Cate Brown – Photography Inspired by the Coast

Cate Brown

Fine Art & Commercial Photographer

Interview By Gale Straub

Cate at work – Shooting on assignment with Cruising World Magazine in the Grenadines

Cate is drawn to the water. She’s lived in Rhode Island her whole life, save her four years of college studying photography in central Massachusetts.

I was most compelled by the abstractions she finds and creates in the water – whether she’s flying a drone from above, floating in a sailboat, or submerged in the ocean.

I talked with Cate about how she balances fine art photography with commercial work, and how committing to both keeps her curious about her craft.

Learn more about Cate in the interview below!

Meet Cate:

What kind of work do you do professionally?

I do a lot of things. During the summer a lot of my photography revolves around sailing. So I’ll shoot regattas and junior sailing programs. In the off season, I do a lot more of my fine art work: seascapes, aerial work. You can get to the beaches for free.

The fine art is where I feel I have the most creative freedom and I can go out and just shoot and find compositions more. But the sailing work is great because it’s nice to have something so different to work on; no aspect will feel stale. I have different outlets. I can capture lifestyle and action stuff as well.

Wickford Yacht Club Cruise to Cuttyhunk Island offshore Massachusetts – long exposure in harbor

What do you gravitate towards?

I usually say that I’m an outdoor photographer who’s inspired by the coastal living experience, whether that entails fine art seascapes or whether that entails sailing lifestyle shots. It all revolves around living outside by the water and being connected to the sea.

I bet it’s hard to talk about…

Yeah it is. Spending time outside by the water can mean so many different things: there are people who fish, who jetski, there are people who collect seashells. So, for a lot of people it means different things, but we’re all in the same environment, treading this line where the water and the land meet and there’s something really magical there that I’m working to capture.

Beach Grass on Cuttyhunk Island

Ocean waters in Guadeloupe, shot with a Liquideye water housing

We’re all in the same environment, treading this line where the water and the land meet.

Some think of cameras as tools, what kind of tools do you have?

I work primarily digitally now. I started on film, as a kid and through school. I still have some film cameras but I just don’t use them that often. It’s too hard to pass on the convenience factor and image quality of DSLRs. The Nikon D750 is my primary. I just bought a Nikon D850, so that will be my new one.

I keep a Holga plastic camera in the car. It costs $20 and shoots medium format film. I keep that handy for when I go for walks sometimes. The aesthetic is very different than shooting digitally. There are next to no controls, there’s a shutter release button, kind of a focus ring, and that’s it. You can focus on composition, light, capturing a subject, and the moody way the camera captures it. I don’t have to think about my settings like I do for digital work.

For my aerial work, I use a drone, which uses a GoPro.

Aerial shot at East Beach in Charlestown, Rhode Island, shot with 3DR Solo Drone about 30 ft high

Do you remember what your first camera was?

I remember, when I was 13 or 14, my mom showed me how to use her Canon AE-1 35mm. I thought it was so cool.

Do you work with an underwater housing too?

I do, I had an industrial strength plastic bag and a water housing for my iPhone for a while, but last year I got a true housing for my DSLR.

How does it feel when you’re in the middle of a good session when you’re shooting?

Regardless of what I’m shooting, I almost forget where I am, or what I have to do in a couple of hours. I’m just focused in on that shot and sometimes I can see it in my head and I’m working so hard to capture it, or sometimes I know I’ve got it and I just want to max out my time with the great light. I’m in my own world for a bit and it’s kind of exciting.

I don’t think there’s ever a time where I shot for too long.

I don’t think there’s ever a time where I shot for too long. When I’m working on my work, I could be standing at the beach taking seascapes for 10 minutes or an hour or whether you think I got the shot or not, but that hour won’t feel wasted.

“Silver Spinnaker” competitor sailing in the 2017 Block Island Race Week Around the Island race, offshore Rhode Island

Great Point Lighthouse at Sunset, Nantucket

Do you do a lot of post processing on your photos?

Yes and no.  A lot of my abstract work, people will think it’s digital manipulation but it’s actually an in-camera technique. Most of my post processing is done to bring back the clarity and brightness and color that I experienced. I’m not trying to make anything larger than life. A lot of people don’t realize that even straight out of the camera shooting in raw, shooting with long lenses especially, the light passes through a lot glass and can look dull. A lot of my editing is to bring that brightness back.

Small waves at Second Beach in Newport, Rhode Island, capture with in-camera panning technique

Do you have any advice for people getting started as professional photographers?

  • It’s not like I’ve only been shooting the past 6 years. I’ve diversified by editing for other photographers, doing private one on one instruction, selling my fine art photography work.
  • Be persistent and remember you have to make your own shooting opportunities.
  • Figure out how to market yourself.
  • Always be searching for the next great shot.
  • Make sure you have a diversified portfolio, as well, so you’re not pigeonholed in one niche.
  • Be willing to learn.

Parting words?

I feel very dichotomous at times. I’ve got a lot of different facets, but when it comes to the seascapes and aerial compositions, that’s where I feel like it’s me the most.

“Rome Point in Summer Abstract”, also captured with panning technique


Photos by Cate Brown Photography.  

Cate Brown is a photographer based in Rhode Island. Find more of her work on Instagram, and view her portfolio at Cate Brown Photo

Gale Straub is the founder of and the host/producer of the She Explores podcast. She posts intermittently on Twitter and Instagram

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