On the strength of a single college-level course in photography and a couple of grueling gigs at catalog studios in Dallas, 24-year-old Chris Michaels put together a portfolio and hit the streets of New York. He picked his favorite five photographers out of the pages of the Black Book and American Showcase and began knocking on studio doors. Chris had gained a solid foundation in product photography from working 12-hour days, seven days a week shooting catalogs, but a lot of talented young photographers looking to assist for New York’s best studios had more impressive resumes and better connections.
‘I was kind of a shy guy growing up,’ Chris says, ‘but that changed when I discovered photography. When you have that passion for something, whether it’s music or cars or whatever, it’s hard to be shy.’
Eric Meola, a celebrated editorial and corporate photographer, was right at the top of Chris’ list. ‘I went to his studio to drop off my resume, and he happened to open the door, which was a rare incident in the first place. He took a look at my book right there, and told me to keep in touch. Within a few months, I moved from Dallas to New York to be his assistant.’
Perhaps Meola didn’t put much stock in fancy photo degrees because he himself was self-taught in photography, having made his first big step in the profession by assisting for the renowned Pete Turner. Working with Meola helped Chris refine his sense of color and composition. He also soaked up lessons about the business side of photography.
‘Meola got me started in stock,’ he says. ‘I had to deal with his agency on a daily basis so I got to understand how stock works and what kind of images they’re looking for. I also learned how assignment photography works. Eventually, I ended up with Getty Images and that’s been my main thing over the years. Stock gives you the creative freedom to take the pictures you want without an art director breathing down your neck. That’s what I enjoy most about it.’
Attracted to the West Coast by the quality of light and the diversity of landscape, Chris settled down in San Diego in 1989. ‘Maybe it has something to do with the sun reflecting off the ocean and then back down from the sky, but the light is different and brighter out here. It’s a terrific place for photographers with all the environments we have– desert, mountains, ocean, dense forests…’
Chris Michaels has been creating commercial imagery for photo agencies and Fortune 500 companies for almost 20 years. He specializes in industrial, landscape and travel photography. Agencies that represent his work include Getty Images, Iconica, and WorkbookStock. His photography and graphic compositions have been featured in a variety of fine art exhibitions. Chris also has an entrepreneurial streak. He launched Flashpoint Pictures in 1998 to market distinguished imagery and offer commercial virtual tour services. His industrial-chic Ray Street Studios in the lively North Park neighborhood of San Diego are in demand as rental space for other photographers, a location for TV and video productions, and a venue for various events including seminars for the Digital Photo Academy.
Chris likens his discovery of digital photography to being born again, creatively speaking. ‘It gives you so much more control,’ he says. ‘Having newfound freedom of expression, flexibility and spontaneity really enhanced my creativity. Of course, there’s a learning curve, as Photoshop and the rest of the technology evolves, but that keeps things interesting.’
In his seminars for the Digital Photo Academy, Chris has several key themes that he wants students to walk away with. The first is thinking before shooting, being intent and deliberate with the camera. ‘It’s all about making pictures as opposed to taking pictures,’ he says, ‘thinking before shooting. I’m all for spontaneity but it’s a two-tiered approach. You have to build a foundation, have a game plan when you go into a scene. Once there, you have to be able to roll with the spontaneous things that are happening.’
Chris insists that professionals take more bad pictures than anybody else because they’re constantly working the subject, changing angles, arranging the composition, adjusting light. ‘I hope students come out of the class willing to do that. Photography is more than walking up to the subject, taking one picture and walking away.’
Chris notices that students in his seminars seem especially interested in lighting. ‘That’s one of the most important things we can teach in these classes,’ he says. ‘Understanding the qualities of light, the best times of day, knowing where to find the light, perceiving, observing, gaining an appreciation of light and the beauty that it casts upon our visual world. Even understanding how to create some types of light by using fill cards or shooting against big walls that face opposite to sun.’
Beyond all questions of technique, Chris aims to help his students get in touch with their personal abilities. ‘I’d like to help them understand why they’re drawn to photography in the first place. It’s such a terrific form of self-expression with so much room to grow.’
Call Digital Photo Academy at 1 877 372 2231. Lots of people seem to hang up if our welcome recording comes on instead of a live voice, but we promise to return your message within a day or two if you leave one with your name and number. It would be even better if you included your e mail address as well as the date and city of the class you are considering. If leaving a voice mail message is not your thing, please email us at DPAbooking@digitalphotoacademy.com or Richard@digitalphotoacademy.com.