ORLANDO, Fla. – Michael Cairns is a self-taught photographer with an extensive art background. Working professionally for more than 25 years in his Orlando, Fla., photography studio, Wet Orange Studio, his impressive client portfolio spans the best in entertainment, business and commercial industries. His personality and ability to warm people up quickly make him perfectly suited to bring out the best in everyone.
Q: How old were you when you decided upon photography as a profession, and why did you pursue entertainment photography, specifically?
Michael: I didn’t consider photography as a career option until after college and realizing that I was going to be very unhappy sitting at a desk all day on a deadline as an animator. Photography was always a tool for my art and nothing more. I happened to start my career in Orlando just as it was shaping up to be the new Hollywood back in the early 90s.
Q: How many years have you been a professional entertainment photographer, and what was your first professional gig?
Michael: I started in 1989 and did headshots in my mom’s living room for a choreographer from Walt Disney World, Pam Killinger.
Q: Where did you grow up, and was entertainment photography popular in your area?
Michael: I grew up in little Orlando, and there was no such thing at the time.
Q: What year did you open your studio, and how have you seen it evolve? What makes the ideal space for you to take photos?
Michael: I opened an actual studio in 1990. As a business, it evolves with the economy, expanding and declining as the economic wind blows. An ideal space no matter the size is a place where you feel creative: My favorite studio was not the biggest but the one that allowed me to use my imagination.
Q: You’re a self-proclaimed, self-taught photographer who quickly earned a reputation for being THE entertainment photographer in the Central Florida area. How did you learn the fundamentals?
Michael: I learned by copying the work of the very best photographers; my favorite being George Hurrell. He was the guy in the 1930s that you had to go to in Hollywood if you were going to make it. I liked his approach to photography as well as how he treated his clients.
Q: What courses and software would you recommend for people interested in studying photography?
Michael: Get an entry-level camera and use it every day until you’ve outgrown it, and then start investing in better gear.
Q: Do you recommend specific equipment and brand of camera for different skill levels?
Michael: No; it’s all based on budget and expertise. Buy an inexpensive model and outgrow it. I see people making the mistake of spending too much money on equipment they don’t know how to use.
Q: You specialize in entertainment headshots, model composites, promo sessions and family portraits, and a large majority of your business is now in corporate and commercial photography. Do you have a favorite type of session?
Michael: Dance; the excitement of getting a shot at the right time is exhilarating.
Q: Who needs a headshot and/or a composite card?
Michael: Anyone who plans to be successful.
Q: How important is a proper headshot? What do you try to accomplish in a headshot session?
Michael: I always want energy in the shot; if you don’t look like you’re fun or interesting, there’s no reason for anyone to take a second look at you.
Q: Even for the most seemingly outgoing entertainers, many people are nervous to have their photo taken. What can people do to prepare for the best possible photo session? Do you have a special technique to get them to relax in session?
Michael: DON’T DRINK! I don’t start a session until I know that person is comfortable with me no matter how long it takes. Best piece of advice: BE EARLY. Running late will always stress you out, and the person you’re going to see will feel that you don’t respect his or her time.
Q: What should people wear for their headshots?
Michael: Keep it simple; stick to classics. As an actor you should dress similar to the characters in which you will most likely be cast.
Q: How important is it to have a professional makeup artist for a photography session?
Michael: Very important if you are not comfortable with doing it yourself.
Q: Do you have any pet peeves in the studio or during sessions?
Michael: BEING LATE.
Q: Have you ever had a difficult client? What made it a difficult session?
Michael: Fortunately not often, but usually it’s with someone who doesn’t understand the industry or the local needs.
Q: You provide a list of reputable Central Florida talent agencies, entertainment industry training resources, talent agency pet peeves, auditions and events on your website. Why is it important to you to share these resources?
Michael: The more informed my clients are, the more likely they will be successful and cause others to ask how they did it, which points back to me.
Q: Your son has had a lifelong career in films and commercials, starting from a very young age. Has that influenced the way you run your business and offer advice and training to clients?
Michael: I was able to witness poor behavior of actors and their parents on set and the damage it causes to their career. He will be successful because he has seen the value of hard work and how clients should be treated.
Q: Where can people see a list of your session rates and class schedules?
Q: What inspires you?
Michael: Motion; freezing that moment the eye didn’t have time to appreciate.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Q: What has been the highlight(s) of your career?
Michael: Working with screen legend Vincent Price – the only time I have ever been nervous. He made a point of making me comfortable, which is something I’m always trying to do with my clients.
Q: What percentage of your job is devoted to business and marketing?
Michael: One-third of my job is devoted to business and marketing, especially with social media and the fact that I am a one-man show again.
Q: What is next for you? What goals have you not reached yet?
Michael: Long term I will probably end up working for my son’s production company (Mumblefilms) and enjoy the photography I want to do rather than what others want.
Q: To what would you give credit for your success?
Michael: Being kind and funny and terribly handsome.
Q: Who were your mentors?
Michael: George Hurrell; I read everything I could about him.
Q: Do you have a favorite book, movie, song or photographer?
Michael: Book: “The Reluctant Messiah”; film: “Braveheart”; and I love the work of Lois Greenfeld.
Q: How do you stay current on photography trends?
Michael: Social media and Flipboard, but I try not to be influenced by others very much. I want my style to be mine.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone wishing to become an entertainment photographer or model in Central Florida?
Michael: Work every day making baby steps toward your goals; stay in line. You’re competing against quitters, so before you know it you’ll be at the head of the line.
Q: What business advice do you have for actors?
Watch this video to see Michael’s answer.
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