News | April 24, 2018

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Unexpected exposure leads to photography career

Anna Nguyen radiates joy. She describes her work in rapid-fire bursts punctuated by laughter, describing herself first as a “people” photographer, then asserting that “traveling” photographer is more precise.

“Basically, if you put a person in front of my lens, I’m going to take a photograph,” she said.

Nguyen’s description of herself is accurate, if understated. The FGCU alumna (’11, Psychology) is a nationally published commercial and wedding photographer whose work has appeared on websites such as The Knot and Storyboard Wedding as well as in the pages of the Robb Report, Smoke, and Town & Country Magazine, among others. Founder and principal of the Naples-based studio Zee Anna Photography, Nguyen also owns Boothy, a photo-booth rental business run by her husband and fellow FGCU alum Kerry Stratton (’13, Communication). The couple’s Corgi, Einstein, serves as the company’s “director of happiness,” and their shiba inu, Momo, is the “intern of joy.”

Nguyen came to photography rather serendipitously. A psychology major from Stockton, Calif., with a strong interest in finance, she was headed to business school before a chance encounter with FGCU staff photographer and instructor James Greco turned her attention in a new direction.

“I struck up a conversation with James when he was shooting photos at a business etiquette course I was taking,” she recalls. “He encouraged me to sign up for his photography course, and when I explained I didn’t have the necessary prerequisites, he waived the requirements and let me in.”

It was the start of a new direction for Nguyen. She flourished in the course, became a teaching assistant for Greco, and threw herself headlong into photography, with Greco as her mentor. After graduating, she landed a full-time job as a photographer with Marissa Collections, and in May 2013, she opened her own studio.

“I told myself I would give it one full year, and if I didn’t succeed, I’d go to graduate school,” Nguyen said. “It’s been full-throttle ever since.”

Greco isn’t surprised. “Anna was one of those rare students – she had incredible drive and an unquenchable thirst for learning,” he said. “She also had a natural talent for ‘seeing light,’ and the ability to take in all the elements in a scene and then compose beautiful photos. I knew she would be successful, and I’m proud that I was able to mentor her, though she did all the hard work to get to where she is today.”

Nguyen says the secret to her success is simple: “I place clients in flattering poses and then let them be themselves. My photo sessions are very intimate – I want clients to view me as a friend and have fun. That’s when they drop their guard and I get the best photos.”

She attributes her success largely to her years at FGCU. “I’m so proud to be a graduate of the university. It gives back to the community in so many ways, and it gave me a safe space to nurture my creativity and interact with people who truly care,” she said.

“My goal is not to be known as a famous photographer. My clients’ kids won’t know who I was, nor will they care. The only thing my clients will remember is that I captured the special moments in their lives. People matter, and if I keep that fact in mind, I’ll continue to do the kind of work I want to do.”