Interview With Mike Savad – Photographer

The origins of my avatar:
I made my avatar as a joke just to see if I could do it. It fit the theme of the stuff I made. In real life I don’t have a mustache and my hair doesn’t really part in any direction. I also can’t stand wearing a suit and never wear a tie unless I have to.

However I liked the look of that image, and it later became my avatar to all my sites. Each month I dress him up to match the holidays. On a whim one day I thought it would be funny to hide my face in my work. Later that became a thing and now I do it whenever I see an opening. You might see me as a poster or an ad for a made up product. Or I’ll be hidden on a label, a calender, some wrinkled old bags or garbage. Any place I think it would blend in well. As of this date I have just under a 100 images that have my face either hidden or not so hidden in them.

If you go to my store at http://www.MikeSavad.com and in the search box type SELF anything that has a hidden mike, or is a self portrait will come up. Using the close up box provided, see if you can find me. There are no hints in the image, and there might be more than one. If you type NAME, beyond my usual signature, I’ll hide my name some place, I don’t do these as often though, it’s hard to match a font.

I’m often tricky to find, and you’ll have to look around. Other times its far more obvious, I like to have fun with it when I can, even though it takes more time to do it. I think it’s worth it because it serves as a partial watermark and allows a viewer to get up close and personal with the work. I try to put in a lot of details in my work, so allowing a user to really look around is to my advantage.

I tend to be complex when making digital art. I like small and complex details. Having an engineers mind, the item I build has to make sense. So if I build something that has gears in it, all the gears have to mesh. I not just insert screws, but turn each one slightly so they look different. Everything connects, the wires and pipes go some place, the plumbing is to code. I have a solid background in building trades to rely on, and this is reflected in the work I make. When I design these images, due to my visual thinking memory, I am actually in the room with these things, so to me, they are real, and that then portrayed in the piece.

Research is important. Oddly enough in school I hated research, but now I do it for any image I need help with. One of the images I included for this interview is a Voodoo piece. And I spent quite a bit of time researching what it was, and what was needed. Choosing the colors of the pins, and candles, feathers, etc, so they were correct. Yes the colors make a difference, and a person who is into voodoo should know what I did there. However to outsiders it will just look spooky, which is also intended. With all my images, I hide little things into the background to help balance it, if you look carefully I snuck a spider in.

When did you first become interested in art, in general?

My mother is an artist, and because of that I always had art around me. Playing with paint and clay as a child. Taking things apart and mixing those parts in. Lots of messy tempera paint paintings, paper mache (sp), and of course photography – at an early age. As I got older to get me out of the house my parents enrolled me in a summer program that focused on things I might like. I did magic, I tried learning the drums, miniature furniture, photography, and a number of others. I learned how to do stained glass there until it was the only class I took. It wasn’t until much later that I really got into photography.

When did you first become interested in photography, specifically?

When I was only 3 maybe? My parents got me a film camera, I think it was a Kodak, it had a cartridge in the back and a cube flash. It was mostly to keep me busy when we went on vacation. It was never for art. But I always had a camera of some kind. When digital came out, that’s when I was able to really play and figure out what I like doing.

In what other forms of art do you also work, if any?

I was doing stained glass for about 20-25 years old, I started when I was 9. I specialized in complicated 3-d designs making boxes, or complicated lamps or windows and such. I would still be doing it now if I had the space and energy.

Mike SavadOn which style of photography do you specialize?

I specialize in HDR, or my own version of HDR since I don’t use an HDR based programs. I like to add a certain amount of a nostalgic look to get people to want the art. I like adding depth and light through shading.

Do your ideas come from life or imagination?

I do both photography and digital art and mix the both. Lately I’ve been working with perspective and paying attention to shadow, candles, and light play. Some things are inspired from games I play, others are from life. Mostly it has to come from life because they started as photos.

How do you choose your images and colours?

Color choice is determined by what looks right with the objects I choose. I may choose a bright red or a brighter area if that’s where I want the focus to be looking at. It really varies. Some images are rather dark and dirty. Where as others are much brighter.

Steampunk - The webs we weave

Has your style changed from when you first began? If so, why?

My style changes about every 3 months as I progress. I try to challenge myself whenever I can, and just like all the other things I’ve mastered, I try to get better with each version, I evolve this way. Sometimes you accidentally do something and it becomes a new technique.

Why do you do the style the way you do?

I created my style out of frustration. To get a really nice photo of something, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and the events have to happen right then. And getting the light exactly where you want it to be, getting the horses to look at you at the right time, and getting the shot primped to your liking is an undertaking that could take years. And well, I’m lazy. And I don’t go out in the early morning, finding perfect light is very hard. I’m a “play it where it lies” kind of guy and I simply shoot the image to edit it later on.

I think I started the HDR in 2006 or so, I learned I could paint with light in Photoshop. This way I can direct the light and therefore direct the eyes where I want people to look. Adding sunbeams adds a certain amount of depth and atmosphere and balances the shot at the same time, if that side of a room looked empty. Adding extra shading will lend a certain amount of depth to the scene.

I always liked the look of HDR from a program, but repairing the damage it did was a pain. And that’s where my roots came from, repairing HDR shots from Photomatix. Eventually I just cut out the that program from my steps and did it by hand, it was far easier and I was in total control.

For me a photo is nothing more than step 1 in capturing my art.

Also, I find that after a while, no matter how good you get, your photo’s will look the same when compared to other photographers. Probably because we are trying to imitate that other person to get better ourselves and the work starts looking the same. So prevent this I make my images look different from the rest and created a style of my own.

What kind of equipment do you use?

I use a Canon 5dmkiii with a tamron 28-300vc lens. It’s not a top of the line lens by any standard, but I hand hold all my shots due to the locations and space I can shoot in. A tripod was always a hindrance and in the way and it’s heavy. Even small pods are heavy. A stable lens works well, and while Canon and others have their own versions of this range (I like an all purpose lens), their versions are really heavy and pricey.

I use a home built computer, I put them together myself, I don’t remember the specs though. By today’s standards its totally out of date. But I could have built it yesterday and it would still be out of date.

I use a Wacom Intous medium tablet, it’s wireless and works quite well. It’s really needed to do the work I do, but there is a learning curve.

What made you choose that equipment?

My first camera was a canon powershot pro90. It was a good camera, and it had the ability to do manual shots, but also allowed an external flash. I bought a 550ex flash for it – I think it was like $400 or something like that. But basically it was expensive. And when you start buying things like that you tend to want a camera that’s compatible. And when you buy lenses the same thing happens, you get stuck using one brand. Which is fine, it’s a good brand, but that’s usually what happens. Plus I check reviews heavily and compared to other cameras, the one I have now had the features I wanted, compared to other brands.

Steampunk - The gentleman's Monowheel

Fantasy - The power of VoodooAre you a specialist photographer?

I can’t say I specialize in just one thing other than I use the same HDR type style. I live in the suburbs, we have no real landscape, I don’t go to the shore, so I have no practice there, and animals eat me, so those are out. I don’t like people in general, so weddings are out. So that leaves general city and still life shots, along with digital art.

Do you have favourite times of the days to take shots in?

Not really while I may advocate for others to shoot during blue hour or whatever, by that time of the day, I’m beat and worn out and eating dinner. Personally, I like to think I can shoot at any time during the day to get usable images, despite what the “experts” say. Taking it in midday sun, rain, fog, snow, dark, haze, etc – all of these present challenges and while the image I took in the camera may not look optimal, when I get done with it, it will look much better.

There are usually two kinds of photographers – the type that wants to get it right in the camera (the analog film people). And the kind that only wants the shot and will worry about it later in editing, which is me, in the digital age.

Are you a patient photographer, waiting for the right moment, or do you tend to just shoot and hope for the best?
A little of both. I take many images on day trips or vacations, so timing is limited. I can’t wait for something to just happen, I have to look at the moments and see what should happen if I wait a minute or so. Knowing that a dragon fly will always land in the same spot twice saves you time running after it. Knowing that a bird flying over the water may catch a fish, get ready and pan after it. Shooting when a guy looks up for a moment because he did it before, get ready for that. Watching a person walking in front of a window of a store, they may look in, or walk in, so shoot at that time.

While it’s a nice dream to think that if I just shoot enough images one will come out looking like something. That’s never the case. Shooting like a machine gun is good for a running race, but in the field, not so much.

However timing can play a roll if it’s cloudy and the clouds are in and out. And the light is out for just a second. Or maybe you don’t want glare so you wait for the cloud to cover the sun, but in the mean time you shoot something else. Or you wait for a person to walk by the cafe so it looks like people live in that town. Or even wait for a person to walk in front of something you don’t want to have to clone out.

Tell us about one of the longest shoots you had and why you were willing to be patient?

I never record time when I remember things. I think about 5 min. it doesn’t seem long, but when you have your finger over the button, and one eye closed and your poised to shoot it, it’s a long, long time. Especially after when you have to get your vision back in the eye that was closed for so long. That has to do more with sun timing, or timing when the traffic stops, etc.

Steampunk - Starry NightHow often do you go out just to photograph or, do you have your camera ready at all times, even shopping?

A good photographer will always have a camera on them. At all times I have a small camera, while not as good as the big one, I can still capture things, even if it’s just a texture. My main camera is ready at a moments notice though, I can just grab and go. In the warmer season we try to go out every few weeks. And on vacations we pack everything in very tight to get as much out of it as we can.

Do you edit in Photoshop or another programme? Or do you outsource to someone else?

To be an artist, you need to be in full control over your art. So doing it yourself is the only way you can say that you did it. I use Photoshop, it’s really the only program worth using, though it’s a bit pricey. While I’m sure there are other programs that are comparable, once you get used to the key strokes of one program, it’s not worth re-learning another.

How much time (on average) does it take to edit a work?

It depends on the work. If it’s a plain image, like a flower where I do very little work on it other than fixing noise and color, provided I’m not distracted, it may take 30min or less. If its a photo that needs shading, it could take an hour. If it’s a 3-5 frame HDR, it could take all day. Its a combination of getting out the noise and balancing the light, then a lot of cloning of things. And digital art, could take a week or more depending on complexity and research.

What was your worse job?

I trained to be a maintenance mechanic, and was hired by a small hotel. The hotel never gave me the keys to the shop where I would actually work (I guess being new they didn’t trust me with a key). But it was hard to do my job of fixing things, when I had no access to the tools. And later on they wanted me to work nights which wasn’t in the description. But what made it bad was that one day where they poisoned all the rats under a shed. And when I came in, they handed me a dust mask and a snow shovel and said – see those dead rats? Your cleaning them up, here’s a garbage can.

Well it took a whole morning and a second person to clear out about 9 huge trash cans of dead rodents, covered in poison. And to this day, no matter how bad the job is, it doesn’t compare to shoveling hundreds of pounds of dead rats. It was amazing just how many rats there were living under that shed.

Steampunk - Airship MaximusWhat was our best job?

I don’t know if I had one yet. Each job has it’s perks and it’s lows. One place had a nice cafeteria, and good benefits. But the non-stop chatter of a combination of machine noise, Spanish and Portuguese, made it a bit unbearable to work at.

I suppose I could say being at home all the time and making photos and art is probably the best, but I never allow myself free time and I work from when I wake up, till I go to sleep.

How do you know when a piece is finished? Is it easy to walk away?

You just know. I know it’s a simple answer, but its often that simple. I may see errors in the future, but right now it’s done, so there. I have a tendency to get bored easily, so if I look at the same thing too long I just leave it. So I try to get it done fast and follow a schedule of sorts (my techniques steps) and just get it done.

What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?

I do something else. To keep your mind creative you need to either create all the time or let it rest. If you push it really hard it doesn’t always work. Often the sub-conscience part of your mind needs to be programmed first. Tell it you want something and then just wait, and your get your inspiration. But usually your brain needs to rest, so I’ll do something else. Get away from the computer, tinker with a new idea to see if it will merge into something. I usually don’t have blocks though, because I don’t allow myself to get trapped in a loop of making the same types of things over and over. I try to explore a range of ideas.

How well do you take criticism and how do you make use of it?

I try not to get attached to my images. It’s become to a point that I forgot I ever took the image in the first place. And usually I’m own worst critic anyway, I’ll often go back and try fixing things again. I’ve been on a critique site for like 10 years, so I can take it, but only when asked. And only if the information I get is connected to the image and not things I have no control over. Like if someone points out that a boat doesn’t have the right number of sails – I can’t do anything about that. That’s how the boat was. If the idea is valid I’ll take it into consideration, otherwise its tossed.

Machinist - The MillwrightWho is your favourite photographer?

I know it sounds shallow, but myself. I don’t really look at other people’s art that much. And if I had a favorite, I wouldn’t know their name. Partly because I don’t remember names well, and partly because I don’t think I ever looked.

Which one of your photographs is your favourite?

I can’t say I have a favorite. I guess all of them kind of are and none of them are. I couldn’t pick one, I try to get each one as perfect as I can get. And usually my favorite is the last one I made, and then it’s forgotten when I make the next one.

Have you used smartphone cameras?

I have a camera in my phone, but due to resolution, I don’t use it on a pro level. It’s nice to have and it’s well concealed, but it has too many limits. If I pushed it through a painter program then I could make use of it. But it’s better than nothing, however I usually carry a small camera with me at all times.

Do you think Smartphone cameras will change the whole world of photography? If so, how?

I think the technology used that goes into a phone will make it cheaper for the real cameras. I don’t think that any pro would use a smart phone to shoot a wedding, a well done sunset or frankly anything else. And unless you can change lenses, get a zoom lens, get a large sensor, you’ll never have the quality of a real camera. It does allow you to sneak more images in however, and it does change how we see the news, since everyone becomes a reporter when they film the event where they stand.

What advice do you have for budding photographers?

Know your equipment beyond the manual and rules. Keep an eye out everywhere and pay attention to natural frames and light sources. Get the very best equipment you can afford, but within the range of you needing it. A full frame camera is a great investment, but only if your selling large prints or need the detail. If your only shooting your dog, or a kids baseball team, get something cheaper. Get good glass, but again, what you can afford. Better lenses are expensive and heavy. And many times cheaper lenses are just as good, the more expensive stuff is often weather sealed, and your camera may not take advantage of it anyway. However do get lenses that will fit on a full frame camera, should you one day decide to make the big switch. APS-C lenses don’t always fit a full frame camera, due to the larger mirror. They hit each other.

Always shoot in RAW. Even if you have no plans on editing them fully right now, and even if you think they look the same (or softer), than a JPG. You may go back to them years later to edit, and you’ll be glad you did that. You never know what image you may have to pull from the archive, it might be a popular seller, or location that was destroyed in a hurricane – and you have images of that.

Don’t be afraid of being different. Stand in a strange way to get a shot, lie on your back (check for dog doo first), look up, look down, get a different view on things. Real photographers are handy and often cheap. We will build a lot of our own equipment. You don’t always have to go to the store and spend a ton of money on gear that looks nice. If it works, use it. If an old joy bottle works as a diffuser for the flash, use it. I once built a diffuser from a wiffle ball, just by cutting a rectangle (over the holes so it forms a spring), and pushing it onto the flash.

The only time you want to look like a pro is if you do weddings, people will talk behind your back if you pull out a car reflector to shine light, or if you get a tripod out and there’s a brick taped to the center.

If you shoot macro, it doesn’t matter at all how you get the shot, all you need is lots of wide light sources (for the eye glints), and for that, any rig that works for you, use it. No one will make fun of you for using it for that purpose.

If your new, don’t use the camera strap that came with the camera, and don’t use a bag that is meant for cameras, thieves know this, find a plain bag and modify it to your liking.

And lastly, be aware the if you bought a camera to sell your images – don’t. Your not likely advanced enough to create images that can compete with people who have been doing it longer. And don’t assume that because you have an expensive camera, your images are also sellable. When you new you should be practicing on getting better, and not trying to sell, or you’ll just end it in disappointment.

Machinist - LathesHave you done any courses to help you?

I never have taken any formal courses, I pick things up as needed from online or YouTube.

What do you do to market your work?

Mostly create unique head turning work, I find that in itself advertises works well. People want to show off what they found and you get free marketing that way.

Otherwise the usual avenues, twitter, facebook, any place I can stuff a link, my own web pages and so on. It mostly takes years of build up.

Do you enter your work in contests?

Only small local contests on sites I’m in. I don’t care for contests usually. There are either too many rules, or they have odd items in the terms of service , some of which hands my work over to them. Or they charge too much for many of them. I just wouldn’t get much out of them. And since my things are totally edited, they wouldn’t fit into many of these contests anyway.

Do you use social networking in your day to day life?

https://twitter.com/MikeSavad

https://www.facebook.com/mike.savad

I’m not that exciting in there as I don’t post much, so follow at your own risk.

Fantasy - Wizards ruleAre you available for work (commissions)?

No I don’t like commissions, people tend to be too picky and all the back and forth stuff, I just don’t like being tied down.

Have you got hobbies?

Well I did stained glass, I collect and repair tools. I like going to garage sales, watch anime, and I think that’s all.

Where are you based?

Westfield, NJ

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