An Interview with Michele Quigley
Lancaster native, Michele Quigley, took time to chat with us about the importance of women leaving their legacy in photo form, regardless of their age. She also explained how her photography endeavors have become a family affair. Read on to learn more about Michele!
We met about a year ago at the Strasburg Photowalk. Had you been to photowalks before that?
I had not. Actually, I think it was my second, because I did one downtown with Tyler (Deiter). That's where I met most of the people.
How did you find out about Tyler’s photowalk?
Facebook. I started seeing that there was a Facebook Instagramers, because Facebook will show you recommended groups that people you know are part of. I joined the group there.
What was leading you to find this group?
I really like connecting with my community. I grew up in Lancaster County. My husband was in the military, so we moved away for a while, and then came back to Lancaster County to live. We bought a house in Lancaster, and the people in the county were like, “Oh, you bought a house in Lancaster?” There's a big difference between the county, and the town!
When you say you lived in the county, which area?
We both went to Pequea Valley, so that area. Paradise is where my parents lived. One of the things I love about Lancaster, and Lancaster County, is how easy it is to be connected. A friend of mine came to visit from New York a couple of years ago, and she remarked that when we went to the grocery store, I was talking to the guy behind the meat counter, and I was talking to a lady over there. Because, that's just where I shop, and everyone's chatting with each other. Like, when I go to Turkey Hill, everyone knows you, because that;s the one you always go to. So for me, connecting with local photographers just made sense. They are my “neighbors”.
Had you been shooting for a while?
It's funny that you're asking me, because I was just thinking about that the other day. I've had a camera in my hand since I was a kid! One of those Instamatics with the flashes you had to install. I had a Kodak disc camera that I just loved, and I have boxes and boxes of photographs, because I was always taking photos of my kids for years. So, I've been taking pictures for a long time. I really didn't start focusing on getting better with photography until I went to England in 2003. I got my first SLR for that trip specifically.
And we'll get back to that, but let's talk about the pictures of your kids. You have ten kids!
The kids who have been born more recently, have they been treated to better photography than the flash cube?
It was so easy to get prints with those, and you would get double of everything. My last four children, I have a lot of digital photos, and I haven’t been very good about getting prints of those. They want to see those too, but then we have to go find them.
So, do you have albums of the first few?
No, I'm really bad about albums, so they're just in boxes.
Do you find it therapeutic to organize them?
Depends on the day. I still have a lot of negatives I have all the negatives, because there wasn't a option to scan photos like there is now. I should probably get rid of them, but why not keep them?
With ten kids, you are leaving quite a legacy! Thousand of years from now, people are going to look back and see all that.
One of the things I've always tried to do, and I think I started this with my oldest baby (I would take pictures of him daily, and send them to my husband at Basic Training), was to write information on the back of the photos. I've noticed that you really have to write these things down, because so many of my kids look alike! I’m the only one who can tell who is who sometimes! Also, how many times do you see really old photographs, and you have no idea who the people are? A hundred years from now, you're going to want to know who those people are, or the date the photo was taken.
How does that relate to your digital storage? Are you good at filing?
Yes. I've gotten much better at filing, and I use the Cloud and an external hard drive, because I don't want to lose anything.
What about comments?
I can usually tell who is who, and the dates are on the data. You don’t have to worry about when it was taken, because all of that is already there.
Let's go back to London, tell me more about your trip.
That's where I got my spark. I wasn’t digital (yet), I had an SLR. I just had more time to pay attention to that, and I let myself learn the camera. I'd spent most of my time using instant cameras, because that was all I had time for. I really tried to work the light, and play with this and that. But, before the internet, you were sort of limited to what you could find at the library, or who you knew as far as a source of information. And, for a mother who is raising her children, being able to go out and access that information just wasn’t as easy until we had the internet.
So, you were only comparing your work against your other work.
Right. And for years, I had babies, so I couldn't just go out and meet a photography group, or take a class.
Did you feel like you had that urge?
Yes, I think so, artistically speaking. I like to call myself obsessively creative. I just have to be doing something creative!
Besides photography, what are some other outlets for you?
I like to make things.
Oh yes, all kinds of costumes.
And, you kids get to benefit from that!
Yeah. I made the dress for a recent shoot with my oldest daughter, and I love doing that, and styling everything. But yes, costumes. My kids always had great costumes!
You've told me before that you want to expand your portrait photography. You have your daughter doing the makeup, and you can make the costumes. Seems like you have the total package going on there.
Yes, that part of my photography, women’s portraiture, is a sort of full-service thing that we offer. A little pampering, fabulous hair and makeup, and the best photographs you've ever had taken of yourself. It kind of feels like a magazine style shoot. It’s fun, but it’s more than that, because I want women to really see their beauty, the one the people that love them see, and that they need to exist in photos. We women tend to be behind the camera a lot. There are way more photos of my kids and husband then there are of me, because I’m the usually one taking the pictures!
Your daughter has recently become a model, have you ever done that yourself?
No, but I recently did a photoshoot just to see what it was like. It's hard. It really is difficult!
What's the difficult part about it?
Feeling comfortable, knowing what to do, and how to pose. What we do in our photo sessions is set up, all the posing, and giving constant direction. You come in, we do your hair and makeup, and then I pose you, right down to every little detail. One of the things that I think happens during a photoshoot is that you feel awkward, because you don't know what to do. What I’ve been doing over the last several years is learning the posing, and how to really work it to your advantage. It’s amazing what you can do. Heck, I can take twenty pounds off of you just by posing you correctly! It’s all about the lighting, and the posing.
Do you have any quick tips for posing?
Chin forward, and down. Women tend to raise their chin, and push it backwards. That’s pretty much the most unflattering pose you can do. Push that chin out towards the camera, and tilt it down slightly. Trust me, it works.
Was your daughter your first muse in that you used her to practice your photography skills?
Well, I took a lot of pictures of my boys too, but she's my first daughter, so I did take a lot of pictures of her.
How did you get into portrait photography then?
It was a natural progression for me. My sister would always ask me to bring my camera to functions and events, because she liked the way that I took pictures. The more I did it, the more I liked doing it, and what I really liked was capturing beautiful pictures of people. People would say to me, “I’ve never seen such a good picture of myself!” I love hearing that, and I love being able to do it...to offer it as a service.
Do you have any interest in other types of photography?
Landscapes, when I travel.
Like your Ireland photos?
Yes. There's just so much beauty to be captured there. But, nothing really excites me the way that portraits do. I see so much value in that. With selfies, it's easy to take pictures of ourselves now. But, there aren’t necessarily many truly good pictures of ourselves out there. I want to be able to provide those, especially for women, who really do need to exist in photographs.
My mother died unexpectedly four years ago, and while we have a few good photos of her, there aren't as many as I would have liked. Very little from her middle years, when I remember her the most during my childhood. I have pictures of her when she was younger, and they are lovely, but I didn’t know her then. I wanted pictures of the mom I knew. And, there is a gap in there. I feel like that happens with women...they feel old, or unattractive, or that they're carrying too much weight. We all go through that, but your kids don’t care about that! Your kids love you, and your husband loves you! Exist in photos for your family!
So, preserving your legacy for your family?
Yes, absolutely, but also giving yourself permission to be beautiful, and to be seen! And, not just you, but you with your family, your children, your husband. Things can happen unexpectedly, and photos are the kinds of things you're going to want to have. I wish I had my pictures of me with my mother, and I don’t. We're working on that in my family. I’m trying to get me in there too!
Does that mean that one of your kids is picking up the camera more?
Yes, a few of my kids are, and my husband too. It’s a family thing for us. Right now, my girls are great assistants, and they love helping me out, so down the road, we'll see where that goes. I have a family of artists. Some more so than others, but all inclined to it in some way. My oldest son is a filmmaker. We did an online TV show that was even on LCTV here in Lancaster. Recently, we did a photoshoot for a project of his, and he's really good with lighting, as I am with the camera, and my daughter is with makeup, and styling. We find we make a really great team! It's fun working with family.
What other types of portrait photography do you do then? Weddings?
I don’t do weddings...too much pressure, and stress! But, I do some events, and I often do photos of my church events. But, weddings? No.
You like a more controlled shoot style then.
I do. I like being able to control the lighting, and what's going on. That's why I like doing it in the studio, it's just a little calmer. I don't handle chaos like that very well. Sounds crazy, since I have ten children, but I like things to be calm. I’m an introvert too. I’m not shy, but I’m an introvert in that too much time with other people drains my energy.
That’s a common theme I've seen in photographers.
Sure. You can go out and shoot, and it’s just you, and the camera. In the studio, I have more of a one-on-one thing, and that works better for me.
Do you have a studio in your home?
Yes, I do.
Recently your shots of your daughter, Mary, have been great marketing for you?
Yes, they have. It was meant to just be a creative project, but I'm surprised at the attention it’s brought. But, I also shoot a lot of regular (as in, not models) women and that gets a lot of interest too. What I see is that sometimes women almost feel like we need “permission” to have our photos taken. To be the star of the show for a little while. Moms especially, because so much of what they do daily is focused on everyone but themselves. That’s good, of course, but it’s also okay to have your photo taken, and want it to look good. What I'm working on now is a marketing campaign with a message. Females 8-80. Showing the progression and beauty in all stages of life.
How much of that have you filled in?
I'm getting there. The project is still coming together, but I want to make sure that it’s diverse too. One of the things I see in portraiture is that we don’t have many women of color, and we don't have enough diversity. And I don’t want to represent just one demographic. Any woman should be able to look at that 8-80 project and see herself.
Looking at our photography group, it isn't very diverse.
No. The question then is, is it because Lancaster County isn’t as diverse? Or, is it that we don’t seem welcoming, or open, enough? Which I know we are! The Instagramers group is so wonderful, and everybody in there is just great. I really like the dynamic, and how everybody is so decent to one another. We all have some widely different beliefs, I’m sure of it, but it's just not an issue.
And, what talent too!
Oh, yes! The progression of that talent has been really fun to watch. I think any time you're in a group like that, it makes you better. It's made me better!
Have you noticed some progression in yourself over the past year?
Yes, certainly. I was just telling my daughter that last night. Looking at pictures from two years ago, and even some from a year ago, and I get embarrassed!
What do you contribute to your progression?
Shooting as much as I can, and spending a lot of time studying. Learning about lighting, posing, composition etc. I still have much to learn.
It seems like you have an entrepreneurial side to you. How does that intersect with your art?
I just can't help but think in that way. For me, it's not really about how I can make money off of this, but I always feel like I want to share these ideas that I have! In whatever I do, I have another business selling a planner that I created. I want to offer a really good product. I don't want to just be making money if I’m not offering you a quality product. Whether that be my photography, or my planner, it's about offering a really good product, and great service.
Tell me a little bit more about this product that you're selling.
It's a Catholic liturgical planner. It's tied to the church liturgy, and the liturgical year. Obviously, it’s a small niche, but it’s pretty popular.
Some of your art is in the design of this?
Yes, that’s the creative side of it for me. And it’s a family endeavor too. We've been offering it thirteen years now.
Recently you've wanted to focus more on your portrait work?
Yes, as an artist it’s where I've been drawn. With art, the more you work at it, the more you feel satisfied with it. It’s a progression. One project leads to another, one idea to another, etc.
Where do you find more satisfaction? In the shoot, or in the editing process?
I would say it's about equal, especially now that I've gotten better at setting up the shoot, and getting the lighting right. Styling, and planning it. I find a challenge in that, and I like that a lot. But, there's nothing like putting that memory card in, and seeing all of your photos from a shoot. I shoot in RAW, and I like the process of “developing” the photos that shooting in RAW allows.
Mac or PC?
PC. I do have an iPad, and an iPhone, but I just haven’t wanted to make the switch computer-wise, and there are so many great PCs out there nowadays.
Have you used the Wacom tablet at all?
Well, I have a Wacom tablet, but I don’t love it.
Photoshop or Lightroom?
Photoshop, for sure, with Adobe Camera RAW. I have Lightroom, but I don’t use it. I think it’s great, but it’s all about what I'm used to, and I've been using Photoshop since 1998.
What brought you to Photoshop?
One of my sisters. She was in graphic design, and when we got a computer, I was so interested in it. I would make newsletters, and all sorts of stuff. That's why I think I stick with it, because I know it so well. It really is a phenomenal program!
What do you have coming up in the future? What can we expect from you?
I'm going to Bavaria next month, so you can expect to see lots of photos from there, and I'm working on that marketing campaign project that I mentioned. I'm excited to see how that turns out. It's really about empowering women, and I'd love to be able to present it, so I am thinking about a show, or something of that sort. For me, it isn't just about someone being my client, I want women to embrace this whether it's with me, or with someone else. I want women to be comfortable in photographs, and exist in them. For themselves, and for the people they love.