Within 48 hours of posting images to his Format portfolio, photographer Michael George was contacted by National Geographic. The series “Portrait of a Pilgrim” was printed in the magazine, and the rest is history. In a few short years, the Brooklyn-based adventurer has documented stories from London, Brussels, Tel Aviv and across the USA. His work has been featured in Wired, Popular Mechanics and Inc. Magazine.
We caught up with Michael to find out how he curates his Format portfolio, his essential gear for an outdoor shoot and the secret to making your work stand out.
Hi Michael! Let’s start with the basics, how did you get started as a photographer?
I didn’t pick up a camera until I was a junior in high school. I fell in love with it immediately and attended NYU Tisch School of the Arts for college. During that time, I went on a cross-country cycling trip that became a photo series called “This Is Not Real.” I discovered that I’m interested in storytelling and travel writing. My self-funded trip to Camino de Santiago, an ancient Christian pilgrimage through southern France and northern Spain, became “Portrait of a Pilgrim.”
Why did you decide to host “Portrait of a Pilgrim” on your Format portfolio?
Everyone raves about how seamlessly “Portrait of a Pilgrim” on my Format portfolio mixes photos, text and video. I’ve had so many people tell me that they love how it’s set up. I don’t know how in the world I would have designed it without Format. That series was published in National Geographic and they discovered it on my website.
How do you decide which photographs to feature on your online portfolio?
There’s a long editing process. When you’re editing photography, you have to constantly revisit the images. You can’t sit down, edit a project and then, boom, you’re done. You have to let it sit. It’s kind of a bummer, but you have to let time pass. When you revisit the project with fresh eyes, you can feel which images are sticking and which ones are forgettable. I usually put a few edits on my site and keep them hidden for a week. Once I’ve visited it a few times and I’m comfortable with it, I’ll finally make it visible on my site and share it.
What’s your favorite feature on Format?
I like how easy it is to use. A lot of photography is about good sequencing and if I need to make a quick edit to image order, I don’t have to rewrite code or anything. When I was in high school, I wrote code for my website and it was a nightmare. Now I can sequence images easily and change them around until they feel right. It’s almost like moving around images with your hands.
What would you recommend to someone starting their outdoor photography career?
The hardest thing is to develop your own voice. People look at Instagram photos and end up mimicking what they see. It’s a bad way of starting out. Editors are not going to hire you unless they feel like you have a unique voice and can bring a specific artistic view to the story.
What do you bring with you to an outdoor shoot?
My main camera is a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. I really have three lenses that I shoot everything on: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L and Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L. For lighting, I use my Profoto B1s. They’re battery-powered, so you can bring them with you and you don’t need cords. I also always bring a reflector because it’s easy to carry and allows you to control natural light really well. A reflector is a godsend on natural light shoots when I’m traveling.