Michael Blann of www.michaelblann.com was a selfish choice for an interview for me. I first learned about Michael after seeing an ad for Phase One Cameras showing him working in the high mountains of France… photographing the greatest race on earth, the Tour de France. My passion.
The Phase one ad was based around Michael's new book – “Mountains – Epic Cycling Climbs” which was three years in the making. It's a book that brings together a photography project that focuses on bringing the physical landscape to the stories and reputations of cycling's biggest climbs.
After having a closer look at Michaels work, I realised there was so much more to him as a photographer than cycling and landscape photography.
I don't use Photoshop too heavily. I like for people to believe that what they're looking at is what was there on the day. I don't like skies that've been burnt in and looked really dramatic. – Michael Blann
Michael spent six years working for Getty Images as their London Creative Photographer, where he got to roam the world photographing everything for their creative needs.
Now, he's working for some of the best agencies and brands in the world shooting advertising campaigns and helping companies see their ideas come to life… companies like Adidas, Nike, Sky, BBC and Puma.
After all that, I saw a quote from Michael that read “It's my personal photography which is shaping up to be the most exciting.”
To say I'm rapt to have Michael Blann for this episode of the podcast is an understatement. I hope you enjoy the conversation and questions as much as I did in asking them.
Here’s some of what we cover:
- Is personal work always more inspiring than paid commercial work?
- How do you get commissioned to shoot personal work – surely a dream for every photographer?
- How Michael discovered photography
- A first break with Getty Images
- Licensing photographer's photos through an agency
- What is the Mountains project and Michael's reason for taking it on?
- Why photography mileage should be a consideration for any shoot
- Michael's dreams of riding the Tour de France
- Considering financial gains when taking on personal projects
- What makes a good photo book?
- Did the book run away from Michael's original vision?
- Why it's so beneficial to print your photos when producing a book
- How to finance photography trips
- How to maximise your time and plan your shoots when documenting Tour de France
- Why Michael uses Phase One for his photoshoots
- Hasselblad or Phase One, what's the difference if you're printing?
- What gear Michael takes to his photo shoots
- Why Michael prefers to shoot tethered… in the field
- What to consider when choosing a location to shoot from
- Disappointments and struggles Michael experienced when shooting Mountains
- File sizes used with the Phase One camera
- Does Michael do any post-processing with his images?
- Did Michael pay for the written content found in his book?
- How referrals transpire when Michael needs someone to write the copy of his book
- The process involved in completing a book project like Mountains
- The realisation there's going to be too much work involved in making this book
- What's next after shooting for Mountains?
- Type of work requests that came in after shooting the Mountains project
- Seeing his book in print for the first time
- How many copies of the book did Michael sell?
- Does Michael rely on art direction on his commercial shoots?
- How Michael developed his photography style
- How pricing works for commissioned photography jobs
- How copyrights and usage rights work for commissioned shoots
- Why there's no money shooting editorials
- What happens when you give unlimited usage rights to clients yet retain copyright?
- What is it about editorial work that's so good when the renumeration is low?
- How to come up with your photography style when shooting editorial work
What is your big takeaway?
Following this interview, I’d love to read your feedback and comments. Was there something from this interview that struck a chord, inspired or motivated you?
Will you take any kind of action after hearing what Michael had to share?
I've always described myself as the passive observer. By that, I mean there's some photographers that like to be riding amongst the action and be part of the crowd that you're shooting. For me, I've always liked to take a step back and view a scene, which is kind of this classical approach. – Michael Blann
Let me know by leaving your thoughts in the comments below.
If you have any questions that I missed, a specific question you’d like to ask Michael or if you just want to say thanks for coming on the show, feel free to add them below too.
As a photographer, it's really useful to print stuff, to actually look at work. – Michael Blann
Photography is not all about money. It's about exposure, it's about personal gratification that you want to get involved in a project because it sounds interesting; it just varies. – Michael Blann
You've got to remember that you really only have one opportunity when the race comes past to get one shot. – Michael Blann
This style of photography where you're sort of detached from what you're looking at but you're looking in at it is what I'm about. – Michael Blann
I thought the photography would be the hard bit and the time-consuming bit but it was putting the thing together that took an awful lot of effort and time that I never really envisaged at the start. – Michael Blann
Links to people, places and things mentioned in this episode:
Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs by Michael Blann
Thanks again for listening to the show and thanks to Michael for coming on and experimenting with a new and different format for this photography podcast and for sharing his thoughts, views and ideas.
Also, a big thanks to The Image Salon for sponsoring this episode of the podcast and making the show possible. If outsourcing your editing is something you're currently doing or considering, please put the guys at The Image Salon to the test… I think you'll be blown away!
I guess my aesthetic is very sort of classical. There's a few tweaks here and there and I might simplify shots or make them more classical in their approach – whether that's cropping or whatever, but I don't go too heavy on it. – Michael Blann
If you have any suggestions, comments or questions about this episode, please be sure to leave them below in the comment section of this post, and if you liked the episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see at the bottom of the post!
That’s it for me, hope everything is going well for you in life and photography!
Thanks and speak soon