Profoto, a Swedish company that designs and builds lighting solutions for still and motion photography, did a big interview with Michael Muller for its blog that covers how Michael became a photographer, how a campaign he shot in 2000 became a turning point both for him and for the fashion brand Von Dutch, his approach to shooting celebrity portraits, and a new project that puts him up close with some of nature’s mightiest creatures. Here are some excerpts from “Michael Muller: The Power and the Wow,” which was written by Frederic Franzén. Full article here.
It was 1985, when the snowboarding phenomenon started to explode, and the 15 year old Michael Muller was determined to capture the action in the slopes. A friend helped him finance one of the worlds’ first printed snowboard calendars, and not too long after that, Michael’s very first pay check landed on his doormat.
“Several of my early snowboard images were published in magazines and calendars and, so I was pretty much just a sophomore when I started shooting at a commercial level,” says Michael with a sense of irony in his voice. “Next I started shooting rock bands. This was before the internet, before everybody knew everything. I would just call the record label and ‘suggest’ that I was shooting for Rolling Stone or whatever magazine seemed important. I wasn’t exactly shooting for any paper, but I did get front row seats, from where I could take great pictures of the band.”
Michael’s early professional journey traces a restless young photographer. He moved to Colorado to once again shoot snowboarding – this time, fulltime. He left Colorado and applied for Otis Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles, where his impressive portfolio gained him advanced placement. After one semester, Michael realized that he did not need a diploma to get the jobs he wanted. He left the school and started to focus on portrait photography instead.
“I had a huge benefit,” says Michael. “A lot of my friends were actors, like Leonardo DiCaprio, David Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Stephen Dorff and Drew Barrymore. They were somewhat known at the time, but not like they are today. Most importantly, they were friends. So, I was just shooting my friends, which was extremely comfortable and, as it turned out, it would give me an advantage down the road.”
In 2000, my father passed away. After that I started to get my life back on track. I moved back to northern California and started from scratch. One of my first assignments was a campaign for a clothing company that was really small at the time – Von Dutch. The owner of Von Dutch gave me the assignment immediately upon seeing my old portfolio with all the bands and now famous actors. That was my first major shoot with strobes – Profoto strobes. It was all new to me, so I stuck with only one light and a beauty dish. The campaign did really, really well. Suddenly, everybody wore those Von Dutch trucker hats. My phone started ringing, and I moved back to Los Angeles with a commitment to succeed.”
Today, Michael Muller’s portfolio is as multifaceted and as colorfully dynamic as they come. Wildlife photography, documentary photography, sports photography, celebrity portraits and blockbuster movie posters – it is all there. But it is not only the motifs that come in all colors and shapes. The style and lighting is just as varied.
“That’s a conscious decision,” says Michael. “It’s based on two principles. First of all, I don’t want to get pigeonholed. Some photographers build a career on a certain look, but the problem with that is that if you are hired by a magazine or an ad agency, they expect you to do that look and nothing else. You’re stuck with it. I refuse to let that happen. Secondly, I really enjoy shooting different subjects. They each play off each other, and I think it keeps things interesting.”
Speaking of great pictures – which aspect of your work are you the most proud of? “Right now, it’s the animals that are the most fulfilling. I’m currently busy shooting sharks and polar bears for a TV show. You know, I’m doing something that’s never been done. Nobody’s ever brought studio quality lighting to the animals in their natural environment. At least not in this scale. It’s hard to explain, but when you see it, you’ll understand.”