Crash Taylor interviews good friend and awesome photographer Mike Larson. Mike is a West Coast Photographer specializing in Vineyard and Estate weddings. He is one of those guys you instantly like and not just because he is a California native like myself. He has a vibe and soul that shouts I will help you succeed no matter what. His passion for the still image is infectious and his images rock. He has shared his knowledge with photographers in 11 countries and his business is 100% referral based. If you ever get a chance to attend one of his workshops, then you are one lucky human! I could go on and on about Mike but you will understand what I mean when you read the interview.
Since this interview Mike has had a daughter named Hannah, which I know he is LOVING every minute of and he's probably going crazy about teaching her to surf! A huge congratulations brohem!
Tell us a little bit about yourself? I’m a California native boy who grew up with a love for the outdoors. Being in a family that loved to travel and explore this world, I was fortunate to get taste buds for travelling on my own and exploring and doing crazy stuff. I’m an Eagle Scout, so that took me everywhere. Ansel Adams got me into photography at an early age. By 17 I did my 1st wedding. By 20 I was in College for photography, by 21 I was travelling and shooting the ASP world surf tour across the south pacific. By 23 I was the photo editor for Surf Life Magazine. And shot fashion & Clothing lifestyle. By 24 back doing weddings and by 25, I was married and doing about 50 weddings that year with my wife. In 2007 I opened a studio, which now has 5 associate photographers. I also spoke that year for the 1st time in Germany teaching photographers about business, life and being a photographer.
Where is home? San Luis Obispo CA. in the central coast wine country region of California. North of Santa Barbara and South of Carmel/Big Sur.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home? Where I live is epic, but I also LOVE the north shore of Oahu and northern beaches of Sydney. The surf there is great and its warmer too.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview? I’m expecting a kid soon, little Hannah around Christmas and I’m currently in the UK on a mini workshop tour with Calumet. But everything is buttoned up and ready. My production team does all my post work and I’m ready to be a dad with balanced life and work! I’ve also been more inspired than ever with what I’m doing in my photography.
Did you go to school to study photography? No, then yes. I started out cause I loved it in 1996, in 2000 I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and had concentrated in Business, Marketing, Photography, Music. I was crazy & took too many units, but had a great time being a creative outdoor guy.
How long have you been a photographer? Since 1997 officially when I made my 1st 50 cents. 98 was my 1st wedding. This year marks about 250 weddings in total.
How would you describe your style? A mild blend of Lifestyle + Editorial + Fashion mixed up to taste good. I’m an adventurous and edge pushing person, I take risks and do crazy things like toss my camera in the air, and my clients like that kind of stuff.
How many weddings do you average per year? 33 to be exact. About 2-3 per year are good family friends that I shoot for free because I love giving out. Usually our whole team(5 people) come out and we have a blast.
Can you share some images with us from a single wedding?
What type of cameras do you shoot with? Canon 1D Mark 4, and occasionally a 5d mk2. The speedy focus on the mark 4 is so epic it makes the mk2 look like a donkey in a horse race. Both are great cameras though. Image wise, you may not be able to tell the diff.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera? Surfboard? J/K I LOVE my tilt shift actually. You can shoot it normal, and you can use it to highlight specific focus points, when used like a fine spice, at the right times, its epic.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why? 50mm 1.2 because it’s the best portrait lens, and on a mk 4, its almost 75mm, but its still back far enough that you can zoom with your feet and get more in the shot.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot? Right now, my YongNuo rf-602 wireless transmitters and recievers, and 580EXII flashes, or LumiPRO 160 flash units set to Manual at 1/128th power or 1/64th. I use Manfrotto stands and have 5 of them for ultimate placement of epic proportions. I also use gorilla pods and booms for harder to get places to put lights on ANY location!
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding? I use flashes once the sun has gone down, and not a minute before(usually) I shoot with a Sunbounce zebra mini, and pro units, until I break out my flashes and wireless system. At mid day sun I use a sun-swatter from sunbounce as well. Those things are sturdy and worth every bit. I use a 4-5 flash setup at wedding receptions and move it bit by bit as the location I’m shooting changes.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer? Ipad, its simple and keeps me from doing what my post production team is hired to do!
How important is Photoshop in your final images? Photo-what? Just kidding, we do everything in lighroom, occasionally for canvases and cloning, and blemish stuff we will break it out and use it, but only 5% of the time
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.? Um, we don’t use plug ins at all. No actions, just simple editing presets we did ourselves. Its pretty easy to set these up based on the way you shoot and your most common exposure errors.
Are you a MAC or PC lover? Mac baby!
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on? Hmm, if Canon ever comes out with a square frame camera I’m on it! I miss my Hasselblad days – square medium format, and I think I’m gonna by my blad back(for dimes on the dollar)
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding? Yes, we make it simple and as fast as you can. Offload to lightroom for standard resolution previews, then once they are all loaded (45 min) I come back to the computer and do a speed edit, marking final images 2 star (2 hours). I make one more pass to ensure I selected all the images (15 min) then I select my blog/slideshow/photog favs and marking them 3 stars(15 min) Then I have about 600-900 images from the original 4-7,000 image selection. All in all I want this done in 2-3 hours. Then this goes off to the color corrector. I have a detail sheet with brief special detail instructions and vendors to send to. Sometimes I hand off editing as well if I’m shooting to much to edit.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design? Kiss wedding books, they are simple, FAST and the quality is just as good as any other company I’ve used. My high end clients love them as well. When your team does 90-100 weddings a year, you need something that is simple and saves you time! Scalability means your minutes add up as you grow! We spend the $$ & time we would have spent on more complicated albums & ordering process on our vendors that provide us with our referrals!
How do you feel about cropping an image? Yea, I’m down if it fits it!
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery? Getting out there, Fashion & movies inspire me. Mr Jose Villa is my #1 visual inspiration right now inside the industry.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why? Between shooting a wedding in Tuscany, Italy a couple times at the same spot. It was SO beautiful out there. Or it also could have been covering an editorial trip for 2 weeks in Egypt in the spring of 2010. This CEO international group booked private tours of the pyramids, and almost everywhere they went, I got 1st row access at crazy places that were amazing!
If you could shoot a wedding with another photographer who would it be and why? Jeremy Cowart, the way he does his lighting and shoots amazes me. Also Ansel Adams, I want more of his patience and vision.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments? Yes, 3rd and 4ths. Its essential to have a backup team to enable you to do crazy stuff and get images that are insane. I’m all about being prepared. So much happens at a wedding that could go missing. Its an adventure and afterwards I’m SUPER wiped, but in a good way.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients? I used to shoot upwards of 8000 in jpeg, now I shoot 3-6k in RAW, I deliver 600-1000 depending on the volume of variety in what I was able to shoot & the amount of details & events going on.
Where would be your dream destination wedding? Maldives. Its so beautiful there and the waves are epic!
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Canon Mark IV? I’m myself! I spend a lot of time with my couple so in front of them at the wedding, is usually not the 1st time they have been around me. If I can have as many transfers of credibility from other experiences or people, than it makes my day of job easier.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it? Dude, the worst stuff has happened, you don’t even know! One time in a tropical location, Singapore, my old 1Ds went out, error 99, I had no car, and no backup, as my wife was shooting across town with her camera. I had to fake the 1st couple of shots with making the clicking sound with my mouth. Yea, then I retook some of the shots in “better light” later. That was the truth, but I was freaking out and didn’t know what else to do with 7 guys staring at you in a land far far away from home! I twittered and an assistant brought a backup camera! Thanks to the amazing team of this industry, we made our clients very happy! I always have more backup now. Note, cameras act funky in the tropics with 95% humidity.
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? This shoot I did with Candice & Byron. They were laid back, but had so much trust with me we did whatever. I met Byron 20 minutes before the shoot. He had JUST gotten off a plane from Sydney and travelled 14 hours. We shot for 3 hours and got these epic shots.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings? It’s a theatrical performance. You have to be 100% on creatively, as well as being professional and making friends with everyone. It’s a balance of reverent leadership, directing and being a fly on the wall at different times.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now? Its awesome where it is now. So much community is breeding world wide. Europe is just coming on the scene. I can’t wait to see how they go. Asia is a bit ahead of them. Its going from old school to new school. 5 years ahead. Can’t say now, ask me in 2012 at our next interview!
A wedding photographer who inspires you? Jose Villa, big time.
It’s almost that time of year for a Larson family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say – he/she took my portrait? Jose Villa.
A website and/or blog you visit often? I’m bad at this. But Sarah Roads has the coolest blog right now I think.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why? Cameron Ingalls, he is a good friend of mine.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why? Chase Jarvis in NYC, about creativity dying, and our role in changing that, and collaboration. I admire his tenacity to just do things that are freaking cool.
What photographic organizations do you belong to? WPPI, I did belong to PPA.
One way you market Mike Larson Photography, Inc? 100% referral based with clients and venues, and industry people. We pay it forward and go above and beyond with doing whatever we can to stoke them out.
Do you advertise? If so where? I did advertise in Grace Ormonde for 2 issues.
How important is an awesome website for your business? Its important, but not as important as the relationships you build. Being awesome is MOST important.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been? HMM, I’m a musician, chef/small organic famer, and builder. Hard to say. I need to limit myself if you know what I mean!
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. I love surfing, ocean and nature. This is what really grew my passion for the hunt for the pursuit of the perfect image. Here are some of my images from this era of my life. I still love this stuff just the same.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph? I LOVE editorial of anything adventurous that people are in.
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? Have a bigger to-be list than a to-do list. It matters more who you are during AND in the end than what you accomplish. What does it gain a man to gain the whole world but loose his soul?
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? My inspiration comes from my faith. I believe God created us, and therefore we are to be creative producers in this world. Opposite of a consumer, we are to be people who give and serve, rather than take and be served. I love love. I love blessing my couples with images that they are proud of and friends have a jealous admiration for. I’m always growing and learning.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career? Yea, I had a season(06-07) where I spent too much time doing “everything” I would have delegated sooner. Gone to bed earlier, less 2am nights, more time with my wife and time developing who I was, and less time developing my images & work. That all changed once we had a post production team!
Name a photographer you would like to take a portrait of? Is it bad that I can’t think of one? Maybe I’ll answer this one later and it will come to me!
Do you have any workshops on the horizon? Yes, I am going to be doing a workshop for married photographers.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera... I’d travel away to Samoa or the Maldives. It would be epic, I’d have my water housing too!
I’ve learned the most from… Mike Colon, David Jay, the old timers & good friends now. Its those who are wiser than me I seek out for personal counsel. Dane Sanders is a good friend as well. We coach each other and hold each other accountable. I’ve learned a lot from Skip Cohen & Jeff Jochum, they have invested a lot into my life.
What talent would you most like to have? The talent of saying no. I say yes and try to please people too much.
Something you’re still learning? Learning to learn. And desiring to learn. There is so much out there.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? My beloved wife, Rachel and probably my daughter soon, Hannah.
What is your greatest fear? Fear of being successful at the wrong thing. But that’s going away slowly as I gain more vision for my life. Proverbs 29:18 says “without vision, men die” Die from too much of the good life, mediocrity, or die of lack of tenacity. Either are bad!
Something that is overrated? Being like other people. Be yourself, and don’t compare yourself either.
Something you’re saving up for? Paying off our commercial studio place.
What item do you wish you had designed? Hmmm, I am not sure. I don’t even know where to start.
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be? George Washington. He was such a humble man yet a great leader.
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.? watching a movie with my wife at home by the fireplace or cooking a 4 course dinner with friends, by the fireplace!
Your favourite film (movie) of all time? Lord of the rings. SO epic, extended series (12 hours).
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life? Myself.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery? Give 50% away to those in need who have been praying for someone to help them around the world. Its so cool to be an answer to someone’s prayer. It’s the best way to be used.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you? Healthy, Sporty, Adventurer, Creative, Fun.
What ambition have you not yet achieved? Being an amazing father.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now? Being a father, and having a business that supports all those who work with us. To give away all the money I do not need to those who need it more than I do. To put my character development above my comfort & security. To love others more than myself.
And the last question, if you had one wish… I wish, well, I wish I could have more vision for the person my creator wants me to be. It’s a personal wish, but would make me more impact in all I do, as well as having peace that surpasses all understanding.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Mike Larson?’ What would you say? Don’t be the next me, be the next “you”. Take yourself + tenacity + solid principals + the right priorities + wisdom from elders around you + vision + creativity and a love to serve others more than be served and you’ll do more than you could ever imagine!
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