Your Name: Michael Clemens
Your studio/business name: Sees The Day
Location: San Francisco
My photography is emotional and honest. I really try and look for the moment without every manufacturing anything. If it's real, then it will say something to you when you look at it weather it’s involving you or someone else.
Are you self-taught or classroom trained?
From the time my mom gave me camera when I graduated elementary school, I have taught myself how to see through the lens. To this day, I’m constantly trying to learn. Pick up a tip , a technique, anything that I haven’t thought of that would help me get the best images possible.
How many years have you been a professional photographer?
I have been shooting professionally for about 10 years.
Where do you want to take your photography business in 5 years?
I would love to make it my full time gig. I currently have a "day job" at DreamWorks Animation in Redwood City. I have been very fortunate to have a good career in the movie business since 2 weeks out of college, but it’s photography that I am supposed to be doing full time.
Is there a photographer who inspires your style? Who would that be?
I feel that great photographs inspire me rather than photographers. There are many photographers I respect, but none that I try and emulate. One photographer comes to mind when I think of consistent mind blowing images. . .Dave Black. He shoot primarily sports photography, and I marvel at what he is able to capture.
Favorite location to take photos?
It might sound silly, but some of my favorite locations are the one's that pose a challenge. When you have piece together a puzzle of light and shadows and background and subjects . . . and then you get something that is magical. . no better feeling.
Favorite vacation spot?
I’m not good a “relaxing”, so vacationing for me is somewhere that allows for some great photography opportunities. I love going to places I’ve never been and a walk every block in that place to try and really “see” where I am. I’m not a “sit on the beach with my feet up” kind of guy.
This is an easy one. I had taken paternity leave when my first daughter was born. I fell MADLY in love with this little person, and I didn't want to go back to work. I said to myself. . . “I know, I'll shoot weddings on the weekends and that will let me be home all week”. Well, that turned out to be a catch 22. . I would be home more during the week, but I would miss every family function because those always happened on weekends when most family functions occurred. But that's when the 2nd love affair happened with photography. I get nervous and excited every time I have a shoot, and then, when I get there and start shooting, I get so lost in the moment that everything else melts away.
What’s the best marketing tip that has worked for you?
Still trying to find that out. For me, it's been strictly word of mouth. The families I've shot for have been so wonderfully overwhelmed, that they have told everyone they know.
What’s the most surprising thing a customer has asked you?
When I shoot weddings, I typically ask the couple for a list of the posed "must have" shots. The ones that come after the ceremony and before the reception. Pretty straight forward. Well, one time, I had a bride write me a list of "moments" that she wanted me to get. “Me and my husband looking at each other with me laughing. . . or one of me winking at my aunt. . . or one of my husband on one leg while I'm in the background looking at my dad”. Ok these were a little exaggerated, but not by much. I told her that moments have to happen for me to get them . . . But I'll do my best .
Are you Canon or Nikon (or –other):
I have been a Canon shooter from the beginning and that's why I think I've stayed with them for this long. I love Canon, and have no reason to switch, but once you start accumulating lenses and batteries, and gear that are Canon specific, it doesn't make a lot of sense TO switch. I know some people feel of cameras like they do political parties. . .but honestly, Canon and Nikon and other companies all have incredible gear, and in my opinion, are very similar.
If you could only have one lens on a photo shoot, what would it be?
That's a tough question because there are so many different situations, but I think I would have to say a probably a common answer, but it would be my 70-200mm f2.8. It's really gorgeous.
What brand bag do you carry your camera in?
I have tried EVERY bag under the sun, and every one is ALMOST the perfect bag. The one I typically end up using is a messenger bag from that was a Christmas Present from ILM (Industrial Light & Magic). It's simple and roomy, and I created my own "separators"/"grid" from velcro pieces from other bags!
What gear would we find in your camera bag?
Several lenses, a few flashes, batteries, pocket wizard, and tons of memory cards.
Are you a natural light fan or strobe fan?
Natural light is much easier, and it's truly the most beautiful, but there is something about the challenge of using a strobe and making it look natural that is fun for me.
Are you PC or Mac?
Unlike my somewhat indifference to camera choice, I AM a devout Mac user. I can't imagine using anything else ever.
I use Lightroom and Photoshop and a handful of plugins.
Do you shoot in Raw or Jpeg?
RAW. . .Always RAW.
Best advice you would give your 20-year old self?
Kiss that girl. Oh, photography wise. . . .go for it. I have always played it safe. I lost most of my family at a young age so I have never been a risk taker. But looking back, I wish I was more brave and didn't settle for the secure paycheck when I was a young single guy.
Best advice you would give a new photographer?
I wrote a blog post about this one time, but it's about doing whatever it takes to get the shot. I had shot a long wedding, and I was exhausted. On my feet for 10 hours. At the end of the night, I had neatly packed up all my gear in the trunk of my car and had over an hour drive home ahead of me. As I pulled out of the venue, I see the very last light in the sky behind this hill with a little church on it. It was THE shot. But I was exhausted and I JUST put everything away and I have SO FAR to drive. But I forced myself to get out, unpack my gear and get the shot. I kept thinking about how much I'd regret it tomorrow if I didn't put that extra effort in at that moment. I was glad I did, and it has become a favorite shot of mine.
What site do you use for your photography and why?
I use Squarespace for my front end site and use Smugmug to host all my images. They are both phenomenal and easy to use and their customer service is stellar. I have never been so happy with a company than I have been with both of them. I have been with SmugMug since the beginning, but Squarespace has only been in the last 1-2 years.
What Else Should We Know?
This is an EASY one. My VERY FIRST WEDDING. And no. . it's not why you'd think this would be the worst. But it was my first wedding and I had lied about how many weddings I had done prior to get the gig. Since I hadn't done any, any number I said would have been a lie. Anyway, I had shot the ceremony (not sure how anything was in focus I was shaking so much from nerves), and then on to the reception. It was at a Golf Course that was open to the public and it was in the clubhouse on the grounds. I had been so stressed and nervous and exhausted. I still had 4 hours to go. I saw this moment happening across the room, so I put down my BRAND NEW CAMERA THAT WAS PURCHASED TO SHOOT THIS WEDDING down on the DJ table, and brought my 2nd camera (rental) with me to get the shot. When I came back 60 seconds later, my brand new camera was gone. The DJ swore he didn't see anyone and that he didn't take it. I was sick to my stomach, an truly ready to cry. But this wasn't about me. . it was about the couple, so I grabbed my one camera I had left and continued to shoot. Luckily, I use smaller memory cards, and change them often, so the card that was in my camera that was stolen only had a couple of images on it . I have NEVER put down ANYTHING down during a shoot again. . .EVER.
What would surprise people most about you, whether it is photography related or not?
I used to be the assistant to Director Robert Zemeckis. I started with him on Forest Gump, and went on to do Contact, Castaway and What Lies Beneath with him. Additionally, I met my wife the first day of shooting of Contact in a small make shift production office in Socorro New Mexico.
iPhone, Coffee, crushed ice.
I wish I had more…..
Time with my family instead of being at my current "day job" which keeps me away way too much.
The best thing about being a photographer is…
The history I get to capture for the families that I shoot. The other best part is there aren’t other "cooks in the kitchen". With the Visual Effects job, there are a million people that have to put their "mark" on it. You become a small piece of a very large pie. But with photography, it's just me and the lens and my creativity.
The most important lesson I ever learned was….
Kill 'em with kindness!
My favorite time of day is…
Photographically. . . 2 hours before sunset.