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Table of Contents
Lighting Master Miguel Quiles and the Importance of Providing Value
Have you wondered what it takes to make great portraits? Have you ever wondered what it takes to be successful as a photographer or to become a brand ambassador or an educator? You don’t want to miss this eye-opening conversation with Sony Artisan and ProFoto Legend of Light Miguel Quiles. Stay tuned.
You’re listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast, the only podcast dedicated to the HOWS and WHYS behind creating consistently great photographs. Here’s your host, Joe Edelman.
Welcome to episode number 248 of the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. I am Joe Edelman and my mission is to help photographers like you to develop a better understanding of the HOWS and WHYS behind great photography.
Be sure to visit my website, www.joeedelman.com. You’ll find my portfolio over 300 articles and tutorials to help you improve your photography as well as the directory of modeling agencies and makeup artists from all 50 of the United States.
You’ll also find some great advice for models as well as the photographers that photograph them. And the website serves as home base for all of my TOGCHAT podcast episodes, as well as The LAST FRAME LIVE. Be sure to sign up for my email newsletter to receive updates and don’t worry. I never sell the list.
I only email when I have something exciting to share no spam from Joe. I am hoping that you subscribe to my YouTube channel and that you’ve seen my new series called The LAST FRAME LIVE. The LAST FRAME is a one-hour live stream that happens every Wednesday evening at 6:00 PM. Eastern time in the U.S. Each week.
The LAST FRAME focuses on a different topic with no scripts. No, razzle-dazzle no canned presentations. I do my best to give you a lesson or demo or series of tips based strictly on my experience. In other words, how I do it? No rules, no bullet points, no top five ways. I share my ways of doing it so that you can get an inside understanding of how another photographer works.
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My thought this week. Actually, it’s a question. What do you call a photographer that is unpredictable and out of control? A loose CANON!
DJ: [00:03:14] Next up is a TOGCHAT exclusive interview.
I am really excited about this week’s chat. I had the opportunity to talk to Miguel Quiles. Miguel is a beauty and portrait photographer based in Orlando, Florida. He has been recognized as a Sony Artisan of Imagery, as well as a ProFoto Legend of Light. He has presented on Creative Live, Adorama TV and currently releases videos weekly on his YouTube channel.
I’ve known Miguel casually for a few years now, as we cross paths at trade shows and industry events. But until now I haven’t had an opportunity to chat in depth and have to tell you, I feel like I found my brother from another mother. Miguel and I came to the industry in very different ways and at very different times, yet we share so many of the same values and experiences. Miguel was very transparent in our conversation and there are a lot of great nuggets for you in this chat. So let’s dig in. Miguel Quiles, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today on TOGCHAT. How are you man? It’s been a minute.
It’s been a minute, man. I felt like it’s been a good year since over a year, actually, since I got to see you in person.
Last time I saw you face to face was Nashville for ImagingUSA, right?
Either Nashville or WPPI did you end up going?
Yeah, you’re right. WPPI in Las Vegas right before the lockdown.
Miguel: [00:04:42] I think that was officially the last time. It’s good to be here. Thank you for having me.
Hey, the honor is mine and thank you for taking the time. Miguel I don’t think I need to tell too many people who you are or what you do, but I always like to have my guests introduce themselves. And let my audience know what you do and what you’re all about. And then we’ll see where the conversation goes from there.
So my name is Miguel Quiles. Primarily I’m a headshot and a portrait photographer, but, over the last few years I’ve been creating content through YouTube and basically teach photography throughout YouTube, I go to different conferences, different trade shows, dealer events. Teaching how to take better portraits and that’s been my focus over the last maybe seven or eight years of doing this. But yeah that’s pretty much it. Regular dude living in Orlando, Florida, taking portraits and loving and life.
Orlando, that’s a recent change. Isn’t it? Weren’t you in New Jersey? And you did that during the pandemic didn’t you?
Yeah. So the timing was crazy. So when you saw me at WPPI, that’s when all the madness, like right before all the craziness with the pandemic hit but I literally flew home from WPPI in late February 2020. Got home, started cleaning up my house because within, I think it was like March 11th. My home was closing and the family had already moved to Florida. So I was basically just in New Jersey, by myself, just getting the house ready for the closing and then got myself down with the three dogs to connect with my family in Orlando and then the pandemic hit. So the timing was just insane timing that I got out of dodge.
I can’t even imagine. So what kind of impact is that having on your style and the things that you shoot? And if I paid attention on social media, you’ve got yourself, a new studio down there.
I do. I do. So that the impact was pretty crazy. When I first got here, obviously I had done some work prior to moving to Florida, trying to make sure that I would connect. Because I actually grew up in Orlando and I started my photography business here. So I had connections, different clients and stuff that I’ve worked with prior to moving to Jersey.
So I tried to reconnect with them. So I had some things set up, some meetings set up, things of that nature. And then of course the pandemic hit as soon as I touched the ground. And for months, basically everything was upside down as I’m sure it was throughout the rest of the country and the rest of the world and even finding a studio for example, I really thought that as soon as I moved to Florida, I would find a place within a week and move all my equipment and move all my gear and just start getting the home base set up. And this crazy thing happened where realtors were not showing properties. Obviously they were afraid of COVID.
So I was calling around saying, Hey, I see this space online. I’d love to go check it out. And essentially what they were doing, they would basically tell you, Hey, if you want to rent the place, we’ll send you videos, and we’ll send you photos, whatever it is that you want to see, but we can’t physically show you the location and by the way, we want you to sign a 3 to 10 year lease. And I’m like, I can’t, I’m not gonna rent somewhere if I can’t physically go check the place out. So out of the, I don’t know, 20 or 30 places that I saw that looked interesting. Only three people were actually willing to walk me through at that point in time to show me a different place.
And I ended up leasing one of the three, which is the place that I’m in right now. It’s fine. I’m thankful that I found a place when I did, I think in time I will end up getting a different space, different location, something a little bigger to where, I can comfortably do the photo and the video side of the business.
So let’s go back to the very beginning. Tell me about your path through photography. When did you start and what did you start with?
I had two different beginnings, the original beginning was right after I graduated from high school. Basically I got a job at an electronic store and at the time they would sell film SLR cameras. Digital cameras were starting to come out, 640 × 480 resolution with some of these cameras. So I started working at this electronic store and just grew my passion for photography working there just playing around with the different cameras. So that was right around 1999, fast-forward to right around 2011.
I’ve been working in corporate America. I had my own business for several years, did a bunch of this and that type stuff, nothing within the photography space and just decided, I love photography. I love people. And so let me figure out if there’s a way for me to be able to forge a career where I can work with people and take images that they would like, I didn’t know if that was going to be weddings.
I didn’t know if that was going to be portraits. Honestly I had no idea like how was actually going to materialize. And, so I said, let’s just get into this. And somehow along the way, just settled into a shooting portraits because I found that was not only something that I was passionate about, but something that I was okay at. People, enjoy their portraits. And, so I said, okay, I think this is where I want to be.
Joe: [00:09:49] Oh, very cool. So maybe a little bit of life going full circle. I see that you recently started doing some photo education stuff with Best Buy.
Yeah. So that’s why it’s a really interesting thing. Yeah. Cause like I, I started working at a retail store that was a competitor locally, at least with Best Buy. And it was interesting because shortly after I left this smaller retail store, I had applied to work at Best Buy. Cause I figured, Hey, it’s in my wheelhouse.
I’ve been working in retail. I would love to work for them. And never got an interview until like several years later they gave me an interview at a Best Buy Mobile Store, which I don’t even think they have anymore, but it was like the smaller, best buy store where they just do cell phones and went for an interview, and they’re like, “Oh, you’re overqualified for this, and we’re afraid if we gave you a job, you’d leave”. And I was like, wow, this is so crazy. So fast-forward now to right around 2015, 2016 I started working with them as a trainer freelance.
So I’m an ambassador for Sony through that ambassadorship. They basically had me as a coach for their sales reps and basically I would go to a resort for a week, and they would take all of their salespeople from the camera departments from like a certain territory. And I would spend a week teaching them photography and it was so cool and did it for many years, some of which I posted online throughout the years.
But it’s just the thing that I was doing to just give back and just to have the opportunity to work with them. So then again, fast-forward again, last month, I believe did a campaign with Best Buy with Sony, where basically I had my photo on the Best Buy website and a little tip for photography and things like that.
So it’s cool. It’s really crazy to see that. And I started in retail and then just through just some dumb luck, I dunno. Just end up seeing my face on a Best Buy website. It’s weird.
That’s awesome. So you started into photography. It doesn’t really take hold, and then you come back to it. So what was your tipping point where you said, this is my thing, photography, is it?
And I’m curious if you were already making money at that point and that’s what empowered you to make the leap or was it like, yeah, this is my thing. Now I’ve got to figure out how I can possibly support myself and make it work.
Yeah, I think that’s it. It was the latter, I came from a sales and marketing background.
I was an entrepreneur prior to becoming a photographer for many years. And I thought to myself that if there’s somebody out there making money with photography, with all the skills in the background that I had coming into it, I felt like I could give it a good go. Not to the extent to where I am today or maybe where I’ll be tomorrow, but I thought to myself, Hey, this will be a great way for me to be able to just exercise my entrepreneurship in a way that is a little bit more creative and still allows me to be able to set my own schedule and just have more fun.
This is the most fun that I’ve ever had, as an entrepreneur. Prior to this I sold electronics on an online website that I created, and that was fun because I love electronics. I’m very much like a techie nerd but nothing compares to photography. The doors that have opened for me, just, just holding this and I’m not this specific camera, but, holding a camera in general.
The doors and the relationships that have opened up to me have just been insane. Like it wouldn’t have happened any other way. It’s been an amazing ride.
I can totally understand that. So with everything that you’ve accomplished and I would expect that maybe there was a little bit of good fortune since you had that time as a business owner and entrepreneur, before you made photography a full-time occupation, but where do you see yourself going with it from here?
You really have accomplished a lot in a short period of time. And, as an ambassador for two major brands, you’re at the pinnacle of your career, you have a huge following on YouTube. You are in demand as an educator and as speaker, and obviously you’re having fun, but when you get up every day, where are you trying to go with your career?
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I think as far as I can possibly go. I honestly, at this point where I’m at right now, if I had told myself from 10 years ago that this is where I would be right now, I would not believe you. Like that for me, especially being somebody who grew up being very much an introvert, being somebody who really just spent time with close friends, I’m not that party guy. I couldn’t have imagined in a million years I’d be we’re on that right now. But I think moving forward, the sky’s the limit for me.
I would love to be able to pursue writing my first book. That’s something that I’ve had opportunities that have been opened up to me over the last few years. And I’ve had to just put it aside because I wasn’t ready for it. I want to continue to just sharpen my skills to where, when that does become a reality that I can provide an extreme amount of value to that space. And until I feel like I could do that I’m just sitting on my hands. In the future that’s really where I want to go. I want to be able to provide for my family. And then of course, for those people who follow me along on the journey who watch my videos and hopefully learn things, I want to see other people that are also coming up and that are also learning and that.
Maybe 10 years from now, I could talk to somebody whose Hey, I watched your videos. And now I’m, making a living and supporting my family with a camera”. Like it’s insane. So I want to be able to spread that same level of joy in that same level of success, whatever it might be at the time with other people.
You used a word that I find myself using a lot more when I talk to photographers while I’m trying to make them understand that if they want people to care about what they do, whether it’s for social media or whether it’s for marketing and trying to build a business, the word it’s value. You mentioned wanting to try to provide value. I don’t know. I may upset some people with this, but I don’t hear that word enough in our industry.
And I don’t mean just from influencers and social media people. But I don’t hear it from photographers that are out there doing the grind, shooting portraits, shooting, weddings, shooting, commercial advertising. You’re right. So tell me, what does that mean to you? And I’m going to ask you to give me two answers.
One on the social media side, when you’re thinking about your social media, how do you provide value? And then as a photographer, if somebody comes to you to hire you as a photographer, what are the things on your checklist that you do to provide value to your client?
Right, so those that’s a fantastic point and a fantastic question, I think for providing value on social media it’s a challenge. Because over the last few years there’s been so many people that have flooded the space. But the thing that I’ve noticed especially in recent years, there’s more people that are entering the space, but there’s less value somehow that’s actually being provided to people that follow the work and, support the content.
So to me it’s really an understanding of who is watching the content. Whether it’s being digested through Facebook, through Instagram, through YouTube, through whatever platform. Understanding what the needs are, like why do they even set out on the journey in the first place to go to these platforms to try to learn something and trying to position myself in a way to where I put myself in their shoes. And to give them what they want and a little bit more. That’s been my approach and that’s why I entered the YouTube space to begin with, because at the time we’re talking 2012, there wasn’t that many people on YouTube. And if they were there, they were hard to find that were providing any kind of value.
YouTube was one of these places where people would put their behind the scenes videos and it was a place where people could flex the gear they have and the shoots they’re doing. And I just did a photo shoot with LeBron James or whatever. And you try to squeeze the juice. And there’s no juice there. They’ll give you a quick little, like half a second clip of Oh, here’s the setup”. But they don’t talk about it and it’s you got to watch an entire video. You got to replay it, try to pause it, to see like what lighting setup did they use? Because I really appreciated the photo.
And it was hard to find. So for me, I thought to myself I want to make videos that would have provided value to me as I was when I was starting out. Because I imagine there’s people out there like me. And then, as far as from a client perspective, my goal is always whatever it is that they are paying me for the work that I’m doing.
I want them to feel like they got an amazing amount of value based on what they paid me. Whether that be through the service that I provide to them, as far as being timely with responding to emails. Obviously being on time which is always being very early for photo shoots. Being easy to work with. Under promise over deliver, all of these different things you have to do to be able to provide a maximum amount of value.
And I always want my clients afterwards to just be like, he’s expensive, but I would have paid more, and I’ve had plenty of times when clients have told me that. And it’s always funny to me, cause, cause that’s how I structured it. Like they’re saying it in a way, like I did it by accident.
And it wasn’t by accident. It was totally by design. Like I want to be able to provide max value because I know that if I do that, they’re going to tell other people and those people hopefully will come to me, and we’ll have that baseline understanding of this is the way that I do business.
Oh, perceived value is another great phrase. Photographers do have to make a concerted effort to create perceived value around their work. Let’s face it. It’s not just about the photographs, right? So what other things should be on that list of things to increase the perceived value of your work?
Yeah. There’s so many ways to be able to do that. For me, I’m very much in the weeds for a lot of this stuff. Making sure that, for example the entire experience of working with me needs to be at a certain standard. What that means to me is for example when people come to shoot with me and my studio, there’s a certain level of cleanliness. There’s a certain level of communication that’s being had with them. All of these different things. It doesn’t seem like it ties directly to value, but it does in a way, because what ends up happening is, if they’ve enjoyed the experience, and there’s a lot of things that, that basically could help to create like a really great experience for our client with just some things that I’ve mentioned being part of it.
But if they’ve had a really good experience with you, they tend to like, endow that onto the images that you delivered to them. So if you’ve had, if they’ve had a great experience, everything has been professional. They’ve been hyped up, and they’re excited about the images that you’ve created for them.
When they finally get them, they’re like, Oh my gosh, this is amazing. And part of it is and maybe you’ve had this happen before Joe, but I’ve delivered images sometimes. Like they’re not my most artistic, like my best masterpieces, right? I’m like, Oh, this is good. Michael Jordan didn’t score 60 points every single night, some nights he came out and score 10.
There’re games like that or shoots like that where I score 10 instead of 60. But they’re still happy, and they’re still so excited. And, part of that was just the experience of how I set everything up before, during and after these photo shoots are done.
And the over promise or sorry, the under promise and over deliver part of it. I stress that across a lot of things. If you think about those things in that way creatively, you’ll start to think, okay I could do this and this would be a way that I can under promise, but it’s still acceptable.
But then when I actually get ready to do it, like I just blow them away. That could not necessarily give more images, but it could be a thing, it could be delivering images much faster than they expected. There’s a bunch of different ways to be able to do it. But I think the experience is something that a lot of people don’t focus on. And that translates to the perceived value because value is a perceived thing, right? Like most people think Value is an actual and when you go to the grocery store at the bottom of the receipt, it tells you, you saved $15 shopping with us today. And it’s Oh, I saved $15. That’s the value. But value is very much a perception. So there’re certain things. And there’re many things that you can do to be able to increase the perceived value of what it is that you’re doing for a client. And I think that’s where you have to get creative as a photographer because that’s how you’ll end up making your money and having longevity in the business and being successful.
Yeah. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of photographers walk into this business and kind of hit a wall when they decide to start making money, because they didn’t realize that being a professional photographer doesn’t mean that you’re just taking pictures all the time.
Let’s face it. There’s so much more to it. There’s a lot of work that has nothing to do with the camera. In your case, did you go to school at all for business or marketing, or is your business sense simply the result of the school of hard knocks that you learned as an entrepreneur before you started your photography?
I took college courses for business. Having been an entrepreneur, as many would know, as an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats. So especially when I had my business, I’m like the IT guy, I’m the marketing guy. I’m the accounting person, like I’m doing anything and everything.
So going back to the social media conversation like you, I got into teaching on YouTube and social media because I felt that there really wasn’t a lot of good stuff available at the time. The example I use is an old Jared Polin video from FroKnows Photo. He had a video that was titled something like a three-minute portrait.
It’s one of his, one of his early videos. And he’s standing out in somebody’s backyard with a girl as his subject. This was a 15-minute-long video. And if you distill the video down, you’ll learn almost nothing. There’s a lot of rambling and randomness about photography on YouTube in general, but there’s not a lot of actual working to create understanding.
What I’m finding to be the case now. And I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so feel free to push back. I won’t be offended, but my perception now is that there’s so much quote, unquote education available, not just on YouTube, but social media in general. And a lot of photographers are falling into one of two traps.
Number one, they watch it all. They soak it all in and as a result, They’re actually dumber. They can’t actually do any of it. They’re investing a tremendous amount of time and energy into accumulating all of this information, but they’re not putting the same kind of time and energy into actually picking up a camera and taking that information and putting it to use. They’re actually over learning things.
They can have a great conversation about it, but they can’t do it. And then the other trap. Is catching the people that will tell you, Oh yeah, I love watching so-and-so on YouTube. But really what they’re doing is they’re actually just being entertained. They can tell you every little detail about so-and-so’s videos, but they can’t do it.
I used to find myself getting really frustrated about this. And I had to realize that everybody has a different reason why photography is their thing. It’s really no different from motor heads right. There are people that are into cars because of what’s under the hood and how many horsepower the engine has.
There are photographers who are into photography because of the gear and even photographers who are into it because of the celebrities they follow-on YouTube. So where I’m going with this very long question, Miguel, do you see a future where your educational efforts are not focused on YouTube?
Yeah. It’s a lot of good points that, that you’re bringing up. A lot of things that I’m like super passionate about myself. You mentioned these photographers that kind of watch these tutorials and, they fall into this trap, right? And eventually it ends up leading them to become what I call theoretical photographers, where, they’ve read the books, they’ve watched the videos, they understand how something should work, but only so far as what they saw in a video versus them actually taking the information, doing it, figuring out it didn’t work the way they thought it would, fixing it and then making it something of their own. So I’ve seen that. And that’s where for me, when I do my events when I do dealer events, whenever I do speaking engagements of any type, I always tell people if you saw something here and if a light bulb went off beautiful, great.
That’s the goal. However, If you want it to stick, if you want it to become permanent, you have to go out and take the skills that you just learned and start practicing. I was there, I was that guy who watched the tutorials. And for me, I was very much annoyed by content creators that would promise something in their title and then promise something and the thumbnail and you watch the video and the substance wasn’t there. They gloss over it, or they teach it in a way that’s Incomplete just to be fair. And there’s a lot of content creators that have done that, and they still have big audiences. They still get, a lot of attention, a lot of views and so much so that I’ve even had some people that have come to me, and they’ll watch one of my events or whatever. And then they come back afterwards, and they’re like, Oh, so-and-so said that, that’s not the way that it’s done.
It’s done like this and like this. And I’m just like, yeah. And know, I’m just kinda okay. I was like if I. What’s the take 10 images of this with these people. And I just, spin them around on the table. And I said, okay, what photos were taken by this person? I’d be surprised if they can pick out even one.
And so for me, my goal was always to put out content, put out a lot of images and to have images that are synonymous with me so that if somebody sees it, they’re like, Oh yeah, Miguel took that photo. Because that means a lot. And the social media environment that we’re in, maybe people could recognize, certain things about a person, whether it be, how they talk, their voice, their hair, their face, their laugh there glasses they’re like whatever it is that makes that person, a personality on YouTube. But for me, I wanted my people to understand who I am through the images that I create. And unfortunately, because of YouTube being the way that it is, it is moving more towards the entertainment side of things and maybe it was always like that.
And we just maybe didn’t realize it as much. So I know for me with my own YouTube content, I’ve been trying to take more of a kind of entertainment style of approach, but at the same time, still trying to make sure that. I’m teaching what needs to be taught in order to understand whatever topic it is that I’m talking about. The information doesn’t have to be so straightforward. So corporate. This is coming from somebody who’s been like that for many years. If you go back and watch my content from two years ago, you’re going to see that’s basically how it was. It was very much, Hi, my name is Miguel Quiles. Today. I’m going to show you how to use three lights.
I’m with you. That’s how my videos used to start.
It’s like that for a lot of content creators, but I do see in the future that, through, especially for people who are creating on YouTube, there’s going to be a little bit more of an emphasis on fortunately, and unfortunately on the entertainment side of things, you’re going to see the rise of clickbait even more so than it’s ever been, because unfortunately I’ve seen personally, and I know that I have content creators that are friends of mine. I’ve created videos on a topic, right?
Topic, A. I’ll put out a video, the video might get 2,000 – 3,000 views, which is not a lot given the amount of time that it takes to create some of these pieces of content. Another creator who might be a friend of mine or an associate, or, somebody who I’m connected with or whatever might make a topic on the same exact thing.
Talk way less about it. And maybe bring it up in like the middle of the video, but like in the beginning, they’re vlogging, they’re going out on a jog, they’re walking their dog, they’re laughing about whatever. And then in the middle of the video, Hey, I have this thing and it’s black and it’s a light and you plug it in the wall.
And then it goes back to Oh, I’m on a jet ski and I’m doing this. And that video will get 30,000 views, 40 and 50,000 views. And it’s and then the title will be like, “This light will blow your mind”. And I’m just like, This is so like deflating as a creator. Cause you’re like, I’m hoping that people were interested in the product, at the same time I gotta be, aware and see the writing on the wall and understand that.
People follow people, and they’re interested in people and personalities. And, so I think that if you have to be a little bit more entertaining in order for people to digest the content, or even to just sit down and listen to you for a few minutes, it’s not in my personality. So I’m having to develop it. Like I very much squashed that.
I think one of the things that I’ve learned, and then we’ll move on from social media, because I know not everybody’s here for that, but one of the things that I’ve learned is that like most content creators, I fell into the race for a hundred thousand subscribers.
And the longer you do it, you realize that the subscriber number is really a completely pointless number. The views per video is really what’s indicating what kind of traction you have on YouTube. But what I started to realize about a year and a half ago, and it’s based on something that I teach photographers all the time, not everyone is your customer.
So the challenge is to find your customers stop worrying about having 10,000 followers on Instagram. You only need a hundred. If those hundred are people that will put money in your pocket. But yet, what was I doing? I was chasing those big numbers and the realization has been a game changer for me. When I stopped the idea that I’ve got to have a weekly tutorial. When I stopped with the idea that I have to post X number of times a week.
That’s when I started making more money. Because I realized that even as a content creator and educator and an influencer. I just need to find my audience and not everyone is my audience. It’s okay. It’s a much smaller number, but I still have to provide them with an excellent experience and I have to provide tons of value.
And that means making sure that I’m actually investing in them to see them succeed. For me, honestly, that realization was extremely liberating.
Yeah. I’m hoping to have that same experience soon.
All right. So let’s get back to photography. Simple question. What makes a Miguel image? What are the things that have to happen in an image for you to consider a good and share-worthy or better yet portfolio worthy?
Funny enough when I started as a photographer, I actually sat down and as part of my branding, I wrote down like, how do I want people to be able to identify my imagery? And I just started writing down words. And the thing that I kept going back to was just clean and Hi-Def as funny as that sounds just high definition, clean images, because what I was seeing from, especially starting here and in Orlando, Florida, what I was seeing from a lot of my surrounding photographers in the area was not that, I was seeing images that I would describe as muddy images that I would describe as low quality, you find out like, Oh yeah, they’re shooting at with a very quality camera, quality lens.
But the results that I’m seeing that are being posted online, they lack the quality that I was looking at when I would stand in line at a grocery store and I’d pick up a Vogue magazine or pick up a Harper’s Bizarre or ELLE and I would see the image quality in these magazines. And then I go to like my local area and see those photos.
And I’m like the chasm, the divide is so massive and. So that for me was like, okay, I want to be here. I want to be playing in this territory. And I want people when they see my images that they would say, wow, this looks like it belongs in a magazine, or it looks like it belongs in that category of imagery.
And I knew that if it would do that, That it’s marketable. It’s commercial people will pay for that. They may not pay for the other side of the equation, they’re not going to pay for those images that are low quality images that look muddy images that don’t inspire anything. And I’ve said this quite a bit in my lectures, but I always talked about like scroll stopping was one that, I again distilled some of these words that I wrote down and scroll stopping was one that I wanted to basically embody the images that I created and I wanted it to be where if you’re scrolling through social media, your Facebook, your Instagram, wherever, and you saw one of my images that you stopped. And even if it was for a split-second, we’ve all done it where we scroll, we stop for a second, and we’re like, and then we just keep going. I’m okay with that. I’m okay. If they stop, and they say, ah, really like this, I don’t like the makeup. I don’t like the hair, maybe the lighting, whatever. I’m fine with that too. Because at the end of the day, I got them to stop. And in this day and age with the way that phones have rewired our brains to where we’re just like scrolling, scrolling, scrolling with no, like I’ve even caught myself at times when I’m scrolling.
I’m not even looking at my phone and I’m just scrolling. Like our brains are so messed up right now because of social media and everything else. So when you’re able to actually stop someone with an image, like that’s what I wanted. That’s that was the intention and that’s the goal. And every time I pick up the camera and I’m taking images, I’m trying to look at them through the lens of, if I was someone in the general public, would I stop for even a microsecond to contemplate this image? And if I don’t, we keep going. We keep shooting.
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I know you do a lot of lecturing on portraiture. So we’ll get to the beauty stuff in a minute. But on the portrait side, if you’re talking to a new or young portrait photographer, what advice are you going to give them? What are the things that you’re going to tell them that they really need to make sure that they’re paying attention to in order to make their portraits scroll, stopping while they’re building their portfolio?
I can dwindle it down to two words. People skills. Because I don’t care what camera you have, what lens you have, what editing software you use? What level of retouching you have. If you don’t have people skills, your pictures, unless you get really lucky, your pictures are not going to turn out as good as they could.
I’m not saying that they’re all going to be bad. Because I know a lot of like jerks out there that like a broken clock is right twice a day type thing. People skills, I think is probably the biggest thing that I would impart on newer photographers because they tend to focus on things that are, gear.
I need a better lens. I need a strap, I need a bag, and we lust over those things. And then we still, and I say that as myself, when I started to, we take pictures that we’re not happy with. So to me, people skills is where it’s at. And I would be reading books. I would be interacting with people, because the reality is a lot of photographers are introverts by nature.
There’s a reason why they pick up the camera, and they want to be behind the camera versus being in front of it. And that’s fine, but it can’t be that if you want to be a successful photographer, when you pick up the camera, you have to have a transformation that happens where you do have people skills and you can communicate with people and you can again, create that great experience and that great environment, so where they can give you their best poses and their best expressions, and they feel free to mess up, and not feel like the photographer is gonna, call them out on it. People skills.
See, this is why you and I get along so well, because I asked you a question that most people perceive as a photography question and your answer was founded in psychology. So let me just say I’m right there with you. I couldn’t agree more.
So let’s talk about some lighting. When you talk about that scroll, stopping image. Come on, you are a master with light. Your lighting is always spot on.
Tell me a little bit about your path with learning lighting. I’m sure that when you first picked up your camera, there were no beauty dishes involved. So what were some of your biggest struggles when you finally decided, okay, I want to light a portrait. And then what really made the difference for you to where you were able to walk out of a shoot and be like, Hey, I got this.
You know, I think at the beginning, the struggle with lighting specifically was that I didn’t understand the language. I could see a photo that had good light and I just saw a good photo. I didn’t see a good photo that had good light or great light or amazing light or epic light or anything.
I just saw a good photo. So when I would take photos and certain situations, I’m just trying to get a good photo, not understanding that the lighting was so important. So sometimes I would get lucky just by dumb luck. When I first picked up my camera, I’d, set someone down and take a photo, time of day, right spot. And the light worked and I’m like, yes, Pat myself on the back. I did it, but I didn’t understand how it was happening. Like it was a very much a mystery to me. And, so I think the game changer for me with that was training my eye. A lot of times, it’s funny. I don’t know if you follow or you’re into anime, you may not be, but like I always wear anime shirts.
So like in Naruto, one of the big things that they have on the show is that they have these people that have these certain eyes. Where they’re able to see things that other people can’t see. And I feel like as photographers, that’s what we have to do. We have to develop an eye that can look at a photograph, or if you’re taking the picture that can look at a scene and say, okay, where’s the light coming from?
What is the quality of this light? What is the color temperature of this light? Directionally of all these different things and try to make sure that when we’re creating an image that we’re doing it with the lighting, first and foremost in mind, right? Because to be honest with you, I’ve had photos photo shoots that I’ve done with people that may not be like, magazine movie star looks and things like that.
But when you put them in the right light, They look like movie stars and the quality is amazing and you have all these great things going for you. So I think being intentional about really training your eye to understand what kind of lighting, what makes it good, all the what’s who’s WHYS, where’s, how’s all that kind of stuff in regard to lighting is really going to help out.
And I think that’s, that was the turning the point for me was just developing that eye and the way that I did it was going through magazines, going through classic books on portrait photography, obviously taking a lot of images and trying to recreate some of the stuff that I would see.
Eventually you get to the point to where you start to evaluate things subconsciously you don’t even think about it. You’re just like, okay, you’re going to stand here. Dialing my settings being you work with them, get them to give you the right expressions, the right mood, the right pose. And it just so happens to be after you look at the image Oh, I got them in really good light and it just happened because your brain and just identify as you don’t think when you’re brushing your teeth Oh, I need to make sure I’m.
I have to question my mouth, you just pick up the brush and you’re, doing something else, listening to the news or whatever, and it all happens subconsciously and that’s how it needs to be for photographers when it comes to lighting.
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Miguel, you talked about the idea of get the right light and make an average person look like they’re a model or a movie star. I love that analogy. Now I know as a content creator, we all have one or two subjects that we know we can put them in front of the camera and it’s going to be easy to make them look great. But I also know we’re always on the lookout for new faces. Interesting faces. So I’m curious, speaking about more of the beauty side of things. What are the features that you look for in a subject male or female?
That’s a fantastic question because I think it’s a very challenging thing. Especially as a content creator, it’s a hard thing to find. Honestly, the thing that I look for is to find people that can emote. What the average person might think on the outside, they’d be like, Oh, you get the best looking person you possibly can.
Or, if you’re photographing a male model, somebody who’s like fittest person, the most angular jaw, the most, perfect hair, right? Like you start thinking about all these things. And the reality is that when you photograph people like that, They might be great. The camera might love them.
The light might love them. But oftentimes my experience has been that there’s a disconnect there. Sometimes they’re great looking people and real life, but when it comes to taking a photograph of them, sometimes the images fall flat. And so for me, what I’m looking for is somebody who can express themselves, somebody who can be emotional.
For lack of better word that I can find right now to just give different expressions and really feel whatever it is that we’re trying to go for. So if we’re going for a shot that, they’re playing a character that strong and powerful, like I need them to give me that I need them to be able to essentially almost be like an actor or an actress and really feel, and really sell whatever that look is that we’re trying to go for. I’ve seen very average people that kill it, so it’s not one of those things where you’re looking for like the prototypical, bombshell type of person for a video.
It’s more about finding that, person, they might be a bombshell, they might not, they might be somebody, you might not even give them a second look in real life, but you know what, when they get in front of the camera, and they start giving that mood and that feel, and that passion that’s something that I can’t, there’re no products. There’re no lenses. That’ll do it. There’re no lights that’ll do it. If they don’t bring that, I can’t capture it. And it could still be a good image, but it’s not going to be that like that scroll stopper. The scroll stopper is going to be the one that like someone stops, and they feel like that person is like speaking to their soul and their emotion.
And it’s hard to find. Trust me. But for those people watching, it is very hard to find. But that’s what I’m looking for personally.
Very cool. So I have to ask at least one gear question or folks get upset that I didn’t talk at all about gear. I want to know. What’s the one lens that you just can’t live without. I know Sony has been coming out with a run, a portrait lenses in the last two years.
Oh yeah. Over the last two months. Yeah. I have a handful of lenses that are like that. I think right now these days it’s gotta be funny enough. It’s already on the camera. But this one right here, the 135mm F 1.8. This thing is a legend, like an absolute legend.
I came from shooting DSLR back in the day and I use the 135mm F2, for a lot of my studio portraits, a lot of location stuff. And when I switched to mirrorless I very much missed that focal length. This is lenses, probably two or three years old at this point, but putting it up against a lot of other lenses and I’ve got several and I’ve used several others.
It’s the one that I always go to is just like comfortable. It’s home.
Have you noticed that so many photographers today won’t consider a focal length over a 100mm for a portrait.
Oh, sure, sure. It’s scary.
When I was younger, the 135mm’, that was my go-to lens for shooting portrait work. Even when digital came along, I was still a Nikon guy, my go-to lens was actually a Tokina 100mm macro lens. You can still buy that lens for under $400. And for me, I love a slightly longer focal length. So even with my Olympus cameras, I’ll use the 45mm F 1.2. So that’s a 90mm full frame equivalent. But then my other favorite one, I want a little bit of a tighter shot is the 75mm, which is a 150mm full frame equivalent.
It’s just like falling right back into old habits. When I put that lens on, I love it.
And you know what the thing is, and I’m sure it, it speaks to you as well when you’re using those longer focal lengths. Oftentimes those lenses are a little bit better quality, right? Because the mass market, the amateur photographers that are coming into it, they it’s like anything above 70mm is like amazing.
Like we have cell phones now that it’s like, it starts off at 16, 50, and then the 70 or 75, it’s like the telephoto, and in reality for portrait photography, you can get a 70 to 200 and just call it a day. Like you have the whole range of just amazing focal lengths, that if you want to shoot close-up portraits, you want to do full body.
They will make your images look different from the average person who’s taking a portrait. And for me, that’s always been my goal. Like I talked about it in a roundabout way, but my goal with my portraits are to separate myself from the vast majority of portrait photographers and an easy way to do that. Don’t shoot with the 35 all the time. Don’t shoot with a 50 all the time. U.S. Something a little bit longer because those focal lengths are like very rare and exotic for people who are starting out.
I’ve always thought the same way. Even as a newspaper photographer, my go-to lenses were the 24mm and a 180mm.
I didn’t run with a 50 or a 35. I ran with a 24 and what I love about the 24mm, in order to fill the frame, you had to get right on top of your subject. But what was cool about it for the person looking at the picture in the newspaper, it’s almost like they felt like they were in the middle of the scene.
So I’m with you on the idea of not going with the norm. Even with the Olympus. Now my favorite wide angle, which I use all the time is a 7mm – 14mm. So that’s 14mm – 28mm full frame, which is pretty wide.
So I’m right there with you. Like I would much rather if I’m going to walk around and people talk about the 35 being that street photography, like just casual walk around type lens. For me, it’s a 24 because I like being able to get in close and really like for me, I talk about that in my lectures all the time and in very strong words, but I always say fill the freaking frame, and that’s another way for you to be able to separate yourself from a lot of the amateurs that are out there because they want to stand far away there, introvert, getting close, build a frame, and you will create images with impact.
Yeah, I didn’t really tune into it until I got older. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things, supposedly we get wiser as we get older, but I always had that mentality of don’t do what everybody else is doing.
It’s a mantra.
I completely agree with you. The goal is never to copy something because a copy it’s like the Xerox. It’s never as good as the original right.
There’s a fine line with this, Joe, and we gotta say this. There’s a very fine line with this because I don’t know about you, but I have been to events where there are photographers who are like billed as being photographers. Who’ve been shooting for the last 30, 40 years and you see their work and the work looks like it was shot 30 or 40 years ago, but it was just shot yesterday, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a market for it. But at the same time, it’s you also want, you gotta be real picky, with what comes in and for me I say this to myself just as much, like I have to fight to make sure that I’m not pushing it away, just because everyone else is doing it. It’s a trend, it’s a fad versus okay, what can I take from this? And try to like, I don’t know, repackage it somehow to make it something that’s still my style, but it’s also still relative.
Miguel. I do think in that sense, you and I are kindred spirits in terms of the values that motivate us and motivate our work.
I really appreciate you being as transparent as you have been. And I’m really excited to see where your career will take you.
Man I hope this pandemic ends soon so that we’ll get to say hi in person again.
Seriously. That would be amazing.
But in the meantime, Miguel, all the best.
Joe. Thank you so much. Continue to stay safe. Thanks to you. Thank you to your audience, where you guys out there as well, stay safe and hopefully we’ll get to see each other soon.
Keep at it, man.
And thank you so much for your time.
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Gosh, I can’t wait to be able to get back to in-person events. They’re starting to happen here and there. And I’m not sure it may be a bit too soon yet, but hopefully, maybe by this fall, things are going to open up, be sure to check out Miguel’s website.
And of course his YouTube channel, all of his links are in the show notes below. That’ll do it for this episode folks of The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. Please stay safe, have an awesome week. And until next time. Remember these words.
Thanks for listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something because your best shot, it’s your next shot. So people learning, keep thinking and keep shooting. Adios.
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