Student Success: Student Success Michelle Kaczmarowski
How did you first become interested in photography?
My dad was a photographer when I was young. I grew up in a family of six and we didn't have much money, so my dad saved up and ordered a 35mm Minolta with a few different lenses and filters off eBay (back when eBay was brand new!). Unfortunately none of us kids were allowed to touch that camera – it was his pride and joy and if anything happened to it he would have been devastated. He shot landscape and nature only and never worked for anyone or got paid. He just did it because he loved it. And I was amazed at the things that could be done with a camera. He would hike for an hour in the woods to get back to a waterfall just to get one good long exposure shot of the rushing water. The outcomes were always astonishing. When I was 15 my dad passed away. His camera sat with his other belongings for a long time after that. I didn't even think about picking it up until I was in my senior year of high school. At that time a new photography club was developed at my school and I really wanted to be a part of it. All you had to have was a camera, so I inherited my dad's and joined the club. It was amazing. We had use of a full darkroom right in the school. At first we used a machine that would automatically develop our photos. Fortunately that broke down at one point and that is when we learned to develop everything on our own. It was one of the greatest experiences of my young-adult life. Once I graduated I couldn't afford to continue developing film because digital was making a huge impact on the way things were done. I was adamant that I would never switch to digital photography. I didn't think it would be as crisp as film, so for a long time I stopped taking pictures. Not to protest, but simply because processing and purchasing film had become so expensive (ok… it was also because I didn't want to use digital… so maybe a little bit of a protest). When I was 22 I finally gave in and got my first DSLR… a Nikon D40. And that's when things really started to take off!
What do you enjoy most about being a photographer?
Henry David Thoreau said, “It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see”. I truly believe this. I have always thought of my camera as a third eye with which I can show others how I see things. Sometimes I see a mass of clouds in the distance with holes here and there where the sun shines through. To me, that might look like Mount Everest in the distance, or it might look like a deep valley with a river running through it. It all depends on perspective and how you see things. With photography, I can show people what I see in something that others might look at as just a cloud.
What are some of the more difficult challenges in your work?
The hardest part for me is charging people. I truly believe everyone should have the opportunity to have amazing photos taken of themselves and/or their friends, family, pets, favorite activities, beautiful clothing, etc… but I also know that not everyone can afford to pay what most professional photographers charge so they end up going to a studio where they sit on a stool and pose for a couple snapshots. I strive to keep my pricing low and fair to both my client and myself.
Do you have any advice to photographers just starting out about how to cultivate clients?
Start with family and friends. And if you can't stand the thought of working for free, don't charge an arm and a leg. I know it's not always fun to do work and not get paid for it, but when I first started out I did a lot of different photo shoots for free just to gain experience. When you love what you do, it doesn't feel like you're giving it away, it feels like you're sharing it with others. They were happy to get some nice photos and I was happy to be getting experience. As I got better at what I did, other people started to take notice and then it was a friend of a friend, or someone's uncle or cousin that would want to hire me. From there it spread further and I started taking on clients I had no connection to. When people have a good experience, word travels fast!
What other jobs/successes have you had in photography?
Photography naturally introduced me to many Photoshop techniques I never knew existed. I used Photoshop in school, but not in any major way. Once I got serious with my photography I decided I would use Photoshop for my post-processing. Simple things like color correction and blemish removal were what I used it for initially, but then I started playing around with other features. I made post cards and designed posters etc… I never went to college so I had no design experience other than what I did on my own, but it was enough to help me get the job I have now as a graphic designer! The company I work for allows me to use my own photographs to the extent that they work with the ad we are creating so I've been very fortunate that I get to do what I love without the need for a degree, and it all stemmed from my meager beginnings in photography.
What's your favorite photograph that you've taken and why?
This is tough because it changes so often. This photo of fireworks is my current favorite. I read about a pull focus technique the day I was going to be shooting fireworks. I gave it a try and I was quite pleased with the results! I love it because it just goes to show there is always, always, always more to learn and if you just try you will be able to do things you never thought of before!
Why NYIP for your training?
I had been searching around for a while and all the places I came across were extremely expensive and required you to pay tuition in advance. There were some classes at a local community college, but I didn't like the idea of sitting in a classroom and having information thrown at me by someone who may or may not teach in a way that I respond to. Eventually I found NYIP and before I even read about the courses I saw that the tuition could be paid on a monthly basis. When I realized how affordable it was, I was sold. I then went through and found the course that would be best suited for me. I had been shooting for a number of years by the time I found NYIP, so the Professional Photography course was the one best suited to my needs. I liked that I could learn at my own pace and wherever I want. I love doing my reading outdoors with my camera next to me so I can practice what I'm learning AS I'm learning it, not after a class. I also appreciate that there is a one-on-one feeling when you get your assignment back in the mail and your instructor is talking directly to you about your work, not to an entire class about everyone's work.
How has your NYIP training helped you?
When you read through the lessons everything is laid out in such easy-to-understand terms. And if I didn't understand something I was able to go back and read it again until I did. I have a much clearer understanding of the technical side of photography, which is really what I was hoping this course would teach me. I already know how to take a photo, how to frame it in and get a good shot, but learning the techniques on how to properly expose and make sure you have the aperture and shutter speed and ISO all in line was a tremendous help in getting the color and clarity just right. A better understanding also allows for more creative freedom as you get to know your camera and everything that it can do.
What other types of photography do you like to do?
I love shooting nature. I especially enjoy macro photography of things like butterflies, bees, flowers… anything that you would see as beautiful but yet you never look closer. I like to look at all the little details that you don't notice at a glance.
What's next for you and your photography?
I really want to work at improving my sports photography. I live about 30 minutes from Lambeau Field, where the Green Bay Packers play. I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend a few practices, as well as games, but I assume there is nothing quite like being on the sidelines, right in the action. I love the idea of capturing that much action and excitement all in one photo. I also appreciate that there is no need to pose your subject. You get what you get and I love that!
I would also love to try fashion photography. I have yet to work with a model, and that is something I think would be incredibly rewarding. I would love to shoot with a subject who knows how to pose and who knows how to find the light and get those angles just right. It would be amazing to collaborate with a model to create some really interesting photos.
Want to learn photography? Try an Online Photography Course from NYIP today!
Next ArticleStudent Success: David HakamakiIn the early 2000's, David Hakamaki enrolled in the New York Institute of Photography, way back when their now-online photography courses were delivered via mail, in the form of cassette tapes and textbooks. Today,…