Michael Muller is a Los Angeles-based photographer known for his diverse series of work. Within his portfolio, you’ll find the hundreds of TV and movie covers and posters he photographed. You’ll recognize celebrity portraits, alongside fierce wildlife shots of great white sharks and lions. Today, Muller is considered one of Hollywood’s most sought-after photographers. He is on the verge of launching PhotoSchool.com, an online photo education platform, and will be speaking at Stand Out! Photographic Forums in LA on Oct.15. Additionally, he founded a mobile camera and effects app, boasts an impressive commercial motion reel and uses his photography to bring aid to environmental and social efforts.
So how did he culminate such a successful career without limiting his talent to one category? In Muller’s words: “It’s all about the hustle.”
As a self-taught photographer, Muller’s success dates back to before his college days. For one semester, he attended Otis College of Art and Design, where he was given advanced placement in consideration of his past snowboarding coverage. It was the mid-80s, a time when the snowboarding phenomena first took off, and Muller was among the few to hit the slopes with a camera. “I started shooting snowboarding when I was about 15 years old in Northern California,” he says. “There was a group of us who would go up to Tahoe all the time to shoot, like Jeff Swine and Will Forte,” who now plays a starring role on FOX’s Last Man on Earth.
Also of them, was Justin Hostynek, who is today known as the founder of the legendary Absinthe Films. “Justin’s father gave him his college tuition money to fund a calendar, and we made the first ever snowboarding calendar called Vertical Addictions,” Muller says.
And like that, Muller found himself at Otis College as a freshmen, but studying on a junior level. That is, until, he began getting paid work and came to question the relevance of his studies. “What do I need this diploma for? Do I need it to get jobs?” said Muller one day to his professor. “No. Not unless you want to be a teacher,’” he responded. “If you can get work, then by all means…” So, like many other photographic outliers, Muller dropped out of school to educate himself. But unlike his successors, he never went on to work as an assistant. Instead, he focused on his own vision, refusing to pidgin-hole himself into one style or look.
“I’ve had a lot of agents over the years try to steer me in that direction,” he says. “But the minute you staple yourself into a look that’s all the clients are going to want from you. It’s like the big rock band who gets asked to play the same hit at every show they play, even if they have new songs.”
Speaking of music, after Muller left college at 18 years old, he began shooting rock concerts. He explains that he found gigs by hustling phone calls to labels through a local newspaper he worked for, obtaining photo passes for bands such as U2, The Rolling Stones and R.E.M. Throughout the next four years, he built relationships with these labels and record companies, which led him to move to LA to further advance his career.
Since then, Muller’s professional work has spanned across commercial, advertising, sports, portrait, music and wildlife photography. “What I’ve done is take my commercial and advertising work and bring it on-location and into the wild,” he says, as he speaks of one of his most prized achievements: inventing the world’s most powerful underwater strobe lighting system. “I received five patents on them and I’m the only one in the world with them. I don’t think many people realize that I bring a whole studio underwater to photograph great white sharks. They’re more impressed with the fact that I don’t use a cage,” which is something only a handful of people in the world have done.
So what is the universal force behind such greatness? Muller explains: “Anyone can take a great photo. But what makes a great photographer is someone who can replicate that great photo over and over again. They say it’s someone that masters 10,000 hours of doing something. But in my opinion you never master anything. I’m learning today and I try to remain teachable on a daily basis. For one, I want to learn new stuff and I definitely don’t think I know it all or even remotely close to it. And remaining teachable is what continues to make photography fun, even after 30 years of shooting. There’s always something new to find and discover.”
And if you’d like to discover those things for yourself, don’t miss Muller’s seminar at Stand Out! Photographic Forums in October.
Special offer: Get free admission into any Stand Out! Photographic Forums seminar from now until Sept. 4 using voucher code RESOURCE. Seating is limited. Registration is highly recommended.