Friday Feature: Alexandra Grablewski

Alexandra Grablewski is one gifted photographer. Born in New York City, she kept true to her roots with an education in photography from NYU and continuing her photo love by assisting local photographers. It’s no surprise I’m not the only fan of her work… Alexandra is the Queen of books, having photographed over 30 books!

Yet, photography isn’t her only talent. Alexandra loves to sew, knit and use power tools (yes, power tools!)… which should come in handy with her current renovations on her soon-to-be Brooklyn home. (That’s where her picture was taken).

Alexandra’s portfolio has been on my link list since this blog started. If you are not already familiar with her work, you’ll now know why I’m such a fan.

Here is our interview, for you:

01. What equipment did you start with? What equipment do you use now?

I started out using mostly a Zone VI 4×5 field camera, mixed with a Mamiya RZ, and a Pentax 6×7 for location, but since switching to video I use a Mamiya 645 with a Phase One back, and carry a Canon 5D Mark II for back up and video. I am really thankful for the Mamiya 645–it was a much easier shift to digital being able to use a camera and lens that were originally used for film, and keep that same beautiful quality.
02. Do you prefer natural light or studio light?
I absolutely prefer natural light, but I do shoot strobe from time to time and really appreciate it when the days are shorter. However, my goal with studio light is always to duplicate natural light as much as possible.

03. Favorite project/book/shoot you’ve worked on?
That’s really hard to say, but maybe one of the best was when I got to travel to Thailand for month with Thai chef Su-Mei Yu to work on her cookbook The Elements Of Life. Not only was Su-Mei wonderful, but Thailand is so visually inspiring, and I got to see so much from the insider perspective that I would never would have had access to as a tourist.
04. On average, how much time does it take to shoot a book/cookbook?
A book usually takes anywhere from 3 days to a week…sometimes more… depending on the number of shots. I love working like this on one project for a few consecutive days.

05. Do you cook? What is your favorite dish?
I do like to cook but I’m somewhat challenged as I am vegetarian, and also allergic to mostly everything. My favorite things to make are desserts because I have a real sweet tooth, and the smell of baking cookies or a pie makes me very happy. However, none of that happens often enough.
06. What do you think makes a successful photo shoot?
I think harmony in a crew is really important, having prop and food stylists who you really click with visually, who you can be inspired by, and you just generally enjoy working with. With the right people you can make just about anything look good.
07. How do you make and keep clients?
I have been un-represented for some time now and I really believe that I work harder to promote myself than any agent I’ve had. It’s important to be really on top of it–I still send postcards 4 or 5 times a year, an occasional email blast when my website is updated, call to send in portfolios,…and it’s worked really well for me. As far as keeping clients…well, the work is always first–and the goal is to make the client happy, and maybe even surprise them with something better than they expected. But I also think that the general atmosphere on a shoot is really important, it’s a creative business, and we want to have a nice time. I want my clients to be comfortable, maybe listen to some good music, have a good lunch….and walk away feeling great about the shoot.
08. What/who inspires you and your work?
I think that light is what I get the most excited about and seeing how it falls on something or someone makes me want to photograph to preserve it. The first thing I do when shooting anything is to walk around it to see how the light changes from each angle until I find a highlight or a shadow that I can’t live without.
09. What are the biggest challenges in working with children? What are the advantages?
The advantage is that children are so spontaneous and unpredictable and most of the time when I get down to the edit it’s really fun to see what you’ve gotten. But sometimes a certain child is tired, or doesn’t want to do what you’re asking –and although it’s my responsibility to do the best I can to capture what the client needs, I have strong feelings about not wanting to torture anyone.
10. What is the most challenging thing to photograph?
I suppose a subject who is very uncomfortable with being in front of the camera, or a child who has crashed from eating too much sugar, or ice cream in a garden in 90+ degrees which is melting while bugs are landing in it. Really.
11. Are you friends with other photographers in your industry? Is there any competition?
I have a couple of friends who are photographers but we do very different types of work which makes it easy. I find that the exchange of information on technical things, new programs, new equipment etc is really helpful. I wish I had more actually, but it’s not easy to meet other photographers since we don’t ever end up working together. I do have many stylist friends however…

12. Do you think it is important to assist photographers before venturing out on your own?
Yes, I assisted a few still-life and food photographers and I really think that it was in many ways much more applicable to the business than what I was able to learn in class. At least for me it was a much more gratifying way to learn hands on, and a great way to get a good spectrum of how different artists work as everyone sort of develops their own methods.

13. If you could photograph anyone, who would it be?
I don’t have a celebrity or anyone that I’m dying to meet and shoot. I suppose if I could go back in time I would love to photograph some of my relatives like my grandparents because I have so few visual records of my extended family.

Thank you, Alexandra! Readers, please show your appreciation by leaving a comment!

21 Responses to “Friday Feature: Alexandra Grablewski”

  1. Asian Eddie

    First of all, awesome post and awesome pics as always.

    Secondly, how did the girl make her hair bun in pic #2? I’m looking for new ways to bun my hair.

  2. sinika

    Beautiful work Alexandra! I love the idea of photographing your grandparents if you could go back- such a lovely thought. :)

  3. christa elyce

    aw, nicole, great interview! I really like her. gosh, just one day for me. She has such wonderful photos! I just wanted to now. I’ll be coming to California in late february/early march. Can I help you out in anyway. I’d just like to watch you in the work.

  4. Kailee Higgins

    Wow gorgeous images. What a great interview. It really helps to learn how amazing photographers work and how they got started. I hope these features continue more often!

  5. ali

    Beautiful work. With the exception of the bun, nearly every image made me hungry, and not just for donuts. That baby!

  6. Alyssa

    I really enjoyed this Friday Feature! Wonderful interview with a wonderful photographer!
    Nicole, I think you and Alexandra have extremely similar styles and it’s clear you both have created some amazing photography!
    Thanks for the interview!

  7. Lila

    Awesome interview. I’m totally impressed that she can knit, sew, and used power tools. That’s a fete to be fought!
    Lila Ferraro

  8. Lo

    This was lovely! I am a new fan of her work, for sure!

    Loved the advice included. Great for any venture, I’d say.

  9. Jen

    I was a fan and didn’t know it. Love that bend the rules sewing book cover. All of her work is lovely.


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