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Interview with:

Michael Allen [michaelallenphotography] 

Do you have an online gallery where one can view your photos?
www.michaelallenphotography.com www.weddingindesign.com www.filmindesign.com www.michaelallenphotography.blogspot.com www.modelsindesign.com
For how long have you done photography? How did you begin?
I've been a professional photographer for over 15 years. I began a freelance career back in high school as the lead yearbook photographer, I was awarded that position due to my roots of shooting since I was a kid. Out of high school I started a job a Service Merchandise in the Camera department, and soon became the department manager. After several years in college, I took a job at a well known area music store as their film & video department manager, where I ran a production van that shot local concerts for such artists as .38 Special, Rick Springfield, and a host of other recording artists.We would also take on a few high end weddings from clients that knew about our production abilities. That job led me to another production studio where I worked on projects with Schering Plough, Maybelline, Ford Motor Company, Lamaur Beauty Products and many more. During that period my wife opened a beauty salon that won national fame as one of the leading 200 salons in America. That launched my career in a more beauty focused direction. I shot for dozens of magazines, had photographs featured in books and media outlets, product vendors and more. During those years I would take on a few private high end weddings, but my time was limited due to my other fashion projects. In the past 5 years I began a new focus in photography for high end weddings. In the past I had been skeptical of weddings, and new of many very poor quality wedding photographers that had branded the wedding industry as low budget photography. After attending the WPPI Convention in Las Vegas while at a NAB Convention there, I met such great photographers at Dennis Reggie, Bambi Cantrell, Mike Colon and more. These photographers help me attract high end weddings, which have been a breath of fresh air. My blend of fashion photography and high end weddings has filled a niche in my marketplace, and kept my career in full throttle. Since those years I met another new photographer and close friend, Brian K Crain. We have joined forces and created www.weddingindesign.com and a network of several other photography businesses. Today we have a vibrant business that takes us to locations around the world working for magazines, publishers, travel agencies, destination and select high end weddings!
What has been your education as a photographer?
I learned my basics in college art classes, when at that time photography classes were limited. The rest of my growth has been on the job training, attending seminars and workshops and national conventions. As an artist, that's a gift that only a few people get in life. My photography education learning the technical details of photography only get you started, without an artistic ability, passion and drive, can you truly get an education as a photographer. Adventure is another part of education as a photographer. I've shot all over Europe, The Caribbean, and The US. Learning to capture light is perhaps the biggest key in photography. When shooting in Milan Italy, you capture the color temperature of the stone in that region of the world. The sky, clouds and even color of the water can impact your photography. One of my first rock concerts I shot was David Bowie. I'd been around music and concerts, but Bowie took his art to a new level. His stage presence, theatrical presence, and his bold colors drew me into a new level of learning about light and substance as a photographer. Over the years shooting concerts, even Merle Haggard in Concert has a unique look and feel that is completely opposite of Bowie, of course, but it taught me to be versatile. Some photographers have one particular style, my style is a blend of many. Whether it be on a white on white studio loft in New York City shooting high fashion models, or in the Rainforest in Jamaica shooting nature scenes, under 100 foot under water on the Grand Cayman Great Barrier Reef, my education captures all of my adventures and experiences as a photographer. The last 7 years focusing on high end weddings, I've attended WPPI, PPA, DWF to continue my education, an stretch beyond my comfort zone, I never want to get stale, or stuck in a certain mode. Switching from film to digital is like flying to another planet. I'm sorry you film guys out there, digital is far superior to film, no comparision....workflow, systems, software, computers have all changed photography. Getting over the color temperature barrier in digital can be a hurtle for some, but once you've got that figured out, say bye bye to film. Shooting in Central Park the other day once again reminded me of how the environment effects color, light, and shading. Shooting in the fall changes the color temperature of the entire way you shoot, the green leaves cast an entirely different light than yellow or brown leaves. Shooting kodachrome or ektachrome was the old choice, now the color pallete of an photography artist is unlimited. My advice for education, get out there and shoot every day!
Please list any exhibitions in which you have participated.
Wppi in Las Vegas.
Please list any awards for your work.
Capture Memphis Award for best photography. This photography was featured in a book titled Capture Memphis.
What is your favourite type of photography?
Fashion Photography. Not the cheezy glamour stuff, but high end fashion photography for magazines.
What do you try to express through your photography?
I try to capture an emotion in my subjects. Many photographers just pose and shoot, I tend to coach my models and bring out their thoughts and emotions. Artistically, I love to express special moments in time, a glimpse of life, love and happiness.
How do you choose your subjects?
I am very selective in my choice in models. They have to be real people that have a story, and they have to be nice and interesting, a poor attitude shuts down the ability to capture deep emotions. If my model is somewhere else, and not into the moment, it makes the photography boring and disconnected.
What type of preparation do you do before undertaking the photo session?
I study other photographs, scout the location and study the light that will be available. I plan in my mind a visual impression that I want to capture. For set design, I select the colors and color temperatures that I want to work with. I completely sketch out scenes and have a vision in my mind of the look I want to achieve. I will however, jump into a shoot and run completely on creativity, feeding on my past experiences to create. As far as gear, I will pretest everything for every shoot. My memory cards, flash and batteries, camera settings. I will preshoot with my gear the night before just to make sure everything is in top working order. Emotionally, I try to relax at least one hour before a shoot, calm, focused, and intent on being relaxed. I focus my mind on being positive, professional and intent on success. I may also do some stretching exercises, and get my body ready for various shooting positions.
Do you normally photograph with a purpose already in mind, or do you let yourself go with the flow?
I generally have an intent purpose in mind. Once I'm in the zone, so to speak, I will let my energy flow. I also try to capture what is real at that moment. If I can't get what I want, I regroup and jump right back in the game from a fresh angle and perspective. If I have a client that is intent on being involved, I gently ask them to step back and let me do my best work for them. I do not like to work under tension, it shuts down the creative process. I do tend to shut out any distractions and stay on task no matter what the chaos may be around me.
Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Sigma, Olympus, Sony, Pentax...which do you place your bets on and why?
Canon. Canon is simply the best camera and lens system available. Fast, color perfect, sharp.
Describe your current equipment: cameras, lenses, computers, accessories...
Mac. Canon 5d cameras. 24-105mm 4.0 lens, 70-200mm 2.8 lens, 14mm 2.8 fisheye, 50 mm 1.2, 80 mm 1.2. I only use the best canon lenses.
What software and plug-ins do you use to retouch and manage your photos?
Lightroom, Photoshop, Nik
What measures do you take to protect your work against Internet piracy?
Metadata, Copyright Tags, Branding logos.
Are you a good salesperson of your work? In what should you improve?
I tend to only show my best work that fits the market I'm going after. I can always improve my sales of my products. I'm continually updating my website and entering competitions. My goal for improvement in sales is to team up with some of the very best in my field.
Which past masters of photography do you most admire?
Ansel Adams. His ability to capture light has set generations of photographers in their quests. I do tend to look at more current photographers for my inspiration. I seek out fresh and innovative masters. Canon's Explorers of Light.
Are technology and digital retouching reducing the gap between professionals and amateurs?
Probably not. Art is art, and being an artist is reserved for those with that passion. Amateurs for the most part are hobbiests that work another job for a living, and art may not be their strength. A professional photographer has a gift that not everyone has.
What is your team of habitual collaborators like?
My team can vary depending on the shoot. I don't always get to choose who I get as a makeup artist or assistant. My wife as a hairstylist is the absolute best hairdresser in the industry, and working with her makes a huge difference in my photography. I have to push makeup artists to get it right. They tend to overlook the fine details like eyebrow tweezing, good foundation, etc. My other team that I work with such as producers and directors, well I've got a few friends in the business that are the very best. My partner in photography is a maniac...he is a perfectionist, intent on getting his vision on the camera no matter what it takes. (almost a mirror of me)
With which other photographers do you normally team up with or do sessions with?
Do you consider yourself more technical or more artistic?
Artistic. Technical is boring. I only learn what I have to technically, I want my art side to run the show, it's way more fun.
What have you learned about the art of framing and composition?
Once your learn the rule of thirds, then break all the rules as often as you can!
How does one develop the instinct of knowing when to press the shutter release button?
Wait for the right emotion to show on the face of your subject, even if the light is not right, you have to catch that emotion. Instinct is patience.
When should one use film, and when should one use digital?
Digital has surpassed film. Sorry guys, it's true.
Does photography have the recognition that it should have in contemporary art museums?
Not really. Photography should be in every museum as much as a master painter.
Which websites for photographers do you frequently visit?
PPA. WPPI. Anne Geddes,
Is there any particular technique that you could share?
I try to always shoot in manual mode. Using that technique keeps you sharp and creative depending on the lighting situation. Be a marathon shooter. I used to shoot film and was limited by 36 images per roll. If I shot 360 images on a shoot, then I was happy. Now I shoot 3600 images on a shoot. Out of 360 images I generally see 36 images that I love. If I shoot 3600 images, then I see 360 images that I love. Why not shoot more and have more to show for your work. Some photographers hesitate to shoot a lot, due to self ego, they want only the best or they won't shoot. I'm trying to break my self ego and shoot like a marathon runner, shooting as much as possible and learning from my own mistakes.

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Michael Allen
Memphis USA

[michaelallenphotography] Michael Allen
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© Michael Allen
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