This week I welcome Michael Cody. Michael is another photographer joining the ranks of the extremely awesome image makers featured on interviews by Crash Taylor. He is a photographer who inspires many with his emotional, artistic, original wedding photography. He is definitely not a conventional photographer, he is a photographer who enjoys being creative and definitely photographs from the heart. Enjoy the interview and as always, your comments are appreciated.
Tell us a little bit about Michael Cody?
Growing up I wanted to be an artist. I majored in art in high school and college. I thought that through my paintings I could express myself and the feelings I had. My work was exhibited in gallery shows and I actually had the pleasure of selling a number of paintings. But, since I also wanted to make money, I became a stockbroker. When I started, I thought I would spend a few years on Wall Street, make some money and put off any decision to be an artist later in life. Instead I was consumed in my profession. Then, everyday life made me abandon all desire to do anything artistic. Then one day I realized it was now or never. Ever since my journey has given me the life I always wanted.
Where is home?
Home has been many places for me but for the last 9 years I have lived in Greenport, New York. Greenport is on the North Fork of Long Island about 100 miles from New York City. The North Fork is a visually beautiful area, with wineries, farms, surrounded by water. Very peaceful. The type of place that gets under your skin, and once here, it is a hard place to leave. During the years spent in Greenport I also spent about 3 years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Though Santa Fe is great, and I made wonderful friends there, I belonged on the North Fork.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
Other than where I live, my dream home would be one of those really big RVs and I would load it up and hit the road and see the world.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Relaxed and rejuvenated. I just got back from vacation in South Florida where I spent many years as a commercial photographer. The weather was perfect and I stayed at a hotel on the beach letting the sounds of crashing waves put me to sleep. It was great seeing old friends that I have not seen in way to long. That is something that I am hoping to do more this year, go places, see old friends and hopefully, make new ones.
Did you go to school to study photography?
Yes, after my career on Wall Street I enrolled in a photography program at The Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. It is amazing how many great photographers came out of that school. After school was over, I studied and assisted with a number of excellent photographers before striking out on my own.
How long have you been a photographer?
About 20 years. Like I mentioned I did commercial photography, but I also did some editorial for magazines and spent a few years as a photojournalist for newspapers.
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
Started photographing weddings 5 years ago.
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
I had a relative ask me to photograph his wedding in Washington, DC. I said, no, hire a wedding photographer, but find one that would not mind if I took some photos. I made friends with the photographer that day and he was very encouraging when he saw the photos I took. The studio he worked for called and offered me a job. Though I declined the offer, it put the bug in my head that I could do it.
How would you describe your style?
Simple. Everything about me is simple, my work, my website, and my life.
How many weddings do you average per year?
My magic number is 20. Last year I did 19, the year before 29. This year I should come in around 20.
Do you have some images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
For weddings I use the Nikon D3.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
I am a camera bag junkie. I have a couple of Thinktanks, more than I can count Tamracs and Pelicans, one each of Lightware, Tenba, Lowepro, Mountainsmith and Gura Gear.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
That is a tough question. Nikon makes a great 24-70/f2.8 zoom that I could shoot a whole wedding with. I also love there 85/f1.4 and getting sharp photos at 1.4. But I would have to say my favourite is the 28/1.4. I like the wide angle for story telling and like my other Nikon lenses this one is sharp.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
For a wedding I take 2x SB900, 2x SB800, a Frezzi video light and a Canon video light. If I think I might use it I will take a Hensel Porty.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding?
My 1st choice is to use whatever natural light is available. I will break out a Nikon Flash at a reception when things get dark, The video light is used for the first dance and sessions with the Bride and Groom.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
A really big monitor while I edit with Photo Mechanic while watching old movies and TV shows on Hulu.com.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
All my final images go through Photoshop, so I will say very important. Very rare that I crop an image but I like to do subtle enhancements or use a Photoshop plug in or action.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
Using actions have been a long journey. The ones I have used in the past I do not use now. I do try to keep the manipulation to a minimum. I will use noise reduction when I have to. I will also add noise when I want to. All my black and white photographs are now converted with Silver FX. This program lets me imagine that I am in the darkroom again.
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
I am pretty much set on equipment for this year. If I decide to spurge, maybe an 8 core Mac Pro and Eizo monitor for the studio.
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
When I come back to the studio from a shoot I download the files to one of my computers, sort to time from all cameras and rename the photos. Then I backup all the RAW files. The downloaded files are on a Raid and I do three backups on external harddrives in a Firmtek case. I catalog my photographs with Expression Media. Edit with Photo Mechanic. Process my RAW files in Bibble, Aperture or Capture NX. Convert to JPG and then back up to two other harddrives in the Firmtek.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
Right now my studio uses Pictobooks, Leather Craftsmen and Cypress. We do the design in house. I have four people who work with me during the week and then assist me at weddings. I usually take two with me to a wedding, one will do the initial album design. They know what I like and take the design 99% there. There are very gracious in letting me make the final tweaks.
How do you feel about cropping an image?
I hate having to crop an image. In fact that was my biggest complaint when I was a photojournalist. An art director would crop my photo, or even worse, flip it. It would drive me bonkers.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview.
What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
Picasso. I love, love his quotes and keep a list nearby. When my work seems stale, I read them over and over again. My favourites are:
“To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic”
“Are we to paint what's on the face, what's inside the face, or what's behind it?”
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”
“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.”
“I do not seek. I find.”
"He can who thinks he can, and he can't who thinks he can't. This is an inexorable, indisputable law."
“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
"There are only two types of women - goddesses and doormats."
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
I had a one girl email me and told me, though she was not in the need for a wedding photographer, but she enjoyed my work. About a year later she called me on the phone, said she was getting married in the Blue Ridge Mountains at a farm museum and wanted me as the photographer. We started chatting about the wedding, it seemed like a simple affair with guests bringing food. I ask her about the budget and she was in the range of my pricing. I though great, but as she continued to tell me more, I asked if the budget she gave me was for photography or the whole wedding. She said the whole wedding, I apologized and said my pricing was out of her budget, feeling terrible. She asked me what my pricing was. I told her and said, I would forego travel fees. She called a few days later and hired me. Her wedding was great, lots of love and emotion. The Bride’s Mom had passed away but her Dad had displayed their wedding photographs. The photos were great, 28 years old, really what I would be considered timeless photographs. I was amazed looking at them. The Bride’s Dad walked up to me and I told him how I felt. He mentioned he had a great photographer by the name of Richard Avedon. I asked how, and he said the Bride’s Grandfather was a past photo editor at Time Magazine. Put the pressure on me that day.
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?
The only photographers who I would want to shoot a wedding with are Toni Robertson, Sherry Pickerell, Caroline Roccetta, and Claudia Garavito. These are the people who I already work with. They have worked with me in my studio, assisted and second shot for me since I started photographing weddings. Wonderful people, excellent photographers. I have no desire to shoot with anybody else.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments?
Toni, Sherry, Caroline and Claudia. I usually bring two with me. One is my second shooter and the other works as an assistant.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
Usually around 5000, client gets around 800.
Where would be your dream destination wedding?
Shelter Island. I can see Shelter Island from my studio. It is just a 10 minute ferry ride away. I do not really have a desire for far off high end destination weddings. If I want to go someplace nice I will go on vacation. Plus, I have 4 dogs and 2 cats to think about, keeping me close to home.
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Nikon D3?
I am so easy going, I have a calming effect on my couple. I do not give much in direction hoping the day will unfold without any help from me. I will give gentle suggestions like, “go stand over there”, or “squeeze harder”.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
It was time for the ceremony. The area was packed with very little room for me to move. I was up front photographing the bridal party walking down the aisle. When the bride started waling down the aisle I snapped away and wondered why her Dad wasn’t walking with her. Then it hit me, this was the Maid of Honor, the Bride’s sister, who was also wearing a white dress. I looked down the aisle and saw the Bride coming down with her Dad. I put my camera to my eye fired off a shot and then my card was filled. By the time I got another card in there the Bride was handed off to the groom.
What are your favourite three images you have shot recently? Can you describe their creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc, also your thoughts when creating the images and what they mean to you?
My favourite images are always friends and family.
Favourite #1 My grandson, Brady. Natural light in my studio. Shot with a D3 and 85mm/f1.4.
Favourite #2: My friends Ben & Erin. We were having fun in my studio, they were dancing and I was taking photos. Love their expressions. Shot with a D700 and 28mm/f1.4.
Favourite #3: This is Toni, my co-worker and friend. She like most photographers hate to have her photo taken. This will surprise her, she never knew I took it. Shot with a D700 and 85mm/f1.4.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
I have always believed that talented work is unconventional and safe work is the road to obscurity. It is very challenging trying to keep my work unconventional. I really try not to be focused on results because when I do, great photographs never happen. When I just focus on what I am doing, without thinking of results, a miracle happens, a photograph that makes me smile.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
This is a fact today, and will be a fact 5 years from now. 95% of wedding photographers take ordinary photographs. They all have the same characteristics: never make mistakes, do not take risks, when they have a challenging situation they take the comfortable solution, they are content with repeating themselves and content imitating others. They follow the latest trends and they are committed to playing it safe. The other 5% of wedding photographers are the ones who take great photos. Their characteristics are quite the opposite. They are always willing to take a risk, they love to make mistakes, their style is distinctive, they continue to grow creatively and they are committed to their vision and their business.
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
My friend, Walter Van Dusen. Walter’s energy to learn and grow in our business is truly inspiring. You could not meet a nicer person and better photographer.
It’s almost that time of year for a Cody family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he took my portrait?
To late, but I wish Arnold Newman had taken my photo. I assisted Mr. Newman on an assignment in South Florida once. As we set up the minimal lighting and he took the photos, at the time, I was less than impressed. I said to myself, “I could do this.” Boy, was I wrong. When I saw the finished print and how he captured, I mean, really captured that person and who they where, I knew I could never compare.
A website and/or blog you visit often?
Ben Chrisman’s blog. Ben has a great eye and it always a treat to see what’s new. I love Ben’s work.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Henri Cartier-Bresson. His photography is an extension of his heart. I do not believe that he cared if his work appealed to anybody but his inner self. He had a moment to capture and nobody did it better.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
Mystic4 put on by Walter Van Dusen. Walter has put on this event for the last 4 years and each year it has gotten better and better. I am looking forward to Mystic5. The thing I really like about the Mystic events is that everybody gives their knowledge freely without expecting anything in return. A really great purpose.
Do you have any workshops or seminars planned for the future?
I do not do workshops myself. I get a little nervous speaking in front of groups. One day I spoke at career day at a local elementary school and my knees were shaking and I started sweating. I spoke at Mystic1, 2 & 3 and then retired from speaking. I prefer to shoot instead of speak. But, if you are my friend I am happy to tell you everything I know.
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
I am somewhat of a loner, just doing my own thing, not one for organized groups. I do not have a desire to enter competitions or have my work judged. I like what PPA has done for the photo industry here in United States and I support them as a member.
One way you market Michael Cody Photography?
Most of my clients come from referrals from past weddings, venues or other vendors. As far as venues and vendors, people do business with people they know. I think it is important to communicate well, listen well, take risks, use my head, use my heart and stay committed. For clients I try my best to do an excellent job for them before, during and after their wedding day.
Do you advertise? If so where?
Not much at all anymore. I did print advertising but found that not productive. I still do some web advertising, but that is also non-productive.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
My website is home made. Most of my photography friends think it might be time for a new one but this one had done well for me so far. I had a vision what I wanted to say, built the site. Different than most, just an extension of me.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been?
In a make believe world an international art thief. In reality an emergency room doctor. I like to help people.
I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
The following nudes are from my personal work. I wanted something dark and moody. I always loved shapes and forms. My lighting is by candles. If I could have made a living as a fine art photographer, I might never have found weddings.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
I have photographed so many things during my career as a photographer but I really enjoy photographing weddings. I think if there is something you have a love to photograph, you should just do it. For me I have given myself and my studio a project that I hope will continue for the rest of my career. I have decided to photograph the weddings of different cultures in different parts of the world. I have contacted different charities and religious groups offering my services. I have my first wedding happening this year in October, in a village in Mexico. I am doing this wedding through a Catholic organization and while I am in Mexico I will also be doing some photographs for them. My studio is working on weddings in Peru, Ghana, Rwanda, Ireland and Haiti.
When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
Sell yourself on yourself. Communicate the message that it is a good business decision to do business with you. Show that you care by really caring. Have confidence, but be humble. Network with other photographers. Take great photos but most of all keep a sense of humor and have fun.
We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
The basis for my inspiration is the inner battle between being consistent vs. being inconsistent. My problem with being a consistent photographer is the tendency to repeat yourself. A terrible thing to do for the creative person. I am inspired when I am inconsistent. I just do not tell my clients that.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
No, not really. I think my career as a photographer has been a smooth road, just perfect.
Name one photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
My friend, Vladimir Chaloupka. When we are together Vlad is the one always taking photos and shooting video. One day I would like to turn the tables on him.
Name one sports player you would like to take a portrait of?
Too late on this one but, Joe Dimaggio. Back in my days on Wall Street, I was one of Joe’s stockbrokers. We would have dinner when he was in NY and when I was in San Francisco. We would spend time at a mutual friends house watching baseball on TV. He was a true gentlemen and unfortunately, I never took a photo of him.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
I would sit in a train station watching people come and go, taking photos of everyone and everything I find interesting.
I’ve learned the most from…
My parents. They taught me to be the person I am today.
What talent would you most like to have?
I wish I would be able to sing opera, throw a football, drive a race car, climb mountains and be able to write a novel.
Something you’re still learning?
How to detach myself from the outcome and limit my expectations of myself and others.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Every year I have a new love. I’m fickle. Sometimes it is a person, sometimes it is a hobby, sometimes it is my profession.
What is your greatest fear?
When weddings stop being fun and I have to find something else to do with my life.
Something you’re saving up for?
I need a new couch. My dogs and cats have destroyed the one I have.
What item do you wish you had designed?
Caller ID. I love knowing who is on the other end of the phone before I pick it up.
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Caria Bruni, great singer and wife of the President of France. She is beautiful, smart, has a fantastic voice. I can only dream.
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Sitting on my couch with my 4 dogs and 2 cats watching reruns of House on TV. When there is a commercial I switch to The Dog Whisperer. My dog Otis, loves staring at the TV watching the other dogs.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Smoke, with Harvey Keitel & William Hurt. The setting is a smoke shop in Brooklyn. There is a part when Hurt is looking through photos Keitel took on the same street corner, at the same time, every day. Hurt says something like, “There all the same.” Keitel answers, “You are not looking close enough.” Hurt starts studying the photos, sees his wife who past away, and realize that the same photo is not the same.
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
I’ll take Harvey Keitel.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
As much as I love what I do, I would love doing “nothing important” better.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
Inner peace. I am only 90% there.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
I am really not sure about 5 years, I have a hard time knowing what I want to do 5 days from now. I could give you an answer but most likely I would change my mind.
And the last question, if you had one wish…
I want to be paralyzed with fear. According to Steven Pressfield, who wrote The War of Art, being paralysed with fear is a good sign, “It shows you what you have to do.”
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Michael Cody?’ What would you say?
Be yourself. Because if you are not yourself, your nobody.
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