Lots of photographers get off to a fast start in the field but few can claim to be where Mike Hart was at age seven—down on the hardwood floor of the Coliseum, shooting Pistons’ basketball alongside the pros. Was he a child prodigy, a Mozart of the motordrive? Maybe. But his dad also happened to be the auditor for the Fort Wayne County Coliseum (where the Pistons then played), and the perks of the job including getting his kid passes to the shows and photo ops with the stars. Mike has autographed pictures of Roy Rodgers, Annie Oakley and other icons of his 1950s boyhood. Taking pictures of the Pistons was his own inspiration.
‘I had just gotten a Brownie Star Flash for my First Communion,’ he says. ‘I saw the press photographers down on the floor, and thought– I have camera. I want to do that, too. So dad made the arrangements, and at half-time of the next game, the ushers put me down next to the photographers. They’re shooting with their 4×5 Speed Graphics, and I’m shooting with my little Brownie and M2 flashbulbs. Dad didn’t think my pictures would come out, but they did.’
Mike’s next big career move came when he entered middle school. Having received a better Brownie (a Super 27) as a grade-school graduation present, he once again felt drawn to photograph a basketball game. The ninth-grade players were a little shorter than the Pistons but the consequences proved long lasting. The Yearbook advisor at the school got wind of Mike’s interest in cameras and asked if he’d like to learn more about photography.
‘I told him I was interested in anything that would get me out of study hall,’ Mike recalls. ‘So he took me into the darkroom, and it was one of those ‘Wow!’ moments. The pictures I took that night were in the Yearbook. And within months, I had set up a little darkroom in our basement. Eventually, I added an enlarger and all that stuff. I learned lighting by shooting portraits of my friends down there. I was doing stuff for hire by the 8th grade.’
Although sports got him started in photography, it was portraits, especially environmental portraits of people in the workplace, that proved to be the mainstay of Mike’s long and successful career as a corporate/annual-report photographer. He left the University of Texas early to take a full-time job at Gittings, the premier portrait studio in the Southwest. During the last three decades, his images of people and places have been featured in Communication Arts and Print’s Regional Design Annual, honored by The Dallas Society of Visual Communications, The Houston Addy awards, and The Art Director’s Club of Houston. Mike has worked with leading advertising agencies and design firms, photographing in 30 countries for an elite client list that includes many Fortune 500 companies and a strong sampling of oil industry giants.
‘Because I’m based in Houston,’ he says, ‘a lot of my work has been with oil companies, shooting oil fields and offshore rigs from Angola to Yemen and a lot of places in between. On one shoot, we literally went around the world. Starting from Houston, we went west and came back around from the East, via Singapore and Cairo.’
Traveling also inspires Mike’s personal work. On a recent trip to Europe, he grabbed a photo of soccer players in the morning mist that is about to be published in The Greatest Black and White Photography in the World, a collection of images from the first three years of the London Spider Awards competition. ‘I was out early one morning walking around Hyde Park, and I saw this whole group of guys in Hyde Park with their arms and legs at crazy, quirky angles,’ he says. ‘I use this picture to explain why I don’t dance.’
Mike’s wry humor is also evident in his explanation for cutting back on oil field photography after more than three decades of climbing on rigs. ‘Recently, I wrenched my shoulder just trying to get out of the jump-suit we wear for oil field work,’ he says, ‘And I realized it’s come to this: I have injured myself taking off my clothes and there’s not even a woman involved.’
Despite his early interest and later success in photography, Mike’s first career choice was to be a rock star, a dream he shared with about half the adolescents in America when the Beatles invaded and conquered the States in 1964. ‘The Beatles changed everything,’ he says. ‘I was a huge music fan anyway. I grew up listening to Chicago radio stations, but sometimes, with my transistor radio under the covers at night, I could catch Cousin Brucie from New York. I really wanted to be a drummer but I ended up on bass because dad couldn’t stand the racket.’
Mike’s family moved to Houston while he was in high school, and Mike moved from listening to music to becoming part of the scene. He got into a band and was good enough to get recruited for the Traits, which had recorded the nationwide hit ‘Treat her Right.’ He also worked as a ‘roadie’ for a big teen club called the Catacombs, and had the high honor of driving out to the airport at 3AM in the morning to meet Country Joe the Fish when they flew into town. While attending the University of Texas in Austin, he formed another band, and dropped out to hit the road. ‘We played for about three years’ he says. ‘Then I started having visions of myself still doing this when I was really old, like 35, and decided it was time to go back to school in photography.’ Music stayed in his blood even after he got off the bus. He has collected some fine bass guitars, still plays in bands from time to time, and even has some licks on a CD released in 1998.
Digital photography came along just at the right time for Mike. He had gone through a divorce, been flooded out of his home by tropical storm Allison, and was beginning to feel a little tired of the kind of work he was doing. ‘Digital totally rekindled my interest in photography,’ he says ‘because of the control. I started by going to a bunch of workshops at Photo Expo in New York and came out feeling like my head was going to explode, and it’s been non-stop immersion ever since. At night, I’m sitting up in bed reading a manual about Color Management while my girlfriend is into a novel.’
The difference between digital and film was highlighted for Mike by a recent assignment to shoot a chain of designer outlet centers in classy European settings. ‘The client did a big, perfect-bound book including my images and two stock photos on film,’ he says. ‘The comparision is night and day. The film is grainy, and the color is not as good. The digital is pristine. I have one shot looking into a storefront on a sunny day and I’m carrying detail all the way from the stones and flowers on the sidewalk into the interior of store.’
Mike is looking forward to inspiring students at the Digital Photo Academy with his own excitement about the possibilities and creative control of digital imaging. And he thinks he can do it without making any heads explode.
Call Digital Photo Academy at 1 877 372 2231. Lots of people seem to hang up if our welcome recording comes on instead of a live voice, but we promise to return your message within a day or two if you leave one with your name and number. It would be even better if you included your e mail address as well as the date and city of the class you are considering. If leaving a voice mail message is not your thing, please email us at DPAbooking@digitalphotoacademy.com or Richard@digitalphotoacademy.com.
“You looked good today on Channel 11. Taped it and just finished watching; you did real good.”
“I just watched “Great Day Houston” (I recorded it to watch later today): Great presentation, you were such a natural in front of the camera – as if you’ve been doing this for years! Really, thanks for the tip about holding the button down halfway! When I first started using digital he would look at the pictures and say,”That’s NOT the picture that I took, WHAT’s going ON?!!” Since I have that original camera and have never tried to use it, maybe now I will give it a try. Again, you did quite an impressive presentation. Thanks for letting me know about it in advance.”
“I just watched the show. Very impressive! You did a great job. I bought a Panasonic DMC-FX01 camera (with Leica lens) about six months ago because I did not always want to lug my D200 around. I love the Panasonic! Sometimes it takes better shots than my D200 (although that’s probably user error since I have to make more decisions with the D200). And yes, I have been reading my manual (good advice.) Have a great weekend.”
“You were great! You looked and sounded very comfortable under the lights.”
“I’d like to start calling you “Regis” if that’s o.k. You were great. I’m sure that was great press for your biz. You probably got some non-photo biz solicitations, too. When you get offered your own show, I’d like to be your Paul Shaffer/Max Weinberg. I’ll go to the Ed McMahon school of fake laughing. “Yesssssss!!!!”
“I took your DPA class last year. At the time, I had only a Nikon CP P4. Since then I acquired my first DSLR and am continuing to work hard at learning the art and science of photography. Thanks for the help you gave me through DPA.”
– Debbie Chapman
“Just wanted to say thanks for the lesson today. You hit on several things I was struggling with (because I don’t read manuals…) and I think I’ll be ready to progress from here.
I was the guy who left you the number and email and offered to help on Tuesday.
I was wondering if you do any other lessons that are a little more in-depth and involve multiple nights. I’d explain my motives and potential plans, but don’t want to bore you too much… lol”
– Robert Calloway
“I took the beginner photo class December 2nd with Michael Hart. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and it opened my eyes to how much I do need to learn. Michael was a very patient with me through the entire class. He went slow and we had time after class to ask questions. His talent with photography really shinned through him. I was not ready for the class to end. I felt he addressed everyone’s questions and took a lot of time and pride in what he was teaching. I would definitely have Michael teach me again.”
– Pamela Elam
“I just wanted to thank you again for taking time to meet with me on Saturday. I definitely feel more prepared for the trip. Thanks again!!”
– Monika Lee
“Hi Michael, I enjoyed the training session today…..especially the last part. I am so impressed with your reputation and expertise. Talk about way above our heads! BTW, how did you get to be on Great Day Houston? If you ever go back on the show, let me know—-I’ll be there.
I am thrilled with the Panasonic camera we got. I hope I can do it justice and take advantage of all the bells and whistles on it. I really learned some surprising things about it today. Would you ever do a seminar just on that type of camera?”
– Linda Voges
“Michael, I had a great time today in your class for which I thank you very much. I take photos of scenery and friends and relatives for fun. As I mentioned to you today, I want to learn a few things about photography in order to be able to take good pictures. Specifically, I want to learn the flaws in some of the photos I have taken and how to remove them. I also want to learn the basic techniques of photography in some detail. At this time I am not planning to learn editing of photographs.
Please let me know your availability for a private lesson.”
– Tushar Ghosh
“Again, thanks for the instruction yesterday. I learned a few things. Your knowledge would be so beneficial to many of us that need the training. You can see by my pixs, I need a lot of color management help.
Thanks again, hope you consider teaching more in-depth Photoshop workshops. Advertising would be the hard part, but I’ve got several friends in Houston that wouldn’t mine taking a class with someone knowledgeable.”
– Sylvia Garcia-Smith