We're joined this week by outdoor photographer Gritchelle Fallesgon! Gritchelle talks about what makes a great photo, why photographing women of color getting rad in the outdoors is her jam, and the less sexy side of photography people don't talk about. Gritchelle is a talented artist and wonderful person to boot!
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Iris: Hello podcast friends. This is Iris from WHEELIE, back with another episode of Outside by Design. Hope you all are doing well and enjoying the summer that seems to be just flying by. Today on the show we are joined by the incredible Gritchelle Fallesgon. She is an outdoor and adventure photographer based out of Portland, Oregon. And she also used to be a graphic designer and is well versed in portrait and studio photography as well. So Gritchelle has an amazing eye. You should view her work by checking out those show notes.
And she joins us to talk about what makes a great photo, her purpose in being a photographer, how she discovered athletics and her inner athlete that she didn't know was there, and the side of photography that people don't talk about as much, the less sexy side of photography. So Gritchelle is an incredibly talented photographer. And overall just a very fun person and I hope you enjoy this episode.
Lisa: Gritchelle, thank you so much for being here on the podcast today and, yeah, I've been looking forward to talking to you all week.
Gritchelle: Thanks. Thanks for having me. I'm super stoked to be here. I've never done a podcast before, so I'm really excited.
Lisa: Oh, yeah. It's pretty fun. Very low pressure. And I think our audience is highly supportive.
So the first question we ask everyone is to describe where you are in the world and what you are looking at.
Gritchelle: I am in my home studio right now. I'm looking at the tree in front of my house and I think it's called a peanut tree. I'm not sure. ‘Cause it smells like peanut butter, but it's not... it doesn't grow peanuts or anything. And then behind that are like the houses across the street. So it's a nice sunny day. Blue skies. Summer in Portland.
Lisa: Nice. I'm sitting in our conference room in Whitefish, Montana, and there's construction going on across the street. And of course, like as soon as I sit down to record a podcast, the guy picks up a hammer over there. Hopefully it's not too loud, but.
Gritchelle: Actually I can't hear it. So you're good.
Lisa: Perfect. Perfect. I'm excited to talk to you because you are a photographer and you work in bike a lot and your work is incredibly bright. So, yeah, I'm very excited to just talk to you about photography.
Gritchelle: Cool. Yay!
Lisa: So let's just start with the story of you. How did you end up... where are you from and how'd you end up as a photographer in Portland?
Gritchelle: So I grew up in Stockton, California, and I moved to San Francisco around… when I was like around 23. It was just like one of those things where I just, I had to get out of my hometown. ‘Cause I knew it wasn't like going to go anywhere if I stayed. So that's where I grew up, and San Francisco is where I lived for a very long time before I moved to Portland.
In terms of photography, I've always been... like as a little kid I always had like a point and shoot camera, like a disposable camera or just like some, you know, just cheap little film camera. And I was always documenting everything around me. So, you know, it was just something fun that I did and I loved.
So in high school I wanted to be a photographer and I had looked into going to colleges, focusing on photography, but after like, really thinking about it, I was like, I don't think this is going to work. Like, how do I... how am I going to make money as a photographer? And at the time I didn't really know, like, anyone in my community that did that. So like the idea of becoming a photographer and like making a living out of it, just didn't seem attainable. So then around that time, I discovered the concept of graphic design and I was like, Oh, this sounds cool. Like, it's creative. I get to still like work with photos and layout and all these things. It will be great.
So I became a graphic designer and did that for a really, really long time. And, and while I did that, I was still shooting photos, you know, for fun and then like, on the side. a lot of the places that I worked at as a graphic designer, they were like, “Oh, you know how to shoot photos? Like, can you take pictures for us?” So like, I was still creating images, even though, like, I was a graphic designer. And I don't know, a few years ago, like, I just wasn't happy being a graphic designer, and so I just decided maybe it's time for me to pursue photography. I had already been kind of doing it on the side and freelancing, maybe there is a chance.
So, yeah, shortly after we moved - my husband and I moved to Portland, Oregon - I was working at this little tiny design agency and... I don't know, after a year or two being there, I was like, no, I gotta just like pursue this thing that I love. And yeah, here I am today. That's kind of the quick gist of it.
Lisa: I think your work is so unique. Um, I love your photography. So I see a big delineation in your work between kind of action photos and portrait photography. And so maybe we'll tackle each of these separately, but in your mind, what makes a great photo?
Gritchelle: Oh, definitely the person who's in it. So that's like, like one aspect, but then also like, the lighting and the story that's happening. And, you know, I tend to like... I gravitate towards like bright colors for some reason, even though I typically wear a lot of black. But I love color. And so even like if I'm out in the woods or somewhere like in nature, I just try to have as much color as possible. If that makes any sense. I don’t know. It's just like person and like, color for some reason.
Lisa: I mean, you have some landscape photography on your website, but it's largely still humans in nature.
Gritchelle: Yeah. When I was, you know, in the beginning of the stages of pursuing photography, you know, I was like taking these like business classes and it was like, what's your goal? What do you want to do? All this stuff. And like, one of my big goals with photography was like… what I wanted to photograph was people, specifically women and women of color getting rad in the outdoors. So I just want to showcase like - especially women of color - having fun and just getting rad outside because like that's who I am. And like, I just kind of want to spread that joy to other people too. And so, yeah, I kind of just kind of focus on that, I guess. And I know that with cycling, it can be tough and hard, and I think it's important to like document those images too. But like, but number one, I just want to like make adventuring, especially like cycling, like I guess, approachable. And it doesn't have to be like super gnarly and race-based and like a struggle. It could just be like going out in the woods and having fun on your bicycle or like, you know, or walking or hiking or whatever.
Lisa: Yes. I love the opening image on your website of the woman with the touring bike. And she's like doing the Superman move.
Gritchelle: Yeah. Yeah. That's my friend Rie.
Lisa: She looks fun.
Gritchelle: Yeah. She's totally fun.
Lisa: I think she should be my friend. [laughs] So yeah, you're definitely accomplishing that mission of people having fun outside, capturing that and what that looks like to everyone. And I love that your, your work focuses on women of color. And why is that important to you?
Gritchelle: So I'm Filipina and like growing up, I never saw myself in anything, like from media, television, magazines, fashion. And then when I got into sports or specifically bicycles, I definitely didn't see myself in it. So I understand why representation matters. And so like, it's just so important to like, for me, it's just so important for me to showcase all sorts of different people having fun, because I know what it's like to not see yourself. And I want other people to see themselves and say, “Hey, that girl looks like me. Like, I want to do that too.” You know?
Lisa: Yeah. And brands are receptive to that more than ever.
Lisa: You know, which I'm loving. And... Okay. So like my agency is called Wheelie. So obviously we've got a thing for bikes over here. I'm very, very excited to kind of talk to you, like what, what is it for you about bicycles that resonates?
Gritchelle: Yeah. So, okay. I didn't grow up athletic at all, and I had always struggled with fitness and like being active. And when I started riding a bike in San Francisco, as a way to commute, everything, just changed. Like, I don't know. There, there was just something... I hate saying this, but there's something kind of magical while riding a bike to and fro, and especially in a place like San Francisco, that's like super hilly. Like, it can look really intimidating. But then once you just start pedaling uphill, like I just felt like I can do anything from there.
And like, you know, riding a bike is way faster than walking and it's faster than public transportation, especially like in a big city like San Francisco. And so yeah, just being able to peddle around and yeah, I get myself to and fro, I don't know, it just really changed everything.
And then once I transitioned from like, commuter to sort of like, you know, the sporty cyclist or whatever, I just discovered this whole other person in me that I didn't know existed. Like the sort of inner athlete. And like, it was just so cool. I just started like, you know, doing all these long road rides and then started climbing all these big mountains and Hills. And it was like, wow. Like, I just like... you know, when you're looking at this mountain from afar, it's like, “Oh, that looks so huge.” But then you just start pedaling it and you get to the top and you're like, “Holy crap. I just like peddled up this mountain. And like, now I feel like I could do anything.” I don't know. It just feels different when you do it on a bike, as opposed to like hiking, if that makes any sense.
But yeah, so with bikes, I just, like, I gained a lot of confidence. From cycling.
Lisa: I absolutely love what you said about like, the inner athlete that you didn't know existed.
Lisa: What, like, how did you know, like when did you first start seeing that version of yourself kind of popping through?
Gritchelle: I think when I started… started getting interested in doing long bike rides and wearing Lycra. ‘Cause I use this, see those people and be like, “Oh, that's never going to be me.” And then I started doing it. I'm like, “Oh, here I am wearing like spandex.” And like I'm out there. You know, I'm out in the Headlands, which is like... it's in San Francisco. There I am, like, riding up Hawk Hill, in spandex on a bicycle and I'm like, “Oh, does this mean I'm an athlete now?” I don't know. Yeah. It was weird. It was, it was an interesting transition. And then like I got into like racing cyclocross and I started training and it was just like... yeah, it was just totally, totally, totally different. Like, 15 year old me would have never imagined that at all.
Lisa: And then you're like caring what you eat when you're training and drinking water all the time.
Gritchelle: Yeah. Another funny thing too is that when I started doing that, like, becoming like a quote unquote cyclist, I used to see these images of mountain biking. I'm like, “Oh, that's totally not going to be me. There's like no way I’d ever be mountain biking. And there’s no way I'd ever wear baggies.” And like, 10 years later, here I am mountain biking wearing baggies. So it all like just evolves.
Lisa: I love that. And you shoot for Specialized, right? Didn't you just do a project with them?
Gritchelle: Yeah, I got to photograph their Diverge, back in early March, right before lockdown happened. And that was, that was super fun. They really wanted like a, like a… I'm sorry. They wanted a classic, like, Pacific Northwest venture, gravel venture. And they got it. Like, we got rain, we got snow, we got sunshine. We had like all the elements. So totally different than like, you know, what you would see in California.
Lisa: Do you do much studio work with bicycles?
Gritchelle: Not yet, but I've started doing... I might be working with an apparel brand doing studio work for them.
Gritchelle: Which I'm excited about.
Lisa: I think studio work is hard.
Gritchelle: Yeah. It's... it can be challenging. Yeah. But I dunno, I like it. I like playing with lights and color and it can be a little more detail-oriented when like, especially when you're trying to like, make sure the zipper looks the right way or the sleeve is like perfectly like… you know, there's like more... I feel like way more details that go into it than like adventure work. But I dunno, I like having a balance of both.
Lisa: Yeah. And so how is that different than your adventure gear? Like, do you enjoy dragging all your bike… do you enjoy dragging all your camera gear around and kind of what's your setup for taking cameras out on bikes?
Gritchelle: Oh, yeah. So for cycling or for shooting photos while on the bike, yeah, I have a whole, like, I've got it all dialed down, um, or dialed in, I should say. It took me a while. But if I'm specifically photographing an adventure on a bicycle, like a bikepacking adventure, or like a one day gravel shoot or whatever, like... I use a Fuji XT2, and have like a couple of lenses and like, just like the like essential, like sort of like camera accessories. I love shooting with the Fuji because it's like super lightweight and small and it fits perfectly like on my handlebar bag. And then, like, I have like a giant, hip pack from Osprey that like I'll carry like a tele lens in and then other like small camera accessories. So.
Lisa: You end up getting really strong, like dragging all your shit around, like trying to run lean and, you know, still have the right tools for the job.
Gritchelle: Yeah, I've got... yeah. I have a couple of different setups, but that I'm using the Fuji gear for specifically while photographing - well, specifically while riding a bike and photographing. That's what I use.
Lisa: Here's, here's kind of like a fun, more heady question for you. So WHEELIE kind of stands for the concept of doing a wheelie and leveling up. So we have you on here talking about level two, which is level up your brand. So how do you bring intention into your brand work to help level up the brands you work with?
Gritchelle: So... when it comes to like brand work, and if I am asked to like help with casting or finding riders for a photo shoot, I'm pretty intentional about making sure that, you know, the riders are diverse. That, you know, we have people of color riding bicycles.
And again, that goes back to like representation mattering, and showcasing like, you know, especially women of color getting rad on bikes. So I have that conversation with like clients, like, “Hey, what are you thinking?” Like, you know, I ask them what their goals are for the images or like what their goals are for like, you know, the project. And then, you know, also explain my goals too, on like who we should be showcasing on bikes. Does that make sense? Yeah, I guess that's one way I bring intention. And sometimes, you know, they already have like people like, they have already riders selected or whatever, but if I'm given the opportunity, like, I'm very intentional about who I ask to be in photo shoots.
Lisa: Absolutely. I always joke that we are a casting agency.
Gritchelle: Yeah [laughs]
Lisa: And like finding diverse athletes or models in Northwest Montana can be sometimes challenging, but.
Gritchelle: Yeah, totally. Yeah. It's challenging here too. I want to start charging an extra fee for casting.
Lisa: Oh, big time. It takes so much, so much energy and time and yeah. Absolutely. That's... that's a great topic. Which is like, what, what have you learned that you weren't... what are you surprised that you've learned while breaking off and into your own career not based on working at an agency, but like as your own boss?
Gritchelle: Hmm. So I guess one of the things people don't really talk about a lot or at least like, you know, in terms of being a photographer, a professional photographer, it's actually a lot of like, the paperwork and planning and, I guess sort of management stuff you have to do. You know? ‘Cause like if you're working, like, let's say if I was as a graphic designer, whatever, and I'm at like, At an agency or a studio, like someone's managing getting clients and dealing with the invoicing and coming up with contracts and all that.
Like, as an independent photographer, like I'm doing that all myself, you know. I'm negotiating for myself, negotiating for the models rates, you know, putting together all the contracts and all that stuff. Like, it's just... like all the not very sexy stuff of photography, you know. And all the planning, just like, okay, where are we going to… like, I mean, a lot of the projects that I work on are pretty small. And so, you know, myself and then like the client that I'm working with, you know, we're doing everything ourselves. And a lot of times it's just kind of scrappy. So like, you know, I'm also doing casting and like location scouting and, you know, like making sure we have enough meals for everyone, you know, like things like that. Which, like, I know with like bigger shoots, there's like someone who does all of that stuff. But a lot of times I'm doing that. Yeah. There's definitely a lot more planning and strategizing when you're like an independent photographer.
Lisa: Oh yeah, yeah. We have one person- we have two people on staff here at WHEELIE who plan things, they run logistics, they get permits. And then we try to make it as easy as possible on the photographers and the athletes.
Gritchelle: Yeah, that sounds awesome.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, maybe we'll get to work with you and then you can just roll in like a rockstar.
Gritchelle: Yeah that would be so rad.
Lisa: It's really fun though. I guess I'm curious, like, when you, when you go to shoot something, like I see, I see some commonalities in your work, which is like, um, these very authentic emotions, like people's facial expressions. Like how do you carry yourself behind the lens to capture the essence of these people?
Gritchelle: So I guess it depends on sort of the scene or what's happening. A lot of times I'll ask people to just pretend that I'm not there, even though I am obviously there. So that's one way. And so I'm just trying to capture something that's like actually happening. And then other times it'll be, I don't want to say staged, but like if I see someone doing something that I thought was like, really cool, I'll be like, “Hey, can you try doing that again?” You know, I just kind of, I guess kind of direct the scene a little bit, if that makes sense. Yeah. And then I also like… I don't know. I guess I just try to meet like really chill and approachable, so that way everyone is comfortable. And like at the beginning of every project, I guess I try to also lay out guidelines on how you should also behave because sometimes, you know, people just start kind of doing their own thing and you're like, wait, that's not what I want. You know, if that makes sense. So it's like, you know, I just try to say, “Hey, this is the vibe we're looking for, like strong, but happy. Camaraderie, like working together.” Yeah, I think just like kind of laying out those guidelines, and telling the riders what you're looking for.
And sometimes, you know, they're just going to be doing their own thing, which is just natural and that's okay too. Like a lot of times that's what we want. But sometimes, you know, for instance, I'll have a rider who's just going to like, totally be hamming it up and like coming at me and doing all these crazy things in front of the camera. And I'm like, Oh no, no, no, don't do that. Just like, you know, like pretend you and your friend are just out on a like casual bike ride and you do not see me. And you're just having a conversation about whatever. So yeah. Sometimes it's like me directing them. And then other times it's like just capturing whatever's natural.
Lisa: That’s a nice balance of both.
Gritchelle: A balance of both. Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes... I mean, cause, and I think also some people, especially if they're not like I'm used to working in front of the camera, they might feel like they're having a good time, but their face might not express it. They might look like, you know, they might just kind of be, they might just have like a very neutral face, you know?
And sometimes I have to like maybe, you know, maybe crack some jokes or just get them to laugh a little bit. I guess that's another thing too, is just getting people comfortable in front of the camera.
Lisa: I think that like having... there's so much customer service that it comes from behind the camera, making people feel comfortable. And then you're looking at a million things too. You're looking at the lighting, the framing, kind of like what you're inspired by, what the athlete is capable of, like so much goes into it. And I think being able to like have those interpersonal skills to make someone laugh is so important or like, you know, capture the essence of the shoot.
Gritchelle: Yeah. I think, yeah, just being, like being... just communicating. You know, I think it's really important. And especially in a way that's like very approachable and friendly. ‘Cause I, I do talent work a lot too. And I work with some people I'm like, What do you want me to do? You know, just like, kind of, I don't know. You know, so I love having a little bit of direction and so I get what it's like to be in front of the camera.
Lisa: Ah, you've been in front of the camera.
Gritchelle: Yeah. [laughs] So, yeah, I, yeah, I guess having that experience like is really helpful as a photographer because I know what it's like to not have someone tell you what to do or to talk to you in a way that isn't as friendly. So yeah, I just try to make it like a very pleasant experience for everybody.
Lisa: Oh, I love that. And it shows in your work, right? Like your work is really fun.
Gritchelle: Thanks. Yeah. I think too, cause it's like, if, if the riders are not, if the models are not having fun, then it's going to show. You know? Like you, even if they're going to pretend to have fun, it's going to show that they're not having fun. And so you just gotta make sure, like, you know, the vibes are cool. You know, if that makes sense.
Lisa: Yeah, cool vibes. I love that. What is a piece of advice you would give to, I guess, brands when they are wanting... they're wanting to integrate more people of color into their brand.
Gritchelle: I think the biggest thing is paying a fair rate. Like having to… yeah. That's really challenging, having to like negotiate for like talent's rate. I don't know, I find it really frustrating. ‘Cause I'm just like, you want people to be in front of the camera, you have to pay them a fair rate. Like, I don't know. So I think a big part of that is like making sure that we're getting paid.
I guess also wanting to know their intentions and why they want people of color in their images, in their marketing. I mean, you know, it’s gotta be legit, like, because you genuinely care about representation. You genuinely care about diversity and it's not something tokenizing, you know?
Lisa: Right. A lot of our… a lot of our listeners are marketing managers or brand managers or other creatives. And so I know - well, I'd like to assume most intentions are really positive when it comes to like BIPOC work. And so hopefully that's true, but I think. Yeah, I think, I think it's really important who's behind the lens as well as who's in front of the lens.
Gritchelle: Yeah. I also think like... I don't know, like it's... so as someone who has been in front of the camera, like, and you know, the person, the client or whatever that I'm like working with, you know, they want diversity, but then it's like, not just having you know, a white person and then like a person of color. For me, that's not enough. Like, ideally it's like the whole cast, or all the riders are all diverse and like, and they're not all just like one type of race. They're all like different races, you know? Like, for me, that would be like, that's like really important, is like showing genuine diversity, not just like, Oh, we have one Brown person, that's it. You know, or like, you know, one woman, that's it. Like, you know what I mean? Like, everyone has to be like genuinely diverse. And also not just like with race, but also like body types too, you know, like, cyclists come in all shapes and sizes. Like it's not just like having like this super skinny athletic build, you know, some people are also curvy, you know, and super strong, like, you know, so yeah. Showing that kind of diversity is also really important.
Lisa: Yeah. And diversity of age.
Lisa: It's kind of like a good thing to show too.
Gritchelle: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Lisa: And where, where can people find you online? And we'll put it in the show notes.
Gritchelle: So for my adventure work, it is gritchelle.photos, studio stuff is gritchelle.studio. And then my Instagram is @gritchelle. It’s the perk of having a very unique name, I have all the domains.
Lisa: Yeah you do. That's awesome. And that's spelled G-R-I-T-C-H-E-L-L-E.
Lisa: Check her out. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here. And, um, that was, that was really fun. I hope to work with you in the future.
Gritchelle: Yeah, I hope to work with you too. This was great. Thank you so much for having me. This was, yeah. Really, really, really fun.
Iris: Thank you so much for being here Gritchelle and joining us on Outside by Design. To all our amazing listeners, please leave us a review if you haven't yet, it really helps us get to more listeners. And you can find us at wheeliecreative.com/podcast. Or @wheeliereative on Instagram. Give us a follow and give Gritchelle a follow as well to enjoy her beautiful, beautiful work.
And with that, we will see you next week. Thank you so much.