Surrealist freelance photographer, Mike Szpot, might be new to New York City, moving there roughly two years ago, but his passion for photography is not. Labeling oneself as a freelance photographer, which gives you complete agency over your career, is bold and inspiring.
Lately, he’s collaborated with reputable brands, including Apple, Sony, Verizon, Skullcandy, and many more. That’s not to say these kinds of job opportunities suddenly came to him easily once moving to the Big Apple. Szpot has had to work extremely hard to get to where he is now; as a result, he’s made a name for himself, accumulating over 100,000 followers on Instagram and developing a work of art that is not only aesthetically pleasing but extremely gravitating to any viewer who comes across his website. If you want to check out his work, please visit HERE.
“I think the city really opened up my eyes. It was the culture and the people. I don’t know, something about the city made me want to do street photography. I feel like there is a story on every corner. There’s something special about this city that drew me to street photography.”Mike Szpot
As an artist, he has had a passion for photography before leaving his hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and discovered photography through Instagram in 2014.
However, while living in Milwaukee, in terms of cityscapes, “I’ve started to explore abandoned places,” said Szpot, “with fresh eyes for three or four months, and then I started going to Chicago because it was about 1.5 to 2 hours away.” Around this time, he was using a Canon 60D, which is a DSLR and crop sensor lens. Unlike New York City, there’s no a lot of traffic in his hometown, so he hadn’t been really into street photography. However, his trips to Chicago, a more bustling city than his home, sparked a change.
It was not until he visited the city for the first time in 2015, then later moving there permanently in Feb 2019, that his passion for street photography took off. When visiting, then, he stated: “I think the city really opened up my eyes. It was the culture and the people. I don’t know. Something about the city made me want to do street photography. I feel like there is a story on every corner. There’s something special about this city that drew to street photography.”
“I like to use deep blacks and a little bit of contrast, so it’s a little bit punchy, giving way to how saturated some of my colors might be.”Mike Szpot
His street photography…
Since Feb 2019, street photography has been the only thing that he works on. As a freelance photographer, the beauty of his photographs would be his execution and his creative eye, which exudes individuality. When reflecting on his work, “It might be the way they look or the way they dress,” he admits, “and it’s usually the action of having to do a double-take. Maybe they are telling a story, and usually, it’s not interesting. But when you take it, it makes the viewer wonder what they are doing. Since the city is so dense and there’s so much activity on every corner, I always have my eyes open for a cool story happening. For instance, I’ve had an eye for fashionable people lately, people who dress well, and I use influence from movies. I have a nostalgia for old New York, such as movies in the 70s and ’80s. Overall, I think my subject matter derives from that, but also the city lets you be yourself more than in other places, so maybe that’s why I’m attracted to documenting that.”
Within the framework of surrealism and individuality, based on his photographs, he uses a slow shutter speed, which not only cements his subjects but puts them at the center of the foreground.
A typical day
He usually chooses this creative direction route to replicate certain movies, such as The Dark Knight. More importantly, “I like Sci-Fi movies. I feel that New York, depending on what neighborhood you’re in, especially in Chination, it’s kind of gritty and dirty, similar to Gotham city. However, if it’s raining at night, it’s futuristic, similar to movies back in the ’80s, specifically Blade Runner. When I go to Times Square, regardless of what others might think about it, it’s perfect for me because I can use my influence from old films and other art and surrealism.
When it comes to speeding up the time, since that’s what I do whenever it rains, I like to show a downpour, whereas the slower shutter, I like to shows motion. For instance, if someone is standing still, and the environment is moving around them, I can depict and fire it, causing the car to freeze while everything else is blurred.”
“When it comes to speeding up the time since that’s what I do whenever it rains, I like to show a downpour, whereas the slower shutter, I like to show motion.”Mike Szpot
Where does he shoot?
He normally shoots in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but he wants to change that. Recently though, he’s adventured to Coney Island, Jackson Heights, Queens, which is a neighborhood with the most spoken languages in the world. Moreover, he and his other friends, namely photographers, travel and attempt to widen their scope of life by visiting as many neighborhoods as possible if they hadn’t already been there before.
The editing process…
When editing his photographs, he focuses his attention on colors by enhancing them. Other than that, he prefers his photographs to be original as possible. Aside from that, he uses Adobe Lightroom, which is the standard platform for photographs and saves every picture. He doesn’t delete any pictures, which is something he’s been doing for a while. Ironically, after selecting the ones he’d want to edit, he has to edit them chronologically. In addition, he makes basic adjustments, such as fixing a photograph technically or adding style to it. All and all, he tries to keep his images realistic.
“I like to use deep blacks and a little of contrast, so it’s a little bit pushy, giving way to how saturated some of my colors might be.” Over the last seven years, he’s only used one camera and three cameras, which are all small and portable. He likes to keep it simple and minimal. He also has a film camera, but given how expensive it is to develop it, he prefers to shoot digital. Not to mention, street photography requires you to be ready, and given how fast it moves, film cameras limits you because they do not have an automatic focus.
How he plans
On top of that, he’s spontaneous, meaning he does not have a particular agenda on what he’d shoot that day. Even though he would like to change that about himself, he mentioned that he is as attentive to the time of day as having an objective. “My shoot goes based on the weather. So if it is really sunny, there will be harsh lighting and pockets of light. So by knowing this, I would go to certain neighborhoods where there is light. But if it is later in the day, given how much time I spend outside, I know I have to be on the West Side of the city because that’s where the sunsets. And because I like to shoot in the rain, I wouldn’t travel downtown as much because downtown is slower.”
“Since the city is so dense and there’s so much activity on every corner, I always have my eyes open for a cool story happening.”Mike Szpot
Freelance photographer Szpot is no stranger to communicating emotions, yet he resists shooting homeless people. But recently, he shot a random person on the street who was wearing a Gucci outfit while walking past a homeless lady, who appeared to be sad. Surprisingly enough, his friends had given him some pushback, who believes that’s the nature and part of New York City. Szpot would go on to disagree, stating, “I’m not trying to exploit the one who doesn’t even have the place of privacy.”
In general, he focuses as much on aesthetics as he does on emotions. Being a freelance photographer made him come to terms with the world around him. He had come to realize that within the last year, due to COVID-19, everyone had to wear masks which turned out to be boring to him. This resulted in a lack of emotion and mood. Although he would label himself as an introvert, Szpot is trying to open up more because “I’m trying to find that split second of what when it [visible emotions] happens. I try to tell a story, whether it’s a happy one or a sad one.”
Regardless of whether you’re a freelance photographer or not, it’s important to feel inspired. Szpot would also agree, for he gets inspiration from friends. At the beginning of his career, he had surrounded himself with people who had inspired him by reaching out to them via Instagram. And those people still push him every day. “One thing about living here is that it’s a constant FOMO for me . . . And if it’s a nice day, I’d know I should be shooting because I know I moved out here for that reason. So I’d push myself because not everyone has the opportunity to live here.”
Because he is not afraid to take the train or walk to a particular destination, Szpot hopes to shoot during the Pride Parade this weekend. That’s part of being a freelance photographer! So even though he might appear like a tourist, he’s just as familiar with the streets of New York City as you are. In addition, this weekend will be a time to honor the Stonewall Riots, spearheaded by prominent leaders, including Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Riveria, and many more. So as you’re celebrating, please keep them in the back of your mind because they are watching us although they’ve since passed.
Hey, you never know, you might be the next one who ends up on his Instagram. To learn more, please visit HERE.
Featured image credit: Mike Szpot