Photography / Tips and Solutions

9 Tips for New Beginnings, with Tom Griscom


In a conversation with B&H, Tom Griscom, an editorial portrait and advertising photographer and educator, talked about new beginnings. Recently, he returned to Atlanta, Georgia, and has found that coming home has been a fantastic opportunity for photography and growth.

Adding to his educational resume, Griscom has two workshops scheduled for 2016, at the School of Visual Arts, in New York City: Small Bag, Big Look: Editorial/Location Workshop and Digital Black-and-White Photography.

Photographs © Tom Griscom

What are some of the things Griscom has learned from his move back to the South after years in New York and San Francisco?

1. Re-exploring. Griscom says, “Right now I am exploring a whole new community in Atlanta. It is interesting because Atlanta is both new and old to me. Old in that I spent a lot of formative years here; I live down the street from where I got my first tattoo 20 years ago and where I saw concerts.”


2. Reconnecting. “Many old friends from college moved here and are doing rad things—for instance, my friend Tim Moxley of #WELOVEATL. What is new is the fact that Atlanta, and the South in general, has changed A LOT in the almost 20 years that I have been gone. There is such a vibrant art scene that is of the DIY ethos,” he says.

3. New challenges. “Biggest obstacle is definitely staying on top of the marketing. That is a full-time job unto itself. But I have recognized that and have relinquished it to an outside marketing firm. Going forward, I felt a fresh set of eyes and creative input from others was important for me to be able to keep growing as a photographer.”


4. Independence. Like many, Griscom had a day job that ended when the economy crashed. He set off on his own. “That moment [leaving his job] was pretty pivotal, as I knew that I was done working for someone else. The job was a necessary evil, or so I thought at the time; it left me realizing that I could just keep coasting on my back-up plan or go out on my own.”

5. Engage in your own projects. “I self-assign all the time. People in the arts are a never-ending source of inspiration, and great for collaboration. So when I am looking to either add to the portfolio or do something as a personal project, I usually seek out musicians and artists. But sometimes I just grab the Fuji and walk out the door with no real plan except to just go see what’s out there.”


6. Stay fresh. Griscom recommends starting “a new body of work a year. Louis CK talks about scrapping his act each year and starting a new one. George Carlin did the same thing. This is important because the fear of starting over is a great motivator. Staying fresh is hard; digital photography has made everything look so damn perfect; it is tough to not take a technically great picture. So content and the voice one brings to it is the real challenge in the digital age.”

7. You are part of every image you take. “I feel that as a portrait photographer, you see a whole lot more about you than you do about your subjects in your work. For environmental work, the location is part of the story, and choosing one that works has a lot to do [with] the picture [being] successful or not. But once you are there or in the studio, your personality is going to be reflected back by your subject. If you are wicked awkward, it will show. And you know what? That is fine as long as you own it. By nature, I am a pretty chatty guy, so I enjoy the interaction during a shoot.”


8. Plan. “I am a planner, so I like to know where I am going, have the shots planned in my head and have researched the subject prior, if I can. It makes it far easier to deviate from the plan if you actually have one,” says Griscom.

9. Aspire to inspire. “This is kind of an inspiration for all time, but Frank Ockenfels has had an immense influence on me. Beyond the work, which I love, he is an inspiration in that I would hang his work in my place. Commercial photography is a dirty word in certain circles, but I think Ockenfels creates work that walks the line between the gallery and the magazine page. I aspire to do the same thing with my own work.”