So, What’s your day job?

A conversation with Michael Gan

The Picture Coach– “What’s your day job”
Michael Gan– I’m a labor and employment lawyer in my twentieth year of practice. I represent labor unions and employees in a variety of contract matters. My work takes me all over the country. I’ve been to every state in the U.S., except for Alaska

TPC–In you day job, is there any chance to use your photography skills?
MG–I wish there were. I do make training films every year and we have really upgraded our efforts in the video department. We bought two Canon HD video cameras two years ago. The end product is pretty impressive for a bunch of lawyers. I like to shoot tight shots of our subjects, try never to put them in the center of the frame, and generally try to keep it interesting. In our last film, I sat on the floor to capture the conversation of two people talking “above” me. It was an unexpected vantage point and worked especially well. I would not have tried that had I not taken still pictures like that before.

TPC–When did you first start shooting?
MG–I was probably in third or fourth grade when I started taking pictures with a Kodak Instamatic. I grew up in Los Angeles and used to take it to LA Dodger games and shoot from the second deck. I never quite understood why the players came out looking like ants.

TPC–Tell us about your early days with a camera?
MG–After the Instamatic, I upgraded to the Minolta XG 7 and began taking lots of pictures and getting them developed at Fotomat. I didn’t have a real focus to my photography – I just liked experimenting. I had to be careful because I didn’t have any darkroom skills and getting the film developed was super expensive so I experimented in a controlled way. If we had digital cameras back then I probably would have shot a thousand frames a month. Several years later, I inherited my grandfather’s Nikkormat FT with a bunch of interchangeable lenses and filters and realized what the possibilities were.

TPC–Any awards or anything you remember about those early years
MG–I did not enter any competitions but was the sports editor of my high school newspaper. We had several staff photographers so I became a photo editor early on. One kid was terrific but the others weren’t great. They didn’t understand why their images rarely appeared in the paper. That experience helped me hone my own photography skills, which were still pretty raw.

TPC–What was the single thing that attracted you to photography in those early days
MG–I suppose initially it was capturing moments in people’s lives or places we visited but then I started to enjoy the creativity that was basically built-in to the camera. You could change a setting here or there and get a totally different image.

TPC–Currently, how often do you get to pickup the camera and shoot?
MG–In the summer when I tend to have more time I shoot three times a week. The rest of the year it is probably closer to once a week.

TPC–Do you have a favorite subject?
MG– I love to shoot swimming – not just because my kids are competitive swimmers but because the water often adds something very special to the picture.

TPC–What the next piece of gear you’d like to buy?
MG–I’m about to purchase a Canon 7D. I could use more frames/second because I often shoot sports (I have a 30D now) but what I really look forward to is using the 7D to shoot HD video. I know the learning curve will be high but I have seen some incredible projects filmed on the 7D. I also wouldn’t mind a Canon 300mm, f2.8 but it would bust my budget. I can’t justify a Canon 15mm fisheye either. I know I would have little use for it. Finally, I have my eyes on an underwater housing that would enable me to produce images from the bottom of a swimming pool. That is definitely on my wish list.

TPC–Mr. Mega-millions drops my your house and leaves you a rather large present. You can say good-bye to the day job. You are now a full time photographer and able to go and do anything. What kind of pictures would you be making?
MG–I would travel far and wide spending time at various World Championship and Olympic competitions shooting swimming, track and field, and skiing. I would raft down the Colorado River making pictures along the way and I might even try shooting surfing from the water. After I got that out of my system, I would try my hand working for a major news outlet. I don’t know what it’s like to shoot on deadline or without much, if any, advance planning. Many photographers might gravitate away from that kind of work but I know I would find it exciting and challenging.

TPC–Let’s talk about any photo heroes you might have. Who’s work do you admire and why.
MG–I am a huge fan of Donald Miralle ( ) and Al Bello ( ). They both bring incredible creativity to quite ordinary moments. They shoot from neat angles, use color in ways I wish I would have thought of, and make old subjects look new and different. They seem to have incredible access to whatever sporting event they are covering.

TPC–Tell us about your favorite photo. What does it look like, where did you take it, how does it make you feel and what equipment did you use.
MG–It is hard to single out one photo but one of my favorites was taken several years ago at our neighborhood pool. It is a picture of four boys standing shoulder to shoulder at the end of a swim meet. I didn’t tell them how to pose but the way they stood there in absolutely perfect light made me think of Life magazine circa 1965. The expressions are great, the background is clean, and the image looks great enlarged to 16×20. It’s framed and hanging in my den.

TPC—Michael’s timing was perfect as he captured the swimmer at the moment they broke the surface of the water. As with all good sports photos—timing, timing, timing.

TPC—I worked with Michael last summer to create a camera mount so he could shoot straight down on the swimmers. He attached the camera to a diving board and used a long shutter release to fire the camera. There was no way of really knowing what the camera was seeing but he managed again to get a great moment.

TPC—This head-on shot of a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke is kind of a staple of swimming photography but trust me it is not as easy as it may look. Michael has a ton of these shots but I picked this one because it’s super sharp and I love the reflection in the water. The fact that it’s his son is an added bonus for me.

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One Response to “So, What’s your day job?”

  1. Charles Alexander says:

    Michael’s shots of swimmers are exciting and enthralling. I would hope a book would be in his future.

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