Learn From The Experts: Michael Gilbert

In our “Learn From the Experts” series, we are conducting in-depth interviews with internationally recognized artists, photographers, and printmakers. The series will focus on techniques used, equipments/supplies they love, business insight, and overall advice based on their personal success. The series is designed to help you advance your art or business based on solid advice and insights from leaders in the field.

Michael Gilbert

After the experience we had on Learn From the Experts: Tim Walden, this time we sat down with Michael Gilbert to pick his brain for some advice and insight into photography, printing, and the photo business.

Here is a brief summary of Michael’s photography credentials:

Michael Gilbert, MA.CR.XXV

Michael Gilbert is a third generation photographer holding a Masters Craftsman Degree in Canada and the United States.

In April 2005 he had a one-man show at the International Museum of Photography. The entire set of 52 photographs are kept in their permanent collection. Mr. Gilbert’s images are collected internationally and are a part of the collections of Epson, Canon, Hahnemuhle, Olympus, Mitsubishi, and Kodak.

He is a frequent speaker at many Universities, Professional Photographers of America conventions, WPPI events and International exhibits. In 2006 Michael was a featured photographer at Photokina, the worlds largest photography event.

His client list includes Mercedes Benz,Hallmark Cards,Four Seasons Resorts and Prudential. In the past Michael has worked for Earth Trust Green Peace and the International Federation of animal welfare. A Canadian by birth he now has his studios in Maui,Hawaii and Paris,France.

Q: How did you start?

A: Well for me it was a logical extension of what I loved doing. I started my passion like most photographers taking photographs. When it came time to make money I did as most, weddings and family portraits. I realized that if my clients were willing to pay me money for taking their pictures why would they not buy my other work to put on their walls. So breaking into the market was really a matter of making prints of the images I liked and having them framed on the walls in my studio along with the examples of my portraits.  From there, my work eventually broke into galleries and in 2005 I had a one man show at the International Museum of Photography.  Today, I’m still a practicing photographer but I also teach photography all over the world and have a passion for helping my students reach their goals.

Q: As a young and upcoming photographer, who were your key mentors & influences?

A: I’d have to say Steiglitz and the Photo-Seccessionists had the largest influence on me. I used to marvel at the old Hollywood photographers like Hurrell and Bull. Then Arnold Newman and Yousef Karsh. The work of Andre Kertez really taught me to see.

Q: What type of subject matter did you start with?

A: I found that pictorials were really an easy sell. Wonderful sunsets, sunrises, and just pretty scenes. So at first, I ran with that for a while as it allowed me to put some money in my pocket and continue my photographic endeavors.

Q: Today, your images are on display in many galleries and even some museums. Can give us some insight on how you broke into this market?

A: My edge was the ability to make Limited Edition Portfolios of my work. Early on I understood if I wanted to be a success people needed to see my work. So I really studied the market in the early 2000 and looked at what was selling in the Photography galleries. I studied it hard. There were also galleries that had wonderful paintings and sculpture but no photography. So I produced limited edition portfolios of my work in different categories and made appointments with the galleries to review my work. It was very discouraging for a long time, but I stuck to it and kept learning. My perseverance and increasing knowledge of what was selling in the market eventually paid off.

Q: How did you decide on pricing your work?

A: Remember, galleries are all about real estate. Your work must fit into their general plan. For example if the galleries are selling paintings in the three to five thousand dollar range why would they put a five hundred dollar photograph on the wall. They won’t. So each gallery has a price range. Obviously, it’s best you do your homework and research the galleries you would like to be in before making an appointment to show your portfolio. And, you have to be realistic about how much your work can sell for. If you’re starting out, compare others’ work and prices. Find an initial price point for your own work and just go for it. Over time, the market will tell you whether you can raise your prices or subsequently if you need to lower them. That’s what has happened with me. I certainly didn’t start out selling $5,000 photographs. But I am today.

Q: You spoke earlier about the importance of limited editions in your career. Can you tell us more about how you approach a limited edition?

A: I only make ten prints of each image plus two artists proofs. Keep in mind – If you keep the number at ten, then it’s still considered an original piece of work. Each print comes with a certificate of authenticity and always describes the process of how the print was made. Also, I distinguish the class of my work by referring to them as “pigment prints” instead of “Giclees”.

Q: What camera(s) do you use?

A: I’m very comfortable with my Canon 5D MK 2. It’s the go to for most of my work. I also love the Hasselblad for those real high rez files I like so much. I also still shoot film and have an 8×10 Deardorf.

Q: Has the new high ISO setting had any impact on the way you approach a shoot?

A: The single largest change in my work is the ability to use the higher ISO settings. I can shoot in lighting conditions that were impossible just a few years ago. If you know my portrait and landscape work often im using ISO of over 800 on a regular basis.

Q: What percentage of color to black and white do you sell?

A: I’d say its about 50/50 now. Black & white has a huge draw amongst the more informed group and many of the color work seems to be more in the photo décor range. Hey, the average consumer likes pretty colorful pictures. All you have to do is walk around a couple of your friend’s homes to get the point. Remember most people like to buy landscapes, followed by flowers, then animals. In that order. Those are by far the largest sellers. So I think about that more than I think about color vs. black & white.

Q: Let’s talk printers. Canon or Epson?

A: Canon all the way. I’ve got a Canon iPF8300 (44 inch) and 6300 (24 inch). You can’t beat the ease of use, especially with all the different media types I like to use.

Q: What types of media do you print on to sell your work?

A: Today, I am selling a lot of gallery wrapped canvas prints with a minimum size of 40″x60″. The Lyve Canvas is my workhorse, and I varnish it with Timeless.

michael gilbert photographer

Have a question or comments for Michael? Leave one below…

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  • Jim

     Inspiring. What criteria does Michael use to decide to use the medium or large format film cameras versus sticking with the 24mpx Canon? It seems the 24 mp image would be barely acceptable for a 40×60 print (technically). I’ve often wondered if 100 ppi is really acceptable, even for larger prints viewed from a distance. 

    • Gilbert1

      Aloha Jim I love your question Thanks and hope others read it. The Hasselblad makes stunning files.Id have to compare that to my old 4×5 camera days. Those files are great for trade shows and my commercial work. My Art prints if i can use that term is a different matter.

       Im one of those photographers that love the grain and controlled noise. I have taken my toy camera negatives from a plastic donald duck camera from the fifties scanned it at 8000 dpi and made 60 inch prints. The grain all falls apart and it is left with these beautiful muted colors.When i use the Canon I also make huge 60 inch prints. Do not be afraid of this. If you do a proper work flow and at the end use Niks Dfine program your images will be wonderful. Hey i have images in the gallery done with my ipone. People respond to your imagery and if it evokes a emotion that strikes a cord with them they will buy it. SHARP SHARP SHARP is not always the way to go. Try moody, pastel and soft with gesture, Now for black and white its a different breed, The larger it goes you must be more careful. Thats probably why i have almost no real large black and white images that size in the gallery

  • Brad Grigor

    I’d sure like to know what method Michael is using to apply Timeless to prints the size of 40″x60″ and any related tips for using Timeless on large prints.

    Does Michael stretch his own prints, and if so, is he using a premade kit such as EasyWrappe.



  • Brad Grigor

    I’d sure like to know what method/tools Michael is using to apply Timeless to prints that large (40″x60″) and any tips on getting consistently good results.

    Does Micheal stretch his own prints, and if so does he use a pre-made kit, such as EasyWrappe, or notched bars or other?



    • Gilbert1

      HVLP gun has been a blessing. You can buy one of these spray guns now well under a hundred dollars/ Mine has a top feed in other words the timeless goes into the top of the gun not the bottom. Since there is almost no overspray i just use push pins and start at one end until MY PRINT  its all tacked up on my garage door. Then I spray. My compressor is from Sears and i use about 28lbs pressure sometimes lower. Its pretty easy and with timeless its almost impossible to make any mistakes. You must be fanatical about cleaning your gun. Great thing here is timeless is water based so i just put a little warm soap and water into the top after im done and clean clean clean. I have never ruined a print. I do two coats. In Maui it is ready for a new coat in fifteen minutes. Then when i come home from the studio i roll it up. As for stretching those really big ones i do it my self. I build the real large stretcher bars with kiln dried lumber with support struts. Everything else i comes from BC
      Most of my large prints are on the Canon 60 inch and im able to still do it all myself.

  • Ken

    You still shoot with Olympus?

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