For someone who’s been doing this photography thing for a long time, Michael Corsentino is surprisingly feeling fresh and excited about his craft. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he’s in a transitional period and is getting his feet wet with editorial fashion photography. For those out there who are familiar with Michael’s work with Resource and Shutter Magazine, you know how passionate and meticulous he is about the technical aspects of photography. For those who are new to him, allow us to formally introduce you to our tech editor at large and new photographer in residence. In his pictures, you can clearly see a higher caliber of shading and contrast. We wanted to know his exact thoughts on it, especially in the context of his new work.
Hi Michael, how are you? Tell me a little bit about your background as a photographer?
I’ve been shooting for thirty-five years, give or take. I started shooting when I was around twelve years old. My father introduced me to photography and it’s been a lifelong love and passion. I started doing documentary projects and the school yearbook [laughs]. I went to SUNY Purchase in Westchester, upstate New York, where I studied design and photography. I got out of school and things kind of went in a different way and I ended up pursuing a graphic design career for a while but I always stayed in photography. I would do my own stories and I would pitch them to magazines. I would go and self finance them, shoot them and package them. They would be really easy for magazines to pick up and run with. Eventually they did and started asking me to shoot other things. That helped, staying in the whole photography thing because design kept me really busy–I often joke that if I were working in photography, I would spend less time in front of the computer. It didn’t really end up working out that way! [laughs]
When you were just telling me that you were developing your own articles and pitching things that you felt were newsworthy, what would be an example of a subject you would pursue?
Trending topics. One example is that I did a piece on the Alabama Chain Gangs, which had been re-introduced to much fanfare down South. It was getting a lot of press and I felt that it was a very compelling and visually rich story. Definitely a human-interest story and those are the kinds of stories I gravitate toward.
By going out and finding stories that you and your audience would enjoy, did that help you develop your artistic lens in any way?
Absolutely! I didn’t really do things for my audience, I try to do things that speak to me. Hopefully the audience will come. I think you really have to carefully straddle the line between pleasing yourself and pleasing others. I would let pleasing myself lead before pleasing my audience because that’s worked for me and it has been a good fit.
You also contribute a monthly lighting column to Shutter Magazine. How did that partnership begin?
That’s an interesting story. Sal Cincotta, owner and editor in chief of Shutter Magazine, (also a fantastic photographer in his own right), asked me to shoot his wedding. We’ve been friends ever since and he asked me to join the Shutter Magazine team as their lighting columnist. He knows how passionate I am about lighting and light and shadows—it’s near and dear to me so the partnership is an easy fit.
Can you tell me a little bit about your passion for lighting? How it began and ways in which you started exploring it?
I think the best way to get knowledge is to go out there and do it, knowing you’re going to have failures and fall flat on your face at times—they say you learn the most from failure and it’s true. I’m never afraid to fail; I’m more afraid of not trying. I’m a huge proponent of learning, whether it is from workshops, videos, books, or DVDs—whatever I can get my hands on. I think part of being a good teacher is also being a good student. I like to share what I learn. I started out with lighting when I was in high school and got a set of strobes. I had no idea what I was doing. I just kind of knocked my way around. Years later I got my first Profoto gear, a 7B pack and two heads, happy camper! I also started exploring constant light, speedlights and the creative possibilities of TTL. I love all light. When you think about it and broadly define photography, it really is all about light and shadow. So for me, getting a handle on lighting was key. I’m still getting a handle on it, and that’s the fun part.
You’ve been a wedding photographer, how did that experience help you in becoming a lighting expert?
There are all sorts of lighting challenges that you have at weddings and shooting receptions. You’re trying to have well balanced images between ambient and daylight; I would say that really helped me develop my chops in TTL lighting since TTL makes distance calculations for you. At a wedding, you can’t really be metering and working in manual, so TTL helps do the heavy lifting for you. Obviously at a wedding it’s not about the light–it’s a wedding. In some ways it’s really frustrating because I see all the possibilities and I really want to light things within an inch of their lives but I can’t. So the editorial and fashion work allows me to indulge that side of my creativity.
For you, what is the primary difference between the wedding and portrait side of your business as opposed to your editorial and fashion work?
Working with a creative team, which is a very different experience. Assembling a reliable team of like-minded stylists, makeup artists and assistants is key and its impact on your work can’t be underestimated. With a team everyone is working toward a common goal. Being open to the ideas team members bring to the table fosters creativity, shows respect and always makes for a much better final product. The production values and the level of polish you can create are also unique. It’s a slower and more deliberate process.
How long did it take you to get comfortable speaking on camera?
[Sips espresso] Who said I was comfortable speaking on camera? [laughs]
So it hasn’t happened for you yet?
Well you know what? I’m comfortable sharing my passion, let’s put it that way. As long as I’m speaking about things that are meaningful to me, it’s easy to say it to a camera. I love interacting with people during speaking engagements and workshops even more but ok, I’m ready for my close up.
You were saying that working in fashion has different demands a little earlier. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Typically, there is a concept involved that’s predetermined. You need a vision. A lot of people do sketches and use Pinterest inspiration boards, which is great. With consumer-based work, weddings and portraits, it’s a little more free flowing, maybe a little less so with portraits. With weddings, it’s purely working with what you have, which is a great challenge—when you hit a home run, it’s great. On the fashion side, you have a team and the challenges that come with that. You have a goal you’re trying to meet and sometimes you deviate from that goal and end up with something even better then you had intended in the beginning.
When you say that you’re working toward a concept in your editorial fashion work, how is important the conceptual stage for you? How do you build a team around that and adapt to what they’re bringing to the table?
Conceptualizing is essential–you can’t just go in blind. Your hair and make up teams need to know the direction. Knowing exactly what it is you’re going for is a key component. Building a creative team as I said before is another one of those key components: being open to the ideas of your team is essential for the best creative environment and the best working relationships. You have to let people do their jobs. You have to realize the vision, but being open to the skills and ideas of your team is really important.
In your opinion, what is the advantage of web tutorials as opposed to face-to-face workshops?
All the best creative channels, from CreativeLIVE to Linda.com, are all valid and amazing resources. Self-paced learning is great, whether it is on your laptop or iPad, as it lets you get your education when you can. But nothing beats in person workshops. The networking opportunities and hands-on learning is just unparalleled. The two methods are not mutually exclusive: I think both are great. If you haven’t been to a workshop, you kind of owe it to yourself to get that experience. Obviously, you have to choose carefully if you’re spending your hard earned dollars on it. Which is why I’m doing a workshops review for in the next issue of Resource–hopefully I can help with pointing out some that I think are valuable.
How has your work on YouTube affected your brand overall?
The reach is incredible and it’s definitely bringing quite a bit of exposure. I just need to do more Youtube stuff–what little I have done I’ve done through partners and sponsors.
For amateur photographers looking to take that next step and get some lighting equipment, what do you recommend they get?
Whatever gear you’re using. I would suggest investing in off-camera lighting. Directional light is really going to give you a superior quality light: it’s going to add drama and dimension, which is what I think lighting is all about.