Interview: Michel Sauret

Hope you enjoy this interview with a very talented Pittsburgh wedding, portrait and military photographer Michel Sauret.  And be sure to check out his One Way Street Production website and also Facebook page.  Watch for many more postings in the coming days as well as several other GREAT interviews in the next couple of weeks!!

Are you originally from Pittsburgh? If not, where from? If so, what part?

– I was born in Rome, Italy and grew up there until the age of 10. When we moved to the States I didn’t know a lick of English. Okay, maybe six words. For a while, in fifth grade I walked around with note cards with helpful phrases just to get by. I’d say I learned most of my English by watching In Living Color and television. I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for the better part of 15 years now and I absolutely love this city. There are so many places to discover, especially for photo shoots. My wife and I live close to the North Shore and it’s one of our favorite locations to do our photos because there is so much variety to work with in one small area.

How long have you been in the Army? Current rank and where are you stationed?

-I joined the Army when I was 17 and am now closing in on eight years. In less than six years I made the rank of Staff Sergeant, which was pretty remarkable, but it definitely helped being part of a small Public Affairs unit with plenty of opportunity to move up the ranks. I work out of the Army Reserve center in Coraopolis, Pa.

When did you first pick up a camera and decide that photography was something that was of interest to you?

-Growing up, I was a pretty talented drawer. Thought I wanted to be an artist. Then my passion slowly changed to writing. Have had various short stories published here and there. That opened the door to Public Affairs in the Army for me, where you don’t have the luxury of assigning one writer and one photographer per story. Typically, if you’re writing a story, you better be taking pictures. So many times I would juggle a camera, a voice recorder, notepad and pen all while covering one assignment. I enjoyed photography enough, but I didn’t love it at first. Writing was my passion. Then I deployed to Iraq in 2008 and came back with 10,000 photos I took of Soldiers, the landscape, children… When I returned home, I applied for an internship with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and they snagged me right away. The only problem was that they wanted me to do some photography for them, while I was more interested in writing. Man was I wrong. As soon as I switched to photography I found a great passion for the craft. I got to learned and work with some amazing and talented people and learned on the job. That made me want to start my own business.

Any formal training in photography?

-I’ve never taken a class. I’ve picked up a book or two and I’m an avid fan of the Strobist Blog, but mostly I’ve been learning from doing. That’s the beauty of digital photography. I won’t lie. If we were still in the film “era” I would not be a photographer today. Learning from your mistakes on the spot is a phenomenal blessing. But I try not to “chimp” my screen as much as I used to when I first started off.

There are a lot of genres of photography…what was it about those that you specialize in that was so appealing?

-I love the aspect of photojournalism. I learned to shoot with a camera while photographing Soldiers in action, on helicopters, during night missions. That style translates so well with the shoots we do. Most of the time when I’m on a shoot, I just let people do what feels natural. If they suddenly strike a pose that looks good, I tell them to hold it, and once in a while, after getting comfortable with each other, I’ll provide more direction. But mostly I love capturing the natural flow of peoples actions and activities. Especially during weddings. There is nothing better than capturing the history of a day as it unfolds. Keep in mind that for brides and grooms, their wedding day is a historical moment. When I look at it that way, it pushes me to really pay attention to the details of their day.

I know you have been doing a lot of weddings and engagement shoots. Any advice to the blog readers on photographing these important life moments?

-I started off by studying the style of other photographers whom I admired. But more so, find photographers who have the same philosophy and style you do. Don’t just try to copy the best in general… learn from those photographers who are the best in the style you want to emulate. Then perfect it in your own way. I had a photo editor at the Post Gazette who kept telling me that if you take no risks, you’ll never set yourself apart. Try to take risks that only you are willing to take and no one else. That doesn’t necessarily mean shoot from the window of a moving vehicle, but rather figure out a way at looking at the world that doesn’t feel safe and comfortable.

Michel Sauret in action and uniform taking photos at an event on the North Shore of Pittsburgh for military veterans cycling across the US.

Speaking of genres, you have a pretty unique one being a photographer and in the Army. What sort of things have you been able to photograph as a result of this opportunity?

-Well, when you go to the Defense Information School (which is the public affairs school for the military) they really have some rigid rules that tend to be very anti-creative. But I’ve seen some pretty phenomenal Military photographers (especially combat cameramen) who break those rules and get the shots that make your toes tingle. The Army provided me with the best opportunity of my lifetime with my deployment to Iraq. When I came back, I was awarded the Keith L. Ware Journalist of the Year, which is a title that stands Army wide (to include reserve, guard and active duty). Sometimes, there are some pretty cool stories that come my way being in the Army… Just a few weeks ago I did a story on wounded veterans who rode their bicycles from coast to coast. A trek that took them 3,700 miles across America in 62 days. I came away with some nice shots.

Are there any major difference for shooting in the military than other forms of photography?

-I think the only difference is that with the Army you have to be more conscientious about breaking the rules. It’s easy to get sucked into the bubble of what everyone else is doing. But I’ve seen plenty of newer and younger Soldier do just that, and they produce some phenomenal shots.

The gear provided by the Army is not too shabby either. How about a quick run down of the gear you typically are shooting with in the military and then also for weddings.

-I love Nikon as a result of the Army. For a while we had some pretty old Nikon 2H cameras but very, very nice glass. All fast F2.8 stuff. Finally the Army has updated its gear and our unit is about to receive camera sets that are worth $18k each. It comes with two Nikon D300s bodies, F2.8 lenses, SB-900 strobes, and a Macbook with Adobe CS5 software. The Army treats us good.

Your wife is also involved in your wedding and portrait photography business. Tell me a little about this and how it is to work with your spouse (answer carefully!!).

-Actually, working with Heather is wonderful. Just like me, she’s learning to use the camera on the spot, and sometimes I have to remind myself to be patient with her because I definitely didn’t know any of the stuff I know now when I started out. But she’s getting better with every shoot. The best part about it is that she’s got a very good eye at catching angles and details. Sometimes when I get in the zone of shooting, I tend to go tunnel vision. She’s excellent at bringing me back and pointing out new angles.

Anything particularly exciting that you are working on right now or that you are looking forward to photographing in the next few months?

-I think every shoot we do excites me in some form or another because we really try hard at not repeating ourselves. We like to challenge and push ourselves with each shoot we do and find new spots around Pittsburgh. This August I will be gone to the National Training Center for some training event that should be pretty cool. Hopefully I’ll get to do some shooting if I’m not too busy running around making sure my Soldiers are doing their work 🙂

A common theme for me in questions on the blog is favorite movies or something about super heroes. So if you could have any super hero power, what would it be and would it provide any added benefit to your photography work?

-I don’t wish for any super powers. My only hero is Christ, and I just wish to be more and more humble every day to serve Him and live righteously by God. All of my blessings and talents are from Him, and it’s something I have to remind myself every day.