Tell us a little bit about yourself
Hi! I’m Mike Monaghan, a Seattle-based fashion, portrait, and travel photographer.
How did you get into photography?
A long, long time ago, when I was 17, I was given a little point and shoot Kodak camera for Christmas. And at the time, I had barely taken any photos in my life before then. I played around with it quite a bit, taking some horrible photos (which are floating around the web somewhere if you look hard enough), mostly pictures of my cats, flowers, sunsets, and of course, selfies!
After high school I started studying for graphic design degree at a local community college near my hometown, and got a job at Best Buy as well. My design degree required taking a photography class, and somehow around that time too, I started getting stationed in the camera department at work. So naturally I just started learning as much as I could since I was around cameras all the time, later on I found out that I barely knew anything about cameras at all. I then bought an advanced point and shoot Sony camera, which was nowhere near DSLR quality, but it did have more manual functions. Eventually I bought a Canon Rebel xTi and that is what launched me into taking photography seriously.
After graduating with my graphic design degree I then quit doing graphic work because I didn’t enjoy it, and moved to Seattle to pursue a photography degree at the Art Institute in 2010. At the time I was very naive, and I actually didn’t know if I wanted to even be a photographer. I’m very glad I kept up with it. I studied there for 3 years before I left my degree to pursue my career as a photographer. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t learning much, I was actually being held back by doing assignments instead of doing client work which I kept having to turn away because of school getting in the way. I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me I was a photographer, I needed a solid portfolio to show the clients that were actually coming my way to get the work. In the beginning of 2013 I went full force into being a free lance photographer and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve connected with so many great people, and have been to so many great places thanks to photography. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made to get where I am today.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
The people who know me on a personal level definitely know that I am obsessed with Godzilla and dinosaurs. So when I was young I wanted to dig up dinosaurs like all the cool people in Jurassic Park! That didn’t last long, or even go anywhere, haha! But I am still very much a hardcore nerd when it comes to those two topics. I also was a fairly good drawer, so I thought about doing comic book art for a while, but I didn’t have the patience. I really loved sharks for a stage of my childhood and wanted to study them, but then I realized I’m not a big fan of being in the water… So that faded quickly as well!
Color or black and white?
This is an extremely tough question. I love both. I love vibrant colors and light. But I also love the intensity that black and white can bring. I’m currently in love with old, expired film colors, but I still jump back and forth between color and black and white. I don’t think I can give you an answer on that one, unfortunately.
What lighting do you like most?
I like lighting that is different, but natural. It could be coming through a window causing intense shadows. It could be broken up by clouds at sunset, causing different color casts. It could be hitting glass just right to cause a refraction to make a rainbow. I love light.
The best place to take pictures?
To bounce off of the last question, the best place to take pictures is the place that has the best light. It could be open shade, directly in the sun, or wherever. It’s a bonus if the environment is interesting or simple, but not too distracting.
Why portrait photography?
I’m not sure why I do portrait photography. When I first started taking photos I was very shy, and didn’t like to interact with people while having the camera in my hand. It felt awkward. But over time I was forced to do it for school work, and was being inspired by portrait photography online through Flickr, Facebook, and Tumblr. So I started pushing myself to mimic what I loved seeing and I started getting good at it. Eventually I got to where I am today. Taking portraits is just a natural habit for me now. My only challenge is making each portrait different and more interesting than the last.
Why lifestyle photography?
I would say that I’ve stepped a few steps away from lifestyle work. It was an experiment for me for a little while, but now I am focusing more on portraiture, artistic portraits and environmental portraits, along with travel photography. I don’t see myself doing lifestyle much longer.
Which moment is the best in the photographic process?
I would have to say the moment you grab that one shot is my favorite. It’s so exciting! And sharing it with the model or client is amazing. The energy is always so good at that point, it’s almost like a little celebration! And I would also say that the moment I get to post a new shot on social media for the world to see and having all the reactions come through is also a favorite of mine. I love the emotions that my work brings out of people. When there is a good response, it means I did my job right.
What’s your secret recipe for great portraits?
Find a style that you are inspired by, and do it. If you like more artistic portraits with intense shadows or concepts, do it. Golden hour lifestyle? Do it. By doing, and trying you’ll find what works for you and you’ll master it. But don’t do it so few and far between that you don’t grow. Work and shoot a lot and you’ll get better and better each shoot. I shoot a lot. At least once a week, and I say at least. Some weeks I shoot twice a day, and every day that week. Just go out and try new things constantly.