Michael Kelley didn’t graduate from a photo school, didn’t take photo classes and if you met him right out of college, he would have told you he was going to be a professional snowboarder. He was already well on his way. He had spent most of his adolescence and teenage years honing the skill and was winning trophies. He was good, appearing at the US Open, New Zealand Open, and placed 22nd in the US Nationals. But looking back now, Mike insists he is a “failed professional snowboarder.” The unavoidable injuries took their toll, and he felt like he wasn’t going to be where he wanted to be.
So when a friend of a friend was looking for someone to photograph their home that was about to go on the market, Mike jumped at the opportunity. “I had a camera and some knoweldge,” he said. “How hard could it be?” He tackled photography like he did snowboarding, diving deep into the art and loving every minute of it. With each satisfied client, Mike grew his portfolio and honed his skill. Within a matter of five years, Mike had perfected a workflow that put his architectural photography a step above his peers, more art than just a photo. The stunning light that Mike employs mixed with his signature Los Angeles sunsets make up his brand, and it’s a brand that’s taken hold. His clients range from architects to Realtors, apartment complexes to city theaters.
Mike’s images evoke a feeling of not what a building is, but what a building can be. His images ride the line of possible and unlikely, but anyone looking at the photos immediately wants to believe the world that Mike is creating. “I like to think of my photos as ‘plausible but unlikely,'” Mike said. “Think of a what a building looks like its best day, and that’s what I aim to capture.”
Mike’s Favorite Gear
Phottix Odin Wireless Trigger System
Bose SoundLink Mini (for those long and lonely shoots)
Prints available at PurePhoto.com.
Mike’s Advice to Emerging Photographers
“My advice to aspiring photographers who want to make a living at this is simple: Stop doing what everyone else is doing.”
“Along your path to a career in photography, there will be thousands of people along the way who tell you to do something a certain way, light something a certain way, frame something a certain way. Once you have got the basics of composition, exposure, etc, down, stop listening to these people.”
“Photography is such a commodity today that only truly original works are going to be noticed. There are a countless amount of photographers out there doing the same work as everyone else. You will never stand out if you emulate someone else’s work. You’ve got to shoot what you love and shoot it in a way that you love to shoot it. Over the years, your style will evolve and turn into something recognizable. This is what you will be hired for. It may take awhile but by continually shooting what you love, you’ll become intimately familiar with it, much better at shooting it, and potential clients will see this in your work.”
“Be persistent. If I had a dollar for every time I got told that someone wasn’t interested, they already had a photographer, or I was out of their budget, I’d have a few thousand dollars and I’d take a nice vacation. You have to be of a certain mindset. Personally, I love when people tell me what I can’t do. It makes me want to do it THAT MUCH MORE. I was told over and over that ‘you can’t photograph architecture that way.’ Well guess what – I did, and I have been, and I really, really enjoy my work and the clients that I work with who allow me to flex my creative muscles.”
“Show your work. Get your work in front of the people who you want to pay you. Not in front of other photographers, but in front of the people who you want to be hired by. Mailers, websites, magazines, tearsheets, everything. Get it out there. No matter what – get it in front of the people who matter most. Make marketing collateral and make it so good that even if they don’t like you, they won’t throw it away. And of course, keep being persistent.”
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