Here at BAM, Mike wears a lot of different hats. Officially, he’s our Marketing Director - running all things marketing, social media, content, digital and SEO. Unofficially, he also clocks time as a one-man IT department and in-house photographer. Although photography isn’t his full-time gig, he has some serious chops and we love watching this #BAMf slay his Instagram game. We sat down with Mike to learn when photography first piqued his interest and where he continues to find inspiration.
How did you originally get started with photography?
I grew up in Philadelphia in a pretty artistic family. My parents encouraged me to explore different types of art, try out new mediums and take classes during the weekends. I was fortunate enough to go to an art school - the Charter High School of Architecture and Design, where I was exposed to even more creative outlets and art forms. At first, I did a lot of charcoal sketching on watercolor paper - mostly city landscapes. I would sit outside in parks around Philadelphia and just draw for hours and hours.
Eventually, I learned that I could do it a lot faster if I took photos and went home to sketch with fewer distractions. Doing this also allowed me to observe a broader view of each building and detail, spotting interesting angles and new perspectives. After doing that for a while with a little point-and-shoot camera, I started to appreciate the fundamentals of photography. I decided to learn the basics via a few weekend classes at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and just ran with it.
How long have you been at it?
12 or so years roughly from the time I first started. Since starting work full-time after college, I haven't dedicated as much time to it as I’d like to. Within the last three years, I've gotten more serious about it and focused more on photography and videography, whether for work or for personal content. In 2019, I've set a goal to further up my Instagram game - which also means taking a lot more photos.
Was it ever something you considered pursuing full time, rather than a 9 to 5 gig?
Yes and no. I was always in the camp that while art is great, I largely considered it a hobby in my case. It wasn't something I wanted to pursue full-time because I had competing interests in graphic design and the marketing world. I hoped I would be able to merge them all together at some point in my career. This was well before video became huge, so it was a long shot. Facebook was just starting when I was entering high school and the current state of advertising did not exist back then. Now, having photography experience and a visual eye is a game-changer and I’m lucky to be able to marry my interests together today.
What do you enjoy most about taking photos?
I love symmetry and the challenge of composing a really good shot - envisioning the end result when looking through a lens and ensuring you’re doing the subject justice. I also like to capture an organic moment. Given I’m still focused mostly on landscapes, if I spot anything interesting when on the road throughout the day, I'll take a shot - lining it up in hopes of finding that symmetry. Sometimes this means that I'll take a hundred photos at a particular spot and end finding only one or two that I really, really love.
Where do you find inspiration?
I'm completely addicted to photography equipment. I love following influencers - mainly on YouTube - that explain product specs, tips and tricks alongside their photography. Peter McKinnon is amazing - I draw inspiration from his work. He always goes after rare and unique shots. I’ve also worked with some excellent photographers, like my buddies Ben Cope and Jeff Fountain at Studio 106. The experience of working with them and witnessing how he composes a shot in real time on the fly was incredible. There's a lot that I still need to learn.
How often do practice your photography skills?
It’s easier to incorporate into my daily life when I travel. I was in NYC earlier this month for work shooting content and when I had some free time, I was able to explore new areas and take some killer shots. My goal is to make the practice more consistent. On the weekends, I like to go to a new part of southern California that I've never been before and take photos without the intention of capturing a specific shot - instead just seeing what I can grab. Taking a few hundred shots is also a great opportunity to practice editing.
Ultimately, making photography a daily practice is a personal goal for me - and also one tied into working for BAM. We're encouraged heavily to set new goals at the onset of each year and to reflect on them at its close. We speak them into existence - during meetings, on Slack, covering with our managers and the broader team. This is encouraging and also holds you accountable. One of my goals is to post 365 pictures on Instagram. Some of these are bound to be of my dogs, Koda and Link. My iPhone and all of my memory cards are just stocked full of dog pictures. They are fabulous subjects, in my fully biased opinion.
What advice would you give a beginner who wanted to try their hand at photography?
If you have an iPhone and you take pictures with it, I’d argue that you've already started. They say that the best camera you can buy is the one you have with you. Plus, the cameras on our phones are becoming more and more powerful each year. Portrait mode is a great feature that allows you to get a depth of field and create that sort of creamy background effect. The technical term is bokeh and it’s becoming attractive to a lot of people within the film and photography landscape. I would recommend to just grab your phone and go out and shoot.
If you decide to upgrade your equipment, start with a camera like a DSLR or a mirrorless. On YouTube, you can go pretty deep down a rabbit hole of research and pro recommendations. I discovered new methods that I really love through doing this - namely drone photography. The new perspectives you can capture of landscapes from the air is truly incredible. Whatever equipment you try, just go out and use it - don't let it sit on the shelf. Try to find like-minded folks that share your interest to hang out and shoot photos with. A key component of photography is to have fun while you're doing it.
Do you have an Instagram dedicated solely to your photography?
Yes. You can follow it to hold me to my word! It’s @instammike.