Local Photographer Spotlight: Michael Maly
Posted by Caroline Janes on 3rd Jan 2022
Hobbyist concert photographer, turned professional commercial photographer, Michael Maly began taking his photographic work more seriously with the nudge of a friend. Maly is heavily involved in the live music photogrpahy scene in Austin, but has more recently branched in out to several different types of photography from real estate, landscape, portraits and more. I learned more about his work via email as follows below.
How did you get started in photography?
Michael Maly: My father was always taking photos when I was a child and I recall being very curious about his camera. I liked the way that it looked and felt, while not understanding how it really worked. Looking back on some of the images that he captured during those years, I feel like he had a pretty decent eye for a hobbyist and often wonder about his interest in taking photos.
I’d been taking photos casually for the last few decades as digital photography made capturing images much more accessible, but never really considered it seriously. The bulk of my photos during this time was mostly of live music, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that a well-respected friend dropped a few words of encouragement and sent me on my current journey. The appreciation and love for the art were always there, I just needed a nudge. And I dove in headfirst.
Your passion for photography began with the live music scene in Austin but you've more recently decided to pursue photography full time and expand beyond concert photos. Tell me more about what that process has been like expanding into other types of photography and in terms of finding your style, what you’ve been drawn to and challenges you’ve encountered.
MM: The timing to pursue photography on a more full-time basis occurred just a few months before the pandemic/lockdown was initiated, which created a freeing of personal time and some unique opportunities at the same time. Live music was off the table for an undetermined amount of time, so I began to explore.
On the first Sunday of the shutdown here in Austin, the opportunity to walk about downtown with almost no traffic and very little human activity seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture a city on pause so I walked the streets during the early foggy hours taking pictures. I decided early on that I would explore a variety of styles, even ones that I had written off previously thinking that they were of no interest, to see what piqued my interest and spurred creativity. Coming from a live music background, you come from a world where little is in your control. You can’t predict or manipulate the movement of the subject or the lighting, and I think that set the tone for what I thought I wanted to achieve from a photography aspect.
As a challenge, I’ve been shooting landscape/architecture, portraits, street, plants, animals, and products as an experiment in order to see what might encourage a change in my approach. Challenging myself outside of that comfort zone has been incredibly rewarding and revealing and still leaves plenty of room for me to develop my “style”. Returning to live music after exploring other formats has made me realize how much I am drawn to the format and how much it challenges your skills while educating you in a very fast-paced environment.
I’m drawn to capturing “life” in its true moments and my biggest challenge is finding the time to flesh out my interests and skills to be able to apply in a way where I can make a living doing what I love.
Do you have any advice for other photographers that are striving to take their photographic careers to the next level?
MM: I’m open to advice on how to take my career to the next level, but what I have learned to be useful for myself is:
- Shoot all of the time. Take pictures daily, even if it is on your phone. It helps to develop your eye for composition and lighting.
- Understand the established rules for photography but don’t always let them dictate how you shoot. Do what feels and looks good to you. Understanding your strengths and vision is important, and the rules will come into play as your experience grows. I feel like I still have so much to learn so my advice is…If you love it, just do it. I heard this quote from Jim Carrey recently, “You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love,” and it resonates.
Do you normally work consistently with certain bands or do you usually just shoot at various venues?
MM: Ultimately, it would be great to work with a band on stage as well as off but currently, I shoot at a variety of venues and festivals for various outlets. I’m open to just about any opportunity to capture the live music experience that breeds potential.
Do you have a favorite live show memory?
MM: While shooting? Not really. Live music is the reason that I moved to Austin as a young music nerd, and the experiences that I have had over the years have been incredibly special and important but, when I’m shooting, I am so focused on getting the right shot that the performance and the music become lost in the background, for those first three songs. Often I can’t remember what songs were even performed while shooting unless I pause to take note. I don’t know if that is the case with all live music photographers, but it happens with me.
Having the opportunity to share the photo pit with some of the most talented music photographers in the world here in Austin is a privilege, and I’m constantly amazed at the wealth of talent. I have some great live music memories at shows that I have shot, but the ones that stand out came from shows when I wasn’t shooting. Nirvana at Liberty Lunch/Waterloo in-store, Jesus Lizard at Emos getting kicked in the head by David Yow, early My Morning Jacket shows at The Parish, early Wilco at Liberty Lunch, side stage Tom Petty at Bass Concert Hall…and the list goes on and on. It would be a much longer post for me to go into all of the great memories that I have racked up over the years.
What are the most important elements or things to keep in mind when shooting concert photography?
MM: For myself, I’m focusing on the lighting and trying to predict its movement in conjunction with the artists movement. I’m very intrigued with lighting and the contrast between light and dark and when those two elements work together with the subject to create something unique. I shoot in black and white (with the option to edit in color) when shooting music so I can see the light to dark contrast more clearly.
I also try and do a bit of research before by watching videos of the artists performance or by looking at images from previous performances to get an idea of what may happen on stage that particular shoot. I like to incorporate all of the band members into the shoot, but sometimes the lighting and stage arrangement put some in difficult spots.
Stay alert and pay attention to the small details. There are so many moving pieces and people happening at all at once, keeping the “unwanted” out of your photos takes focus. Mic stands, other photographers, security personnel, etc. are all out there to get in your shots.
What about the photography scene in Austin resonates with you most?MM: How many amazing photographers that there are in this city, especially in the live music scene. Some amazingly talented people in this scene. Since day one, I have always felt welcomed by the other photographers as well as the fans when shooting, especially in difficult situations. There’s almost a family vibe within the music photography scene, which makes a lot of sense as that is how the music scene has felt in my experience. Every time I step into the photo pit, I’m excited to see some familiar faces.
How does your gear choice change between different types of shoots? Do you have any go-to pieces of equipment?
MM: When it comes to shooting live music, I think that I shoot a bit wider than most as I like to try and incorporate as many elements as possible that I feel make the image work. I like to feel like I’m in the image as it’s happening if that makes any sense. I feel like a lot of my favorite personal photos are to be experienced in a large format.
I don’t have very much experience with various types of gear but I shoot Sony Alpha bodies and am exploring various lens options including vintage lenses to find what works for me. I mostly use zoom lenses for live music but have a cool vintage Russian Helios 44-2 that I enjoy quite a bit. A great little inexpensive lens with some cool results.
I’ve acquired a vintage Minolta camera from the 80’s that I’m slowing incorporating into my process but it’s another learning experience that needs time. I’m excited to see where I can take it though.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
MM: I have a list of shows that I’m excited about and am hoping that I will be able to shoot. I didn’t anticipate being this excited about shooting live music this much, but the community and the experience are both so rewarding, I feel like it’s a bit of a calling. When I challenged myself with this new experience, I also began shooting and editing video which is a whole other learning challenge, but incredibly exciting. The video editing process is incredibly interesting, and I enjoy it quite a bit. I shot a music video for an artist that once resided here in Austin and now lives in New Mexico. We shot in the deserts and mountains of New Mexico a few months ago and am in the process of editing. Keep an eye out for that. You know where to find me.
You can find more of Michael's work on his website and Instagram.