Photography has been my passion and a labor of love for over 21 years now. I’m just as excited about creating with a camera today as I was the very first day! How do I keep the fire you may ask? The real question is “How can I not keep the fire?” Let me break down the things about photography that really turn me on and I think you will understand.
My love for photography actually started out as more of an admiration for the technology of camera equipment than an interest in the art of it. My love for the art didn’t show up until later. The simple (or not so simple) fact, that we have the ability to capture a moment in time and preserve it forever, has always blown my mind. I guess you can say I got into it for the GEAR (note: an artist should never say this).
I can remember the day I bought my first camera…
I made an impulsive shopping decision at Kit’s Cameras in the Brea Mall… right across from where I worked as an assistant manager of a men’s suit store called Jay Jacobs. Maybe it wasn’t impulsive, being that I would spend most of my lunch breaks window-shopping all of the shiny cameras and lenses under that glass counter.
Every so often, as to not outstay my welcome, I would ask to “test” a specific body or lens. I’d attach the lens, turning it ever so carefully, waiting for that click. I’d turn on the camera, noticing that the “on” lever also rotated further to illuminate the LCD screen to a cool indigo blue. Holding the camera to my eye, I would admire the smooth action of the auto-focus watching in wonder as the image pulled into perfect razor sharpness timed with a little high-pitched “bip bip” as it acquired its lock-on.
“Debit or Credit? Uuuum Credit” I said, thinking to myself “What 19 year old’s got $1359 sitting in their bank account?”
Feelings of excitement flooded into my heart, followed by guilt, followed by justification, followed by doubt, followed by more guilt, followed by “how will I be able to pay for this??!” followed by self-talk. “This is a good investment in your future. You will have a family some day and you will want to take photos of your children.”
Well…Although my first camera, the Nikon N70, was far obsolete (heck, film was practically obsolete…no thanks to Jose Villa who hadn’t been around yet to save it) by the time I had my first-born child, this purchase actually did prove to be a sound investment in my future in every possible way. Only God knew what would come of my life from this very special day forward.
As I entered into the world of photography, the art of it didn’t find me right away. I mean, I liked calling myself a photographer because it sounded artsy and all, I just wasn’t very good at actually “making” art. See, photography to me was really more of “finding” cool stuff to shoot, than it was of “making” cool stuff to shoot. Mainly because of my lack of experience (and any good ideas), I suppose, but even more so because I was really just interested in this technology that gave me the awesome superpower of preserving moments in time forever.
I fell in love with impressing people with my newly hijacked superpower. Learning photography gave me the power to make people feel important. It gave me the power to make people look good. Come to think of it, the art of it for me was in the choosing of that perfect moment when a person looks amazing.
It was a technical art for me at its core. Studying and getting to know my camera well enough that it felt like an extension of my hand (in an Inspector Gadget sort of way), gave me the power to be responsive…quick to the draw, and accurate enough to actually capture that split second when I noticed someone or something looking perfect, at least in my mind.
You see, I think some photographers are artists even without a camera. And I know many would argue and say the camera is just a tool. But for me, without this tool, I can’t really think of an art that I would be drawn towards as a profession. I need this tool to communicate my art. The medium itself (the camera) IS the art. The technology inside of it is even art. I’m inspired by the never ending progression of its capabilities and how it continues to move closer and closer to eliminating the boundaries between what I see and what I can deliver in my photographs.
So I said all of this to make some sort of point. I’m now going to attempt to land this wild plane before someone gets hurt. Wait, what was my point? Oh yeah…My point is this: it’s the technology that keeps my fire lit!
The technology—those hundreds of thousands of engineering hours and billions and billions of dollars that have gone into the development of these beautiful little machines we call cameras—is really, I think, what keeps me excited about my art. It’s always changing, always evolving, and always pushing to achieve a higher level of connection between me and my subject. It’s what helps me close the gap between a hit and miss in my photograph. It’s what is always bringing me closer to capturing that perfect image. It’s so exciting to me that I don’t think I could ever stop following/pursuing/stalking its progress. It’s the gear that gives me this super-power of freezing a moment in time when world is exactly as I want to see it.
Actually, the more I think of it…it’s just gear. It’s my heart, eyes, taste, judgment, flaws, life experiences and what I can probably best describe as a God-given desire to find heaven on earth that makes it my art. But I will give the gear the credit of keeping my fire lit.
We are living in exciting times for this art form we call photography. Mirrorless cameras are the latest kerosene on my fire. They have changed the way I shoot and connect with my subjects. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
A little explanation about why my wedding gear shot includes some climbing/outdoor gear:
Lately, I’ve been into rock climbing and camping and I’m sort of obsessed with the physics of climbing gear. There’s just something about trusting your life to these ropes and devices while dangling off of cliffs that piques my interest.
I love finding new and exciting passions to pair with my photo work. Photography goes hand-in-hand with almost anything. Mixing my personal passions with photography is what keeps me pushing my craft forward in new and unique ways.
Since driving to find decent rocks to climb can take 2+ hours from my house, and I want to be outside (not in a rock climbing gym), I’ve resorted to practicing my big wall ascents by using my gear to ascend tall trees, sometimes even sleeping in them with my hammock (google “extreme hammocking”). Now when I drive around town, I catch myself eyeballing random trees along the road, looking for that perfect branch to lasso for my next adventure.
Next wedding season, I’ll pursue some adventurous couples getting married in remote places. Perhaps I can find a couple getting married on a portaledge half-way up El Capitan or Half-Dome.
My idea for this gear shot, was to incorporate my latest obsession in climbing gear with my 21-year obsession with cameras (hopefully getting me nominated for gear junky of the year). I decided to capitalize on this integration of my two obsessions by suspending myself from a tree about 30’ above the ground for this shot.
My Photography Gear
Manfrotto Air Cushioned Light Stand Quick Stack
These are awesome! They stack up nicely so they don’t make noise rolling around in my car on the way to weddings. Easy to transport but somewhat heavy, which is actually good since they don’t tip over in the wind or when someone accidentally bumps one near the dance floor. I wouldn’t travel with these—I use them for my local SoCal Weddings. (Added tip: When I travel, I just bring some gaffers tape and tape those little plastic speed light feet to the tops of the speakers around the dance floor.)
64oz Hydro Flask in Matte Black
Hydration is life! I leave this one in my car all day and refill my smaller one when needed. It’s so nice to have ice-cold water even after it sits in a burning hot car all day. On a road trip, this can be a thermos for soup, hot chocolate, red bull…or whatever you like that needs to stay hot or cold!
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II Lens
Ok, not the most practical lens…especially when paired with my Sony bodies because I lose AF capability. Still, I just can’t seem to kick my addiction to the image quality this thing puts out! I use it on occasion to shoot those sneaky paparazzi-looking images during a low-light ceremony or reception. Also this is a pretty epic headshot lens!
QALO Outdoor Collection Silicone Wedding Bands
Safer for climbing and they look cool too! My favorite is black (not pictured since it’s on my hand).
Assorted Petzl Climbing Devices (Carabiners, Ascender, Belay, Pulley)
If you’re a photographer, you most definitely have an appreciation for precision/trustworthy mechanical devices! I trust these with my life. I haven’t found a need for them at my weddings yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of something soon.
Gitzo G1578L Monopod with Acratech Panoramic Head with Lever Clamp
I mainly use this monopod while shooting bridal runway in New York. It’s extra tall (over 7’) for shooting from a riser in the pit. The Acratech long-lens head holds up to a 600mm f/4 lens and is amazingly smooth keeping it easy to follow the models and tilt down for close up detail shots. It also doubles as a panoramic head for my tripod when I’m stitching landscapes in the outdoors.
Gitzo GT2940LVL Tripod with Acratech GP Ballhead with Lever Clamp
This one is light, compact, and stable as an ox. The Acratech GP Ballhead is so precise and fun to use! Great for those low-lit reception room shots, night shots of the wedding venue to set the scene, and of course doubles as a great astrophotography tripod when I’m in camping under the stars.
Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody
Packs super small, yet can keep you warm in blizzard! It’s saved me more than a couple times. Highly recommend!
Giottos Rocket Blaster
This is mandatory for mirrorless shooters being that our sensors are exposed. Sony did a great job with the built-in auto cleaning feature in the a7 series of bodies, but even those stubborn dust specks can’t stand up to this blaster.
Black Diamond Locking Carabiners
Lock it up lock it in…let me begin.
Sunpak Readylite 20 Super Battery Light
Oldie but a goodie…I’ve had this forever and it still holds a charge for months. I bring this along to my weddings for a little kiss of 2700K rim lighting on the cake or tabletops shots. Also great for mounting on my camera and running a little B roll video on the dance floor.
Sony HVL-LBP LED Battery Video Light
Another oldie…Sony was way ahead of their time with this lightweight LED piece of genius! This is a beautiful soft light that is daylight balanced (more like around 4000K) for soft fill when shooting the bride’s getting-ready shots.
Sterling SuperStatic2 Red Climbing Rope & Edelrid Blue Webbing
This is for my tree adventures and soon to come big wall climbs. I’ve thought about using this at a wedding and zipping across the skyline between two trees for an aerial shot of the first kiss. It would be quieter than the drone shot for sure. It would fit perfectly into one of my classic marketing lectures “Be First, Be Bold, or Be Forgotten!” haha!
Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZF.2 Lens with Metabones Nikon F to Sony E-Mount Adapter
Probably my most used lens. It gets the job done in almost every situation. Sharp, wide throw manual focus, no distortion. Love it for those getting-ready shots of the bride and bridal party.
Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* ZF.2 Lens with Metabones Nikon F to Sony E-Mount Adapter
This is my favorite wedding portrait lens. It’s also pretty much my go-to lens for all of my family sessions and engagement sessions.
Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 ZE Lens with Metabones Canon EF to Sony E-Mount Adapter
I use this for wider shots of the bride putting on her gown. It’s handy for landscapes, reception room shots, and any larger group photos. Also, it’s a perfect lens for the cake-cutting action photos.
Lowel GL-1 Power LED Light
This light, no matter how much it looks like a drill from Home Depot, has made all the difference in my reception and low-light work! I use it as a kicker light to add that punch to my images. I have my assistant rim light my subjects to help separate them from the background. Ever get dark suits or dark hair blending with the dark backgrounds? Trace them with the warm goodness of full spectrum lighting this tool puts out. I travel with it too, and usually get questioned at TSA for bringing on power tools.
Eno Doublenest Hammock System
I love this hammock, and bring it everywhere. You may even catch me in my hotel room swinging from this as it’s more comfortable than most beds.
15” MacBook Pro with Retina
It goes with me everywhere and is my main editing machine. Photographers — the world is our playground, and our office! Take advantage. Get outside! Check my description for my Seaport standing desk below.
LaCie 4TB Rugged RAID Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 Drive
Super fast, super reliable, super durable.
Alite Designs Mayfly Chair
Lightest, packs up small, holds up to 250lbs. Perfect for camping, hiking, beach, and those concerts in the park. I never leave home without it.
MPS Sticky Filters
Use these sticky little buggers on my speedlights to gel them to match the incandescent lights in the room.
Yongnuo YN-560-IV Speedlites (x4)
I set up these on all corners of the dance floor at receptions to fire remotely.
Yongnuo YN560-TX Manual Flash Controller
This is what I use to fire my YN-560-IV Speedlites.
Sony HVL-F60M Speedlight
Great little daylight-balanced video light. Super soft light source that is great for illuminating my subjects in dark rooms for focus assist. I sometimes set it on a chair near the dance floor and throw a kiss of light, which really helps my AF in low light.
Seaport i-Visor Hard Case SEIV1440K3 (converts into a standing desk for tethered laptop)
This is the case that you see holding my YN-560-IV Speedlites and Sony Flash. I had a custom foam insert made at MyCaseBuilder.com to keep it all tidy. The rad thing about this case is that it doubles as my tethered laptop stand for studio work and triples as a laptop editing station when I get tired of my home office and Starbucks and need to be outdoors. I’ve actually found that I’m way more productive when I’m feeling happy, which is usually in outdoor adventurous locations. Next office goal: rim of the Grand Canyon.
Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 Lantern & USB Power Hub
Super bright 400 lumens rechargeable lantern that I take with me camping. It will give my iPhone a charge or two also! I like bringing this to dark wedding receptions to light up my case when digging around for lenses.
40oz Hydro Flask in Stainless
Keeps my drinks cold! Awesome for when I leave it in my car in 100-degree weather and still come back to ice cubes in my water.
American Kami ApocalypSpork
Forged out of medical grade titanium sourced from USA made military and aerospace scrap, handcrafted in the good ol’ USA! Berry compliant. Won’t rust or corrode. Non-magnetic. Bottle opener/pot lid lifting hook. Oxygen bottle key/small ‘biner hole. 9.3″ long. Emergency hex driver key. Want flatwear that will last you through the apocalypse? Want something that you can ram through a zombie skull? Here you go, baby. You know you want one!
CRKT® Eat’n Tool
Not as cool as the ApocalypSpork but they’ll let you take this on the airplane.
iPhone Sim Card Tool
Can you find it? It’s so small! I need this for changing out my sim card when traveling abroad.
Bose® Quiet Comfort 3 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Only thing better than these headphones are the wireless versions that just came out. These cut out ALL airplane background noise!
Business Cards in GoBee Leather Memory Card Wallet
Letter-pressed biz cards in a leather case always makes a good impression.
Pelican Waterproof SD/miniSD/microSD Memory Card Case
I love this little case. I have a system that I use where I flip the card over until it’s double backed up.
Bluewater Ropes Accessory Rope in Orange
A rated rope I use for a tether/anchor while climbing.
Jetboil Mini Propane Canister
Use it for the Jetboil Flash Cooking System listed further down, but don’t try to get it on a plane. TSA will confiscate it.
Polarized Rayban Original Wayfarer Sunglasses RB2140P
Gotta protect the hand (or eye) that feeds you.
Sony a7R II camera body with vertical battery grip
My main camera body for practically everything. Best camera on earth. Period. I shoot my entire wedding day with this camera. The high-resolution sensor gives me 42MP of cropping power! I love to shoot on primes so this helps me create diversity in my work later with crops and still have printable resolution. It’s also a beast at AF tracking with Face Detection and Eye Autofocus, which both work like a dream. The silent mode is the icing on the cake. Although I don’t need to be quiet around the cake, during an intimate ceremony it’s genius!
Sony a6300 camera body
Compact, light, beast at Autofocus tracking and video work. I keep this in my bag for every wedding as a secret weapon.
Sony a7S II camera body with vertical battery grip
The low-light king! Video in low light is second to none! I use it for capturing video, and for any super low-light shooting I need to accomplish in my stills.
Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens
Great for close-up macro shots of jewelry, menus, flowers. Also a beautiful portrait lens!
Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens
When you need wide, this one gets the job done!
Sony 135mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Planar T* Telephoto Prime Lens
My favorite A-mount Sony lens! Super image quality, creamy backgrounds, and drool-worthy bokeh! I use this for stealth candid shooting in low light and for some portraits when I have the space.
Sony A-Mount to E-Mount Lens Adapter with Translucent Mirror Technology
I use this to adapt all of my A-mount lenses when needed, like the 135mm listed above.
Jetboil Flash Cooking System in Multicam
Boils 2 cups of water in just 2 minutes! Awesome for camping and picnics!
Nestle Vanilla-Caramel Coffee-Mate Creamer & Instant Coffee
Don’t judge me you coffee snobs! Mix this with Maker’s whisky for instant Falcon Coffee.
Black Diamond Climbing Harness and Gloves in Blue
I heard first hand from a friend that gloves can mean the difference of life or death when rappelling large cliffs or canyons. If your gear fails you can slow yourself down enough to survive just by grabbing the rope. No gloves, your hands burn, you let go, and free fall to the bottom. And that my friends, is a fact you didn’t even know you needed.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens
My go-to ceremony lens. It’s got amazing separation and bokeh for an f/4 lens. And it’s so light! I can shoot on this all day without getting tired.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens
One of my favorite lenses by far! It’s like the Otus 85, only with AF! Sick bokeh and unbelievable image sharpness and color across all aperture settings! Sharp edge to edge, even wide open at f/1.4!
Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens
My main lens for family formals, bridal party, and dance floor shots. Super sharp and accurate. I’ve got a lot of trust for this lens.
Assorted Lens Hoods
Did you catch the happy face with the banana in the gear photo?
Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens (mounted on A7s)
Compact, lightweight, awesome street photography lens. Also a great all-day carry lens for outings like Disneyland with the family. I carry it as a backup wide lens in my wedding case because it’s so small.
Banana (brand unknown)
Was perfectly ripe. I ate it immediately after this shoot.
Goal Zero Light-a-Life 350 LED Light(x2)
These go with my Goal Zero Yeti 400 Solar Battery Pack which I forgot to bring for the shoot. You can daisy chain a bunch of these lights to light up your campsite.
And Last but not least… the backdrop that made this all possible… The Eno Islander LED Sunshine Blanket
The edges light up for a very cool effect at night. We have concerts in the park every Friday in Ladera Ranch. This blanket is easy for our kids to find in the sea of people & blankets.
Hey! You might want to check out my “making of” video on YouTube here:
Inside Mike’s camera bag: