Location: San Francisco, CA
Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Michael Winokur has made the transition from newspaper to commercial photography. But that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his roots. He fuses the spontaneity of photojournalism with his experience in location lighting, studio portraiture, fashion and fine-art photography to bring creative energy and capture definitive images for every project.
I have a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri. I graduated in 1994. My original path was documentary photojournalism, and I still feel that influence in my choice of subjects and my way of being with the people I photograph. Missouri wasn’t a place to learn technique. I’m self-taught on the lighting, production, business, etc. I worked for newspapers for about 10 years. In that environment, you learn to be a problem solver. Around 2000, I decided I wanted to control my image making and I stopped observing and started planning, lighting and casting my images.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned either from a teacher or mentor?
David Rees always said, “Moments are your friends.” That’s worth remembering. I’m still learning. I believe in lifelong education and constant practice. Sometimes my 9-to-5 friends don’t understand why I’m always testing and working on personal projects. To be a creative professional, you have to be part artist and part businessperson. The artist part always needs to get out and create work. You can’t wait for clients to tell you what to do. The very best photographers are setting the creative tone. Their work shows clients what they want to do.
What was your first job as a photographer?
My first job was at a newspaper in Doylestown, Penn., when I was still in high school. My first real advertising client was Carol H. Williams for Proctor & Gamble.
What advice would you give to a photographer who is still in school?
This is a great time for young photographers. Styles and techniques are wide open. People want you to open a doorway into the excitement of being young. Carry a camera everywhere and be courageous in your picture making.
What inspires you about photography?
Maybe it’s because I identify myself as a portrait photographer, I’m really blown away when someone makes a portrait that allows me to look through the photography into the subject. I think Hendrik Kerstens has done this with great success. Platon and Dan Winters are amazing portraitists.
What makes you go out and shoot?
I have more ideas than I have time to execute. I’m always thinking about a picture or a subject I’d like to photograph.
What do you like best about the whole process?
The process part used to be much more romantic before digital. But the key to photography for me has always been an opportunity to meet and interact with amazing people. That hasn’t changed.
How long have you been shooting?
I’ve been a photographer for a long time, but my career really changed when I started my own business in 2000. It changed again about two years ago when I rebranded around real-people photography and portraiture. Transitions can be hard. I had to put away a lot of images and styles that I
loved. It’s been a great process, though, identifying my “brand” has helped me make decisions about who I photograph and how, and who my best clients could be. Thinking outside of the box is such a cliché. I think constraints improve creativity. This is what we do for our clients. We are creative in very narrow confines. I think the same thinking can improve our portfolios.
What kind of camera equipment do you use?
In general, the Canon equipment is my workhorse. We often shoot tethered, mostly with an EOS-1Ds Mark III. Other than Canon, I use whatever works and whatever is interesting to me. I love my Gowlandflex, I think as much because it was hand-built by the legendary Peter Gowland as that it’s a great and unique tool. I’m also starting to experiment with Petzval lenses. At the moment, I’m trying to mount one on a Graflex Super D.
What’s your favorite piece of Canon gear?
I just upgraded my EF 100mm ƒ/2.8L Macro IS USM to the series II lens. That’s a brilliant piece of equipment. The image stabilization is very fine. I’ve been using the Canon cameras since the 1Ns, so I’m really familiar with the way they feel and work.
To see more of Michael Winokur’s work, go to www.winokurphotography.com.