We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Der and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, is there something you believe many others might not?
This may not qualify as going against conventional advice, but I think there’s an over glorification of the word ‘experience’. There’s a common sentiment that gets thrown around, something like “if only I had the experience, then my business will grow” or “that person has so much confidence because he/she has been doing it longer than I have”. There are countless people in my profession that have years of experience with limited success. Likewise, there are countless creatives who have very little experience but are thriving. We throw the word around without qualifying it. Is it good experience? Is it bad experience? Is it experience that will propel you or is it experience that will psychologically damage you? It’s important to recognize the roles that self-awareness, humility, dedication and courage, all play in someone’s success or failure. It takes self-awareness to recognize what decisions were bad and what weaknesses you possess. It takes humility to ask for help and to seek out feedback or criticism. It takes dedication to show up every day. And it takes courage to keep working at things you often fail at.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My work is constantly evolving but I am most passionate about creating portraits with inspiring people. Some are artists, some are athletes, some are just everyday people with an uplifting story. I enjoy helping people build their brands, whether it’s an individual or a small business. There’s just something special about creating an image that makes you stop and say “damn”…but in a good way. I think my biggest strength isn’t even about art. It’s about working with people. I take a lot of pride in walking my creative team, my subjects, and my clients through the artistic process. It’s not easy educating a client on usage rates without coming across as arrogant or entitled. It’s not easy telling models what they can and can’t do with the images after a collaboration. It’s not easy providing clarity to a creative team on the day of a shoot. The more emphasis I put on these relationships, the less transactional they become, and that has been the biggest benefit to me. Since becoming a self-employed creative in 2015, I have failed numerous times. I’ve experienced moments of creative, financial, and emotional despair during this time. It has put stress on my family like I never envisioned. Overcoming it takes a tribe, no matter how small. My wife never told me to quit. She has never asked that I pivot my career and find stability for a while. She constantly reminds me that I’m on the right path, and that has been the only pep talk I’ve needed. The rest is just business. Self-employment is a gift in many ways. You can control your schedule, your rates, who you do and don’t want to work for, etc. But the greatest blessing are the skills you learn along the way. I’ve learned so much about intellectual property, negotiations, pricing, accounting, personal finance, marketing strategy, time management…the list goes on. I never would have accelerated those skills had I stayed an employee. I think I’d like people to know that lifestyle design is not just a buzz term. I really believe you can create the life you want to live. It’s important to me to have time to do the things I want to do, to learn and experience new projects on my terms. I was a D student in high school and college and I have A students asking me how to do this. I don’t have the answers, only they do, and that’s what I want people to know.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Assuming this is in a Covid-free world, I’d start with food first. Sorry, but hiking can wait. I’m big on comfort food, so I’d start off with Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, any all you can eat in K-Town, and anywhere there’s a large gathering of food trucks so you can try everything. Outdoor movies are awesome to bring people to, especially if they live somewhere cold. Beaches are a given. I like Disneyland a lot too.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are two photographers that immediately jump to mind that I’d like to credit, neither of whom probably know the degree of their impact on my development. First is Todd Bigelow, who is a wonderful freelance photographer in Los Angeles and teaches a Business of Photography Workshop that I attended when I first started out. I learned a lot of technical skill sets that no other photographer has come close to teaching me in the 7 years since. Beyond that though, it was his macro perspective on freelancing as a profession that stuck with me the most. Through his teachings, I felt more empowered to run a business and pursue a self-employment life that had previously been met with skepticism from others in my circle. Joey Terrill is another outstanding photographer in the LA area and a Nikon Ambassador to boot. He is one of the few people I can recall ever making me feel like I was a peer of his, regardless of how inferior my resume is in comparison. As photographers, we often evaluate other photographers based on the quality of each other’s work. Joey gave me confidence that Michael Der, the person, is just as valuable as Michael Der the creative. That was a very important moment for me, as that message has consistently given me the confidence to find a seat at many tables that I probably had no artistic right being at.
Other: Artrepreneurs (podcast): Available on Apple, Google, Spotify, IheartRadio and many more. www.artrepreneurspod.com
All images are ©Michael Der