What would this magazine be without its images? We asked longtime staff photographer Briana Brough to reminisce about her favorite shots and share some of her secrets.
Which covers have been your favorites?
One of my favorite covers ever was the one with Mandolin Orange in front of the flag mural in Carrboro. I thought metalworker Leo Gaev made a great cover, and, of course, the one with Alex and Kate Sayre in front of the cottage they had renovated on Graham Street was super fun and just so Chapel Hill. I loved capturing UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and former N.C. Governor Bev Perdue and thought they both made great covers.
OK, now your least favorite. And what would you have done differently?
Some of the earlier food shots were pretty rough. There was one with several of the best sandwiches in town, and I probably would have suggested we just focus on one and really work on the styling to make it perfect. And I don’t like the one with the red sorbet in the Chapel Hill bowl. The sorbet looks like it’s glowing, and I would have put it on a blue background or something so the cover didn’t look so sparse. Live and learn, right?
Food. Fashion. Home and garden. The arts. Personalities. Business. Is there a category that you like the most?
I love shooting personalities and trying to capture the essence of someone in a portrait. I love that I get to meet so many interesting people – it’s basically the best job ever. I also love shooting the How They Live feature because I’m fascinated by interior design, and it’s always fun to talk to people about how they make their space work for them. Whenever I get to just tag along with someone for part of their day, whether it’s a farmer, a kid in school or someone running their own business, that’s pretty much the best thing ever.
You’re also the photographer for Durham Magazine, and you work on both publications simultaneously. Any big differences in terms of your approach?
We often talk at the office about how to make the two publications look different, and there are some subtle things that I do to try to achieve that goal – I probably go for more natural light, more of a “lifestyle” vibe in Chapel Hill. But mainly I just try to find the most interesting and flattering image in any situation, regardless of location.
Any horror stories that we can laugh about now? Things go wrong from time to time in publishing…
Oh, gosh. I once shot a whole house, then and one of the memory cards corrupted. I lost almost the whole shoot. Fortunately, in that case, the homeowners were good friends of mine (Hi, Szostaks!) so I was able to reshoot with only a little embarrassment. I’m always climbing on things or backing up without looking where I’m going to get a shot. I keep waiting to injure myself or break something, but so far that hasn’t happened. Knock on wood.
We don’t often get a chance to talk about your bio. I have seen you on shoots reconnect with old classmates, old teachers. You were a Chapel Hill kid, right? How did you get this job? Do you think being native to this area gives you an advantage?
I grew up in Carrboro, actually. Chapel Hill High School class of ’99. I left town after college (UNC class of ’03) to pursue photojournalism but came back in 2008 when I got this job. I had always hoped I’d be able to return to the area and cover the community that feels like home to me, but I didn’t think it was very likely. Journalism jobs were few and far between in the mid-2000s, and choosing your location was almost unheard of. Honestly, I had just taken a job in Wilmington in an effort to get back to North Carolina, and I wasn’t even really looking, but Dan Shannon ran into my future father-in-law at a Chamber of Commerce event in Durham and somehow they ended up talking about the fact that Dan was looking for a photographer. He was just about to launch Durham Magazine. I applied on a bit of a whim and got the job. And the rest is history. I’m not sure being a native gives me an advantage, except that I can usually establish rapport with people pretty quickly by figuring out who we know in common. In the rest of the world, it might be six degrees of separation, but in Chapel Hill, it’s like two.
Can you go anywhere in Chapel Hill/Carrboro without running into someone you’ve photographed for the magazine?
No, not really. If it’s not someone I’ve photographed, it’s someone I went to high school with. Or went to preschool with. Or waited on when I worked at Elmo’s in college. It feels like a very small town sometimes, but I like that. And I live in Durham.
You have such an ability to take the most reluctant and shy people and make them comfortable in front of the camera. How on earth do you do that?
I feel their pain. Being photographed can be awkward. When else is someone you barely know staring directly at you for an extended period of time? I find that asking people questions and really listening to the answers helps set them at ease. If I can make someone laugh, it really helps. I just try to be genuine and connect with people. And I really try to make them look good.
You are also able to talk people into doing some crazy stuff for the camera.
Am I? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I mean, yes, I did casually suggest that Daniel Wallace get into his pool and swim around fully clothed, and we are still picking grits out of the carpet from when I asked LaPlace chef Jeremy Blankenship to blow handfuls of them at the camera, but nothing too crazy, really. I’ll work on that this year.
Between Chapel Hill Magazine and Durham Magazine, you’ve shot more than 100 issues. I meet so many pho- tographers who want to do editorial work, but it’s harder and harder to come by these days. Not bad for a hometown gal.
Man, I know. I’m so lucky. I’ve wanted to be a photographer since I shot sports for the Chapel Hill High yearbook in 1997. I never would have imagined that I’d be able to do it right here in my hometown. It’s kind of a dream job.
How have changes in your life affected your work? I imagine you are more comfortable photographing kids now than you were five years ago, being the mom of two little boys.
I think that’s definitely true. I’ve always been a kid person, but I understand more what they’re into at different ages now, so that helps. I’m also more organized and efficient now, just out of necessity. I never knew a person could have so many lists!
Check out the photos below for a few of Briana Brough’s favorites over the years!
“I love this picture. It’s so simple, just three UNC students downtown on a summer evening. But to me, it’s just the essence of Chapel Hill.”
“Light painting in my hometown. It’s hard to believe how much Carrboro has changed in the past 35 years!”
“We had a lovely portrait shoot with Chancellor Carol Folt in the quad. Her time was limited, and at some point, someone mentioned that she had a step desk, so she literally never stops moving, even in those high heels. I asked if we could shoot that, fully expecting her to say no, but she said sure! This gave readers a fun behind-the-scenes glimpse into her world.”