Pittsburgh Photography

Pittsburgh Photographer

Pittsburgh Photography

Welcome to Michael Ray's Pittsburgh Photography and Pittsburgh Photographer web site.  This site has been designed as portal into the Photography web site Michael Ray.  Michael Ray is a Pittsburgh Pennsylvania based commercial photographer that is a generalist that photographs various types of subject matter including Editorial Portrait photography, in the studio and on location.  In addition to people photography, Michael has a fondness healthcare, industrial, still life, and architectural photography. If you get an opportunity, please visit Michael's main Pittsburgh photography portfolio web page. If you'd like you can also visit his food photography portfolio web page directly. If you'd like to contact This Pittsburgh Photographer, you can find his contact information at this address.

Photography Studio and Capabilities - From his 3500 square food studio in Pittsburgh’s up and coming Strip District, Michael shoots with all formats of photography, both digital and conventional.  The studio has state of the art digital camera, flash, computer, DSL communication technology.  Now you can either Art Direct from the studio or from your office or any distant location.

Michael is involved with many photography and internet projects you may find interesting. Mike publishes the Pittsburgh Creative Directory, The National Food Stylist Directory and a Food Photographer's Blog. Please feel free to visit all or any of these sites.


Here are just some of Michael Ray's photography services offered either on location or at his Pittsburgh photography studio:

Editorial Portrait Photography - Michael Ray shoots for many magazines from around the country. Art Directors, Art Buyers, and Editors find Michael to be a great resource for their Pittsburgh and vicinity assignments. Using his ability to make his subjects comfortable and at ease, Michael is able to break through and bring out the best in the people he shoots.

Industrial Photography - Manufacturing and service industry companies need photos to promote their business in print and on the web. To bring drama to his photography, Michael uses unusual compositional and lighting techniques. Of course drama is not appropriate for all business. Michael knows when to make the photo dramatic and when to make the shot look natural. People don't want to see dramatic grocery stores. They know what grocery stores look like. A good photographer can make a photo look good without making it look dramatic, when that is what's needed.

Healthcare Photography - Pittsburgh is the home of some of the nation's finest hospitals and health care facilities. This provides many opportunities to create some great healthcare photography. If you would like to see samples, please take the time to see Michael's photography web page.

Food Photography - Michael has recently began to market his food photography on a national level. The initial results from his efforts are quite positive. You can see his food photography portfolio page at foodportfolio.com.

Location Photography - This is a generalist category taking in many different type of photography including some of the photography types listed above: Healthcare photography, Industrial photography, and Editorial Portrait photography.

Still Life, Product, and catalog photography - As an extension of his food photography, Mike's lighting skills create the drama and effectiveness necessary to produce award winning photography in the studio and on location. Using a view camera or any other format, Michael is capable of creating great images for Advertising, Graphic Design Projects, or even web reproduction.


Here are some other Pittsburgh and Photography related sites that may prove valuable to our viewers:

Pgh People Photography - Very good photographer shooting family portraits and weddings Professional Photography 101 - Information site for the up and coming professional photographer Pgh. Photo - A directory of Pittsburgh photographers and related information
Sukolsky-Brunelle Inc. Photographic Lab Triangle Photographers Photographic Society of America
The Talent Group - Modeling agency The Docherty Modeling Agency Photographic Image Enhancement

The following is an article about Pittsburgh photographer Michael Ray is from the October 1997 Rangefinder Magazine. The Rangefinder is an international photography trade publication with a distribution of 50,000 copies.

Profile: Michael Ray, Pittsburgh Photographer

A Self- Described Generalist

by Wendy Scheanin

When MICHAEL RAY was a boy he used to peer in the window of the camera store on the way to his trumpet lessons. He didn't know anything about the Canon F1's on display-just that they were "sexy" to him.

He's since put down the trumpet and picked up the camera. Twenty years after he graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, he's a successful commercial photographer who enjoys his work so much, he still can't believe he gets paid to do what he loves.

This shot was done for a graphic design firm's promotional brochure. The "fire" was created by combining strobe with tungsten light. The flash froze everything, and then while the shutter was still open (the flash modeling Lights off), the man (model) moved. The tungsten light was pointed only at the trumpet bell so that the model wouldn't blur along with the instrument. Image made with a Hasselblad camera and 15Omm lens. Shutter speed was about 1 second. The shot was taken in the Pittsburgh Photography studio in the 3500 square foot studio.

Learning at Lunch

"My whole idea is to do the creative work you want to do and show it to people. Then you'll get hired to do that work," Ray says. "I have to push myself to keep doing that over and over. It's a heck of a lot more interesting than shooting Sears catalogs." He knows what he's talking about. Directly out of school, Ray began building his portfolio by working for 2~ years as an in-house photographer at a fast-paced Lexington, Kentucky design firm, where he illustrated the firm's local magazine.

Then he spent a year at a catalog house in Chicago large part to add to his resume the door-opening address of a city known as a Mecca for photographers. The catalog house was so large that it had 21 staff photographers, 12 assistants and 6 set stylists. Despite the factory-like setting perhaps because of it, Ray considers this job to be pivotal in his career.

"I learned more at the lunch table at that place than all though school and my first job," he admits. "There were people there who, for 20 years, only shot bathrooms. You sit down at the lunch table with them and you really learn a lot about lighting."

Armed with catalog photography experience, lunch time lessons and valuable 8x10 transparencies in his portfolio, Ray returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh and set up shop. He slept in the living room of his apartment, and used one bedroom as a studio, the other as a darkroom.

When he first opened his own studio, he wanted to do more catalog work. "I had experience and thought it was a good niche for me," Ray says.But he found the pace too grueling and artistically compromising. He recalled his catalog days when he arrived at work in the dark, worked in the dark all day, and left in the dark. As time went on, Ray discovered that he preferred to shoot people, locations and food-three venues in which he can exercise his creative license and retain as much control as possible.

A self-described generalist, Ray photographs "anything he can get his little grubby hands on." That adventure-seeking attitude has landed him and his camera in operating rooms and mushroom mines, steel mills and helicopters. "It's just so a great life being a generalist. I like the variety of it. I can't tell you how many places I've gone to do location photography and I said to myself, 'I am so glad I don't work here."

Sample Pittsburgh taken in Pittsburgh Strip District Studio - Originally shot as a test to build his portfolio, Ray used his Toyo 8x10 with a 360mm Schneider lens. Lighting was accomplished using a homemade "sail-type" device which gives a box like effect. With the lamp head in close to the material, you get a "soft, but quickly graduating" type of light."

Pittsburgh Photography Control Freak

His preferred work day involves several hours of prep time leading up to one or two shots. "I'm sort of a control freak," confesses Ray "Food is my favorite because it's so deliberate, so controlled. You can do two nice food shots a day, and it offers the least compromise. It's not like catalog work where people routinely settle for 'good enough.' You can spend six hours making food beautiful. I do the lighting, and the food stylist does the rest.

"The first hour you spend eating donuts and selecting plates," says Ray whose clients include Heinz, Del Monte and Ocean Spray. "If you can talk your client into the right plates, that's half the battle right there.

According to Ray, a big part of the job is finessing the clients into letting you make pretty photos; "My main concern is that I want a photography portfolio piece," Ray says. "I've never had a situation where a shot goes in my portfolio when the client didn't love it. That's the nice thing about food-you can make a pretty picture." While he strives to make every shot "a pretty picture," Ray acknowledges that there's always a tightrope to walk in order to satisfy his client and not compromise his vision. He prefers when clients articulate the. kind of layout they want and allow him to develop the concept artistically.

"I like to be given a beginning, a direction, but I like my photo clients to be flexible," Ray says. This negotiation can be tricky when the two visions clash. He recently lost a steady client when they wanted him to do something that he disagreed with aesthetically-a situation that makes an artist reevaluate the nature of compromise.

"I think we need to lean in the direction of trying to keep the client and not make bad pictures. But in reality," he acknowledges "I still need to pay the rent."

Ray shoots everything from 35 mm to 8x10. In general, if his subject moves he shoots 2 1/4, if not, 4x5. His equipment includes Canon, Hasselblad cameras, Toyo with Schneider lenses, and Norman strobes. He opts to use Polaroids instead of a meter and sums up his preference by saying, "If I can't take a Polaroid of it, I don't want to shoot it. That's my philosophy"

Photographic lighting remains the key element of Ray's pretty pictures.

"To me, it's the lighting that really what makes most photographs. Back-ground choices and lighting. The photos I tend to like are because of really cool lighting. That's what trips my trigger."

Pittsburgh Photographer 's Reasurch and Development

After more than 20 years in the business, Ray, who just turned 40 and was depressed for a week, continually experiments with new techniques to see what else trips his trigger.

"Chicago taught me how to be a' technical photographer," Ray recalls. "The way I think I've improved the most as a photographer is by studying The Work Book and The Black Book." In his spare time, he goes through them page .by page, analyzing works he likes, not so much for technique as for what he likes in general about them. Is it warm light? Soft focus? A specific background? "If you question what you like enough times," he says, "you'll find out what really trips your trigger." 

"In the Photography business you really have to do a lot of R&D up front and sell that," he says. "It's a good way to create the 'kind of business you want." Ray, who's day rate is between $1000 and $1200, advises that "if there's something you think is really cool, don't be afraid to study techniques, that interest you and personalize them in your own work because no one is ever going to hire you for something that's not in your portfolio."

Mike attributes his Pittsburgh photography business success in part to his personal research and development process. Having spent time trying to imitate work he likes without knowing precisely how the shots were taken, he's developed techniques that work for him-both artistically and monetarily Ray often asks the modeling agency below his studio to send up some models "with interesting faces" whom he then shoots without having to satisfy anyone but himself. He pays the models with a print. .After showing images from one such session to a magazine, he was commissioned to shoot the cover in the same style for $2500.

Further, by continually updating his Pittsburgh photography portfolio, he has a steady supply of new shots to show potential clients who have seen his work but haven't hired him yet. "It's all about relationships in this business. New photos mean another chance to meet a potential client, to shake his hand. Every time I've' done an' R&D project, it's really paid off," Ray says.

MichaelRay 'works primarily by himself, but hires freelance- assistants to help him with different assignments, and in order not to take the sting of rejection personally, he has used a part-time employee to set up sales calls.

These days Mike aims to shoot 2 1/2 -3 days a week and spends the rest of his time working on his marketing pieces, making sales calls and putting together his web page, which highlights his favorite images. you can reach his web page at www.michaelray.com.) It's an ambitious goal he doesn't always achieve.

"I've been really coasting for some time now. I've gotten on this tangent on the computer. I think it's a idea for me personally" he says. "I'm doing less R&D than I used to because I'm spending my down time, on the computer. It's a great marketing tool, but I still need to do photography."

The End


Wendy Sheanin is a writer who lives in San Francisco.