who clicks”.  My husband and I tried for so many years to have a family.  I was depressed, looking for meaning for my life.  I had even reached a point when I lost faith.  My single most important dream, being a mother, had not come true.  My husband had helped to be sure all of my other dreams came true, but all I have ever wanted, more than everything else combined, was to be a mom.  I learned to cope when all of our attempts failed.  When we were building our dream home, my husband said that all we needed was to fill it with children.  What?!  Shortly after moving into our new home we started foster parenting classes, and we met our son on the last night of class.  That was 5 years ago, and we were finally able to adopt him last year. 

       I love this beautiful child we have been entrusted to care for.  I admire him and his beauty.  He’s had to endure so much in his little life.  And I of course wanted to capture the memories.  So for our twentieth wedding anniversary March 2010, I asked for a DSLR.  My hubby and son granted my wish, and it all snowballed from there – they couldn’t satisfy my need to photograph!  I started my business last fall, and had to upgrade my camera earlier this year.  I had done all I could with my D90, and it became my backup for the first wedding I was to shoot in May.  My husband, who thought that he didn’t want children, thanks me for believing in him and not            giving up on my dreams.  He is an awesome dad!  So please…never give up on your dreams!  It took lots of time, along with patience and belief, but I can tell you that all of my dreams have come true!

And just because we want to know you better, fill in the blanks

·       Three things I can’t live without….my family, my camera, and ­­­­­sleep!
·       I wish I had more…..time.  There never seems to be enough of it for everything – my son, my hubby, photography, sleep!
·       The best thing about being a photographer is…capturing memories.  We can never get time back, but I love being able to capture an image to preserve the memory.  I sometimes cry when I see the images that come from my camera.  I know that I’ve captured a memory to always be cherished.  And I love seeing beauty that others can’t necessarily find.  I find that to be a wonderful challenge!
·       The most important lesson I ever learned was….always believe and have faith.  Believe in yourself.  Believe in your loved ones.  Believe in your dreams.
·       My favorite time of day is…when my son gets off the bus, runs to me with a huge smile on his face, and hugs me.  The rest of the day pales in comparison!


  1. I really enjoyed this interview - I really connected with Michelle. Great work!


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