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Daily Inspiration: Meet Mike Lloyd

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Lloyd.

Hi Mike, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
Photography has always been a hobby, but I never wanted to make it into a job. I liked to relax and photograph things. Turning it into work sounded like the opposite of what I really wanted. Then I graduated college in 2009, during the recession, with a degree I’d never use. Grad school meant more debt and the job market was non-existent. I was lucky to be waiting tables. So I did what any normal person would do in this situation. I moved to France to teach English in the countryside. I had already been to France a couple of times at this point, but this time was different. I was going for good. Well, that was my plan anyway. Turns out, the economy over there wasn’t any better and unless I was a brain surgeon or an actual rocket scientist, I wasn’t going to get a work visa. After three months, I had to return home with no money, or job, or car. I started looking on Craigslist for odd jobs so I could start making a little money. That resulted in my first paid photography gig. I traveled around the San Francisco Bay Area photographing businesses. The company was similar to Groupon, so they needed photos to advertise the deals. They were the first ones to give me a shot. And I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know much about photography at this point. I just liked it. I did my best though and this gig lasted about six months until they decided to switch to stock photos and lay off all of their photographers.

Now I knew it was possible though. I had my first taste. After working some other non-photography gigs that ripped my soul out and made me drink more/sleepless, I registered my first business in October of 2010. I was officially a professional photographer. Now I just needed to learn how to actually do it. I dove in headfirst. I binged on every YouTube video, ebook, CreativeLive training, and photography magazine I could get my hands on. But there was one thing that really threw fuel on the fire. Teaching. I started teaching 2-3 photography classes every month for local photographers. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I knew where I wanted to end up. So I would offer a class in a specific technique or theme or concept, and I would have two weeks to master it so I could teach it. I got paid to learn how to be a photographer. I just stayed a few steps ahead of my students. And I did this for two years while I also learned about sales and marketing and networking and everything else I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Over the past ten years, I’ve photographed families, and babies, and weddings, and buildings, and products, and couples, and kids, and EVERYTHING ELSE. I didn’t care for most of it but it paid well and kept me self-employed. Aside from my technical skills improving along with my business acumen, I developed the confidence to niche down and focused on what really fulfills me. I didn’t create this business to do things I would dread. I’d still be working in an office for someone else if happiness and fulfillment didn’t matter to me. #deadinside

Now, I operate three brands that feed my soul in very different ways. Mike Lloyd Photography is for helping others tell their story and find their identity. I photograph entrepreneurs and small business for branding and marketing purposes. I also photograph artists and performers of all kinds for their promotional materials. I still do seasonal family portraits and I love photographing high school seniors. The brand I didn’t expect to ever create is Mike Lloyd Boudoir. I never wanted to be ‘that guy with a camera’ who photographed women in their underwear. The truth is, I had no freakin’ clue what boudoir photography was really about. In 2015 someone reached out and asked if I would do a boudoir shoot with her. I told her I had never done one, but if she was ok with that we could give it a shot. Well, that shoot was a success and it led to her friends booking me, which led to even more business. I was on to something and I had no idea what it was. The more women I photographed, the more stories I heard and the more I realized there is no way I could ever stop doing this. My boudoir photos are not sexual. They are moody and dramatic and elegant. They are like perfume ad for a fragrance that costs $10k a bottle. And that attracts a certain kind of client. These are moms who haven’t done something kind for themselves since having children 20 years ago. These are women in the military who haven’t had an identity outside of their uniform in as long as they can remember. These are women in healthcare who give selflessly in the service of others without ever putting their own needs first.

The experience of being seen and heard and being allowed to explore and embrace their strength, beauty, femininity, and desirability is what these shoots accomplish. The photos are souvenirs from the experience. The transformation is what I’m really providing. This gives me purpose like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I also teach boudoir photographers around the world in my own online community (The Boudoir Guild) and at photography conferences. Being a leader in this space keeps me motivated every day, and it keeps me accountable. I practice what I preach. It also reminds me how far I’ve come when I’m helping newbies figure out which button turns on their flash. I’ve never been good at recognizing my own achievements or accomplishments. This is some much needed perspective. Yes, I’ve shot movie posters and magazine covers, and I’ve got to work with some pretty famous people. But at the end of the day, the thing that matters to me is making a difference in my clients’ lives. Showing them a new way to see themselves. And giving them permission to be confident and fearless and proud of who they are without feeling shame. It’s about so much more than the photos. And no one is immune to this fear or guilt. It keeps me moving forward, working on myself, my craft, and my business. Who knows where I’ll be in the next few years? Always moving forward. That’s the only requirement.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
My journey was an uphill trek from day 1. I didn’t know anything about running a business or photographing people. I also suffered from a nasty case of imposter syndrome for a long time. Even after I was speaking on national stages and photographing famous people around the country, I still worried people would find out I’m really not that good. I didn’t really start to overcome this until a couple of years ago when I learned the value of mindset work and affirmations. It wasn’t a matter of learning what to think, it was more about learning how to think. There was one moment in particular that stands out. I was in a mastermind with a room full of millionaires and every one of them shared the same internal struggles as me. Something just clicked in that moment. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. I know it sounds crazy, but my business more than doubled in the six months after that day. I finally felt worthy of the money I was making. I got out of my own way. I suffered through a couple of years of deep deep depression around 2016/2017. I’ve never felt so hollow. There were days where I just couldn’t stop crying. It affected my memory and cognitive function too. I was forgetting simple things and I just didn’t care.

If you’d had depression, like, real fucking depression, you know it’s not about being sad. Nothing matters. There’s no point to anything. I never attempted suicide, but there were many days where I just didn’t care if I died. It took my family stepping in and telling me I needed help before I was able to start pulling myself out of that hole. I’m so thankful I have them. With medical help, I was able to return to my old self. And every once in a while, I feel that overwhelming dread and ennui returning and I nip it in the bud immediately. I’ve learned what the beginning stages feel like and I am in no hurry to relive any of those dark days. Fuck that. I know I’ll hit some other roadblock, but I laugh when I think about it. I picture myself as the Black Knight from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. They can chop off all of my limbs and I’ll still be in the fight. “’Tis but a scratch!” Learning to be kind to myself while taking complete responsibility for my successes and failures has been the reason I’m still in business. To be honest, and I know it sounds like a cliche, but failure was never an option for me. It has never crossed my mind that this wouldn’t work out and I would have to do something else. I burned the ships. There is no retreating.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m a colorblind photographer. I’ve also never taken a photography class and I get paid to teach photographers around the world how to do what I do. People are always surprised when they find out. ALWAYS. I guess I would be too. But I think of guys like Stevie Ray Vaughn who couldn’t read music and Beethoven who composed brilliant symphonies he couldn’t even hear. So who am I to let the color red stop me? When I got started in the photography space I wanted to shoot like Jean Paul Gaultier designed clothing. I wanted to create brilliant works of art with no boundaries. I lived in Silicon Valley though, and the dress code here consists of hoodies and jeans. I didn’t want to move to LA or New York, and those were the fashion hubs. It wasn’t until I picked up a book by my first photography crush, Lindsay Adler, that I realized I could photograph anyone I wanted and treat it like a fashion shoot. Her book ‘Fashion Flair for Portrait and Wedding Photography’ changed my world. She unknowingly gave me permission to shoot how I wanted, how I saw the world. I got to meet her a couple of years later on set at CreativeLive and she signed my book for me. It was surreal. That evening we ended up getting burritos and singing karaoke with the CreativeLive team. I remember calling my friend from the bathroom in the bar to tell her where I was. I couldn’t believe it. I also learned something valuable that day.

The famous people I look up to are still people, just like you and me. Hanging out with that crew made everything I dreamed of achieving seem really really possible. I just had to do the work. That night removed any barrier to entry I had previously created in my mind. Moving forward, I decided to shoot every shoot the way I wanted. My work is very cinematic and that has helped me create a name for myself. And I’ve learned that it’s ok to say no to clients who want me to shoot a different way. I tried it too many times to adapt to other styles and it never worked out. It was hard saying no to clients when I really needed the money, but being stressed and refunding a disappointed client wasn’t a win for me either. Now I shoot my commercial work one way. That’s it. And I shoot my boudoir one way. No exceptions. I charge more for what I do because no one shoots like me. And because I can deliver an amazing experience and killer images over and over and over again. I get into the zone when I’m shooting, just having a blast, and that’s when the magic happens. I learned to pose from tearing out pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair. I copied the angular looks of fashion and the distant gazing and indifference. I create scenes and invite the viewer to observe. I had to train myself to direct my clients look at the camera because that’s what they wanted to see. All these moms whose families I photographed wanted to see their kids’ smiling faces.

I still do half of my shoots with the subject looking away though. That’s my style and it’s what feels right for me. It feeds my soul. And it often surprises my clients. They end up liking the detached look more than expected. I also know my clients and I give them what they want too. Lots of smiling eye contact in the photos. Let’s talk about buying gear. It’s funny when I think about it now. I was too broke to afford more gear so I shot everything with 1 light. I carried around this motorcycle batter with an inverter so I could power my flash. They didn’t have built in batteries yet. That technology hadn’t been invented. It was really heavy, and because of how cumbersome the equipment was, most other photographers didn’t use it. My images looked significantly different when comparing me to my competition. I had a 50mm lens and a wide angle lens for the more dramatic scenes. I was creating movies with one frame. And I bought everything used. Even nowadays, I still shoot with 1 light. I have a lot more gear, but I bring it as a backup in case a bulb breaks or the wind blows something over. Having never learned from seasoned photographers, I never learned the rules they followed. I created my own. And you know what, I can’t imagine doing this any other way.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get to where I am. Firstly my parents have always been supportive. I absolutely took more risks than they were comfortable with and probably more than I should have been comfortable with, but I knew they’d always have my back. Thank you Lindsay Adler for showing me I could photograph people however I wanted and that it would actually be more lucrative than if I did what everyone else was doing. Thank you Heather Twardus. She used to run a clothing boutique for teen girls and she was the first person to team up with me and cross promote services to our mutual clients. I approached a lot of businesses that summer and she gave me a shot when no one else would. Thank you Greg Reid. He has been my mentor for the past two years and has introduced me to a world I could never have imagined. Ask me about Secret Knock when you see me. The people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned make an MBA look like a participation trophy. Thank you Monica Laipple. Monica was my first photography mentor. I reached out to her and asked if she could help me get started and she certainly did. She believed in my work from day 1 and taught me how to create a brand that would actually resonate with my clients. She also taught me that you can make real money as a photographer. She gave me hope.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

All images by Mike Lloyd Photography and Mike Lloyd Boudoir

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