Interview with Portrait Artist and Photographer Mike Long

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We recently sat down with Mike Long, a hard working and amazing portrait artist based in Portland, Oregon. Mike is well known for Portland Pin-Ups, the west coast’s premier pin-up studio. Mike has been both a photographer and retoucher for over 20 years and along the way he has captured all styles of portrait from babies to weddings. A regular speaker at the annual WPPI conference in Las Vegas, Mike has also taken his teaching across the USA touring with Sandy Puc, and has also produced workshops in Canada and Australia. We recently chatted with Mike and are excited to seeing him bring his workflow to ON1 customers and also show how he uses ON1. Look for new videos in the coming months and check out this new awesome preset pack for Effects.

We first met back in 2009 when you shot my wedding, so I’ve known you for years. Tell our readers about Mike Long, the photographer.

Many hundreds of years ago, when I was in my early 20’s, I worked for a magazine publisher in London in the retouching department on million dollar computers called “Scitex”. This was way back before Photoshop was even a twinkle in Adobe’s eye. We would take in film and prints from all over the world, scan them and retouch. I could regularly be heard whining about the quality of the photography, so my workmates challenged me to buy a camera and ‘show us how easy it is’. I went to my local camera store which was having a weekly special on Canon, bought an EOS body and lens and set off on my photographic adventure. Of course, it wasn’t easy at all, but I loved the mechanics of capturing a frame of time. Having access to high-end retouching equipment at a time when only advertising agencies and publishers did, I was in a unique position to scan and manipulate my own work digitally, and it’s always been 2nd nature of me to do so.

I subscribed to several photographic magazines and followed every challenge they laid down: photograph red, capture movement, capture emotion, use only a 50mm lens all week etc.

Attending a friend’s wedding, I got chatting to the photographer and discovered he needed an assistant and badgered my way into the job. Unlike today, where you get a camera for Christmas, go to someone’s wedding and suddenly you are a wedding photographer, I received a 3 year apprenticeship. First year, I could only carry bags, light stands etc. 2nd year I had a camera and was another set of eyes for the main shooter. Finally in the 3rd year I was let loose to capture weddings with my own style. Soon after I branched out on my own and have captured over 200 weddings.

Not long after moving to Portland, Oregon, I was testing some new lights purchased for use at weddings when a young model drafted in to help me and suggested we ‘do some pin-up’ as that was her thing. I was instantly hooked, and Portland Pin-Ups was born.

Is there something you know today that you wish you knew when you started Portland Pin-Ups?

“Know your value”. When you go to conventions you will see so many speakers banging on about knowing your value, and not setting your pricing too low. When you are starting out, you always think ‘yeah, right, I can’t charge THAT for my work’. Wrong. Not only should you, but you need to. Photography, the mechanics of it, are stupidly easy to learn. The aesthetic side of it, composition, style, color etc, that’s harder, and requires many thousands of hours of practice. But the most valuable tool in a photographer’s kit? Business skills.

I tend to agree. I talk to great photographers all the time who tend to struggle with the important skills to actually run a business. You will often see educators work the business angle into their tours and platforms. Speaking of tours, where are you speaking this year?

I’ve cut down my workshops and speaking gigs over the last few years – I never wanted to be one of those photographers who spends more time on stage than working with clients. I spoke at WPPI in Las Vegas, and next I’ll be in Cleveland on June 11th as part of the Legends of Photography tour with Sandy Puc.

That should be a lot of fun. So, switching gears a bit. How do get your subjects to look the way you want and they want? Tell us a little bit about your process without revealing all your secrets.

Something that has been lost over the last few years is the art of coaching and directing your client. Seems that most portrait photographers these days just aim a camera at their subject and just fire away, hoping to capture some magic. The secret is to interact with the person you are photographing, whether it’s a child, a bride or a pin-up, and have fun! A relaxed and happy client will always produce the best results. They are coming to you because you are the professional, so you need to act that way and most importantly, gain their trust. Once you have that, the rest of the session is a breeze.

Correct exposure and white balance are no-brainers – it’s very important to get the basics right and not ‘fix in post’.

For my pin-up work, my post-production routine is to smooth skin (note – not blur…any skin action that blurs the skin is wrong!). I use old fashioned airbrushing to make my subjects shine. There is a little dodging, burning and sharpening that goes on before I extract them from the plain white I shoot against and put them somewhere else in the world: either a solid color or a real-world scene, depending on the pose. Finally, I use On1 Effects for some ’special sauce’ on top.

I am sure we will be seeing more of what your are doing in ON1 soon?

For sure! As well as my new presets, look for a ON1 Photo Kit coming soon! (the before/after images on this post are using Mike’s presets)

Sounds great to us. Any parting words?

Be inspired, don’t imitate. Feed your imagination. Never stop dreaming. Art is in the eye of the beholder – take constructive criticism on board, but follow your own path. Practice your craft everyday. You are never perfect, you can always learn more.

There is no such thing as too much coffee.

You can connect with Mike and find more of his work at: | FacebookInstagram


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