Quinn Kirby of Quinn Kirby Photography: “Always make time to add to your creative compost bin”

Always make time to add to your creative compost bin. I was complaining to my partner one day about how I felt lazy. I was playing video games, watching television, and not much else. Not only did he tell me that what I was doing was important for my health, but it was also helping […]

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Always make time to add to your creative compost bin. I was complaining to my partner one day about how I felt lazy. I was playing video games, watching television, and not much else. Not only did he tell me that what I was doing was important for my health, but it was also helping develop my creativity. He said that everything we consume goes into our compost bin to be recycled into inspiration for our own work, whether we know it or not. It changed how I feel about rest.


As a part of my series about “5 Strategies To Take Stunning Photos” I had the pleasure of interviewing Quinn Kirby.

Quinn Kirby is the owner and founder of Quinn Kirby Photography in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Quinn is a creative for creatives and captures life as art. Quinn has won multiple photojournalism awards and has been featured on several websites for their editorial and portrait work, as well as a handful of gallery showings.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do, solely because there was so much I wanted to do. I wanted to be a firefighter, then I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast, then a singer/songwriter, an author, a screenwriter, a director.

Eventually, I realized I could connect to all of these things through photography. The one common thread in all of my interests growing up was that there was a human aspect to everything; pushing the limits of what the human body could do, exploring the human mind, bringing people together. I’m an introvert, but I’m an introvert who loves people, and that’s why I belong behind a camera. Through my art, I’m able to connect to people and present them as their best selves.

Photography gave me the ability to blend all of the passions I’ve ever had into one.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Back in 2018, someone reached out to me on Instagram requesting a photo shoot for her modeling portfolio. Little did either of us know, that message was the beginning of a beautiful, creative friendship. I ended up working with Janeigha Cummings multiple times over the course of a year and a half and created some of my best work at the time. She grew her influence as a model and walked in New York Fashion Week 2020. In the time since, we’ve both graduated college and grown apart, but I’ll always be proud of her and the work we created together.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, this isn’t so much a “mistake” as it is a mindset I had up until my junior year of college. Even though the prefix “photo” means “relating to light,” I didn’t think of light as integral to photography. I knew it was necessary, but I didn’t recognize that knowing how to manipulate light — natural and/or artificial — separates amateurs from professionals. Ever since that clicked, I’ve been intentionally using natural light to shape my images and improving my artificial lighting skills.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are two aspects of my business I get recognition for most often. The first is how intimately I get to know my clients and our shared vision. Weeks before a client’s shoot, I’ll either meet with them in person or over video chat to discuss details of the session. We’re talking location, lighting, props, styling, mood, etc. I then take this information and create a concept board for my client. This helps solidify that we’re on the same page, and I encourage folks to share their board on social media to get their audience excited for what we create.

During these consultations, I take time to delve into general conversation with each client just to get to know them better. This helps me feel for what sort of posing direction they’ll respond to and connects us as people. I don’t ever want to go into a session feeling like I don’t know my client and I wouldn’t want my client to feel like they don’t know me. Photography is inherently intimate, and for that reason there needs to be a connection between the photographer and subject or the subject’s lack of comfort and confidence will show in the final images.

I’ve also been recognized for how my values support my vision. As a non-binary creator, I feel it’s important to support intersectional liberation both within my business and in my free time. With my photography, this means knowing how to light the spectrum of skin tones in flattering ways, being able to photograph different body types, understanding the cultural relevance and importance of different jewelries and styles, and — again — connecting with people so their comfort and confidence shines. Because of this, I’ve had people tell me they chose to book with me because they know I’ll photograph them in a way that aligns with how they show up in the world. Being trusted with that feels incredible.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Take photos for fun. Yes, yes, I know, you’re already doing what you love and every shoot you do is fun. I don’t doubt you, for a second. In fact, I’m the same way. However, spontaneity is the elixir of life, baby. Go on a walk and photograph what you see. Call up a friend and do an impromptu photo shoot. If spontaneity isn’t your thing, brainstorm a more stylized or conceptual shoot than you’re used to and gift it to someone or send a time for prints request to a local modeling agency. Getting paid to do what you love is amazing, but keeping the love alive is important, too. Remember why you started and reconnect to what made you fall in love with photography in the first place.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Oh, yes. I had some wonderful professors in college. Kent Miller, my photojournalism professor, always kept morale high while being honest about what my work could use to improve; Kris Sanford, who gave me my first-ever C-grade on a project and helps me connect with important information to this day; and Al Wildley, my capstone professor who worked with me individually over the course of a semester to help me create some of the best artwork I’ve ever made.

However, what I currently appreciate the most is the help my father has given me in regard to business advice. He’s been an invaluable resource and it’s a privilege to have that resource at my fingertips. He’s connected me to my accountant, given me advice on what to do and what not to do when filing for my LLC, given me organization tips, and more. It’s been a bonding experience, and I’m thankful my business has provided us that opportunity.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

This may come as a sad surprise for my Michigan pals and clientele, but… I’m moving to St. Louis in 2022! Now, this comes with the qualifier that I recently applied to a photography position in Michigan. I have high hopes for the opportunity, so if I’m hired on, I’ll be staying around. If not, however, I’m off to Missouri! It will be interesting (read: stressful) to reorganize my business in a different state, but I’m excited to meet the photography community in the area and grow into all aspects of myself within that space.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As mentioned above, I volunteer in my community by providing photo coverage at certain events, protests, celebrations and the like. I try to keep pretty low key about posting the images or having my name attached to them when they’re posted by the organizations I volunteer with. While I’m proud of the images I create, I don’t want to be distracting from the movement by plastering my name everywhere. Volunteering with these movements in aspects separate from photo work helps me better understand the nuance of the various contexts in which they exist and allows me to develop relationships with people. This helps me, when the time comes, to create images in a way that is authentic and safe for the organizers.

Photographs are key to storytelling and connecting to people. By showcasing the work that’s being done, images call on everyone who sees them to understand how important it is to support the people organizing change.

Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please cite an example for each.

  1. Know your equipment. It’s true when photographers say equipment doesn’t matter. Skill does. Award-winning films have been shot on iPhone. Get to know the features of your equipment; its limitations, its strengths, and then meet it where it’s at. My main camera body, a Canon 6D Mark II, has an incredible autofocus system to work with, but if I didn’t know how to use it to my advantage, I’d have images that come out having focus in weird places.
  2. Know your software. Whether you’re editing in free web software or Adobe Creative Cloud, explore what different combinations of features do. It wasn’t until right before I launched my business that I discovered Lightroom’s color calibration window, and that took my toning to new heights.
  3. Know the exposure triangle. For folks shooting with DSLR or mirrorless camera bodies, shooting manual will give you so much more control over your images. Here’s the basics: lower ISO will create images with less noise, higher shutter speed freezes movement, and aperture affects depth of field. All three affect the exposure of your image. Using these three elements together in different combinations will allow you to create photos that better reflect your vision.
  4. Know your subject(s). This one is moreso a tip for folks who photograph people. I’ll bring it back to my philosophy — care about your subject. Like, really care. If the person you’re photographing is a friend, this is easy. But if you’re photographing someone you don’t know, talk to them. Get in their head a bit. I promise you, even if you struggle to relate to someone, you can find something interesting about them and use that newfound intimacy to create beautiful images.
  5. Always make time to add to your creative compost bin. I was complaining to my partner one day about how I felt lazy. I was playing video games, watching television, and not much else. Not only did he tell me that what I was doing was important for my health, but it was also helping develop my creativity. He said that everything we consume goes into our compost bin to be recycled into inspiration for our own work, whether we know it or not. It changed how I feel about rest.

What have you done to add to your compost bin, lately?

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The best thing anyone can do right now is begin a personal movement of sustainable self-education. Do the research to make sure the organizations you’re interested in are really doing what they say they’re doing, and once you’ve found a worthy cause, put your energy into it. The more people we have backing existing movements, the faster we will create change. This involvement can be on the ground or behind the scenes depending on individual ability.

That being said: if there’s an issue that isn’t being addressed, begin that movement, or localize a movement to where you live to make change closer to home!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can keep up with me on social media at @QuinnKPhoto on all platforms or view my portfolio at QuinnKPhoto.com!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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