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Life & Work with Michael Gillman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Gillman.

Hi Michael, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
As a child, I was always drawn to nature. I loved being outside. I recall my dad being outside with my brother and I taking photos of us with his old film camera. It wasn’t until later in life that I was bitten by the photography bug and could take my love of the outdoors and nature to another level.

After leaving the mountains of West Virginia and moving to North Carolina, I decided to purchase a small point and shoot camera on a whim and join a friend who had invited me to a photography meetup at the Duke University Gardens. I was instantly hooked.

I started taking a lot of landscape photos and eventually included portraiture as well. I loved the connection that photography allowed me with people and nature alike. After about a year of this, I realized that photography was going to be a permanent part of my life. It was time to upgrade.

I made a pretty big investment for my wallet at the time and bought my first DSLR. That was a game changer for me. I started tackling weddings as well as anything that peaked my interest… Shortly after, I also started photographing concerts and Broadway at the Durham Performing Art Center. The DPAC gig has allowed me to hang out backstage with/photograph the likes of John Cleese, Neal DeGrasse Tyson, and a member of the Beatles, to name a few.

It’s been over ten years now and I’m still exploring the things I like to shoot. Photography has given me a new perspective on my surroundings and taught me to look at things in ways that I never thought to look at them before. From photo gigs in Hawaii to photo projects in Scotland, I feel there’s nowhere photography can’t take me if I put the work in.

I’ll forever be grateful to photography and to the support I get from family and friends who keep cheering me on while doing what I love. I can’t wait to see where this road leads me!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
One of the struggles I’ve initially faced is trying to get jobs or projects when I didn’t have a proper/large enough portfolio or have a price list nailed down.

I was never really interested that much in the business side of photography. Building the website and coming up with prices and marketing was always a “necessary evil” for me. I just wanted to shoot!

I’ve luckily found, in recent years, methods and ways of incorporating those necessities in very tolerable ways. Dare I say, even fun at this point! I’m learning to embrace the business side of things as well these days.

I still, and probably always will better enjoy the actual photography side of things, however!

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
When it comes to my work and picking something I specialize in, that’s really tough. I love photographing so many things! If I had to narrow it down to two things, I have to go with landscapes, which was my first love, and portraiture.

Landscapes because I love being outside. I love looking for compositions and patterns in nature. Even if I don’t take a single image on an outing, it’s still a great experience just being outdoors and hiking around!

Portraiture is a close second because I love the connection I get with people. I also love the reactions I get from people when viewing their images and seeing themselves in ways they may never had before. We’re so used to seeing ourselves straight on in the mirror. Having a portrait session done is a great way to learn more about how people view you! It’s a great lesson in self-discovery.

What I believe I am most proud of is not a particular image, or set of images I’ve taken, even though I am very proud of a lot of my work, but my dedication to the craft and the hard work I’ve put into getting to where I am today.

As for what sets me apart, I think one thing I’d have to say that may set me apart is my ability to connect during a portrait shoot. I have a lot of great friends who are wonderful photographers and I’m not going to say my work is any better than theirs or vastly differently in a lot of ways. I think my strength lies in my ability to connect with people, and I think that translates well into the session, and I believe it really shows in the final images.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
The pandemic had a way of really forcing me to take a step back and appreciate what I’ve been doing over the last decade because most of the photo projects, jobs, and travel were canceled for 2020. While that was a hard pill to swallow, it made me miss certain events I’d photograph pre-covid that were kind of wearing thin on me and was turning into more of a paycheck than a fun gig.

I feel like I’ve had a “reset”. I feel renewed towards those certain jobs and while a lot of terrible things happened during the pandemic, there was a lot of personal re-programming as far as my photography goes that turned out to be a positive force.

It’s taught me overall that if as particular gig is wearing thin on me (or any other aspect of photography) and is becoming tedious, to take a break if I am able and try to reset. It really can help!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
All images taken by Michael Gillman

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