Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Glatzer.
So, before we jump into specific questions about what you do, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by my incredible family – both immediate and extended, which meant always being around my Uncle, who has been a professional wildlife photographer for the last 30+ odd years. He was a portrait and wedding photographer in a previous life, but if you ask him about it, he’ll shudder – and then require a large glass filled with whiskey. Now, my Uncle is a Canon Explorer of Light, and I really couldn’t have had a better influence, mentor, PITA, and source of encouragement. I only had a small interest in photography until I was 14. It wasn’t until a day on the beach with my Uncle that it became a passion.
My dad used to be my Uncle’s lighting assistant both for weddings and underwater photography. I’ve never asked, but I’m pretty sure that had some influence on my dad picking up an old Pentax film camera. I don’t remember when, but I know I picked it up at some point, messed around, and got some encouraging feedback on what I was producing. Eventually, I started asking my Uncle more questions – which turned into an invitation to shoot with him.
One summer morning, my Uncle and I hit the road and drove out to Orient Point of Montauk Long Island, New York. After walking along the beach for a few hundred yards, we found an Osprey nest and promptly set up shop. An Osprey is a large fish-hawk; its wingspan is just under 6ft. By setting up shop, I mean I sat in the sand with my Pentax camera and 24-100mm lens while my Uncle proceeded to mount a 500mm lens with one of the first-ever professional digital cameras onto a heavy-duty tripod. For the next few minutes, we’re both snapping shots of this Osprey in the nest; me getting absolute crap and my Uncle getting gold. After a few minutes, my Uncle tells me to hop behind his camera and give it a shot. I get a 30-second walkthrough of the necessary camera buttons and how to hold a large lens on a tripod properly.
So, I’m snapping off some frames and feeling pretty good about myself. “Yeah, I got this! It’s not so difficult.” That’s what was running through my head when I felt a series of taps on my right shoulder.
“Mike, there’s one flying by with a fish in its talons! Mike. MIKE!”
Cue the blooper reel of a super inexperienced 14-year-old, wielding a massive wildlife photography set up for the first time, trying to place a bird with a 6ft wingspan that’s about 100 yards away, in the frame of a super narrow field of view. It wasn’t going well.
“Mike, he’s getting away! Mike, he’s getting away!”
My Uncle had just pushed me into the sand. As I looked back, dumbfounded, I saw my Uncle behind the camera, firing off 12 frames per second bursts, tracking this flying Osprey. Once it was out of sight, he looked over at me and said, “Alright, you can try again now.”
Well, I hopped back behind the camera and focused on the original Osprey in the nest. Two minutes later, “Mike, he’s back! Mike, he’s back!”
I’m back in the sand with the sound of 12 frames a second echoing in my ears.
You’ve got to be kidding me…
If you can believe it, this happened a 3rd time. At that point, I said, “Dammit, I’m gonna nail that shot!”
I’ve been hooked on photography ever since.
My chosen background and 9-5 is as a product development engineer for medical devices. Basically, I take crazy ideas from surgeons, doctors, nurses, etc. and try to make them into real, usable tools, instruments, and thing-a-ma-jigs that make people feel better. I graduated with a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Georgia Tech (NERD ALERT) in 2012 and loved/hated every minute of it. While I was doing that, I was Vice President of the GT Photography club where I made the transition from wildlife and sports to portraiture. I was known as “The Duck Guy” but soon learned that portraits paid better and didn’t require the same expensive gear.
Two years out of college and I’m shooting my first wedding (not by choice). The same Uncle who pushed me into the sand at the beach ten years prior had asked (read: forced) me to photograph his daughter’s wedding. I quickly found three gigs assisting other wedding photographers, absorbed as much YouTube and blog content as possible in four months, and then shot the wedding. To this day, I still apologize to my cousin every time I see her – it was my first wedding and needless to say, I’ve learned A LOT since then. After six years of wedding photography, I decided it was time to shake things up and focus on portraiture.
I love solving puzzles and working through a process, so I was ready to challenge myself with work that could tell a diverse story. This is the reason why I love photography. You have to throw together a whole series of variables, constraints, and inputs in an attempt to create a gorgeous image that tells a story, all while appeasing a client. It’s not easy, and that’s why I find it so rewarding. You can only shoot so many weddings before they start running together. With portraits, I can tell so many stories and in so many different ways. That’s fun for me and my clients. Happy clients = awesome pictures.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Definitely not. The smoothest part of my business is that my success isn’t tied to the ability to pay my bills. I’m fortunate enough to have a day job that covers all my living expenses and allows photography to be a side-hustle that happens to pay for “fun” stuff: knocking out my college loans and paying off a brand new car. I’m able to pick what jobs I want to take, which clients I want to work with, and what niche of photography I want to specialize in. I’m thankful that I can enjoy being a freelance photographer without the risks associated with it.
I’ve found that my biggest business struggle is being introverted. I don’t like promoting myself or my skills and can sometimes end up inadvertently pissing people off. I’m not a fan of networking in a traditional way (i.e. going to meetups and talking to strangers). I had to learn that networking is the basis for growing a business, and that was a nasty dose of medicine I refused to take for a long time. I’m becoming less and less fond of social media channels despite the fact that they’re the most painless way for an introvert to network and market themselves. I had to overcome my disdain for phone calls after realizing that my booking conversion rate jumped to 80% when speaking to clients over the phone or face-to-face. Talk about seriously motivating data.
It takes a lot of time management and delicately balanced priorities to make my schedule work. This leads to another big struggle: pissing off a lot of people. Not in the, “I’m always late or never deliver on time,” kind of way. No, I’m an OCD, hard boundaries, “little engine that could” workaholic. Photography can sometimes get in the way of the rest of my life. I’ve missed a lot of family events over the years because I had a photo gig scheduled months in advance that I couldn’t drop. I’ve annoyed several managers because they would ask if I could work late and I told them I couldn’t help because of a photography client meeting. I’ve had numerous arguments with friends and loved ones because my photography got in the way of those relationships. It’s not easy working two jobs, especially when one is voluntary. A lot of people will support your endeavors until it affects your time with them. To my detriment, I routinely prioritized my clients over my personal life because I didn’t believe my crap should affect their experience or make them wait on a deliverable. They paid for a specific expectation, and I was going to make sure they got it and more. On the bright side, I quickly developed a circle of friends and family that love and respect my choices and still support me through it all. These are people I cherish. I’ve done a lot to cut down on activities that aren’t necessary or don’t have huge impacts on my photography being successful. Countless hours have been spent researching and investing in things that improve my efficiency to cut down on editing and admin task times. It’s made a huge difference, but I could still be better. Nowadays, I’m present for more stuff with friends and family, and my business is heavily automated, giving me time to do more impactful things like go to the networking events that I hate so much.
What else should we know about your photography?
I’m a creative editorial portrait photographer. That’s my focus; though I can still be convinced to do headshots and the occasional wedding. I like slow playing a shoot, arranging all the variables, planning it out, and then putting it all together to tell a story. For me, a pretty picture isn’t worth much if it doesn’t tell a story. One of my favorite aspects of coordinating a photoshoot is talking with my clients and learning about what makes them tick. Genuine, real emotions are what connect viewers to an image and the better I get to know my clients, the more likely we’ll create images that draw in the audience and make them think about what they’re seeing. If I can make someone pause and take just a few extra moments to look at an image, then I know I’ve done something right.
I’m probably best known for my lighting – it’s honestly what I’m most proud of regarding my skill set. I have a theater background that heavily influences my work. Intense, dramatic, colorful lighting that helps set the tone of an image is what I focus on because color adds so much flavor to a scene and can significantly alter the mood of a picture. I’m not afraid of bathing a subject in yellow or adding a hue of red if it means the viewer better interprets the intent of the shot.
One thing I’m proud of, in terms of my overall business, is the system I’ve put in place to ensure my clients get the absolute best experience possible. Some of the most common feedback found in my reviews is how my clients feel at ease and confident in their session. So much of that is the prep work that I do. I ask a lot- and I mean a lot -of questions. I do my best to understand what my clients want and that the final images match their vision. I also set expectations at every opportunity. Helping to define what to expect, how to prepare, and how long it will take goes miles towards earning my clients’ trust and, ultimately, determining a successful session. I genuinely believe that if a client isn’t satisfied at the end of a shoot, then I didn’t do a good enough job explaining things on the front end.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success for me comes down to two things: do I enjoy what I’m doing, and does it challenge me?
Great/Horrible admission – if I didn’t have too, I wouldn’t charge for my photography. Seriously. I’m not in this for the money. The only reason I have to charge clients is so that I can afford to be a photographer. This gig is not cheap! And it doesn’t pay well; photography was listed as one of the worst professions in the U.S. for 2019 in a recent article posted by USA Today. It’s a lot of long hours, endless conversations explaining your value and why you’re worth 10x more than Uncle Bob with a camera they got for Christmas, and constant education to improve your skills as a photographer, marketer, and business person.
I suffer through all of that because working to create a final image and nailing it is exhilarating. Delivering that image to a client and watching them jump with joy? So damn rewarding. And then, it’s over and it’s off to the next session to try and create magic once again. That’s fun for me. It’s a rush, and it’s hard as hell. To me, nothing worth being proud of ever comes easily. If I don’t have to work for something, then it doesn’t matter how great it comes out or how many compliments I get. I love the challenge and the process of photography. So long as I can always push myself to do something different or do something new, and I enjoy the work to achieve that final image, then I’m successful. And if I can get people to pay me to do it all – that’s just a sweet cherry on top.
- Headshot Sessions start at $250
- Portrait Sessions start at $500
- Website: mikeglatzerphotos.com
- Phone: 9133031932
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/mikeglatzer
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mikeglatzerphotography
Photo of myself – by Colleen Hight Photography