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BEST OF 2012, Michael DeYoung
Taos, NM
Project: Lifestyle shoot to promote South Carolina tourism, assigned by an agency representing South Carolina’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism office. De Young, a New Mexico-based adventure and lifestyle photographer who never set foot in South Carolina before, was contacted directly through his Web site.

© Michael DeYoung

© Michael DeYoung


Adventure and lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung had never visited South Carolina until assigned a campaign by the agency representing the state’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism office. They found the New Mexico-based shooter through his Web site.

“The senior art director’s initial e-mail was so short and casual, I almost dismissed it,” recalls DeYoung. “It was something like, ‘Hey, what are you doing in mid-October? I may have a job for you.’ Not exactly a conventional introduction to a new vendor for a major campaign. It was the biggest production I’d done in years and the ASMP Paperwork Share was a big help in preparing my estimate.”

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

Michael DeYoung: Since 1992.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

MDY: Since 1996.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

MDY: Outdoor lifestyle, adventure and fitness, tourism and landscape. My Web site tagline reads: adventure/landscape/lifestyle.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable professional tool?

MDY: My production skills, life experience and work ethic.

ASMP: What piece (or pieces) of gear could you not do without?

MDY: I’ve really become attached to the wireless TTL capabilities of speedlites. So a transmitter, two lights with a Gary Fong diffuser and Honl or Rouge grids and gels are always with me. I’ve become an early user of the Canon 600EX-RT speedlites and love them. I also couldn’t be without my Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripod and the B40Pro ball head.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers and their work?

MDY: Being in Alaska, 2,500 miles from the continental United States is what mostly sets me apart from most other photographers who are sane enough to live elsewhere. Life is a little slower in New Mexico, and that sets me apart too. OK, seriously, my lifestyle work has more of a harder adventure edge to it. I shoot the lifestyle I live or aspire to live, which has a strong connection to the outdoors, nature, soothing and peaceful settings and wild places. I regularly hike, backpack, paddle, mountain bike and ski. I think the things that set me apart are my wiliness and ability to find great landscape locations and add the human element, plus carry quality lighting to a place where you normally would not carry lighting to get the shot (like a long slot canyon hike that requires swimming and rappelling). I often get comments about how my images have a strong sense of place and really make the viewer want to be there. I guess that’s part of my style. A recent example would be my carrying a 40-pound stand-up paddle board three miles and 1,000 feet up to a lake at 11,000 feet elevation at dawn. Lauri, my assistant and wife, and our talent carried camera gear to get great morning stand-up paddling shots at an alpine lake. To me, this was no big deal, just all in a day’s work.

ASMP: You received this assignment from an agency representing the State of South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism office, a client that had never received any direct mail or e-mail promotions from you. How did they learn of your work, especially given the fact that you live 2,500 miles away in Taos, New Mexico?

MDY: They found my Web site. The senior art director who initially contacted me is a great guy, but a man of few words. His initial e-mail was so short and casual, I almost dismissed it as not a serious inquiry. It was something like “Hey, what are you doing in mid-October? I may have a job for you.” That was it! Not exactly your conventional introductory e-mail to a new possible vendor for a major campaign.

ASMP: You got the job, despite the fact that you had never before set foot in South Carolina. You had, however, previously worked on similar projects for the state of Alaska, where you were based for 18 years. Was this a major factor in your being selected for the assignment? While these two states could hardly be more different, was there any accumulated knowledge from your past Alaska tourism assignments that helped you succeed in a place you had never visited?

MDY: Originally I thought my Alaska and Taos assignment experience had a lot to do with my being awarded this job. The art director told me it was mostly my style and ability to depict action and emotion and my adventure experience. My accumulated knowledge from Alaska was a big help in South Carolina. I was able to assist in styling and with props suited to camping and adventure. I am used to coaching and motivating talent in doing things they haven’t done much of before. I’m pretty good at making people feel comfortable in intimidating outdoor situations. For example, we had a family tubing in cold-water rapids. The fact that Lauri and I were also in the water and ran the rapids in a canoe eased some of their anxieties. For that shoot, I hired a couple of safety kayakers from the local river guiding outfit where we rented the river tubes to stand by as rescue patrol, just in case. I think that kind of foresight really put the agency crew at ease. The art director and agency crew pretty much just let me run the shoot on most scenes.

ASMP: The South Carolina shoot was scheduled in mid-November during unseasonably cold weather, which was challenging given that the campaign involved summerlike water activities. What kinds of things did you do to put people at ease and coax good images?

MDY: I am very accustomed to making talent and the scene look warm and inviting when, in fact, it is sometimes freezing. This is a near constant challenge in Alaska. I think the talent seeing me in the water with cameras and a sense of excitement and motivation helped put most of the models, especially the kids, at ease. We also made sure that we had little heaters, towels and hot chocolate close by. The agency crew and my stylist were fantastic at keeping talent, especially kids, warm and motivated between sets. Lauri has spent as much time as I have in a dry suit swimming glacial rivers, so she was in the water with me when not tasked to keep equipment dry.

ASMP: The assignment involved shooting to comps. In your opinion, what’s most difficult about bringing comps to life in an image, technically speaking? Given the fact that the actual weather conditions differed from the vision you were seeking to create, was there much retouching or other forms of postproduction involved? How much time did you (or your staff) spend on this?

MDY: First, the senior art director did most of the post work, combining several shots into one. For example, the kids jumping off the boat at Jocassee was a composite grabbing the best position from each kid’s jump to match the comp. The biggest challenge in shooting to comps was that the scale depicted by the graphic artist just didn’t work when translated to lens perspective and size relationship between near and far. Sometimes the talent just wasn’t producing the expressions or body positions and language the comp called for. I made suggestions creatively to what I thought would improve the comp or make it work. I think my creative input was well received by the team. Here’s an example: One comp called for two kids playing Frisbee on Myrtle Beach. The comp had the boy throwing the Frisbee to a girl in the background who was facing him. The boy’s look just wasn’t what we thought it should be, and the client was frustrated with his lack of expression. The girl was really cute, so we put her up front to throw the Frisbee. We put the boy in the background, but instead of him just standing there, facing the camera, we told him to act like he was “going out for a pass.” My suggestions worked, and the client ran the ad per my changes to the original comp.

ASMP: The most difficult shot was a girls’ getaway scene, involving rooftop dining in downtown Charleston at sunset, where three of your four lights failed, even though you had tested them beforehand. How do you keep your cool under such a confounding situation? How did the client react to this technical problem? How do you give the appearance that all will be okay, even if you yourself aren’t sure that it will be?

MDY: This was a challenge. Fortunately, by the time this happened I felt I had already established a good rapport with Jeff, the senior art director, and built up a sense of trust. He wasn’t nearly as stressed or concerned as I was. I was proud that I kept my cool in front of the talent and minimized the frustration of my light failures. I let go of my perfectionist tendencies, took a deep breath and just said to Lauri that this is what we were going to do: back to basics, one light with a big soft box and a reflector instead of the warm, cozy and more directional, simulated candle and overhead table lighting look that I had envisioned. The dusk sky was at its peak and I knew I needed to work fast or I would miss the ambient light that Jeff really wanted, for which we had waited an extra day. No time for perfectionism, just get a reproducible shot! Besides, we had a two-hour drive, from Charleston to Myrtle Beach, after the shoot to get to the next location. We did wardrobe late at night and were on the beach at sunrise the next morning in 35-degree weather. I never really told Jeff about my lighting issues.

ASMP: You traveled South Carolina from northwest to southeast in what turned out to be a 14-day project. Was this enough time to complete the assignment? Were your destinations prearranged, or did you happen upon some great, unscripted locations while perusing the state?

MDY: This was enough time even with two weather days. The destinations were prearranged. All the agency crew members were longtime residents who had been working on the tourism account for many years, and they were familiar with the locations they needed. I just had to figure out the angles and lighting.

ASMP: What staff, either yours or your clients’, traveled with you, and what were their roles? Spending two weeks with at least some people who may be strangers can be a lot, depending on personalities, resulting dynamics and unforeseen situations. Do you enjoy a group dynamic?

MDY: Being a veteran and retiree from the National Guard, I am accustomed to working with strangers in tight quarters and under duress and being able to put aside personal differences to get the job done. On this shoot, I was very fortunate that the crew all worked together well. Initially I was concerned that the agency crew would be uncomfortable with me working with my wife as an assistant. We’ve been doing this for years and keep it very professional on the job. I hired a local stylist, and the three of us traveled and ate together in one vehicle. She was great, and we quickly became friends. The agency crew consisted of three. The producer and senior art director were in my age group (50s) and were seasoned veterans. The junior art director was in her 20s and was brilliant and brought a younger, hipper set of eyes to the styling and such. This was her first shoot, and she was a fantastic creative partner, not to mention very good with keeping kids engaged. She did the comps and the design of the ads. The senior art director did all the postproduction Photoshop work beyond my Lightroom processing. The producer handled all the talent and the lodging and associated headaches. I would not want her job!

ASMP: How many models did you work with during this assignment, and who was responsible for the casting? Were the models booked locally, and did they change each day, or did you work with any talent for an extended period? Are there any particular qualities or attributes that you expect or want models to have in order to do your best work?

MDY: We worked with a talent casting of more than 30, and there were only two scenarios where some talent overlapped. The agency did all the casting, but they sent us comps to get our input. The models were booked from all over — Charlotte and Greensborough, Charleston and Atlanta. The talent changed for each scenario, so sometimes we worked with four to five people a day. As far as what I expect in talent, besides being professional and engaging, I often need my talent to be competent and skilled in some outdoor or fitness activity. This is the case on most of my stock shoots. One scenario called for hikers at an overlook enjoying a sunset. An intrepid mountain hiker would not have even blinked an eye standing at the overlook. But one of the models was not a hiker and was very nervous and made a big stink about being asked to stand on a very safe rock outcrop. These are the situations where you must rely on all your experience and nonphotographer skills to make something work.

ASMP: You mention that the ASMP Paperwork Share was a big help in preparing your estimate for this assignment. Please explain what you consulted in the Paperwork Share and how this helped.

MDY: This was the biggest production I’ve done in years. Most of my other tourism assignments (for Alaska, Utah, Taos) were budget strapped and did not use stylists or, in many cases, pro talent. The ASMP Paperwork Share helped give me a better sense about what to include in my expenses. It is also helpful to see what others are getting for creative fees, even if they are editorial or architectural shoots. I use Blinkbid to do my estimates.

ASMP: What kind of agreements did you negotiate with this client in terms of image licensing? Do you maintain the right to license any of your images from this project yourself?

MDY: The restrictions for my own licensing from this project came mostly from the talent agencies and not the client and their agency. It is a different paradigm with agency talent in the East from what it is in the rural West, where we use mostly “real people” talent. The talent fees were negotiated only for South Carolina promotion, and I would have to pay the agencies for stock usage, and some agencies have an anti-stock policy anyway. The client received unlimited usage (but no third-party use) for a select number of shots, I think five from each comp. I own the copyrights and can use the shots for self-promotion.

ASMP: You mention that you were treated as a creative partner on this project, that the art directors welcomed your input, and several of your suggestions made final layouts. Do you often get to provide a lot of creative input on assignments? Are there ways in which you proactively provide input whether or not you are asked? Is it ever challenging to produce a result you are proud of if you don’t have creative control?

MDY: I often provide creative input, but honestly, I haven’t done that many assignments. On most of the shoots I’ve done, the client has looked to me to be the creative engine. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve not worked with a difficult art director with an ego, who had to have it his way and only his way, and where I was just treated as a facilitator. My big Alaska tourism assignments have been largely unsupervised, meaning that Lauri and I are solely responsible for coming up with ad-worthy images. We’ve had an hour-long creative brief with the client before setting out on our own. This is not really any different from most of our stock shoots, which is the type of shooting I mainly do. The way I proactively provide input is to simply begin art directing the talent myself. In most cases, surprisingly, the clients, if they’re on the set, let me art direct. I always welcome their input, but in my experience, I’ve done most of the on-set art directing. Sometimes it would be helpful to have another person directing and motivating talent on the shoot. I could focus more on exposure, focus and fine-tuning the lighting and work more on creative angles. My challenges in producing results I am proud of include: being rushed by the client and in some cases not being given the resources (i.e., good talent) to make the shot(s) I want to make.

ASMP: Do you handle all stock licensing independently, or do you also work with traditional stock distributors? If your images are represented by distributors, what companies do you work with, and which ones are most successful for you? How do you decide which images to submit to traditional distributors and which images to hold back and license directly?

MDY: I do some direct stock licensing, but I pretty much suck at it. I only have a handful of clients these days and never set up a full e-commerce site such as PhotoShelter with thousands of quality keyworded images. Most of my income is from stock, and I have three agencies. My top agency is Alaska Stock, and I’ve grown with them for 20 years. They are a great boutique agency. I’ve been with Corbis since 2000. They did well until 2008 or 2009, when my royalties fell off the cliff. Also they’ve been very successful in dehumanizing their contributors, and I don’t even talk to an editor or creative collaborator anymore. My submissions are all automated, and feedback is anonymous. I think it is terrible what the big agencies have done with the industry and their treatment of the majority of their contributors. I joined Blend Images 18 months ago and have been working like a bulldog to get content to them. It has not paid off so far, but they are perhaps the last photographer-friendly agency with real income earning potential. The only images I hold back for direct licensing include really local flavor stuff or wildlife. Virtually all images go to the agencies first. Alaska Stock gets all Alaska-related material. Blend gets all generic lifestyle and non-Alaska specific stuff. I have not been active with Corbis because of the climate they’ve created with contributors.

ASMP: Your Web site contains a search feature. What kind of captioning and keywording procedures do you maintain to make this search effective? Does your workflow incorporate any strategies to ensure files from each project are well defined and don’t get mixed up?

MDY: My Web site at this point is largely a portfolio site and not fully operational as a major stock source. Lauri handles all the SEO when she can. She does it because I don’t even understand it! My agencies handle keywording for the images they choose to represent. But we do keyword and tag images that are up on our Web site. The five-year plan is to put many more carefully keyworded stock images up on PhotoShelter. Our new site is integrated to work with PhotoShelter. My workflow does have strategies to keep stuff from getting mixed up, and I use principles outlined in the DP Bestflow book. My filenames are all coded to tell me the year, month, date, state and general subject category. In Lightroom, all images represented by agencies are labeled with the color labels (each agency has its own color) and labeled in the metadata. I’ve also used smart collections to show all images in my library that are represented by agencies and which ones have exclusive rights from assignments.

*ASMP: Your blog is comprehensive and consistently updated. What do you think is most important in maintaining a blog? How does this differ from your Web site as far as content? Do you enjoy blogging, or do you find it to be a necessary chore? *

MDY: I got the basic concept of the blog (thank you, Rosh Sillars), and I know the most important thing is to put useful and relevant content up regularly. Better to write fewer but higher quality posts. My problem is that I don’t know how to make short (like two images, one paragraph of text) posts yet. As you can see from my answers to this interview, I tend to write a lot. I want my blog to be different from my Web site by revealing more personality, featuring new work and generally being more spontaneous, even revealing some of my humor. I am trying to reach two different audiences with one blog. I’m trying to appeal to potential commercial clients and also to prospective photo workshop participants. I don’t know if I’m being successful. Blogging is a chore, and I’m not sure I really enjoy it — primarily because it’s another thing that demands my time. I spend too much time behind a computer anyway, so I always look for reasons to get outside versus write a blog. There are only two of us, and most of our time is spent planning and executing shoots, post processing and delivering. I recently joined Campaign Manager Pro at Agency Access. They will take care of most of my marketing for the next year, and hopefully that will result in more assignment work and more time for the blog and to develop workshop offerings.

ASMP: You bio appears at the bottom of every page on your Web site, in addition to links to your social network. How did you get the idea to incorporate this as a design element? Do you have any stats on how many visitors click on the link to read more about you?

MDY: I recently worked with a PhotoShelter consultant, and my new site is a WordPress themes site. Studying dozens of sites, bouncing ideas back and forth and learning more about the template resulted in the bio format you see. We do have stats, but I haven’t looked at them lately. Lauri tells me they are favorable.

ASMP: In your bio, you mention your clients get 100 percent dedication and tireless creative energy from you, regardless of what they paid. Do you do a lot of pro bono projects or work with clients who have limited budgets? For what types of projects or under what circumstances would you agree to work for low rates? Does barter ever factor into your projects if a client has a limited budget?

MDY: Surprisingly I do almost no pro bono work. I’ve offered to do some for local grassroots groups that I support, but no one in New Mexico has come to me yet. I like to meet two of three criteria before taking an assignment: 1. Does it pay well? 2. Does it offer a chance to grow as a photographer, giving me a new challenge (e.g., getting an architectural assignment as a lifestyle shooter)? 3. Will the shoot offer a lot of potential stock images? (This includes a client paying me to go to a location I like but can’t afford on my own dime.) So I have shot with clients on limited budgets if they meet the other criteria. I barter on my stock shoots all the time. A raft company provided a raft and guide so I could do a family, quality-time rafting stock shoot. I saved $600 in raft guide fees, and they got several images. I don’t barter on assignments. A couple of years ago, a local hot-spring resort that had just spent a couple of million in renovations approached me to do a shoot and wanted to trade some free nights at the resort for an ad campaign. I turned it down.

ASMP: Before you became a professional photographer, you were an Air Force meteorologist. What type of influence has this previous occupation had on your photography? What skills from this discipline do you find particularly helpful to your shoot planning and/or photographic vision? What inspired you to switch to a photography career?

MDY: Like photography, meteorology is a blend of art and science and requires some ability to previsualize things. My meteorology has greatly influenced my style. Many of my best-selling images have an element of unique cloud structure or meteorological Zen in them. Virtually all the tools we used at the weather station (upper air plots and charts, aviation observations, models, radar, satellite) are now all available on the Internet. So I make my own forecasts for planning my shoot dates for stock projects. My tourism clients, particularly in Alaska, are paranoid about only shooting in warm-looking “chamber of commerce” weather, so they rely on me to pick the shoot days based on my forecasting ability. Under normal circumstances, the photographer does not pick the shoot days for an outdoor location shoot. I am pretty accurate at knowing and predicting which storm patterns and cloud types will yield colorful sunsets or sunrises.

I was exploring the idea of a photography career long before getting out of the military in 1992. There was no single event that hardened my decision to separate and try to become a photographer — other than if I had re-enlisted in 1992, chances were that I would have received orders to leave Alaska. We really liked our home and where we lived, and Lauri had a great job at the time, so I got out and we decided to stay. Fortunately, Lauri was supportive of the idea.

ASMP: Your wife, Lauri, is also your business partner. What is her role in your photography business? In your opinion, what is the key to keeping a healthy relationship that spans both the professional and the personal?

MDY: Lauri was a mainframe computer programmer when I was in the Air Force and for seven years after I got out and was struggling to build our business. So among other things, she is the IT department, assistant and part-time producer for stock projects and some marketing. She does all the Web site SEO. I do all the images and writing. Prior to photography, we were always friends and did complex things together like long-distance self-supported backpack and raft trips. Working together in a business environment was not a monumental shift in our relationship. I don’t know if there is one key to keeping it healthy. We’ve had our struggles, like trying to maintain clearly defined roles and responsibilities. We are getting better but still struggle with that. We have the opposite problem from most couples: We have to make time apart from each other to maintain some sanity.

ASMP: You and your wife live and run your business in a sustainable home office powered 100 percent by solar energy. For how long has this been the case? Are there any unconventional ways you power your gear or your office machinery, given your obvious commitment to the environment?

MDY: We’ve been on solar power since 2006. It works. Since then, we’ve used our generator maybe 20 hours in six years. We built a big enough solar array and battery bank that we can run the refrigerator, our 23-inch cinema-screen Mac Pro, printer, router and Sirius radio all day long with little concern for running out of power. In fact, we’ve never had a power outage and won’t, unless the inverter fails, and we don’t need UPS for our computers because we are on site-produced solar power with battery backup. There have been a few days each year, due to heavy cloud cover or snow, when I didn’t run the Mac Pro and just worked from laptops. Besides, my new Macbook Pro is almost as powerful as my desktop Mac Pro from 2007, and it uses a fraction of the power. One or two days a week, I run the Mac Pro tower for a few hours at night without much concern. We have an Energy Star refrigerator, and it is the biggest power draw in the house. All our lights are LED or CFL, so draining the batteries with basic lighting is not a concern at all.

ASMP: You teach workshops for Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP), and you also have your own workshop business, DeYoung Outdoor Photography Workshops. Why did you choose to create your own workshop company, and what distinguishes DeYoung Outdoor Photography Workshops from most others? How often do you offer these workshops yourself?

MDY: Both of these are new ventures. I will be teaching pro studies at RMSP this August and next August as well. DeYoung Outdoor Workshops have not gotten off the ground yet, as in no workshops have filled. I am exploring a possible replacement or supplement for stock, since income just seems to keep dwindling. My workshops are different in that I’m offering to teach lifestyle/adventure and travel, showing students how to work with people, get better vacation images and how to use the incredible speedlights that we have today. Since I had two workshop offerings earlier this year that did not fill, I’m not sure there is a demand for this type of workshop yet. It seems like most workshops are landscape/nature-based or teach how to use software, make prints or do weddings or portraits. So I may change my offerings to cater to people who aren’t interested in photographing people. I would like to teach more to the intermediate or advanced shooter level and focus more on the creative side of photography.

ASMP: As a workshop instructor, what do you enjoy most about teaching photography? How would you describe your teaching style?

MDY: I enjoy making a connection with people and seeing participants discover that improving their photography is more about creative seeing and thinking than it is about equipment. My teaching style is to be humorous when I can, use lots of visuals and analogies, work hands-on and teach the value of constructive critique as well as the value of learning from your mistakes.

ASMP: Have you incorporated video or multimedia work among your services to date, either commercially or for personal projects? If not yet, is this anything you’re considering for the future? Please share your thoughts on the future of visual media in its widest sense as well as the relationships between various components.

MDY: I have not incorporated video or multimedia work yet. This has largely been a financial decision. I try to keep in mind that long-established video shooters and production companies can just as easily switch to a 5D as still photographers, and they have the rest of the business down. The stock rates for video don’t justify the expense for me to get a cinema-ready outfit. This all may change.

This is something that I want to learn, though, so it is in the five-year plan. It will be useful to go to a film school or video class where I can learn the basics. I am working on at least establishing a YouTube presence in the next year.

As far as thoughts on the future of visual media go, I think that print use will continue to decline and motion use will increase. I think LED screens will become cheaper and more widespread. They will be everywhere. Big duratrans in airports, POS displays in department stores, and so on, will all be replaced with screens featuring mostly motion. Screens may replace picture frames in corporate offices, hospitals and public buildings. So timeless d├ęcor prints will be replaced with slide shows of still images or at least regularly changing images. I see more e-books and iPad magazine subscriptions.

I still think there will always be a need and commercial demand for creative photographers and videographers with people and production skills, regardless of the medium we use. I’m not sure where copyright will go. I fear corporate power and the attitude of the emerging generation will erode copyright and more work will be “work for hire.”

I think digital imagery is still in its formative years, and I expect cameras to change radically in the next ten years. Prosumer cameras will become capable of doing what Red cameras can do now, at an affordable price. SLR’s prism viewfinders and mirrors will become a thing of the past.

As if we are not nearly there now, the barrier to entry for being a pro image maker will continue to get lower and with fewer “gatekeepers” to get past.