Michelle McSwain

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Michelle McSwain

Photographer

Venice, CA
New York, NY

www.michellemcswain.com
instagram @michellemcswain

 

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I capture people in moments and freeze them in time through digital or film photography.

The moments I freeze must involve at least one (if not all) of my three favorite things- fun, wine, and well, of course, people. Sometimes I throw in a fourth favorite thing and you'll see an animal in some of my images. And since we're counting, sometimes I throw in another favorite and you'll see the color blue or green. I try not to take life too seriously and I think this sentiment comes across in my photography.

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WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW?

I studied photo in college. After graduation, I moved to NYC for an internship at a studio where I gathered as much knowledge about the industry as possible. I left there and freelanced for the New York Times and Yahoo while building a little tech startup. The tech startup failed and I decided to go full-time photography. And here I am.

 

How do you stand out in your field?

I'm a really good mix between fun and responsible, creative but logical, and I pretty much consider every single human my friend...even Karlie Kloss.

I DM her all the time as if we're pals (no she's not responded, but she's busy, it's cool). Sometimes I feel like in the creative field it's hard to find a balance in these areas. Running a business requires me to be responsible, communicative, reasonable, organized...one might say, on top of my shit. Being a creative though requires imagination, energy, and vision. I think I stand out because I'm able to be both of these things. Also, I've spent a lot of time working on my ego and leaving it at the door whenever I leave home. I think that is sometimes hard to find in my field too.

 

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?

Getting into video! Aren't we all? I've resisted it for a while but I'm on board now. I've set up a couple personal projects next month to give myself space to practice. Also, for the past six months I've been working on a project around animal testing in the cosmetic world. I'm actually a little stuck on where to take it but I've already done some of the preliminary images. Maybe I'll meet someone who wants to collaborate...?



 

WHAT'S YOUR STYLE/PERSPECTIVE/TASTE? DO YOU HAVE A PROJECT THAT REPRESENTS THIS?

I'm still working on my style but it's come a long way. It's fun, lighthearted, bright, and colorful. Not to sound clichΓ©, but it's my perspective on life and it has been for as long as I can remember.

 
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WE ARE ALL SLASHIES WITH MULTIPLE SKILLS, WHICH ONE DO YOU WISH YOU COULD DO MORE OFTEN?

Being a friend to people....does that count as an industry? I do think one of my biggest skills is being a thoughtful friend and good listener. I always wish I had more time to focus on this and be the best of friend to all the wonderful people I've met. If this answer doesn't count, then, fitness. I wish I had time to become a fitness coach and a yoga teacher.


 

WHAT IS FRUSTRATING YOU RIGHT NOW?

Hah, honestly, my project on animals used for animal testing keeps getting pushed off because I feel so stuck on where to go with it. It always gets moved to the end of my to-do list and has been that way for months. Also, the most frustrating thing is still not seeing my portfolio in reality where I see it in my head. It's not for lack of trying to get it there it's just a process and I don't do a great job with patience.




 

IF YOU COULD HIRE SOMEONE FOR $20/HR, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE THEM DO TO MAKE YOUR DAY EASIER?

Build and design pitch decks for me and set up meetings with agencies.


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LET'S BRING OUT THE TIME MACHINE. WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU COULD HAVE TOLD YOURSELF, WHEN, AND WHY?

"Light painting is too niche so move on" in 2012, because I spent a decade trying to make it something and I wish I could take some of that time back to be building my own photography career. But it's ok, no regrets.

 

IF YOU COULD TALK TO AN EXPERT TO GAIN MORE INSIGHT ON SOMETHING, WHAT WOULD IT BE ABOUT?

Well I would ask that person to sit down with me with a stack of all my photographs and we lay them all out and sift through to find all the common themes and that's what my style and portfolio would be. I'm planning on doing this solo but if I could have an expert in branding there with me, that would be the best.


 

WHAT KIND OF OPPORTUNITIES/PROJECTS ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

Photography, Photo Retouching, and Video | Specifically involving brands looking to create custom content. I'd also love to take on a few e-comm jobs.

 

DESCRIBE YOUR IDEAL JOB/CLIENT/COLLABORATION.

My ideal client is American Eagle. I love their brand, their mission statement, and their campaigns. Another ideal client would be TOMS, for all of the same reasons.



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WHAT IS YOUR HOURLY RATE, RETAINER, OR SALARY RANGE? 

Sample Pricing for Projects: *These are samples and are subject to change/vary case by case*

Final deliverables vary per project
Headshots/Portraits: $400 min
1/2 day photography for small brands: $750
Full day photography for small brands: $1500 (range varies depending on project)
Full day photography for large brands: TBD
Retouching: $45-55 per hour or $35-50 per image (varies greatly depending on type of retouching)

 


WHO IS A CREATIVE THAT HAS HELPED YOU ELEVATE YOUR WORK?

Vanessa Price, Art Director and Wine Sommelier, vanessa@vinumco.com, @vanessalenoreprice | She pushes me, drives me crazy, but has brilliant ideas and I love creating with her. She's been a partner with me on all the wine work.


Adam Saewitz, Video Maker/Editor Genius, ads390@gmail.com, @saewessa | The first person to ever give me a portfolio review. A great friend, mentor, and seriously an artistic genius.


Sarah Haman, Advertising, sarahhaman@gmail.com @sarbearinnyc | Because she has always believed in me, even before I did...so much that she sent a giant commercial job my way before I'd ever done anything of that level. I'm happy to say we killed it.


Jesse Chamberlin whom I personally do not know but her work is a huge inspiration @jessechamberlinmarble | Her creative eye is unmatched and her editing style is unlike any I've ever seen. There's no other artist like her and aspire to be at her level one day.


And lastly, I have to add my husband, who's a creative in his own right, a musician- Adam Tepper @abtepper | He's given me the space, trust, and support through all my creative endeavors, with an unwavering belief in my entrepreneurial spirit, and whew, he really helped me pick the pieces of my heart up off the ground when I quit my tech company.

 

HOW SHOULD SOMEONE APPROACH YOU ABOUT WORKING TOGETHER?

Email or DM is my preferred form of communication and I love to have as much info as possible about the potential project- date/location/budget/example images if it applies...the more info the better!

 

HOW DO YOU STAY CREATIVE?

Spending time with new people and listening


This member profile was originally published in February 2019.