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Conversations with Michael Coulombe

Today we would like to introduce you to Michael Coulombe

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
In some strange way, the pandemic helped me become a photographer. So, I have been a filmmaker and writer for the last 15 years [walking off my job at the age of 30 to start my career.] One of the cool things about working in the film industry – is that we are prone to travel. A lot. And sometimes we go to cool and fun locations that perhaps we would not get to go otherwise. So in 2019 I traveled a lot – both for work and for personal reasons. I kept telling myself ‘I’m seeing new countries and new beautiful parts of the US I have never seen before – I should invest in a camera.’ The idea of investing in a camera was to take better landscape photos [as sometimes cell phones cannot capture the majestic beauty like the human eye can.] I made the decision and bought my camera right in the new year of 2020. I bought the Canon EOS Rebel T7. A lower end model that I could use to practice my photography. And then I created a new Instagram account to post the photos so I could get feedback on the photos I took!

Easy enough, right? So I took a trip to Vegas with my friend. My roommate and planned a trip to Mazatlan in February for our birthday. And my father and I planned a trip to Europe for HIS birthday. It was all going to be so amazing – but then Covid hit. It hit right after my trip to Mazatlan ended – so sadly, my trip with my father to Europe was canceled. One cool thing – I took a fun photo while in Vegas of January 2020 that the El Cortez Casino reposted and tagged me in – and talked about how President’s Day weekend was coming! So as someone who was doing photography as a hobby, I thought that was pretty cool. So now we are on lockdown. Life has completely halted and no one is leaving their house. Luckily I am a write and was hired to write a script with my writing partner but I was dying to at least go outside. Fresh air helps with creativity. So the cool thing is – I love road trips. So I could drive to locations where I could be alone and I could take photos.

That way, I was outside and was still be creative. The other thing was, my dear friend Candice Callins asked me if I would take fitness photos of her because I had a camera. Her thinking was: I need photos and you need to practice with your camera [you know, so I don’t go to distant locations and not know how to work it.] I thought that seemed fair – so I met her at a park and we took photos! This is the beginning of my photography career. I credit Candice for pushing and believing in me. [She already knows she gets free photos for life!] But she was so happy with the photos and as we started posting them, I got more interest from people – so I started taking photos of my friends so I could 1) practice and 2) get out of the house! [I did also practice landscape photography as well – a lot!] Since then, I did a photoshoot sponsored by FILA Tennis and Friar Tux. I had an editorial with model Jake Jensen published in Volant Magazine. I have been hired at least 20 different times now to take photos, including fun-themed photoshoots as well – like ‘Twisted Christmas’ I did for Dark Alley Productions’ annual Christmas card. I even got hired to do a photoshoot on a yacht off the coast of Santa Monica! Not too bad for someone who is just starting out. Recently, I have been asked to do headshots. But this is LA! People always need headshots here! I also want to credit my manager Matt Chassin who saw how passionate and excited I was about my photography and encouraged me to continue with it!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
With every new career, I had to learn. I understood composition because I direct. I was just unfamiliar with the actual medium of photography itself. When I was not outside with my camera, I was inside online watching every YouTube video I could find. I also took a few courses on LinkedIn Learning. But lighting was my biggest challenge. It still is since I consider myself a newbie. Also, editing. At first, I did not know how to edit. So I had to learn Lightroom – which I absolutely love now. And I had to go back and re-edit a lot of my first photos. I know we live in a city full of photographers. We also live in a city full of actors, and directors, and writers. I am aware that I may not be the photographer for every person or company. But I pride myself on being professional, timely, and VERY easy to work with. I think this attitude helps me navigate the obstacles and challenges much easier. I am also never afraid to ask for help. In the end, I just want to deliver amazing photos/products.
 
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
This is a great question! I wish I had a great answer! I think, for me, what I specialize in is capturing my subject’s true self. Because I am naturally amicable, I talk to my models while I shoot with them. I do this because I want them to 1) feel comfortable around me and 2) It helps me learn who they are. I approach directing models like I direct actors. It takes so much vulnerability to be in front of the camera. It really does! And this is true, even when shooting headshots. So, to me, it is imperative that I create good chemistry with my model/subject because I need them to know that they can trust me with their vulnerability. So at the end of the day, we take great photos – and it was just like hanging out with a friend. I think that is what sets me apart from others. And I am most proud of how much I achieved during the pandemic. Not just starting an entirely new career but that I have been able to succeed.All the photos I took of my friends in the beginning. I look back on them and I love them… and I can see how much I have grown in just 12 months. But then I look at the big photoshoots I did…like the one with Jake Jensen that got published in Volant Magazine or the photos I took with Eric Guilmette for Friar Tux. These are two professional working models, and they taught me so much! They were both so patient and excited to create with me, and I am glad that I allowed myself to absorb their knowledge as well. I am a VERY collaborative photographer. [But it is because I am also a VERY collaborative director.] And I value the option of the subject with which I am shooting. Just for the record, I took up photography at the age of 45. I started so much later than most people around me…and I am totally okay with that. At the end of the day, I am an artist and I want my art to be my legacy!
 
We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
The Covid-19 crisis was interesting in so many ways. I really feel like it gave everyone a moment to take a step back and really re-evaluate everything in our life. Like, we were so focused on living our lives and surviving that I am not sure how many of us truly took a step back and analyzed who we were and where we are going. I learned during the pandemic who I could count on the most. I learned that life is very precious and valuable. I learned how limited our time is. And because of that, I became more laser-focused on my goals – both personally and professionally! I hope this answers the question. I cannot say that I have some profound answer to leave you with…but at the same time, living through the pandemic seems so profound on its own – and because of that, I think it shaped and affected each and every one of us.

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Michael Coulombe

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