We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Graston and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephanie, what is the most important factor behind your success?
Finding the right mentor. When I was in school for photography, I wanted to be a fashion photographer. So when I was done with school, I worked in NYC for a fashion photographer and got my feet wet out there. But I never felt that I fit in that world. I learned the commercial side of the industry and loved it. When I came back to Colorado to raise my family, I needed to decide where I fit. I didn’t need models to be my clients, I wanted to help people feel beautiful, no matter how they came to me. I mostly photograph women, I always have.. and I have always had a lot of self judgement, I think that’s something a lot of people, especially women struggle with. I create a safe space in my studio where my clients can let go, be themselves and as many have told me, they feel so comfortable in my studio with me. My clients cry with me, they laugh with me, they hug me when I need a moment.. Finding the right mentor was key in all of this.. She helped me work through my own self value, seeing the value in what I did and who I am, not from a business perspective per se, but from a connection perspective. One of my favorite things in what I do is learning about my clients and making their world light up with photographs of themselves. I know what its like to not always feel beautiful and I want to help women see their beauty through a different lens.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Please tell us more about your art.
I started as a boudoir photographer. Even in college, I loved the human form, I was inspired by Ruth Bernhard’s work and how she played with light. In photography school in California, I loved learning about light and color. When I was done with school, I moved to New York and worked for a fashion photographer then as a photo retoucher for high-end websites. But I really found my special place with my mentor, Sue Bryce; bringing fashion, glamour and beauty to the table as a contemporary portrait photographer.
We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about.
I think knowing how light works coupled with getting it right in camera and knowing your limits in the post production process are key elements in bringing the right recipe to the table. Being a Pueblo Native, with California and New York training really put me closer to understanding the bigger market and bringing my hometown into that world. Not too many people realize that they don’t have to head to Denver or Colorado Springs to get magazine style photoshoots or high-end portrait photography. I was the first in Pueblo for Contemporary Portraits. A few others are starting to brand that way as well, so I hope that our local community sees the beautiful growth in the industry in their own back yard!
How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges?
I had a lot of help along the way to get where I am today. A lot of it was believing in myself, and connecting with people that believed in me and wanted me to succeed alongside them. A local photographer, now friend, allowed me to use her studio space when she wasn’t using it. She guided me with some business tips and lots of love and support. One day after I met with a client at my friends’ studio, I noticed a “for rent” sign and called, they showed me a couple of locations and I settled into a fixer-upper that I gave a complete makeover to and opened in January 2020. Even with the pandemic and a new brick and mortar, I made it work, having my own space instilled a new confidence in me and my business did well. There were always challenges.. but not problems.. Seeing it from the perspective of finding solutions to challenging situations can be easier to overcome. I do that in my client work as well, they always have “problems” that concern them when it comes to taking their photograph, I help them see a different way of thinking about it and they are always delighted with the outcome. Sometimes it helps just having a fresh look on it.
What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way.
I learned that its ok to fail, its how and what you learn from it that matters. And I learned that its important to jump feet first sometimes.. I’ve been blessed to land on my feet.. even if it tough to get there, I somehow always make it work.
What do I want the world to know about me or my brand story?
When I was little, I used to dress up my stuffed animals in my parents clothes and take pictures of them on my mom’s little 35 mm camera. those were the first steps brewing into my future as a photographer. But I didn’t always know it. I didn’t start college until I was 22 before I went to school for photography and I struggled a bit. I had undiagnosed ADHD and it was hard for me to focus. The follow through and the shifting from one thing to another made it really tough for me to keep me interested long enough to make something stick. I fell pretty hard into depression and took a while to come out, I really had no idea what to do with my life or where I was going. Summer of 2014 I found out I was expecting a child. My daughter, who is now 6, was a big factor of me becoming a full-time photographer. As a single parent, I wanted something that was flexible and I was determined to finally make a career for myself in what I went to school for despite being that it would be hard and that there really wasn’t a market for it here. Recently, I had a set of clients who were all referrals from one client and they all said the same thing “you saw ME”
People need to be seen and heard, I have lived all over the US, I am a minority woman, a single parent, and struggle with self-image and value every day. Working on my own healing is a key that helps me stay connected to clients. My neuro-divergent mind finds stimulation from the unique beauty in each person’s session. I leave them feeling good and loving the new version of themselves. It was hiding behind whatever negativity they’d been telling themselves for so long. I aim to empower through photographs and uplift women to see themselves, the way their children see them, the way their partner or friends see them. The world sure is a more beautiful place when more people can see their own beauty and reverberate that to those around them, helping continue the cycle of self-empowerment through photographs.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Every week Gregory Howell hosts this incredible series called “The Dig” It’s a series that gives you an incredible history of Pueblo with a new theme each week. – If there were any availability, we would totally ask him about the tours at the Watertower place, once the old meat packing plant (alpha beta), now office spaces, event space and more up and coming in the historic grove, not far from the Blo Back Gallery. We would get some awesome local Pueblo Chile from the farm and roast it out on the picnic areas at the Pueblo Reservoir (AKA Lake Pueblo) and enjoy the beautiful sunshine near the water where we can rent some jet skis!
Checking out the walkover bridge near 4th street would be key, it goes right over the kayak park and to the levee side where you can see muralists making plans for the artistic revamp of what was once certified in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest painting in the world, The Pueblo Levee Mural Project.
I would take them to Taffy’s in the Mesa Junction for some amazing candy, popcorn, ice cream, etc.
Union Avenue Antique shops are always fun to stop in and it leads right down to the Pueblo River walk where you can see lots of people getting some exercise and enjoying the cool evenings in the summertime.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My fellow photography community. From local to far away and all the way across the world, I couldn’t have done things without the love and support from Mirranda (newborn and Maternity) and Malissa(weddings), Photographers here in Colorado and my friends Oren and Mona (both contemporary photographers) from my mentor group: Sue Bryce Education. These individuals, along with my mentor Sue Bryce and so many others from her community really lift me up, and help me grow and move forward in my craft. Its invaluable having people you can trust in your field who you can bounce things off of. Last but not least, my parents. Dad has supported my crazy ideas with love and sometimes tough love, but a fresh perspective always and mom who has spent countless hours watching my young children day in and day out while I grow my brand. I am blessed to have many others as well that support, love, and encourage me to follow my dream.
Other: Current Campaign empowering Women 40 and beyond: https://jeangrastonphotography.com/current-projects/40-over-40/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/JGPGlamGroup (group for female clients to connect and uplift one another in a safe space, we share memes. have giveaways, share my boudoir work and have fun!
Jean Graston Photography