As I was brainstorming ideas for my future blogs, I decided to muster up the courage to ask internationally recognized wedding photographer, Molly Michel, if she would interview for my blog. I religiously read her blog that she posts every ‘Miscellaneous Monday’and it even inspired much of my own blog. This woman is crazy busy with her astounding 30+ weddings a year, editing, her blog, the completion of her studio, a new business adventure, and a few secret projects that are yet to be revealed to her fans.
Needless to say, I didn’t expect her to take time out of her day to answer some questions for my itty bitty blog. But, she graciously agreed to do the interview. Molly even offered a great compliment that she was “flattered to be asked.” So thank you Molly for agreeing to do this around your already insane schedule.
Readers: I hope you love this interview as much as I did reading and putting it together! I also added a few of my own comments, so enjoy!
GIYC: How did you get involved in photography?
Molly: My involvement happened sort of roundabout. I took photography in undergrad as part of my BFA degree, and I was fascinated by it, and even thought the photographers had the “awesome” medium. They got to look cool and dress great (because they weren’t covered in paint and ink or clay), jet set around the world, carry their medium with them everywhere….I could go on. Yet, for all of my admiration, I never thought “I should do photography!”. I was deeply in love with printmaking – which is what I got a degree in. Still with me?
I went to grad school for Animation and Live Action film making. It was a dream I started when I was 13 and I saw it thru. I ended up creating a hybrid form of animation between stop-motion (think Nightmare before Christmas) and replacement animation. I was still really into analog processes – shooting on film, not digital, editing by hand, drawing each frame one by one, the works. The magic of film and photography and what a lens could do transfixed me.
I graduated, stayed in LA to work in the film industry, decided it wasn’t for me as a career, and moved back to WI to join a new animation studio here. That fell apart, and I took a job as an art director (I had always paid the bills since college as a graphic designer) and a part-time animation professor at MIAD. Somewhere during that time, I had asked for a digital camera for Christmas so I could do my own animation work. I got one, and started photographing for fun. Some friends of ours got engaged, and knew of my interest in photography and asked me to shoot their engagement session. I was apprehensive, but I tried it anyway and I had a blast. Someone saw that session and asked me to shoot theirs, someone else saw those pictures and asked me to shoot theirs – and offered to pay me. Before I knew it I was shooting a wedding for free to try it out, and I was hooked.
Within a year, I had started this business. I had always enjoyed artistic mediums that were immediate – and it doesn’t get more immediate than photography, especially digital photography.
GIYC: What is your creative inspiration? Is there something specific that inspires you?
Molly: My work has always been about a sense of place, the stories they hold, the history they hide. Even in my wedding work, the location is what inspires me first. Beyond that – as far as the wedding work is concerned – the story of the couple is something I really enjoy unearthing and finding ways to convey. Someone once said it is hard not to like someone once you know their story – and its true. On top of that, the light is what I’m always talking about. Give me good light, and I won’t care if I’m in a garbage dump – I’m a happy camper.
GIYC: Where or how did you learn to take/edit such great pictures?
Molly: I learned initially in college, shooting on 35mm film and printing in the darkroom myself. In grad school I continued that dedication to the whole process (printmakers tend to be all about process) – developing my own film negatives, printing it myself, editing it on a flatbed myself, etc.
Shooting live action film is technically no different than still photography – except that I used to tell a story over time, and now I try to tell it in a frame or two. But that frame or two part is very like animation. I would say that this is where 50% of my education came from. The other half is all self-taught. Sadly, in the three years between grad school and starting this business – I forgot a lot of my technical knowledge, and I had to relearn it on the job.
Editing skills for me come from a lot of sources. I taught myself graphic design skills – photoshop, illustrator, etc – in high school, and continued to learn and work in that field all throughout my education. My classic art undergrad degree emphasized a lot of the principles for good editing – color, tone, composition, so that helps. Then, in film making, you have to go through color editing on your work as well, and so I learned a lot by choosing to sit next to the colorist I hired for my thesis film and working along side of her as my final print was developed.
GIYC: If you had to recommend a camera to a beginner, which one would it be?
Molly: The purist in me wants to recommend a film camera. It will force you to learn how to really shoot. But digital makes the learning curve so much easier, because you can shoot something and look at your results immediately. I usually recommend the Canon Rebel (I’m a Canon girl all the way, so I don’t know anything about Nikon, sorry). I also recommend setting the camera to manual and studying your camera manual backwards and forwards. The Rebel is a great little camera if you know how to use it. You can get really far with that camera body and a good lens. Invest in good lenses instead of the camera body – the lenses stay with you no matter what body you use.
GIYC: On average, how many weddings do you do a year?
Molly: On average, I shoot about 30 per year. Last year I thought I would see how many I could shoot. As a result, I shot 41 weddings myself, and assisted on two others. It was too many. I was burned out big-time. 30 seems to be a magic number where I can still deliver the experience to my clients that I want to, and not get burned out creatively.
GIYC: Do you shoot your weddings alone or with another photographer as well?
Molly: About 95% of my weddings I shoot alone. I bring a non-shooting assistant with me to every wedding – she is basically my maid of honor, so to speak. I have one assistant that can shoot if needed, and I sometimes will employ a second shooter if it is needed. In general, I prefer to shoot alone – it is just how my mind works. I can break a wedding day into parts and tackle them efficiently, and I have such a singular vision I want to convey, it is hard to get someone else to shoot that way. However, some weddings are just too big or have too much going on to cover it alone – in those cases I have close friends who shoot similarly to the way I do and we will co-shoot the wedding.
GIYC: If you could create your ideal wedding to shoot, where would it be and how would it look?
Molly: This is like opening Pandora’s Box. I think my answer could be different on any given day. I am continually attracted to locations with history that are falling apart, in ruins, etc. A wedding in an out of the way location, the kind of place you feel blessed to stumble upon, in the ruins of a church, overgrown with nature, the roof missing, with beautiful golden hour (the 2 hours before sunset) light, would be pretty ideal. I love a vintage inspired wedding, with unique, thoughtful and personal details and a fashionable dress and suit. And it would have to be filled with emotion – with the type of couple who lets it all show, and families that can’t hold back their love. As for where – that obsession changes every day. Italy is a re-occuring choice, Africa is a deep desire, as is Greece, Ireland and Bali. In the states it is the Santa Barbara area – you can’t beat their light!
I love this photo, so creative!
GIYC: How do you learn to photograph with natural light? I love the extra sunset shoot you did for Liz and Tom’s Wedding. See September Archives.
Molly: Trial and error mostly. Since I tend to be an artist that likes more immediate mediums, natural light serves that. If I had to plan a lighting set-up, haul all kinds of lighting gear to a location and run a test shoot – that doesn’t inspire me. I’d rather work with and be surprised by what happens. I like the unpredictability of natural light. I changes and morphs, and you have to adapt. It’s a fun challenge.
Liz and Tom were a couple who really understood the difference that light can make, and they planned an extra mini-shoot into their wedding day when the light was good. They gave me the discretion to say “Now’s the time!” and steal them away, and it really paid off in their pictures. We had so much fun, and I think it made for really good memories for them.
GIYC: Is there a certain point in each wedding that you look forward to shooting?
Molly: I love my warm-up time, when I’m exploring the location and shooting details and atmosphere, getting ready for the day and getting my head in the game. My favorite moments are always the ones where emotion is possible. I hope for deeply emotional days. The first time the bride sees her father, all dressed. The look exchanged between the bride and groom when she reaches the altar. At any “good” wedding, you’ll catch me tearing up behind my camera – usually at a moment where the gravity of the relationship can be felt. It might be the father/daughter dance, seeing a long-married elderly couple look at each other tenderly on the dance floor, or tearful vows. Those are the moments I look forward to.
One of my favorite parts about Molly’s photography is that she always sheds light on the bride’s dress and shoes. She even gets excited about Jimmy Choos too! I knew I liked her.
GIYC: How long does it take you to edit a wedding shoot?
Molly: This can vary. For me, I fully edit the whole collection of images. If there is a pimple on your forehead, I’ll take it out in every shot. Most photographers don’t do this. But I just can’t hand my clients something that isn’t finished and doesn’t look like I envisioned it. My brain just doesn’t work any other way. (I wish it did – I would have a lighter work-load!).
After shooting, I spend somewhere between 2 to 4 days preparing the files. Album design, blogging, creating large prints, submitting images for publication – that is all extra. And there is so much time spent on the business itself – shooting a wedding is about 20% of what I do.
GIYC: As a wedding photographer, if you had to give a word of advice to couples on what to look for in a wedding photographer, what would it be?
Molly: This is a tough one. I don’t think there is one single piece of advice. There is so much I wish couples were educated about. Find someone whose work you love, who you feel you can trust implicitly with your memories, and who you could have dinner with easily.
Your photographer spends more time with you than anyone else that day, and that experience will become part of your wedding day experience – so you should enjoy their company. Your pictures are the only thing you have left after the wedding day – they are the one thing you can look back on to remember this monumental day. Invest in this, make it a high priority in your budget – because it is an investment, not an expense. You will have these pictures for the rest of your life – the flowers will die, the food will be eaten and forgotten, your dress will end up in a box. From a practical standpoint – make sure you see examples of full weddings – the whole coverage. Look for someone who can handle different lighting situations well, who can handle the type of day you are having. Make sure you get the photographer you want for the amount of time you need – those two things can’t be changed later.
Reminds me of the painting American Gothic by Grant Woods. These are so fun.
GIYC: In your opinion, what elements make a great picture?
Molly: Composition and light. A great composition with great light that has been manipulated well by the photographer is a winning combination every time. If you are talking about people – then the emotion, expression and feeling has to be there. If you can hear the photographer saying “1, 2, 3, smile!” in your head when you look at it – then for me, that photo is a failure from an artistic standpoint.
GIYC: If you feel comfortable sharing, what camera do you use?
Molly: I shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II. It is a full frame camera – which suits me, since I learned on full frame cameras, and the less math I have to do the better. (Full frame means that when I put a 50mm lens on, it is 50mm. On a crop sensor camera, it might be more like 65mm) I love the color and quality that this camera allows me to produce. It also allows me to shoot up to 6400 iso, which means I can be in a dark church and not need a flash. More important though are my lenses. I shoot with prime lenses as much as possible, mostly Canon L series glass.
GIYC: Where do you see Mthree Studio in 5 years, 10?
Molly: Would it be terrible to admit I haven’t looked that far ahead? My current goals are to have 40% of my wedding clients from outside of Wisconsin, and at least two international commissions a year. I’m getting close to that. Beyond that, down the road, it is so hard to say. I have some projects I have been working on that stem from weddings, but are an evolution for what m three studio offers. As my own life progresses – I don’t know that I can maintain being away from my future family for 30+ weekends a year. No matter what, if I can get up each day and be excited about my work, and be making my way in the world through art, I’ll be happy. What form that takes – I’m not sure.
A huge thanks again to Molly from Mthree Studio for taking the time to answer all of these questions. You must visit Molly’s website and blog listed below. She’s fabulous!
THE GIRL IN THE YELLOW CAB