Photographer Michelle Grenier says she’s devoted a significant amount of time to mastering her Canon 5D, but at the end of the day, she really prefers shooting with her iPhone.
Michelle Grenier grew up in an artistic and musical family and studied art history in college, but her early professional career consisted primarily of office work. In an effort to reincorporate creative pursuits into her daily life, she made a career change and started working in documentary filmmaking doing archival research and visual acquisitions, collecting footage clips and still images for films with numerous montage sequences. She worked on a PBS show called Journey of the Universe and later worked on a feature-length film called Samsara. “It was purely visual—a feature-length montage with music,” Michelle says.
In January of 2012, Michelle got a new iPhone 4S and very quickly realized that it was possible to create her own beautiful images. “I’d spent years collecting other people’s work—I’d look at hundreds or thousands of images every day—it was incredibly exciting and refreshing to be able to make my own work,” she says. “I’d been living in front of a screen. To be able to get outside, spend time in nature exploring, and creating beautiful shots—it was really balancing and fun.”
The same month Michelle got her 4S, she went to her first Instagram meet-up where she was introduced to Cole Rise and Michael O’Neal, two influential Instagram photographers. “Cole Rise created most of the Instagram filters, including ‘Rise,’ which is named after him,” says Michelle. “He’s an iPhone photography pioneer, always on the cutting edge exploring the newest and coolest technology around the medium.”
Michael O’Neal is one of the most popular photographers on Instagram, as well as a community organizer. He organized a groundbreaking iPhone photography portrait exhibition called 100-50-1—the name stands for 100 portraits, 50 photographers, one camera. The exhibition held at The New Black in San Francisco was attended by some 600 Instagram users from all over the country and included one of the largest InstaMeets ever. All proceeds from the event were donated to 100cameras, a nonprofit that seeks to empower kids to create change in their communities through photography.
“I was very lucky to meet both of them right off bat. Michael O’Neal was my one hundredth follower—they were both real supporters of my work.” Shortly thereafter, Michelle ended up on the Instagram “Suggested Users” list.
She says the best part of being part of the Instagram community is how many other talented people she’s had the good fortune to become close friends with. “Very quickly it became a big part of my life and lifestyle,” she says. “The social dimension of photography and the community of photographers in the Bay Area is something that I really love to connect my students to as well.”
Herewith, nine questions with Michelle Grenier: iPhone photographer, nature lover, and seeker of beauty in everyday life.
TIF: What interests you about photography?
MG: At the heart of it, it’s about appreciating this world and being able to share it. There’s something very uplifting about seeking out beauty and being able to document it. Having the ability to capture a moment and not only have it for posterity, but to be able to connect with others about a shared experience of beauty.
How did you find your niche?
It really stems from my love of nature and exploring. My favorite things to photograph are ephemeral and fleeting—clouds, weather, water, waves, birds. It’s the thrill of capturing something that only exists for a moment. I’ve been called a “bird whisperer” and a “wave whisperer.” I have a hashtag series for each subject: #michie_birds and #michie_waves.
How do you know when you’re in the moment?
Sometimes my favorite shots have been ones that I’ve literally had to run to catch. I feel a certain instinct, and there’s a thrill that I feel when I catch something special. I think the best work comes out of spontaneity and a passion for your surroundings.
Do you use the standard camera app?
For shooting I use the native camera and I use apps to edit. Snapseed is one of the most comprehensive editing apps and it’s one that’s been around for a long time, so it’s well-established and well-developed. It’s definitely one of the primary go-to apps for most iPhone photographers.
What do you look for in lighting?
Getting the right exposure with a phone camera can be tricky, but I’ve found subtle ways of working with the native camera and adjusting the exposure through tapping different parts of the screen. I use things like HDR and knowing how to enhance the light in editing is helpful. I’m inspired by certain weather conditions, so I kind of look for special light. I am a huge fan of golden hour. Probably 90% of what I’ve put on Instagram is from the hour around sunset. The iPhone camera tone can be a little cold, but there’s a warmth that comes through in golden hour that offers a lot of beauty and magic.
What do you like about Instagram?
Instagram is such a novel social media platform in that it really encourages in-person connections and meet-ups. I’ve met so many people with very diverse lifestyles and backgrounds through the Instagram community. What they all have in common is a passion for photography—it’s an amazing common ground. It’s a genuine and very supportive community. It’s allowed a lot of people to flourish, people who have gone from no photography background to becoming professional photographers and even quitting their day jobs—all through Instagram.
Who do you follow?
I follow most of the main photographers and people who are really interested in iPhone photography and the art of photography. I’m interested in all different facets of the medium: portraits, kids, pets, wildlife, landscapes, urban cityscapes, architecture. I also follow people that I personally like. It’s not always about having stunning photography, some people are just great people and it’s a joy to be in touch with their worlds.
What led you to begin teaching?
Stuart’s son Taylor happened to follow me on Instagram. The Image Flow had an interest in iPhone photography and Taylor recommended that they reach out to me. I’d never taught before, but right from my first class I absolutely loved it! It’s given me a chance to take stock of all the tips and tricks that I’ve discovered along the way and I’ve put together an guidebook that outlines it all, which I give to my students as well as a comprehensive list of all my favorite places to shoot.
iPhone 6, or 6+?
I would say 6. I haven’t upgraded yet, I have a 5S, but I’m sure I’ll upgrade within the next six months. It’s all about that camera!
Michelle Grenier’s next iPhone photography workshop starts April 16. Sign up today!