All images by Andrei Mihalache. Used with permission.
“I think it’s the best way I have of expressing myself, and it’s also one of the things that I feel most comfortable doing,” says Andrei Mihalache when asked why he chose photography. He adds, “taking photos helps me disconnect from daily life with all its ups and downs.” Mihalache sent us a very thoughtful submission. He happily shared his personal journey, his creative process, and useful tips for the budding photographer. There’s a lot to get through in this feature. But all of it will add value to your photographic journey, as Mihalache shares the wisdom he’s obtained during a career that’s lasted over a decade.
Andrei Mihalache’s Essential Gear
- Canon EOS 5D
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 1Dx Mark I
- Canon 6D
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- Canon 24mm f/2.8 – For underwater photography
- Canon 85mm f/1.2 – “a very beautiful lens for portraits.”
- Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 – When in low light
- Canon 100mm f/2.8
- Canon 600EX Speedlight
“The Canon 5D Mark IV I use was an awesome upgrade from the Mark III, and most certainly, it is a quantum leap compared to the original 5D. I use mine with a vertical grip, but I do like my camera to be on the heavier side. It does get a bit tiresome after shooting for eight hours at a wedding, for example. But I’ve become so used to it I expect it and enjoy it the same way you expect to feel sore after going to the gym.”— Andrei Mihalache
Phoblographer: Why did you get into photography?
Andrei Mihalache: My interest in photography began when I was 23. I was living in the UK. As a young adult with zero responsibilities except keeping myself fed and clothed, I had enough of a disposable income to buy a camera and some lenses just for the curiosity of it. I also used to be quite shy and a bit of a loner, so you can see how I thought to myself, “what can I do with all this free time I’ve got after work and on my days off?”
I bought an Olympus E-420 with the double zoom kit (14-42mm and 40-150mm) in the winter of 2008 as a Christmas present to myself. I used it for a few months, mainly doing random street photography, still life, and photographing just about anything that caught my eye, from cats to ducks.
Phoblographer: What photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?
Andrei Mihalache: When I started, I really admired Matt Adcock and Sol Tamargo. I liked their underwater and jungle shoots, and their ability to capture the most fleeting moments during weddings. Combine their photos with their editing, I felt like they were the Gods of photography. Ben Chrisman and, later, TwoMann Studios were a serious influence on my wedding photography.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was also a big influence at some point. Mainly because of the simplicity of his approach and the unsettling results of capturing something that, with only our eyes, we would never be able to remember. That’s because we simply don’t see in stills – a person mid-jump, for example. I also love his use of silhouettes, and I think I see a lot of that in my work.
If there is one photographer I wish I could be more like now, it’s probably Robert Frank. I love how he is invisible to his subjects, at least from the viewer’s perspective, in the sense that it appears as though he was never there. His presence is ephemeral.
Phoblographer: How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?
Andrei Mihalache: I have been a photographer (in name, at least) for the past 11 years. I bought my first camera in 2008, close to Christmas. In 2009 I started working for a company based in Italy. They hired me because I was fluent in three languages and had loads of sales experience, but my body of photographic work was laughable. They sent me to Mexico, where I worked in hotels as a portrait and family photographer for about 18 months.
I then landed a job with a photography company that was much more luxury-oriented, with some truly awesome photographers. I felt like I was a total newbie, which I was, but then, over the years, I’ve had the honor of being offered work by some of the most amazing wedding photographers I’ve met (Del Sol Photography), so I guess I learned some stuff. I also had the opportunity to teach, give some workshops and travel quite a lot, all thanks to creating work that was not only attractive to my eye, but also commercially viable.
Phoblographer: Tell us about your photographic identity.
AM: I’m a photographer that aims to get everything done in-camera (I don’t always get it right, but it is a goal of mine.) This includes lighting, posing, having or not having things in the frame, the frame itself, etc.
Phoblographer: Please walk us through your processing techniques?
AM: I normally use Photo Mechanic to select the photos I want to edit. I will normally end up with somewhere between 500 and 1000 images for a family photo shoot, somewhere between 2000 and 5000 for a wedding. Photo Mechanic is the fastest way I found of viewing these thousands of images quickly and marking them with colors. Lightroom is the next step, where I will import only the selected images: 100-200 for family photos, 400-1000 for weddings.
Once in Lightroom, I apply a base edit custom made for my shooting style (contrast, highlights, shadows, lens profile etc,) after which I will go through the images one by one and straighten the horizon or crop out any unwanted elements. The next step is to go through the photos again and make adjustments to different batches of photos so they are consistent based on light and color.
The last step in Lightroom would be to view each photo one last time and make individual adjustments as needed – exposure, spot removal etc. I export these images to high resolution jpegs and then a select few will be opened in Photoshop where I would squeeze them for all the juice they have.
Phoblographer: Natural light or artificial light? Why?
AM: I tend to use natural light when doing most of my portrait work, because I live in Mexico and the light is absolutely marvellous (Riviera Maya for about 10 years, now I live in Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific coast.) I do use flash for events and whenever there is an actual need of adding artificial light – when shooting food, or commercial photography, weddings etc. I do tend to prefer natural light because it is more convenient for me.
Phoblographer: Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
AM: Photography gave me a purpose in life. I was quite literally lost and not sure what I wanted to do with myself and photography made me travel the world, meet hundreds of amazing people, and just be happy. To this day I would prefer being out taking photographs as opposed to many other things.
Phoblographer: Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does the gear help you do this?
AM: I’m more of a documenter, I tend to be much better at capturing what happens, rather than directing and staging it. I do have some experience in posing people, and I do have some experience with setting up shots for social media, websites, etc, but I prefer to document what happens in front of me.
Even when I shoot families or couples, I rely heavily on them entertaining each other and making each other laugh. I direct them to do so and encourage them to have loads of fun. Sometimes I’ll give people loads of options of things to do, and let the situation evolve.
Obviously, during weddings and other events, there’s a lot going on that I can just capture and focus on framing and capturing those special moments. I like the pressure of a moment that you cannot repeat.
Phoblographer: What’s typically going through your mind when you create images?
AM: I tend to work in manual mode at all times. I only briefly toyed with using a camera on either program or S/A priority, but I never quite got over the fact that the camera tends to be much more inconsistent with either of those than when I am in manual.
I have a good enough eye to be able to nail the exposure most of the time and I certainly know better than the camera if I want an image to be a silhouette or a high key portrait, or jump from one to the other in the span of a second. I often work in environments where there are a lot of people that are not meant to be in the photos walking about, so I always keep an eye out for people drifting in and out of frame. I try to hide them behind my subjects or, preferably, leave them out of the frame.
I also try to keep an eye on how the mainly natural light that I use hits my subjects and I often try to apply “lighting schemes” using the sun – Rembrandt, butterfly, side-lighting – it’s certainly more challenging than having a flash that you can move, because while the subject can certainly move and rotate to accommodate your lighting needs, the background is not something I have much control over; not to mention the fact that many times I work with groups of people, and that makes managing the way light hits them a bit more challenging still.
I am a big fan of capturing moments that I know will most likely not happen if I try to stage them, so I always keep an eye out on what goes on with the people I am NOT photographing that are part of the family or group that I work with.
Phoblographer: Why did you select the images you sent us?
AM: These are some of my favorite photos that I made. I had a very hard time narrowing them down because I have been working in a very fast-paced environment for most of my life as a photographer. I will sometimes shoot around 300 family photo sessions and 200 weddings in a single year. I have so much stuff that I have shot over the years that it’s hard to decide what to show you.
Phoblographer: Explain why the readers want to see your work.
AM: This would be the first time I really show my work to the world at large. There are certain things that I think are of value in my body of work:
- I have thousands of hours of experience in photography, all while making money. I want to think that has some value to your readers, especially if some of them are trying to make photography either a part-time or full-time job.
- I have shot portraits of numerous families (over 3000 by my .) I’ve worked in various countries, with people from many different parts of the world – some of them are famous people. I think there’s value in that because someone learning from my experience would be able to know without necessarily repeating the mistakes, facing the insecurity and the self-doubt that I’ve often had to face.
- I have shot many weddings, again, different cultures, religions, and demographics. Over 1500 weddings over the past decade or so, and I have experience teaching others how to capture the whole day. My teaching ranges from how to make sure you get the right photos to how to be assertive enough so that a group of 150 people (of which only half are sober) listen to you and do what you ask them to when it’s time to do the posed family and group portraits.
Phoblographer: What made you want to get into your genre?
AM: The portraits and weddings, I guess that was mainly because of work. I have become quite adroit. However, I don’t think there was a moment when I decided I wanted to do this in particular for a living. I just sort of grew into it. I also enjoy photography in most of its forms, but I prefer working with people and capturing genuine emotions rather than the more esoteric, conceptual stuff.
I am studying film photography and saving up for a medium format camera and lenses. The hope is that I might one day be featured in galleries. I know using film or not is not the disqualifying factor. It’s just my perception that shooting film would make each photograph a bit more valuable and harder to recreate on a whim.
Phoblographer: What motivates you to shoot?
AM: Photography is possibly the one thing that I am confident I can do well. It might sound like insecurity on my part, but I truly do like my photographs and looking at them. Even if they are not of my family or friends, they still fill me with joy, and I know they have the same effect or maybe even more so on many of my clients. I love it when clients show off the photos I took of them years ago or when they show me how large and prominent a print of my photographs is in their house. It makes me feel like I’m making the world a more beautiful place than I found it.