1stAngel Interview With Michelle McPhillips Fine Art Photography

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Michelle McPhillips

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

Honestly, art has always been a part of my life. I have always loved art. When I was a child my mother taught me how to make dolls, paint figurines, and decorate cakes. My father taught me how to draw and work with wood. And my sister Christina taught me how to use a kiln, and work on cars. Starting in elementary school I would enter drawings, and photographs in the local fair. And as I got older I spent a great deal of time reading and learning everything I could to improve my skills. Trial and error (emphasis on the error) is the best way for me to learn. But the passion to create has always been apart of me.

When did you first become interested in photography, specifically?

I’d have to say I was either seven or eight years old when a neighbor gave me this antique camera. I think it was from the 1960’s. The camera used 126 cartridge film. It had this replaceable blue gel flash bulb that kept burning out. When I received that camera things changed for me. I had a new outlet to express myself. And every since then I have had a passion for photography. Back then, I use to take some of my grandfather’s bird woodcarvings and place them in the bushes. I would compose these scenes as though I was a wildlife photographer sneaking up on the animals in the wild. Even then I was very conscience about composition. I did not want to waste film on bad shots.


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

I absolutely love photography. But I when I first started learning how to write, I would (and still do) write poetry. In grade school I was into music. I preformed in choir for 8 years with 4 years in advanced choir, and 1 year in a church choir. In middle school I started getting really good at drawing portraits and still life; which I still love to draw today. In high school I majored in performing arts and science. After an audition, I was accepted into a performing arts theatre magnet program. And as much as I loved performing, I found I myself much more comfortable behind the scenes. I enjoyed building elaborate stage sets, and designing lighting effects. There’s just something about always keeping my hands creating that brings me peace. As I went on to college (several as a matter of fact) I always majored in biological and environmental sciences. But electives and non accredited courses were usually in photography. I also like to paint wall murals and decorate. I worked construction for many years. I am great at home remodeling. And currently I am teaching myself how to spin fire using poi fire fans. And I am really enjoying it. It’s so much fun!

On which style(s) of photography do you specialise?

I don’t specialize in anything. I am always evolving and learning. And my creative outlet is just as hormonal as I am. For example: some days I feel as though I have to get outside and retreat back into nature. Other days I am inspired by texture, or color. And that’s what I have to shoot during that time otherwise I can’t move on. I become obsessed. But my goal is always the same. I want to capture beauty.

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

Yes of course my style has changed, but only in moderation. My style is who I am. So as I change my style changes. I always take photographs that express me in some way. My mood is always expressed in my shots. However my techniques, applications, and equipment have all changed and evolved as I have progressed.

Fall Horizon
Fall Horizon

What kind of equipment do you use?

A few years ago I got a Nikon D90. It is the first and only digital camera I own. Previously I owned a Nikon N65. The lenses I own are a Nikkor 28 – 80mm, a Nikkor 70 – 300mm, a Phoenix 650 – 1300mm, a Phoenix 2x teleconverter, and a Shoot timer remote. The photo editor I use is Corel PaintShop Pro x4. I do own a cheap tripod, but I can’t use for anything because it doesn’t support the weight of my camera. One day I hope to own a really nice tripod. But until then I use everything around me for stability. Like when I take pictures of the moon with my 650-1300mm lens with the 2x teleconverter on it. I lay on the ground, prop my feet up in a chair and use my legs for stability. Then I rest the camera on my face.

What made you choose that equipment?

Ummm…….. Honestly I chose it because it was what was available at the time. And it was what I could afford.

Are you a specialist photographer?

I like to think of myself as versatile. I have photographed a few weddings. And I have done some family portraits, and baby photographs. But my passion is always nature. I love getting outdoors and photographing nature.

Autumn Shade
Autumn Shade

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

The twilight hours. And as contradictory as it is for my personality, I prefer sunrise. I say contradictory because I am a grumpy morning person. But when I know I am getting up to go take photos, all of a sudden, I am a pleasure to be around in the morning. But taking sunset photos is often easier since I don’t have to wake up early. And I don’t have to try and get my son into his carseat at 5am without waking him up.

Are you a patient photographger, waiting for the right moment, or do you tend to just shoot and hope for the best?

I am a very patient photographer. Most people get very impatient with me for waiting for the perfect, clear shot. And sometimes that energy feeds into me and I will give up and move along. But I can easily stay in one area for hours waiting for the perfect shot.

Tell us about one of the longest shoots you had

I can’t really describe the longest shoot. Some shoots can be an entire weekend long if I camp out. Instead I think of shots that took the longest to get. Like when you see an animal pop out of a hole. Then I find myself just standing there motionless, almost lifeless waiting for the animal to reappear. So much so it seems as though my face has melted and become one with my camera. Or I am in a crowded area and I will just position myself for thirty minutes to an hour to get a shot without people in it. And again I have to peel my camera off of my face. And what’s worse is I wear glasses and they are always fogging up from my breath. And I wait until there’s no chance for my perfect shot before I wipe them off. But lucky for me my husband is very kind and patient with me. And he is comfortable wandering off without me

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

Most of the time, I have my camera with me. Often times I do go out just to photograph. I love going out during the peak of a season. I go out during fall when all the leaves have changed. Or I go out in the winter just after a heavy snowfall. However I am a full time mom. And I spend almost all of my time with my son. So with us constantly running errands and going to playgrounds I am too paranoid to always have my camera gear with me. I am always afraid if I leave it in my truck it will be stolen. My vehicles have been broken into a few times over the years. And I don’t want to take the risk of losing my gear. I would like to keep it on me all the time. But carrying a toddler, a mommy bag filled with my little mans necessities and camera gear can be a bit much. I only take my camera gear if I know I am going to bring his stroller. It’s like my own shopping cart. I have room to bring everything I need and a place for him to nap.

Winter Solitude
Winter Solitude

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

I use Corel PaintShop Pro x4 to edit my photographs. I bought the program a couple years ago, but I didn’t know how to use it. I have been watching videos and participating in discussions/forums. And in this past year I have learned so much about photo editing. Every time I learn how to do something new in paintshop I turn into this giggly school girl. I become so filled with joy it’s almost kind of ridiculous.

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

My simplest touch-ups can take about fifteen to thirty minutes to do depending on how well my computer is running that day. Where as some of my more complex layers can take days to complete.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

There is no such thing as a finished piece. There are always microscopic things I would like to improve. I am kind of a perfectionist. But I do consider a photograph complete when I can no longer improve it with the current resources I have available to me.

Is it easy to walk away?

It depends on the purpose of the piece and the time frame I have to complete it. If I am working on something that doesn’t have a deadline I can revisit that piece several times over the course of a few weeks. I try and always look at it with a fresh perspective. This way I am able to notice things I didn’t see before. But if I have a deadline I have no choice but to walk away.

What was your worse job?

My worst job was when I was a warehouse dispatch supervisor. I had 4 different operations that took place at relatively the same time with about 80 employees. I was considered a part time employee yet my bosses expected me to complete daily management functions, office work, and supervise the workflow in under 30 hours a week. I found it to be overwhelming. And my bosses figured out why when I transferred out of that department. They divided my area up into 4 separate areas and hired 2 additional managers, plus 4 more supervisors to cover what I did in 30 hours a week.

Sunflower on Black
Sunflower on Black

What was your best job?

Being a stay at home mom is the best and hardest job I have ever had. I am able to learn new things, be artistic/creative, and teach my son about the world. And even though the schedule can be a bit demanding, I can still find time to make money selling fine art photography.

What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?

I don’t force it. I ignore it and move on with my life until I have to create something new. Lucky for me I find day to day life very inspiring.

How well do you take criticism?

I always welcome constructive criticism. I find it fascinating the different things people notice. And I appreciate when people take time to show me what they see. I think it is a very helpful tool that allows me to improve my skills.

Who is your favourite photographer?

Portrait – Edward S. Curtis
Landscape – Ansel Adams
Paint – Salvador Dali

Which one of your photographs is your favourite?

Just like my mood or the seasons my favorite is always changing. But I really like my water drop photographs. I had fun creating those. My son and I made a big mess painting construction paper that I used as the backdrops. And after he went to sleep I made an even bigger mess spilling water all over my kitchen. I kept bumping into the highchair where I had a giant black bowl filled to the rim with water. I taped the construction paper to the bowl. Then I used one of my son’s medicine droppers to create the drips. And with one arm extended out squeezing the dropper and the other hand holding my camera on manual focus (since I don’t have a tripod and autofocus is too slow) I started taking photos. I was/am really happy with the results. I really like “Stillness.” But when I see any of those photos they make me smile because I know how much fun and determination it took me to get them.

Have you used smartphone cameras?

Actually I have. I just bought my first smartphone this past year. It has been quite exciting. It’s like a mini computer in my pocket. I love being able to pull it out and take photos. And it’s filled with thousands of photos of my son.


Do you think Smartphone cameras will change the whole world of photography?

I have no idea. Technology is always growing, expanding, and shrinking down to microscopic sizes. The quality of the prints they are able to produce is always improving. But it makes we wonder about the quality of the photographer. I am still relatively new to the digital photography world. And in some ways I still miss my 35mm negatives. But I am very appreciative of the amount of time I got to spend shooting a 35mm camera. Using a film camera has given me the ability to know when to press the shutter release at just the right moment with the right settings as to not waste my film. And those skills allowed me to know I got the shot without being able to see it. But then again I have fallen in love with the instant gratification of being able to see the perfect shot right away without having to develop the film. But now photographers are able to take thousands of photos until they get the perfect shot. I wonder if with all of this instant gratification we will lose some of the skills necessary to produce magnificent photos. I guess it comes down to quality; not only the quality of the print but also the quality of the photographer. But I do think Smartphones allow people the ability to take pictures in places we can’t take bulky camera gear. And from that amazing photos are produced. Plus I love the abitliy to ininstantly share those photos with family and friends. But I have no idea how Smartphones will impact the world of photography.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue to learn and improve my photographs. I want to explore the world and show the beauty that’s hidden all around us.

What advice do you have for budding photographers?

Never stop learning. Keep your ego in check. And create create create!

Have you done any courses to help you?

Yes I have taken courses on darkroom film developing, how to use a SLR camera, art history, and I have watched many videos.

What do you do to market your work?

I market my artwork on social media, and I have began to reach out to my local area.

Do you enter your work in contests?

Periodically when time allows I enter my photos in contests. Actually that is why I am being interviewed here. I won a contest called The Thinker based on the famous sculpture “The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin. I had to enter artwork that described what my definition of what a thinker is. So I entered a photograph of my son peeking through some Catalpa leaves titled “Mischief Maker.”

Mischief Maker
Mischief Maker

Do you use social networking in your day to day life? (If so please add a couple of your addresses for people to follow you on)

Are you available for work (commissions)?

Moon Beauty
Moon Beauty

Yes I do work on commission. I am available to anyone in the Indianapolis, IN area in need of a photographer for their special events or artistic needs. Please contact me through my Facebook fan page at

Have you got hobbies?

I have tons of hobbies. I love everything outdoors like: hiking, camping, backpacking, spelunking, canoeing, and gardening. I also love things like: drawing, fire spinning, home remodeling, and tai chi

Where are you based?

Indianapolis, IN. USA

Isabella FA Shores
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Isabella FA Shores

Founder at 1stAngel Arts
I live in Sale, Cheshire, England, and am happily sharing my life with a mental budgie, two Alsatian puppies, and a long-suffering, sculptor-boyfriend . . . not necessarily in that order. 🙂 Often accused of being an insufferable know it all, I often do, but more often do not.
Isabella FA Shores
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2 thoughts on “1stAngel Interview With Michelle McPhillips Fine Art Photography

  1. What a delightful interview. It made me think back a few years myself. Right at the start Michelle says “… I was either seven or eight years old when a neighbor gave me this antique camera. I think it was from the 1960’s. The camera used 126 cartridge film. It had this replaceable blue gel flash bulb that kept burning out.” The designer of the film cartridge of that “antique camera” was a very close friend of mine. I think of those days as just yesterday. I really chuckled at the “flash bulb that kept burning out”. Does Michelle realize that those bulbs were meant to be use-once devices? They contained thin magnesium wires that were literally set on fire and in one quick burst gave of an intense light. The “blue gel” modified the light so it was more like daylight to match the color rendering of the film in the cartridge. My, how photography has changed since then! Today’s tools are so vastly easier to use and free the artist from so much technical drudgery. The artistic aspects still remain and Michelle has shown a wonderful mastery and creativity whether it is making drops stand still or bringing the moon down to earth.

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