Miami-based photographer Michelle Vantine made the jump to full-time professional photography in 2008 and now frequently travels for her work, from shooting boxing champions in Jamaica to Spartan races in Hawaii and diplomatic rooftop events in DC.
1. How did you get started in photography?
I went to college for fine arts. Originally, I was focused on being a painter, but having to work in every medium as part of my degree, I discovered film photography my senior year and fell in love with it. I shot part time for four years on the side while teaching fine arts then made the daring jump to full time in 2008.
2. How would you describe your photographic style?
I’d describe my work as colorful, creative and fun. I love bright colors and bold patterns. Tennis player Robin Soderling (formerly #5 in the world and first to beat Nadal) came to the U.S. for a tour and hired me for a shoot in Wynwood Miami. I had local artist “Zoe Miami” paint a bright Miami mural as a backdrop for us. I love thinking outside the box to create images that make people stop and look.
3. Which photographic subjects do you focus on?
I’m in the business of creating scroll-stopping images for amazing people and amazing brands. I’m passionate about shooting images that stop the scroll, increase visibility and bring in more clients. I work with a wide range of businesses (think everything from Spartan to skin care) and personal brands (architects, artists, athletes, etc.). My work has been posted by Serena Williams, Ginuwine, Ulta, Fairmont Hotels, Body Glove, Spartan and many more. The great joy of my job is that I work with so many different brands that I’m always in a new scenario cooking up new ideas.
4. Where is one of your favorite locations to shoot?
It’s hard to say what one of my favorite locations are. This past year I found myself sitting about 40 feet up at the top of an obstacle in the mountains of Hawaii where the movie “Jurassic Park” was filmed. I’d have to say that moment made the top of my list!
5. Which photographers do you most admire?
I really love Steve Hansen for food photography. His sense of movement is just extraordinary, and his images are flawless. Jose Rose really inspires me. My work is very different than his, but his mind is so unusually beautiful I can’t help but wait with anticipation to see what he creates next. Emanuel Combin is just wild! I love his sense of humor and creativity. I could go on forever, there are so many talented photographers.
6. What inspires you creatively?
I try to surround myself with creative people and creative content. There are no Kardashians coming up on my feeds! I’m always scrolling through pages like ISO1200 Magazine, Flash Mates or PhLearn. I have about six classes from Creative Live purchased at all times so when I feel tired but it’s still my workday I’ll sit back with “Splashes and Crashes” (food photography) or a class on lighting, color replacement or cloning. I’m a few hours into a class on OCF (with Felix Kunze) vs. natural light (with Sue Bryce). They pick an assignment and have a shoot-off. It’s like Tiger King for photographers! I tested positive for Covid-19 WAY at the beginning—before the masks or school closings. I was in bed for 14 days. I watched hours and hours and hours of PhLearn. Six hours on editing hair, three on editing product, four on changing any color. I’m also subscribed to Digital Photo Pro and Professional Photographer Magazine, so between all that I’m always thinking of ideas.
7. What are you working on at the moment? What’s next?
I just finished some work for athlete Thurman Brown who won Fox’s new show “Ultimate Tag.” I photographed him on a black background with two strobes with gels and smoke and drama in Photoshop and combined seven shots. It was quite an undertaking but turned out great! I photographed a sponsored post this morning for Garden of Life and golfer Marissa Mesana. I put the protein bottle on the course and had her take a swing at it. It exploded and made a great shot! Later in the week, I have a Pavlova shoot with a French chef and a décor shoot for a restaurant on South Beach that was featured in Forbes. The fun thing about my job is I’m constantly creating such a wide range of work and always taking my followers along on my adventures on Instagram (@michellevantinephotography)
8. What is one of your favorite photographs you’ve made, and why?
Is it even legal to ask that? It’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is! I think my favorite shot is a shot I took maybe 12 or 13 years ago. I was photographing a wedding in Virginia. The ground was covered in yellow, orange and red maple leaves. It was the most beautiful fall tapestry. I somehow managed to convince the bride and groom to lay in it. “I want to shoot from higher.” A groomsman brought me a chair. “I want to be HIGHER!” (drones weren’t a thing yet). I looked up and way above me there was a branch. A groomsman helped me up, I shimmied in my black dress pants across the branch and shot the bride and groom laying like small speckles in the tapestry of fall. I think it was in that moment I realized that I could create images that were incredibly unique if I thought outside the box.
9. What’s in your camera bag?
I’m still a Canon girl and don’t plan on changing that. I have the 5D Mark IV and III and many lenses. I really love how the Canon 16-35mm warps people slightly when shot from up close. It gives them a larger-than-life feel while including so much background. I use it especially often in sports photography. Of course, if I’m shooting a headshot, the canon 24-70mm is my favorite. I even have a Canon 50mm 1.8 lens film lens that used to belong to my grandma that I’ve used with an adapter for a creative portrait.
10. Is there a photo accessory you consider essential for your work?
STROBES! I spent almost a decade shooting without them. The whole thing overwhelmed me, and I didn’t really believe that it would improve my images significantly. Boy was I wrong! It brings work to such a more professional level, I don’t know why I waited so long to overcome my fear of it.
11. What software do you use for processing and managing your images?
I always start the process in Lightroom: creating a catalog for each job, flagging and doing the main edits. It’s nice because you can work in batches and some months I’ll shoot over 7,000 images. Then the hero shots get worked on in Photoshop, which allows me to do more advanced work.
12. Which trends in photography excite you most?
I’m not really big on trends. I never jumped on the vintage editing, which I thought would pass after a few years but seemingly is here to stay! If I see one more hipster shot with clear glasses next to a neon sign, I think I may uninstall Instagram from my phone. The purpose of being an artist is to share your unique vision. We’re all inspired by others, I’m no exception, but I love when photographers show us something unique to their perspective.
13. For you, what makes a compelling photograph?
A compelling photo for me is something that makes me stop and pay attention. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time.” I think a compelling image makes people stop their mindless scrolling, their distracted walking and actually notice the art. It can be soft and sensitive, it can be bold and loud, it can be curious and make me wonder what the story is… as long as it makes me stop it’s a winner. My slogan is “scroll-stopping images for amazing brands and amazing people” and as I’m thinking about a shoot, I try to ask myself “How can I make the viewer stop the scroll with this brand?” That thought is the question that pushes my best ideas of late.
14. What’s a tip or bit of photography advice you wish you had when starting out?
I would say “don’t be intimidated.” Concepts are intimidating: lighting with strobes, bouncing flash, gels and long exposures. People are intimidating. They know so much and you may feel so far behind them. I once had a photographer reply to me, “You won that award? Who chooses the winners anyways? You’ll never be more than a mediocre photographer” and when walking up to photograph an obstacle course race (I’m often the only female) “Are you photographing the kids’ race?” The reality is, you only fail when you give up. As long as you don’t give up then you’re still making great steps towards your goals. You can learn anything you want to if you just decide to learn it and keep at it. You can achieve amazing things if you just commit to it and accept that rejection is part of the path to success. I live by the 10 percent rule. You get 10 percent of what you go for. If I try for something and I get ignored, rejected or fail eight times, I get excited because I know I’m about to nail something big. It just takes a little guts, a little bit of courage and a lot of staying at it.
15. What motivates you or gets you out of a creative rut?
My mind does sometimes get fatigued when I have many big shoots back to back. As artists, we need to have an inspired mind to create great things and it’s important to create a healthy space for ideas and creativity. I’ve learned to block time in my schedule to “think.” I decorated my back patio and I sit a few times in the week in the morning with my sketchbook and coffee at sunrise with the brand on the table (if it’s an object) and just sit with it and think. Creating a peaceful, relaxing environment that’s not rushed or stressful helps me enjoy the time of conceptualizing instead of the rushed pressure of always having to come up with ideas on a tired mind.
16. What are you doing to stay busy and creative during the pandemic?
Things are back to full speed for me as of mid-May. I have three shoots a week scheduled for the next few weeks—it seems to have gone from 0 to 100 overnight. Clients that were restricted from quarantine regulations are now ready for fresh content to tap into the reopening economy. I’m getting handmade teas and skincare in the mail as well as restaurants, chefs and athletes booking after having to stay under the radar.
During the quarantine though, I tackled some ideas I had saved that I hadn’t had time to shoot. I photographed a really great image for Kreyol Essence (in Whole Food and Ulta) that I had pocketed for when I had more time. The image was such a success that they ordered a whole suite of that concept for the other products in that line and sent it to the graphic designer to have it on the label of one of the products. I learned during the quarantine that I’ll be most successful if I outsource some of my more menial tasks and save my time for conceptualizing and shooting. That’s the plan moving forward.
See more of Michelle Vantine’s work at www.michellevantinephotography.com.