Mary Brunst is a professional photographer based in Maryland. She specializes in portrait photography and does family, wedding, commercial, and advertising work. Mary has quickly become one of my all-time favorite photographers & I look up to her & her work so much. She has taken so much time to answer my questions, send resources my way, and encourage me in my own photography journey. It is clear that photography is absolutely her passion & she has such a heart for helping other photographers.
1. Tell us a little about yourself & your journey in photography?
When I was 15 years old I went to a workshop to learn faux painting (think marbling, wood graining, mural type of stuff) and my messy creative side absolutely loved it! A few years later I purchased my first dSLR camera to better photograph my faux painting for portfolio purposes. I had wild plans of building my own painting business. I’ve always enjoyed photography, but having a dSLR camera that gave me more creative control soon became more fun to me than painting.
To make a long story short I did become a business owner, just not the owner of a painting business. Instead, 6 years ago, I said goodbye to my painting career and attended Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, MT. Painting is so fun, but photography is my passion! I feel incredibly fortunate to be a story teller through the photographs that I make. To be invited into my client’s lives to document their most precious memories is a gift that I don’t take lightly.
If I had to describe myself to you, I would say that I’m a smile-loving adventurous soul, a messy perfectionist, big dreamer, and go-getter. Photography for me is a way to focus on what is good. Life is so short not to celebrate the good moments, to remember and cherish them. I think the best days are the ones that I get to document life as it happens, creating images that reflect real life in a genuine and uncontrived way.
I believe that no matter who we are, the life God gave each of us is precious, wonderful, and oh-so-fleeting! To quote Emily Dickinson “that it will never come again is what makes life sweet”, so I say lets grab a hold of it, live intentionally and adventurously, and ensure we remember those special moments along the way.
A few random facts about me: my awesome 10 year old Great Dane is named Kale, I have a love affair with the Rocky Mountains, I’ve been to 47 states, and my favorite people call me Aunt Meemes. I live west of Baltimore, but I love to travel and do so often!
2. Why Photography?
Photography forces us to slow down and take life in. To savor moments and value the people in our lives. For me, photography is a wonderful way to focus on what is good.
3. You do commercial photography as well as portraits and weddings. Will you explain what commercial photography is? How did you get into this type of photography? Do you have any suggestions for other photographers hoping to get into commercial photography someday?
Commercial photography is any photograph that isn’t used for personal use, but rather to sell, market, or advertise a product or service. I don’t do as much commercial photography as I would like to do, and hope to continue to grow this area of my business. I got into doing commercial photography simply by reaching out to small business owners and offering to collaborate with them. I’m fascinated by people’s stories, especially the stories of how their businesses work and what they do. Commercial photography for me is simply helping a business or company tell their story.
For any photographer looking to get into commercial photography I would recommend reaching out to other business owners and seeing how you might work together. If you don’t know already I would recommend that you educate yourself on copyright and how to license your images.
4. If you could suggest one lens to invest in, what would it be and why?
Hmm this is a tough one! This is very dependent on the work that you like to do and the style that you have! A good all around/every day lens is a 24-70mm f/2.8.
5. You have a session on your website that includes a stop at a brewery! I love this session, it’s beautiful! As a photographer, how do you set up for a session like this? How do you avoid getting other customers in your photos? Do you call the restaurant first or just go for it?
Thank you so much for your kind words! That was a favorite session of mine as well! I have learned that it is ALWAYS better to ask for permission before photographing on someone else’s property, regardless if it is a brewery, coffee shop, or a pretty field on the side of the road. People are often happy that you would like to use their property or place of business, and happy to accommodate you.
In the case of the Brewery, I simply called Brewer’s Alley and asked to speak to a manager. I explained that clients of mine often visited their brewery for dates and would love to have a few engagement pictures take there, and I asked if that would that be ok with them. I also am sure to always be incredibly respectful and aware of their other patrons, go at a time where the restaurant is the least busy, and make sure that they are inconvenienced as little as possible. In restaurant environments you want to do your best not to disturb anyone else’s meal, or to photograph the other customers in your image unless you have their permission.
After the photo session I’m sure to thank and tag the restaurant (or other business) in social media, and be sure to mention them if I blog the session. Generosity, kindness, and respect go a long way, and always make those things are the priority over “getting that perfect shot”. Your reputation will thank you later, and you will most likely get the best images in the long term because those places will WANT to work with you!
6. You hold DSLR workshops in your hometown, what do these look like and what do you teach?
I was so blessed to learn Ansel Adams’ Zone System while I was at RMSP from my teacher Neil Chaput, who learned the Zone System from Ansel Adams himself. While I do not pretend to be the amazing teacher that Neil is, I do believe that the principles and technical skills I have learned (both through my own school experience as well as working professionally for the past 5 years) can greatly help the photography community around me. So in the dSLR workshops that I host, I teach manual exposure and how to use the Zone System to find the perfect exposure consistently, using only your camera meter.
7. What is an image you are really proud of and why?
I’m really proud of the first image I included, the b&w of my niece and nephew being silly sitting next to each other on their living room chair. To me this image represents so much of the direction that I would like my work to continue to go. Photographing the candid moments in life that mean so much. The driving force behind my photography it to let people know that they are valued. To me this image tells that story.
8. How would you encourage a photographer who is struggling with knowing whether their photos are good enough? As a new photographer, how does one know if they are ready to go into business or if they should continue growing their skill a little more first?
I always think of the quote by Ira Glass –
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
I believe you should always feel some tension between where you are and where you want to be. To have the desire to keep growing and improving. Give yourself grace, enjoy the journey, and work hard. Everyone has to start somewhere, don’t wait until you feel like you’re “good enough”. Start your business when you know you can produce what the client is hiring you for…. on their standards, not yours, because you are always your worst critic. Don’t be afraid to accept a job because you don’t have everything figured out, you can figure some of it out on the way. I’m not saying don’t be prepared, but don’t be afraid to be out of your comfort zone either. Be brave, and again… give yourself grace, enjoy the journey, and work hard.
9. What is the best photography advice you’ve ever been given and/or what is advice you would give to a new photographer?
Keep photographing. Like anything you do, the more you practice the better you become! To borrow a quote from Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy – “If we get better our customers will demand we get bigger!”, so don’t worry so much about how many Instagram followers you have, or Facebook followers that you have. Focus solely on your goals, on getting better, and your audience will grow naturally.