Pin-Up Photography with Mike Long

Becky Brooks


Mike Long is going on tour this autumn, teaching pin-up photography and retouching. Here, we talk about what prompted Mike to take on the niche market of pin-up photography, and why he he started a studio of his own after years working for other studios.

In 2007, you walked away from working for another studio and started Katchlight Photography in Portland, Oregon. What prompted you to take the leap to be your own boss?

After years working for other people, and essentially making others rich from my talents, I decided to jump in and start my own studio in 2007. This was a tough decision as the market is flooded with photographers, but I had become very tired and jaded with the way I had been working to that point. While running a full time studio is stressful and hard work, I have no regrets about doing so.

Your photography studio does family portraits, along with wedding photography. However, you’re arguably most well-known in the photography world for your very unique pin-up retouching and photography. Do you ever find a challenge in marketing to families/brides and with women interested in a more alternative kind of photo-shoot?

Yes – but it’s a more general challenge to constantly market and innovate. Weddings have become ferociously difficult to market for. In the old days, there were two studios in town, both in the yellow pages. Now, just search for your town and ‘photographer’ and you’ll get thousands of hits. Trying to stand out in that crowd is becoming harder each day, and my pin-ups serve as my “Macy’s Window Display” for the rest of my work.

Why and how did you get into pin-up photography?

I was putting together some commercial samples and wanted to do a triptych of a woman, an iron and a white shirt with lipstick on the collar. The first shot would be her finding the lipstick and being shocked. In the second, she would be getting angry, and the third would have her laughing and holding an iron with a man’s face on it. Casting the shot I found a local girl called Cherry Dollface – a pin-up model. Sadly, Cherry had to cancel at the last minute due to health issues and suggested her friend, Amber, who rocked it. While the shot isn’t pin-up, it had the same lighting and retouching that I use on pin-ups and it did get my creative juices going. A few months later, Cherry was all better and we planned a shoot. At the end she suggested we do some pin-ups. I was hooked instantly and when I put that together with my lighting and retouching I knew I’d found my niche.

Your very unique approach to pin-up photography has cultivated quite a niche for you. You’ve been shooting Sandy Puc’s ads (most recently her tour with Jerry Ghinois), along with landing your own “Sandy Puc’ Presents…” tour later this year. What do you attribute to the success this niche has brought you?

Pin-ups lit a fire in me and got my passion for photography back on track. I think that shows in my work, and I try to express that passion wherever possible. Photographers need to rediscover why they picked up a camera in the first place, and focus on that passion. To begin with, pin-ups were not a money maker for me, but I knew they were my passion and I focussed every spare minute on them. It’s often said that you should focus all your time on what makes you the most money, but I somewhat disagree. You need to fuel your passion and that will help your business grow.

Any advice for photographers looking to broaden the type of shoots they offer and branch out into pin-up photography?

Pin-ups are great fun, and can add a cool extra to your studio. The best advice I can give is to practice, practice and practice!! Find a willing local make-up artist and become best friends. Then, get some local models and have fun. Look around at other pin-up photographs, but then fire your imagination up and put your mark on it. Copying only gets you so far. Oh, and come along to Pin-Up-Alooza in the fall!

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