Award-winning photographer Michael Kaiser, the creative mind behind aKaiserPhoto and Dance by aKaiserPhoto, is as congenial as he is talented. Nominated for the Show the Love Campaign by Courtney Rivard, despite the pandemic, he continued to develop and grow his photography business in creative and innovative ways. By bringing a playful comfort to any photo session that makes clients feel at ease, Michael captures everyone at their absolute best. With a keen eye for relaxed poses, creative locations, and the technical expertise to pull it all together, his photography fosters experiences that are both natural and fantastical all at once. Mainly located in Sudbury, Michael travels internationally to photograph clients as well. Rivard described Michael as a positive role model in his community and the wedding industry by saying;
"Michael Kaiser is not only a phenomenon photographer, he took this year to be really innovative with this photography, including shooting at a distance, rolling out new projects of dance shoots, but most of all, being supportive of other businesses. He is always a positive role model to the wedding community and continues to lift the spirits of everyone around him. At the end of 2020, he also opened his own studio, from his previous home base. He also runs promotions to photograph individuals, with a “pay-as-much-as-you-want” philosophy with the funds going to a charity. For anyone to accomplish so much in such a difficult year, truly deserves to be recognized."
We spoke with Michael about giving back, working with his partner Brittany, opening his new studio during the pandemic, and how he has stayed dedicated to his clients and craft. Read on below to see how Michael has continued to "Show the Love" and stay optimistic during such challenging times.
What originally inspired you to start photographing weddings? Dance?
Both are fun stories to tell. I’ll try to keep it short. How I started weddings was a little different than most. I hadn’t even thought about photographing them until I got a phone call from a friend the morning of what became my first ever wedding. The photographer had become ill with food poisoning and they were going down the list of photographers to see who was available. I knew I was capable of taking the photos, I just never shot a wedding (nor have I been married), so I had no idea what I needed to do. I could talk about this forever, but long story short, the experience from that wedding made me realize this is where I need to be. From there, weddings grew from 3 in one year, to 10, to 15, to 30, all in a 4-year span.
As for dance, this story is a little different. I really wanted to photograph a dancer, so I quickly posted on Facebook that I was on the search. Within a few hours, I had a bunch of names and started contacting different dancers to meet up to discuss my plan. The first dancer I shot was Brittany Cashubec. It was winter and ended up being one of the coldest days of the year. After the shoot, during the editing process, and after the photos were complete, we continued to chat. Low and behold, which led to her becoming my girlfriend and now Creative Director/Business Partner in Dance by aKaiserPhoto!
What is it like to work with your partner?
Working with Brittany is a lot of fun. She has her career in psychology and I have my other photography business in aKaiserPhoto, so it allows us to have other things going on in our lives. Although she helps me with both sides of my business occasionally, the Dance side is our “thing”. We spend a lot of time together chatting, planning, and building the business. Our goal is to eventually have her join me full time on this adventure, so we have everything in overdrive! Power duo!
How are some of the things you look for in a photo different from what your partner and Creative Director Brittany looks for?
This is the topic of many arguments haha... As a photographer, lighting, expression, and composition are most important. As Creative Director/Dance Teacher, technique and proper posing are most important. Although I would normally fight this to the death, she totally wins this battle lol. As a dance photography business, our goal is to attract dancers, and dancers will ALWAYS look at technique first. If our goal was to attract photographers, I probably would have won haha! I still occasionally ask, “Are you sure this is not ok? or, “Is it really a big deal?”. It’s always worth a try!
In what ways did you need to change or adjust your plans for your business due to the restrictions of the pandemic?
Change and growth are probably some of the most aspects of a business. This pandemic has just put it into overdrive. I’ve always been known to specialize in weddings (dance as of late). I wanted to give my clients the luxury of having a photographer who dedicated their time to them and the wedding industry. The more time I have, the more I can help them. Then this pandemic hit and negatively affected my business. Especially since it hit during peak wedding season.
This made me realize putting all my eggs in one basket was not a good idea. Never did I think that being in the wedding photography business I would be going through this situation. I figured the only way to bounce back was to make more money elsewhere, so I opened a studio space allowing me to branch off and photograph more during the colder months. I still prioritize my wedding clients. They are still the most important to me and my business. This just allows me to grow and build in other areas.
I also started virtual photo sessions, taking photographs over FaceTime then taking the photo on the phone with different backdrops. The key to starting this was due to the weddings being postponed. This pandemic was stressful for brides, so one of the things I offered my clients was a free complimentary Original Wedding Day photoshoot. Basically, they are couples' photos on what would have been their wedding day. With the first wedding of my season being during the lockdown, I wasn’t physically able to meet them. So I suggested we do theirs over FaceTime. They taped their phone to a stand and I told them where to move it, what to do, and how to pose. It was extremely challenging, but super fun and a memory they will never forget. To top it all off, I also ended up making them a book called “Surviving 2020”, a book with their virtual photos and some funny Covid Quotes to make them laugh. Now I’ve done a bunch of them, whether they are for weddings, couples, or even dancers. Books are now included with all my virtual sessions.
What was the hardest part of continuing with work during the pandemic?
Other than not being able to work? Haha... Honestly, the hardest part was not being able to cover weddings along with all the other vendors. With all the rules and restrictions, some of my friend vendors were no longer able to work. Every vendor adds to the big day, so not being able to capture certain things made it more challenging. It was also hard seeing their business crumble or fall apart; they worked so hard to build these businesses for it to be put on hold, or even taken away. The only other hard part (but really such a small thing) was having to wear a mask at 35°C. The sweat on my face and the fogging of the camera’s viewfinder made life quite challenging haha.
What was the most rewarding part of continuing with work the pandemic?
Smaller more intimate weddings. I saw how couples were able to enjoy chatting with guests for longer periods of time, and actually CHAT with them, not just a hi-bye chat seen at most bigger weddings. There’s usually so much going on, so with these smaller weddings, the real moments were much more special. Each moment together was valued more, making these photos all that more special. In turn more rewarding for me.
For the dance photography world, Brittany and I offered “curbside dance photos”. We knew that these dancers were having a really hard time not being able to go to dance class and spend time with their friends. So, we decided to bring dance to their front steps. We offered free dance photos that we took from the street! I have added a link to the blog. It was such a fun experience for both them and ourselves!
What inspired the idea behind the appointment style ‘pay-what-you-can’ portraits?
Our local YMCA was struggling with the pandemic and due to the fact I couldn't have a full-out grand opening, I needed to figure out a different way. I also wanted to support our downtown (where they are located). I came up with the idea to have appointment-styled visits where we chat and I could show them around, one appointment at a time. At the end of the visit, I would take 10min to snap their photo.
I originally wanted to do it for free but thought it would be a great way to raise and donate some money to a charity. So, instead of forcing people to pay the full amount for their photo and it looking like a business event, I figured out a way where I can raise a little money at the same time! Pay-what-you-can was the perfect way to have people join in, but not feel obligated to pay full pop for their photo.
What encouraged you to select the YMCA as a charity of choice?
Being a business that just moved in downtown, I wanted to support the community. They were helping the homeless by being a warming station and food bank area. Since they were doing this but were also at a loss, I knew they needed the help. They were helping, so why not help them?
Why do you think it is important to continue celebrating in the midst of hard times, like during the pandemic?
It's so important. Mainly for sanity. My motto through this pandemic is “Hope all is well... Stay safe, stay sane!” By pushing forward it allows us to continue growing. If you can keep your mind busy it won’t give you time to think about everything else. Instead of sitting back waiting and watching, keep yourself busy exploring, trying new things, and move forward. Success isn’t made by sitting around, you have to make it happen. If you want to come out ahead after all this, you have to keep growing!
What motivates you to keep going in your business?
I heard the quote once “Being a business owner is amazing because you get to pick which 16hrs of the day you want to work.” I thought this was both funny and true at the same time. I spend almost all my time working, but in the end, I never consider it work. I love what I do, every aspect (ok maybe not the paperwork part), but pretty much everything else, so it never feels like work. Because of this I never stop moving forward, it just comes naturally. If I had to say one other thing, it would be seeing the smile and reactions to the photos I take. Capturing memories for people that they will look back on for the rest of their lives is very rewarding and addictive!
What part of your business are you most proud of?
That’s a tough one. What I’m proud of changes all the time. As I grow, there are always new things to be proud of. Like, in a year my plan is to be proud of my business for surviving this pandemic. If I had to choose one that really is important, I would have to say I am extremely proud of being able to do this full time. After working for someone my whole life, being my own boss, and not having that guaranteed paycheque was scary. I am proud to have been more successful in my first year than any other year prior!
What is your advice for any budding entrepreneurs/business owners in general?
Value your time and your work! Pricing your services is a really tough thing to do, but don’t sell yourself short. Connect with people in your industry, most of them are happy to support and help you figure things out. Always accept change and continue to push forward no matter what!
What are you most looking forward to in this coming year?
Again, this is something that changes on a daily basis! I am of course (like many others) looking forward to things getting back to normal!! I had many plans for growth in both my wedding business and dance photography business that were put to a halt. Being able to concentrate on those again is something I am truly looking forward to. One of which is traveling. We were on track to travel many places to shoot weddings and dancers, but had to, unfortunately, refrain from doing so for the time being! Fingers crossed travel opens up again soon!
I am also looking forward to opening my first studio space! If there is anything positive about the lockdown, it’s that it has allowed me to get the space extra ready to open. Renovations were finished in mid-December, but the extra time since then has allowed me to get all those little things done I never even thought were required. We’ve finally been given the go-ahead to open on February 27th! I am beyond excited!
To see more of Michael's incredible work visit the links below!
- Wedding Website
- Facetime Wedding Photoshoot
- Facetime Original Wedding Day Photoshoot in Local Newspaper
- CTV News Article
Dance BY aKaiserPhoto