Mike Irwin Wenatchee Photographer- The 10 Questions Interview
Mike Irwin is a Wenatchee area photographer. I met him through one of his current gigs shooting photos of houses for TourFactory, the provider I use for the virtual tours of my real estate listings. Mike has shot a couple of tours for me in the Leavenworth area. He can be found on the web at www.Irwinfoto.com
1. Tell us about your background. You started in journalism?
I was born into a newspaper family and never really emerged from it. My father owned and operated two weeklies down in south Louisiana. At age 6 or 7, I was hanging out in the backshop with the typesetters and pressmen and, by age 10, was pretty good at flipping huge sheets of newsprint into the old flatbed press. When we converted to cold type — computerized typesetting — I soaked up all the early technology and was fascinated by it. It seemed miraculous.
Through high school, I was part of our family’s newspaper design team — grocery store ads and special sections — but soon fell in love with photography. The newspaper’s foreman, Fred Herzog, taught me to see light, to record it on film, and to manipulate it in the darkroom. He was a great mentor and a primary influence in my life.
After journalism school (LSU), I worked in television for a couple of years, but then left Louisiana for the wilds of Washington State. I served as publisher and editor at weekly papers in Twisp and Omak, and then got my dream job — roving reporter for the Wenatchee World. That was in 1988. I worked with a great staff of editors and learned a lot about north central Washington and myself.
2. Who is Mike Irwin … in a haiku?
Much to see, to learn.
Delve into the mysteries.
I tie my shoes tight.
3. You do a lot of your non-real estate work in black and white. Can you sell a house in black and white? How would you “tell a house’s story” in black and white?
As a teenager, I learned to see and compose in black and white because, well, color film and color printing (both for photos and newspapers) were just emerging into popular use. My eyes still scan a scene in black and white, searching for luminous highlights and deep shadows and all the shapes formed by these contrasting values. It’s a habit I can’t escape.
I’d love to photograph structures in black and white, but the industry standard for house images remains full color. Also, I recognize that black and white would work best on a special type of architecture — angular, high contrast, sun-drenched. Luckily, the Wenatchee Valley is dotted with this type of house, so I’m hoping that sometime I’ll get the chance to experiment with a black and white shoot. (See my Architecture gallery at www.irwinfoto.com)
The story of a house in black and white would stress its exposure to sunlight, sky, and views. And, perhaps, how the house fits onto — and into — its environment. You can tell the same story in color, of course, but black and white would emphasize the home’s form and shadow. Those are qualities that we all see and feel, but might not acknowledge on a first visit to a new place.
4. What do you enjoy most about taking photos of houses for Tourfactory?
Tour Factory provides maximum exposure for a home by capitalizing on the magic of digital photography. It allows 180-degree and 360-degree views of a room or a property through the digital stitching of a series of still images. It scans like video, but it’s inexpensive by comparison.
I’m an explorer at heart and love learning about the world. And photography gives me a reason to do this. Meeting new people (real estate agents and their clients), visiting new homes, and facing new photographic challenges are some of my favorite aspects of Tour Factory. For the most part, it provides the means to be out in the world and not behind a desk.
5. What aspect of photographing houses do you find challenging?
Broadly speaking, the real challenge comes in uncovering a home’s pleasures and mysteries — somehow depicting how the home feels. Sometimes those aspects are obvious; sometimes they remain hidden. But the search is always fun and rewarding regardless of the outcome.
More specifically, the toughest challenges are small dark rooms, cluttered walls and floors, and obnoxious pieces of furniture. It’s hard to make a green and orange paisley sofa look tasteful.
6. What kind of house or feature in a house would you like to shoot that you haven’t yet?
Shooting a swimming pool at twilight with the house reflected in the water — that’d be a nice challenge. And I’m still trying to master a way to match interior lighting with exterior, so the outdoors is seen clearly through, say, a living room window. This works about half the time, but I’d like it to be a sure thing.
7. What have you learned about real estate or marketing real estate from working with lots of different real estate agents?
Real estate agents are my best teachers, and they provide new insights at every shoot. Many agents are diehard optimists who believe every house — no matter how run-down or just plain weird — has a buyer who will love its quirkiness. Many top agents aren’t satisfied unless both parties — seller and buyer — walk away happy. And, for the most part, agents really love the “personality” of a great house. The excitement they feel about a beautiful, functional house is palpable, and it’s not just about money. They want to find the family that will make this beautiful empty house a true home. And, no, some real estate agent didn’t pay me to say all this.
8. Tell us about your favorite house image that you have shot so far?
It seems like I’d been wrestling forever with electronic flashes — trying to get the light balanced and properly exposed — when in frustration I shot a burst of natural light photos that surprised the hell out of me. The light was rich, the colors full and luminous, the details sharp and clear. It was a shot of a small, empty wet bar with tiny windows and ugly carpet, but it came out beautifully. It changed the way I’ve come to view the lighting of a room.
9. Canon, Olympus, or Nikon- and why?
I say this with no hesitation: Canon. Over the years, I’ve owned a lot of cameras, but only Canon comes close to organizing its camera functions in the same way I think about photos. It seems more intuitive, in the same way Apple is more intuitive than Microsoft. All the major functions are on accessible buttons or dials, not three levels down into a computer menu. Batteries, memory cards, and other accessories are easy to replace. Physically, the camera feels good in my hand — light yet solid.
Last March, I spent three days at a Nikon workshop and walked away absolutely convinced that I wouldn’t buy a Nikon. Total immersion in the Nikon world did not convince me to buy one. For many, the Nikon is a dream camera, but not for me.
By the way … the new Olympus digital SLRs with the live LCD screens are really snazzy. I love the option of composing a shot either through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen. Pretty soon, most digital SLRs will have this feature.
10. If you could ask 10 questions of anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Without a doubt, it would be my #1 hero … Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century English explorer. His travels through Africa, India, and the Middle East lifted a veil on foreign cultures and helped expose England’s stodgy society to the extremely exotic. He not only explored foreign lands, but also delved into their religious and sexual taboos. He and his wife were also ardent dabblers into the paranormal. A man of many tastes and endless inquiry.