One of the Bay Area’s Most In-Demand Photographers Has Some Tips for You
"The best photographers in the world rarely have more than a couple thousand followers"
“Hardly ever still…” goes the headline on photographer Mike Battey’s About page, and a quick perusal of the rest of his website or Instagram reveals just how true that statement is. Posting as @shotswithmike on the photo-sharing app, Battey has already racked up over thousands of followers for his beautiful, thoughtful shots of life in and around the Bay Area.
Whether he’s honing in on the careful plating of a live-fire chef, capturing the deepening light of the sun across a hotel pool or following an adventurer out into the wild, Battey’s photos reflect the best parts of the world around him with precision and care. Based in Sacramento, Battey is a naturally talented visual artist who first picked up a camera back in high school. From there, he went on to receive a BFA in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado, followed by an MFA in Studio Arts with a concentration in photography from San Jose State University.
Initially inspired by his father, who carried around a 35mm point-and-shoot, Battey decided to pursue photography even beyond his time in school. “I always loved drawing and painting, but photography came more naturally,” Battey tells InsideHook. “Taking pictures of daily life and travels was something that always kept me busy, but I was hungry to do something more with it, leading me to chase a future out of college and grad school.”
Needless to say, Battery knows his way around a camera, but while pursuing his MFA his thesis led him in a more experimental direction, which went deep on nature and science. “My thesis work was a collection of fairly experimental photo processes that built conversations around water, land, agriculture and climate,” he explains. “Some days I was taking digital aerials of river systems…other days I was winter camping up in the mountains to create 1:1 prints of climate conditions in the snow.” Dipping his toe in the art world was, in his words, “difficult, slow and ugly,” so Battey continued with the more outdoors-focused side of his work. That naturally led to working with clients in the wine and food world, and now, the bulk of his work is centered around shooting for brands.
“I found a way to loop the adventurous side of my thesis-driven travels into quick shoots for outdoor products and gear,” he explains. “When I graduated, I moved to Sacramento and continued this, but also began looping my love for agriculture and food and wine into my partnering client list. Now I’m shooting fairly consistently for restaurants, wineries, magazines, makers and brands.” And since that kind of photo-making is what plenty of people are trying to replicate on the ‘gram these days, Battey can definitely offer his expertise on how to take the perfect photo on your own epic summer adventure. Check out some of his tips, tricks and insights below.
InsideHook: What are some of the greatest spots to take photos in the Bay Area?
Mike Battey: Oh gosh, anywhere in San Francisco really, it’s a magical city, and Marin is a quick drive away if you are looking to escape the crowds. There is never bad light in that area. Golden hour is always a trip, because you never know if you are going to get sun or fog.
What’s your best advice for amateurs who are looking to get more serious about photo taking?
Lay your intentions out with the medium and decide on a path to get there. Have patience. What is your ultimate goal? What do the photos you want to create look like? Are there photographers that make work similar that have educational resources you can learn from? If you are trying to go full-time, take the low-hanging fruit and any opportunity you can — it all turns into experience, knowledge, connections.
Fill us in on some of your favorite photography gear and equipment.
Prime lenses. Zoom lenses are a boring crutch, and don’t excite the same parts of the brain that a fixed focal length can. This is really what should have been the most important advice to amateurs. For your first lens, go with a 50mm or 35mm (full frame equivalent) lens. You will move around more, and “see” in that focal length even when you aren’t shooting, which is how you frame better.
As plenty of people are heading out on trips this summer, do you have any tips for taking great photos on summer vacation?
Expose for the highlights. Chances are you are going to have some fun under the sun and losing a shot because the exposure is overblown is the worst.
What’s the most common misstep you see people doing with photography, and how can it be fixed?
Don’t go overboard editing. More is less while you are trying to develop your own style. Keep things clean and natural, with a little something extra after you’ve got the basics.
You mentioned working with brands and creators quite a bit. What have been some of your favorite recent projects?
For me, it’s whatever chef, winemaker or creator I met last. Everyone is different and imparts their own individuality into their practice, which is visual for someone like me who’s looking out to capture that when it is expressed. The environments I am taken to vary day to day, [which] is a great way to combat cubicle brain, too.
Recently, I met Alice Waters while working with some of my favorite people at Scribe Winery. It was so great to meet a positive and shining force in the culinary world. My mom has her cookbooks, and just about every chef you know has love for her. She is California cuisine.
What do you think is most misunderstood about photographers and photography, especially in the age of Instagram and everyone being a “content creator?”
We all have a certain level of dislike for Instagram. It’s not exactly a platform that displays the hard work and effort in a meaningful way. The images are tiny, and detracts from horizontal framing. It’s simply a feed of ads and whatever the algorithms decide you need to see. The best photographers in the world rarely have more than a couple thousand followers.
What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when taking photos in general, and then, specifically for outdoors?
Get the shot.
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