Blaine County Beacon: Finding Satisfaction in Photography


April 21, 2021

Although Gracie Warburton won't graduate from Chinook High School until 2022, she has launched her own photography business, Big Sky Photography Studios. She was motivated to turn what started as a hobby into a business because she wishes to make a better life for herself and doesn't want to be "stuck" doing something in her life that doesn't bring her satisfaction.

Warburton began taking pictures while she was in the fifth grade after she received her first phone as a Christmas gift from her parents, Nick and Kelly (Mereness) Warburton. However, she didn't consider photography an occupation until she obtained her first "actual camera" and realized the extent of its power and flexibility. "Photography for me is more than just taking pictures; it's a way to capture what I want to remember forever. I want to give that memory record to others," she said.

Dabbling in everything from portraits to advertising, Warburton doesn't specialize in any one area, such as portraits, landscapes, or still life. She claims a love for them all. Handling that diversity requires an assortment of lenses.

She currently operates two Canon cameras with a 50mm lens for portraits. That lens enables Warburton to achieve sharp portrait pictures while blurring the background. When she needs a wider angle, she applies an 18-55mm lens. For nature shots, she attaches a 55- 250mm lens; and for action and zoom shots, the 70 -300mm fits her needs. Warburton also invested in a Nikon d750 that she will start using when she learns all of its settings and functions.

In order to build her skill, Warburton is currently working under a professional photographer in Havre, Bri Cote, whom she considers one of her mentors.

She met Cote during a photo shoot of Warburton and her siblings. While visiting, Cote discovered Warburton's interest in photography. After seeing the teen's work, she invited Warburton to become a second shooter for her.

From Cote, Warburton has gained several valuable tips for how to build a social media platform, how to edit in different styles without over-editing, and how to deal with those who are camera shy.

"Bri has also taught me ways to handle posing situations during a shoot and has helped me a lot with manual settings on my camera to get a certain style of picture."

The aspect of business ownership that has most surprised Warburton is the overwhelming support she has received. "Owning a business is challenging, but the part that has surprised me the most is how supportive everyone has been. My family has been my biggest support, and I couldn't ask for anything more."

According to this high school junior, the greatest challenge has been learning where to start and what to prioritize. "Because photography is such a broad subject, there are lots of learning curves and challenges that come at me that I don't always know how to handle. Some of the other challenges would be getting knocked down and getting back up."

As an illustration, Warburton shared what she calls "a very embarrassing moment" but one of her biggest wake up calls that changed how she conducts business.

"When I was first starting out, I was doing a shoot of a family, and after we had gotten half way through, I realized I didn't have a sim card in my camera, so no pictures were saved! I was mortified that I didn't double check to make sure I was ready, and from that day forward, I prepared a checklist that I run through before I leave my house and the moment I arrive at a shoot to keep from repeating that mistake."

Because Warburton wants her work to represent the best she knows she's capable of, whenever she feels temporarily defeated while struggling to get a specific picture for a client, she offers to redo that section of the session for free in order to achieve quality.

One of the shoots in which Warburton takes special pride occurred during a senior session for a local high school graduate. By taking her time and playing with settings, Warburton was able to turn her camera around and show the client several images on the spot before any editing. "That was the best feeling because I realized that my confidence and excitement for my work were increasing."

Warburton's future plans include taking business classes beyond the online courses that she has already completed, enrolling in photography courses, and engaging in additional mentoring options to improve her photography. Eventually, she hopes to open her own boutique where she will conduct photo shoots and sell Montana made products. She also wants to travel, move into her own home, and continue to grow her business.

When asked what advice, experience, or tidbit of wisdom about business ownership she would like to share with others, she responded: "When opening a business, don't try to do everything all at once. Start by making a list of things to accomplish in a reasonable time, don't stretch yourself too thin, set yourself up for success, develop a good understanding of your equipment and how to use it, and-this last one is key-really learn what you are doing before you turn it into a business."

Other interests that monopolize her time when she's not focused on photography include spending time with her family or baking with her mom. Furthermore, as a "dog mom," Warburton enjoys endless hours spent with her "fur babies." She also takes an interest in kayaking, fishing, hunting, driving the Bears Paw Mountains, and lying in bed while binge watching movies. She named The Fast and Furious as her all-time favorite movie and listed Heartland and Criminal Minds as two of her favorite shows.


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