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Elan Vitae

magazine

  • J Bristol

FEATURED ARTIST SERIES: MICHAEL GIORDANO, NATURE AND LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER




Some artists have a magic way of layering complexity and simplicity and Mike Giordano is one of those artists. He has followed his lens deep into the woods, to the tops of mountains, and beyond the clouds to capture the moon and the stars. While the technicalities and creativity of photography excite him, his only purpose for sharing his work is to create pleasure for others.


To follow is our conversation about his journey as a creative:


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Hello everyone and welcome to Elan Vitae Magazine, featured artist interview. I am so excited to be here with Michael Giordano, who is a nature and landscape photographer and does absolutely incredible work. I cannot wait to dive in with him about his creative process, how he came to be this incredible photographer and what he does to inspire himself and others through that medium. So welcome Mike. It's a pleasure to be here with you.


Michael Giordano:

Thanks for having me.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Absolutely. Well, I'm so curious. I'd love to hear just about your journey into photography and how that became your medium of choice to express yourself.


Michael Giordano:

I'd say I've always liked to be outside, but I wouldn't do the typical things. I don't really hunt or fish, but I do like hiking and I've always been into art and my dad always tried to get me into painting and I think it was just one of those things where photography was just less of a mess. So I gravitated towards that, growing up with computers, I think working with Adobe Photoshop and school projects and everything, I always had an interest in editing and how that worked and just everything came together. It was a blend of being able to go do things, take a camera with you, edit, and like I said earlier, just I liked the art aspect, I liked the technology aspect, and then one thing just led to another and I just kept getting deeper and deeper into it.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Wonderful. Okay, so I have to ask for all the equipment junkies out there, what do you shoot with? What are your primary camera lenses, things that are your go-to that you like to shoot with?


Michael Giordano:

The first camera I got was a Canon T2i, and that's their starter. That was probably the first serious removable lens. So I stuck with Canon since once you buy into a camera system, you're pretty much stuck. But I've always shot Canon as my main body and lens. I do have other things. I got a little Sony crop sensor just for video, and then I force myself to use it from time to time, but then it's tricky matching colors, so I just end up shooting a Canon anyway. But so I use that if I go biking or if I'm in the woods and on the beach and I don't want to ruin my camera, I'll take a GoPro. And then a lot of my shots in the air are on a djI Mavic 2 Pro. Yeah, I always mess up whether it's a pro 2 or 2 pro, but it's the older Mavic 2 Pro, so a few different cameras. But mainly I'd say if you're on my Instagram, you're probably looking at the Canon and the Mavic 2.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Well, and so much of it is beyond the equipment. There's the perspective and the intention behind what you're capturing, and it doesn't take anyone very long after a scroll through your Instagram to realize that you have a really strong relationship with nature. And so tell me about that, your relationship with nature and how it inspires you or what you're shooting and when and how that inspires or influences you.


Michael Giordano:

I would say where I live, it's all around and so it's a great benefit. I remember listening to a podcast or YouTube video years ago, and they made a good point is when you go visit a place, usually the best photos of that place are taken by locals because they can always be there when the conditions are great. And I feel like light has a lot to do with good landscape photography. So I'm lucky that I don't have to drive very far to get to some really great places. And so it was just one of those things where I was already doing that. This is home. And so it just got to the point where I had a camera with me and then I would take photos and then obviously they wouldn't turn out how I wanted 'em to turn out. And so I'd just start researching how these people take photos and it just kept building. But yeah, I would say the whole nature aspect of it came first and it's just easy. I've taken photos of people before and I like doing that because that's always different, but landscape's just easy. You don't have to worry about too many things can take your time for the most part and just wait around for the light to change.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

That's an amazing point: you don't think about those things of how you have to anticipate the light or the conditions or the weather or what's happening and having it in your backyard can make a difference of your accessibility of being able to optimize those conditions that you want to be able to capture. So that's really beautiful.


Michael Giordano:

I'd say it's probably the most frustrating part about when you travel is that you're usually on a schedule and you're at places at the worst time of day, like midday, harsh light. And I feel like I always think to myself, I wish I had a van that I could just hang out in until the sun starts to go down. But yeah, I'd say a lot of the Pennsylvania photos I get it's just because I'm here 24 /7 and it's the thing where I know where the sun's going to be at. So I feel like it's kind of an advantage wherever you're at and you live, you can probably get some really good photos of it if you just pay attention and learn the surroundings.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Yeah. Well, that's a really good point, but also you seem to get around pretty well. You are not limited just to where you live. You seem to capture beach and mountains and different seasons and the moon and east coast, west coast. I've seen so many of your really wonderful captures that I'm curious whether your travel inspires the photography or your photography is inspired by the travel. Which comes first? Do you travel so you can take pictures or do you take pictures because you're already planning to be there?


Michael Giordano:

I'd say both. I'd say mainly though it's worked out to where I just take my camera along. I'm usually visiting family a lot, so if I'm traveling down the coast or on some family vacation, I'll take my camera and if we're at the beach, I'll wake up for a sunrise or wait for a sunset. But there's only been maybe two or three trips where it's been a dedicated - I want to go there to take photos. So I think I went somewhere - I went to Colorado pre-pandemic in 2019 to take photos and that was a really great trip. And then just got back from New England. But where we're at, we're really lucky too. We have so many good places that you can get to even in a day trip. I'm almost embarrassed to say I live two hours from Letchworth State Park, and I've never been there until a few years ago, but it's one of the best places. It was ranked, I think the best state park in America in 2017 or whatever. But we have the Finger Lakes. There's so many great places in Pennsylvania to go to that if you just plan it out. It's almost like travel photography in itself. We're pretty lucky up here.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Yeah, absolutely. And some of your shots take on a bit of an adventurous bent. I've seen you on mountain bikes and hiking trails and things. What's the most adventurous shot that you've gotten or the adventurous thing you've done to capture the moment in photography?


Michael Giordano:

Probably last week, two places. So I'm scared to death of heights. I was in New Hampshire and there's this trail called table. It's a table rock. It's either tabletop rock or table rock, but it's a half mile trail up to this flat rock. It's like 800 feet elevation and you just go out on the ledge, which I couldn't bring myself to do. So I got the best shots I could get. That's why I have a drone. I don't do well with heights, but that was probably one of the most scary experiences I've always wanted to do on my bucket list of Zion and that Angel's Landing trail, which I made peace with myself. I don't think, I don't have that one in me, but I'd say that. And then I drove up Mount Washington and basically had a snowstorm at the top. So you're on those mountain roads that are very narrow and it just turns into a whiteout really fast and ended up turning around. But I'd say those are the two craziest things I've done are the only times where I felt like I was putting myself a little extra risk to get a shot. But most of the time I am pretty conservative. I don't do too much to try to get something above and beyond what other people are doing. It's just not that worth it to me.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

There's so much of that extreme influencer falling off a cliff because I have to have that perfect photo thing, and I've never felt that about your photos when I scroll through your feed. I feel this sense of adventure that you take people along with you in a way that's really inspiring, and that's why I was curious kind of what you were feeling as you were doing those things that are a little more adventurous because I feel like I find them inspiring. I'm sure other people do too, but not in a way that makes me feel scared or that's an idealistic shot. It's like there's a beautiful experience that you have not only had for yourself, but you've also captured beautifully in the form of a photo. And I think that really radiates through your work and what makes it seem and feel very authentic. And so that's where that question sort of was born from, but what is it that you hope people feel when they experience your work?


Michael Giordano :

I don't know. I ask myself that from time to time, but I don't really think about it too much or get that deep into it. I know when most people take photos, they have intent and things, and I'd say most of the time I take a photo, it's just I really enjoy how the light looks or the colors are just very basic, simple things. And mainly just to keep a memory of it. I like going through my own feed and seeing things that I've done. I'd say if I had to inspire people to do anything, it would just be to get out and do things that you enjoy. And if you want to capture it and make it look cool, then do it. And if not, that's okay too. I think that's one of the things that I used to when I first started doing this too, is I always felt like I needed to make everything look perfect and fit the Instagram style photo. And anymore it's just like now I fight harder to get out of habits of what everybody else is doing, which is hard to do. I feel like there's so many photos that eventually you're going to look like somebody else's photos and everything. So I'd say just go and do what you're already doing and enjoy it and not think about it too much. But yeah, if you're coming to my page and you're thinking for deep messages and everything like that, you probably won't find it.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae :

Well, I think that's the interesting thing is your images don't really require a lot of words. They stand alone and the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It's your shot and what you captured and what your intention was could mean something totally different to somebody else. But I think there's something that carries through and your appreciation of the moment that, I don't know, it's just kind of imbued in that shot. And I feel like that is what gives people permission to then appreciate those things as well for whatever they mean to them. And so that's kind of what has really struck me about your work. Is there anywhere that you haven't been yet that you would like to capture through your lens?


Michael Giordano:

I would like to go out west. I haven't been out west too much. I went to Colorado for a few days, but I'd really like to do a little western road trip and hit some national parks like Zion, Banff would be my list of places that I'd like to go see. I've always wanted to go to Iceland for the Auroras, but that would probably be my, if I had to pick top three, I know there's a lot of exotic places and everybody's trying to go where nobody else has gone and those are probably all played out. But growing up here, I've always liked seeing mountains because in Pennsylvania especially where we're at is I tell people all the time, it's hard to see more than a few hundred yards out in front of you, whether it's the hills or the trees, there's not really open spaces. So when I visit places where it's just wide open, it's very different for me and I like it. So I do like being on mountaintops because even around here we have hills, but you're still limited. There's still so many trees around.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Yeah, you're in it rather than looking at it from afar.


Michael Giordano:

Yeah, so I'd say out west would be if I had to go somewhere tomorrow and keep it simple. And that's another thing, I like keeping things simple too. I don't like flying and all the headaches that go with it. I would prefer to be able to drive everywhere, so a lot of that dictates things too. If I can just pack a bunch of gear and I'm terrible at packing, so I usually pack too much, but I'll just load everything into a car and then if I can drive around to places, that would be ideal.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae :

Then you might have a destination mind, but you just never know what you might encounter along the way. Could be an amazing treasure too.


Michael Giordano:

Some of my favorite photos are just pulling over and getting a shot and then going on, and a lot of the times I'll take a picture and I don't know how it'll do until I start messing around with it. From my New England trip of all the photos that I've posted, I think the one people like the most is when I pulled over for 30 seconds or took a picture, then just kept driving.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Isn't that amazing? So amazing. I love that. Oh, I love just getting to connect to your creative process and what inspires you. And no matter what someone's medium is, I feel like they can draw from what drives somebody else and what fuels somebody else and what has inspired or what they've allowed to come through them creatively. And so I would love to know what advice you might offer to someone who wanted to get started in photography or was thinking about, Hey, how do I get better at this? Where do I start to go learn or how do I start to express myself creatively, whether it's photography or not?


Michael Giordano:

I would say learn lighting, because anymore people do focus on gear and I think gear does matter quite a bit. I'm not going to be one of those that say gear doesn't matter. It's like anything else. If you have nice gear, it helps out tremendously. But you always see, whenever we have new phones come out like a new iPhone, they'll always show you a commercial and they are shot on iPhones, but the lighting is very professional and so of course it's going to look nice. And if you take a camera, a very nice camera out midday and you start taking photos, it's going to look just like how you would take it on your iPhone. Where gear matters is when you start to get into, I would say different lighting situations that you need something with a bigger sensor that can let more light in or whatever.


So I would say if you get into it, you can figure out the type of stuff you like doing and not doing. I personally like editing. A lot of people don't like it. They just want to take photos and do that. Or if you're working with people, you have to understand what makes people look good as opposed to landscape and you're going to need different equipment. I feel like lenses are much more important than the camera body. And then I feel like there's, if you have to go down a list of what is important, I'd say it's first lighting and then it would be the lens and then the camera body, and then if you start getting into the artistic side of it, there's color theory and all that and complimentary colors, which I try to do sometimes, but most of the time I just, I'm not that well thought out to sit there and think, okay, well purple if you wear something purple, it's going to look good against the green in the woods.


But a lot of people, and I'll say too is one thing that this will probably not be popular in the photography community, but I always feel like presets are kind of way overblown. A lot of people make money doing that, and I think that is great, but at the same time, what they don't tell you is those presets usually only work in certain lighting conditions. Again, if you apply their presets midday, they're not going to look good at all. It's not going to transform your photo. But then at the same time, if you start really understanding that, then probably don't need the preset, but they are good. I develop presets and I just will apply it and then most of the time I'll just get frustrated and start over. But I would say, yeah, I'd say learn lighting and then if you think you like it, then I would get more expensive gear. It's just like anything else you can, I would say if you're going to mow the lawn, you can do it with a push mower, you can do it with a big rider, you'll do the same thing. It's just going to be a lot easier to do it with.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Right. Yeah, absolutely. It's okay to start with the training wheels and then take them off and then upgrade and all that. Yeah, no, that's really great advice and very thorough actually, for somebody who's thinking about doing it and great to have that perspective. I am so happy we got to have this conversation today. Where can people find you? Your Instagram is the primary location for your photography, right? What is your Instagram handle? People want to find you and check out your work.


Michael Giordano:

My full name and middle initial, so it'd just be Michael C Giordano.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

Excellent.


Michael Giordano:

It's an easy Handle.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

That's okay. We'll make sure it's written with this video and with your article so that people can come and check out your work. I hope that they will. I hope you guys will visit @MichaelCGiordano on Instagram. Check out his incredible landscape and nature photography. Mike, thank you so much for being here and for sharing your story, for your inspiration on creativity and just sharing your work with the world.


Michael Giordano:

Thanks for having me. This is great.


Jennifer Bristol for Elan Vitae:

My pleasure. Take care.



See full video interview here:



Sample of artist's work:




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