Miller Mobley Interview: How He Started Capturing World’s Most Famous Celebrities

Miller Mobley

Celebrity/advertising photographer Miller Mobley started taking portraits in college and knew one day he would be known for it. Instead of sitting around and dreaming, he taught himself the business of photography, listened to advice from those Miller Mobley respected, and at the moments when it mattered most, took big risks. It seems to have paid off.

Miller Mobley has taken portraits of many celebrities (including one of my favorite directors Quentin Tarantino), has completed commercial work with the likes of Nike, Land Rover, and Discover, and his portrait work has recognized by American Photography. But on top of it all, he loves what he does, from drawing up setups and lighting diagrams to seeing the final image. He’s an example of how hard work and ambition can truly pay off.

In this interview, Miller Mobley discusses how working with celebrities can be, how important pre-production is to his work, and how he approaches his portraiture.

portraits of many celebrities

You worked with New York Magazine, Time and ESPN among others. How did you get your start in portraiture? Was there a moment when you realized that your photography could led you this far?

I started taking portraits in college after seeing a book by Richard Avedon. From then on out I was always making new work and showing people. I knew that one day I wanted to be known for making portraits, but I did not know exactly how to get there. So I constantly shot new work, taught myself about the business, seeked a lot of advice from people I respected, and took some big risks.

Richard Avedon

How did you secure your first commercial shoot and what advice would you give to other aspiring commercial photographers?

My first commercial shoot was given to me while I was in college. I did not let being young or inexperienced hold me back in regards to showing my work to potential clients. I think that is the biggest thing that has helped my career. I was always creating personal work and showing it to whomever could possibly hire me for jobs. After a few months of making those relationships, I was asked to shoot an advertising campaign.

aspiring commercial photographers

You have worked with many celebrities and of course their demanding schedules. What advice would you share with other portrait photographers about setting up shoots and planning their concepts quickly?

To me, the key for quick paced celebrity shoots is detailed planning and preparation, but also leaving room for the unexpected to happen. My shoots are usually somewhat of a film production involving lots of equipment and people. When I only have 15 minutes with someone, every shot/setup is usually planned out. I then become influenced in other directions when I met the subject and start interacting. I take pre-production seriously and I actually enjoy it quite a bit – from drawing out setups and lighting diagrams, coming up with ideas, to making a mood board, to finding the location – I enjoy it all.

demanding schedules

Your portfolio also becomes vitally important when seeking high-profile projects. What goes through your mind in the selection process?

When editing my portfolio, I keep in mind how to please myself and also appeal to the world of commerce. I picked up a camera 5 years ago because I wanted to make images that moved me, I did not care about money. Now that it has become my career, I sometimes have to think more like a business. I put the images that I love in my portfolio. That’s the bottom line. But, now that I’ve progressed in my career, I feel like I give my images more thought. How would this fit into the editorial market? How does it feel with my overall portfolio? Does this look amateur? Was that a bad idea? Let’s get a 2nd opinion . . .  those are some questions that go through my head.

portfolio

When working with celebrities, say Christopher Walken, whose public personalities are so well known, how do you manage to individualize your photograph from the celebrity’s persona? Or is this not important?

I approach every photo shoot the same way. Obviously, there are some shoots that involve more pre-production, but for the most part I’m always shooting for myself. I go into the shoot thinking about how I want to portray the subject. What I want to say about this person. How I want to make the viewer feel. It usually just comes from somewhere deep down. The more you shoot, the more you become familiar with your instincts and what your feelings say.

Christopher Walken

You seem to study your subject’s faces a great deal before you shoot. Your portraits always seem to highlight the most visually interesting aspect of them. What do you think is the most important feature to focus on in portraiture? The eyes, smile, emotion?

I’ve actually never thought about it that way. I’m more interested in mood than a feature of the human body. When I light a photograph, I’m usually not looking to highlight anything specific. I’m usually looking to create a scene and set a tone for the feel of the shoot.

visually interesting

Being a photographer of the high-profiled and famous seems fun and like a dream job, but are there any hidden ugly bits? Or is it really as great as it sounds?

Things are never as glamorous as they seem to be. I honestly can’t say anything is truly ugly though. I feel so blessed to be able to wake up every morning and live out my dream of being a photographer. I love meeting interesting people. I love coming up with all the ideas that are involved in a shoot, and most of all I love seeing the final photograph that I created. I would say that the only downside can be when one of your subjects is not willing to collaborate, or if there’s not enough time, or when my favorite ideas get shot down. But overall, I have to say it’s pretty great and I couldn’t be more thankful.

(Here are links to the website and facebook of Miller Mobley.)

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