Tell us a little bit about yourself and what did you do before becoming a photographer?
Well my name is Mika Levälampi and I am a fulltime professional photographer from Helsinki, Finland. I have a 20+ years background in the Food- and Beverage business before becoming a full time photographer so it was pretty natural for me to start working in that industry as a photographer as well. So many of my early clients wanted me to shoot bottles, glasses, drinks in glasses and so on so I had to figure out how to shoot reflective products early on in my career.
I used to work as a Bartender, Flair Bartender (3 x National Champion) and a bartender educator for many many years, so many of my customers appreciate the fact that they usually don’t have to hire a bartender, or stylist for drink photo shoots for example, I can both shoot and make the drinks myself. In some cases I even design the final recipes for the clients.
How did you start with commercial product photography? Can you remember your first client?
Don’t really remember my first commercial client in product photography, but i think it was shooting wine bottles for a local importer..
How did you learn photography? Who was the biggest influence in your beginnings?
When I decided to go “all in” into photography I quit my job at the moment (I was an entrepreneur already at that time) I took 1 year off and studied photography online 8-10 hours a day, and practicing in my home studio I built in my garage, living basically completely on my savings.
It wasn’t cheap, but it was effective. After that I joined a photography school and studied for 2 years (while working as a photographer at the same time) and completed my first examination in photography. I have since studied for 3 more years after that and completed 2 more examinations (VAT & MEAT).
I have also been awarded with the “Master photographer” title (2019) in product photography by the Finnish Professional Photographers Association. I also got the QEP nomination by the Federation of European Photographers in 2018.
In your studio, what does your typical day look like?
That depends on what I´m going to shoot that day, I do photograph people for companies as well, not only products, though product photography is my major work. All of my work is basically business related, I usually don’t work with private clients at all.
After I taken the kids to school (I got two, a boy and a girl, ages 8 & 10) I usually go to the studio around 10:00 am (I hate morning traffic, so if I don’t have to, then I won´t drive in the morning rush..) 😁
If I´m going to shoot something that involves props of some kind, drinks, fruits, flowers whatever it might be, then I will get those before going to the studio. I usually don’t work with an assistant, so it means I have to take care of everything that goes into the shoot myself.
Describe your ideal client.
The one that gives me a beautiful product (a nice whiskey bottle for example) and says: “- Do what you like, we want to see your take on the product..” Has happened a couple of times and its always awesome when it does..! 😁
What’s your most used studio gear?
Hmm.., my flashes..? C-stands perhaps..? I don’t really know, I basically never shoot anything in natural light, so I always use my flash units, for the moment I use Godox system, both flash and led lights. I got 9 x studio flash units, and 5 x LED units. I´m also a big believer in light meters, I always meter my light.
Let’s talk about software. What tools do you use to manage your projects?
Smugmug is a big part of my workflow for distributing my images to the client. I also use Wetransfer a lot. Otherwise I tend to use Notes on the Mac Os and stuff like that, nothing too fancy. I´m also a heavy user of Google calendar for keeping my schedule up to date.
Post-production; what software do you use to manage and edit your images.
I tether all my shots to Capture One, cause it’s just the best software for that, but I usually don´t edit in Capture One. Most of my edits start in Lightroom and go to Photoshop from there, then I usually give them the “finishing touch” in Lightroom.
Do you retouch your images yourself or outsource the process?
It depends, I retouch all of my product photography, but some of my portrait work gets edited by others.
What’s your opinion about CGI in product photography?
Well it’s very much a big part of future product photography for sure, I don’t think it will replace the traditional (High end) product photography anytime soon, but catalogue work might be replaced by it pretty soon.. 🤷♂️
How do you promote yourself? What marketing challenges do you face currently?
I run ads on Google, and try to be seen on social media as everyone else and so on, but it’s a constant fight for exposure, that’s for sure..
Your top advice for an aspiring photographer?
Learn your craft. There aren’t any short cuts, if you wanna get good, then you have to put in the hours. Don’t overlook traditional schools, you can learn a lot on the web, but there is a lot to learn in the traditional way as well, and in a real school you tend to build up a real network of creative minded friends as well, which can be hard to do if you just study on the web.