In this episode, I speak with portrait photographer Mike Monaghan. Mike is an American photographer who specialises in dreamy portrait photography. His photographs of people are expressive and abstract. He often uses special lighting tricks to take unique photos.
We talk about:
- Practical ideas for creating beautiful light in your photos
- How to improve your portrait photos without the help of models
- The pressures of social media (and how to deal with them)
Mike is an incredibly talented portrait photographer. If you want to get better at taking original photos of people, this episode is for you.
Here is a preview of our conversation with Mike Monaghan.
Q: How do you plan your photoshoots?
Mike Monaghan: If I say if I’m shooting with a model or doing a portrait shoot, most of the time there’s a conversation of what the vibe will be like. If it’s outdoors, I might put together a mood board. If it’s a grassy field at sunset, there’ll be a lot of grassy field photos and maybe what the outfits can look like. It doesn’t have to exactly be that.
We’ll combine our thoughts and see what we make out of that. Sometimes, I might send something to the model and they come up with things that I had not expected at all from what I had sent. I still go with that because it’s a collaboration.
With lighting, a lot of it is in the moment. I might play with a colour that I’m feeling. If I’m really digging yellow at the moment, I might focus on making the photoshoot have a very yellow theme to it. I’m surprising myself by the end of it because it’s never looking like it was planned. If I do make a plan, very rarely it goes accordingly. It’s kind of in the moment.
Q: You live in LA, which is overflowing with avid photographers. How do you stand out commercially in such a competitive industry?
Mike Monaghan: I got lucky that I landed a full-time job in the creative industry fairly shortly after getting here. It’s allowed me to not have to worry about the competition as much. It’s because I’ve been taken away from my personal work.
But that’s okay, because I love what I’m doing now. It’s the loudest voices that get the most recognition and attention. For obvious reasons, when you’re very loud, people will notice you. I’m not saying that the loud people are not talented either, not what I’m implying here. I find that my personality type might not be the most perfect fit for somewhere like LA sometimes. I’m very reserved and quiet and keep to myself. A lot of LA is not that. It’s Hollywood, so there’s a lot of Hollywood with that.
I found that right off the bat, I had to put myself out there a lot more if I want anybody to even notice me. I don’t recommend just coming out here if you don’t have an established portfolio already or if you’re just looking to make it. You’re going to have to hustle really, really hard if you’re coming out here without being fully prepared. I came out here as prepared as I could have been, and I still struggled right off the bat very hard. I’m glad I waited to come when I did.
Q: What gear do you use?
Mike Monaghan: I actually use very minimal gear. I have a 5D Mark III, a Canon 50mm 1.8. That’s the cheap nifty 50 as everybody calls it.
I also have a 35mm Sigma 1.4 lens and a 24-72. I haven’t really upgraded for a couple of years now. It feels minimal to me because I’m not a gear guy. Once I have what I have, I just stick with it.