Michael Herb is a commercial and editorial photographer from the States who in his own words says “I’ve had an intense, deep-seated passion for art for as long as I can remember. I can find inspiration in everything and my imagination is endless. I challenge myself on every occasion. I’m always learning, always improving, and always striving for more. Where there is life, there is inspiration and where there is inspiration, there is a spark of creativity. It is an endless cycle that I enjoy every minute of.”
DIYP: Tell us a little of how you got into photography, and who your influences are.
MH: Photography came to me not once but twice and I’m lucky for that as I wasn’t ready for it the first time. Although, maybe photography wasn’t ready for me the first time around. It was a particularly cold winter in the tiny Buffalo NY. My mother was looking for something to do that would both entertain and be worthwhile. She had seen that the college was offering Film Photography as part of their adult night classes. Not wanting to do it alone, she asked me if I’d be interested. She had to lie about my age as I was only 16 and the minimum age for the course was 18. Since no age verification was required I was enrolled and we soon dove head first into the world of photography.
We learned not only how cameras worked but why. Down the most fundamental principles. ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Not only what they did but how they worked together to expose an image. It was an education that would rival major art colleges and it only cost 25.00 for 12 weeks.
Immediately after the first class we signed up for black and white developing and learned how to develop the film we had shot. Within weeks of the course, we had converted our laundry room into a darkroom and proceeded to spend most of the winter using the washer and dryer as a counter for tubs of developing chemicals. We ended our photographic journey with an aerial class where we flew in a 4 seat Cessna over the city. I remember nearly crashing the plane while the pilot lined the plane up for landing. Being in the passenger seat I had a duplicate set of controls as most any plane does. I had leaned out of the window and upon doing so, hit the rudder pedal with my foot. The plane’s tail made an immediate and alarming jog right. The pilot was able to counter and bring the plane in safely. I’m glad I didn’t hit the Yoke as that could have ended in me crashing the plane!!
Both my Mother and I continued with photography for the following 2 years. We got so into it that we even opened a tiny gallery on the main street in the center of our town. That lasted up until we as a family decided to say goodbye to the cold and move to Sunny South Florida. This is where photography lost its appeal for me. The landscape was flat and I wasn’t really a fan of the beach. I put the camera away shortly after arriving in Florida and life sort of just went on.
Fast forward nearly 10 years and I had graduated college and landed a job producing and directing TV commercials. After 2 years I had become burnt out with video and was looking for an escape plan. This is where photography found me for the second time. This time photography was ready for me. The Decade since I had first picked up a camera had seen major technology improvements and digital was in full swing. I had since been let go (aka, fired) from my producing job as I had lost all drive and it had shown. One day while flipping through a magazine I had started to notice photographs that jumped off the page. Images that looked almost 3D and alive. I thought to myself, how in the world did they get the image to look so cool and so intense. I had to learn how they did this. I then set off to learn everything I could. In 1998 the internet wasn’t what it had become in 2008 and now I was able to learn anything and everything
I could imagine just by typing it into google. From Blogs to Youtube I immersed myself in the world of photography. I bought a used Canon 40d and a beginner strobe kit as recommended from Strobist.com. I remember the first time I hit that shutter button and seeing the flash pop. I also remember how blown away I was at the image. For the first time, I felt like I had control and I was hooked. Nearly one year after getting the speed lights I purchased 3 Alien Bee 800’s, 2 medium softboxes and a beauty dish. The power I now possessed changed my life! I remember the first night with the new setup. I had fumbled with the gear on my front lawn and that first image I shot sent shivers up my spine.
My influences aren’t hard to figure out. Dave Hill and David LaChapelle were two photographers that created story driven images that just punched you in the face. They had an almost unreal quality that just resonated with me. I wanted to create images that transcended the boundaries of reality and it’s something I’m still actively trying to do with each image.
DIYP: Your body of work has a bold style, with powerful colours and dramatic lighting, is this something you have always strived for or did it evolve naturally.
MH: My work is definitely an evolution. If you don’t evolve you go extinct! I knew from the start that I wanted to create bold, powerful, pop-off-the-page images. The techniques for doing that has definitely evolved over the years yet the drive to create those eye-catching photographs hasn’t changed.
DIYP: I love your celebrity portraits, tell us a little more about how a photographer can land clients like that?
MH: I’d hardly consider myself an expert on celebrity portraiture. I’ve landed a few over the years and honestly, they’ve all come from knowing the right people. So, my advice to those looking to photograph anyone in the spotlight. Find a way to get as close to the people who make decisions. Introduce yourself and what you do. Make yourself memorable but not desperate and know when to walk away. Skrillex crashed a party and walked up to Deadmau5 and handed him a USB drive with his demo on it and look how it worked out for him! Sometimes all it takes is the courage to say Hi, my name is _____I’m a photographer.
DIYP: For anyone starting out with the desire to create images like yourself, what advice would you give them about finding inspiration?
MH: Life is inspiration! Good or bad. If you struggle with inspiration, just open your eyes and look around. You are only limited by your imagination and drive.
DIYP: How important is Photoshop in your workflow, would you be able to create your images without it?
MH: How important is photoshop to my workflow? How important was that last breath of air you took? My composite work requires so much manipulation that without Photoshop I’d be stuck printing and cutting out my images. I’d be sitting on the floor with a pile of scraps, a bottle of glue in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. Did I mention I’d be doing this with a beautiful view of the 4 padded walls of my asylum room? Not too far off from where I’m at now as my work only gets more involved and complicated. My new mantra is, “if it doesn’t exist, make it exist”. My imagination has taken the driver’s seat for most of my life and what it wants it gets! Photoshop is a conduit that my imagination flows through.
DIYP: With so many photographers after the same commercial jobs, what do you think is the best way to stand out from the crowd in these times?
MH: Truth be told, knowing the right people can make your career. Just as I said with celebrity portraits, you need to get out there and shake hands and kiss babies. Your portfolio needs to be targeted to the kind of jobs you want to get. If you want to shoot sports portraits you need sports portraits. If you want to shoot lifestyle campaigns you better have lifestyle images in your port. It’s a real chicken and the egg situation.
You also must stay relevant and alive. If they don’t know you exist, you cease
to exist. You want your name on the tips of their tongues. Don’t be afraid to be bold and different! Commercial work is very competitive and just sending an email with a photo and a link isn’t typically enough to get a response. If you can find a way to meet face to face then make it happen. Emails are like throwing darts blindfolded while drunk. Most emails don’t even get read. Imagine how an art director, art buyer or creative director feels every morning. They get to work, look at their inbox and have to sort through hundreds of aspiring commercial photographers emails. You don’t have much of their time to make it count. Short and sweet, fast loading and straight to the point. Oh and don’t be surprised if you don’t hear a response. Sometimes it can take years before you particular style fits a project. I hounded Inked for years and finally gave up as my style was just too crazy for their pages. One day, nearly 2 years after I had stopped sending emails I check my voicemail and found a message from the editor.
DIYP: Out of all your projects, which had the most impact on your life?
MH: Projects that impacted my life? My 365 project in 2011 changed my life. Forcing yourself to pick up a camera every day and be creative really tests you as a person and as a creative. I challenged myself every day for the entire year. By the end, I had landed a national ad campaign, photographed people from all over the country and fell in love with the western US. I can trace the very beginning of my professional career to an exact date during that project. I woke up one morning and they were talking about me and my work on the largest morning radio show in South Florida. Within hours I started getting calls!!
DIYP: If you were only allowed to give one essential piece of advice to a beginner, what would it be?
MH: Don’t get jealous of good photographs, get inspired and realize that for every great photo there were dozens of bad ones that came before it.
DIYP: What cool projects do you have lined up for 2018.
MH: I have several that I’m excited about. However, You’ll just have to keep up with me as I’m not ready to start singing about them just yet. Hopefully, you all will see my face a bit more this year as I’ve been kind of hiding for the past 2 years.
DIYP: Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time?
MH: In 10 years time, I’d love to see myself in the mirror, smiling, happy and sane on some crazy adventure in some part of the world.