Name: Michael Khachadoorian
Position: Photographer & Filmmaker
Organization: Khachadoorian Photography LLC
There’s a tiny camera store tucked away just off of Bearskin Neck in coastal Massachusetts, with the best view in the world of Rockport Harbor’s famous Motif #1. My passion for photography grew as a teenager managing this shop for my Great Uncle Papken, who survived the Armenian Genocide as a child and escaped to Paris to learn the art of photography before opening Camera Corner in 1957. Papken passed his passion for photography down to me, and I grew up trying to make the most of the situations that would come before me.
Soon after college, while shooting weddings and portraiture on the weekends, I started working at Converse as a temp, entering mundane data on the 5th floor Accounting Dept. I met a really great guy in the cafeteria, Duane Lock, who took a liking to me and saw some potential. I was so grateful, he offered me a full time job in Account Management, and a year later, a job opened up within the budding e-commerce 2 person team in the Marketing Dept. The job required that I’d be able to retouch any development samples to the current specs of the actual sales samples, to limit returns online. At the time, converse.com offered 19 SKU’s. I made it clear to Joanne Pendergast, my new manager offering the job, that I not only could retouch, but I could also shoot the shoes. That wasn’t necessary, she said, they already had someone in Boston for that. Not long after, those 19 SKU’s jumped to 750, and soon after that Converse started selling apparel. I can vividly recall lugging big heavy boxes to and from my car, shooting the samples back home at night. It became way easier to just re-shoot the shoes rather than retouch them, and Jo didn’t mind, as long as the job got done. It was super exciting, with the prospects of opening up our own Photo Studio at Converse. I pitched the idea to Chief Marketing Officer David Maddocks that if we took it all in-house, we could save the company (soon to be bought by Nike, Inc.) $1M per year. Dave loved my pitch, but didn’t realize I wanted to actually BE the photographer too, as it wasn’t well-known that I was shooting already. It took some patience, but within a year, we opened up the state-of-the-art Converse Photography Studio and I was overjoyed with a 50% raise, and a job I truly loved and cherished.
For the most part, I am self-taught. But there were some fruitful trips out to Nike HQ in Beaverton where I got to sit down for hours with their studio staff, and learn some of their tricks of the trade. I was able to emulate the Nike way of shooting shoes and apparel back at Converse, and continued to improve my craft year after year. Part of what made me so good at shooting thousands of shoes to Nike’s specs I suppose is also a bit of a challenge at times: my OCD. I learned early on that many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs also have OCD, so I just try to keep it in check, and use it to my advantage especially when on big deadlines. Super detail-oriented, I don’t think I ever misnamed a SKU and would always make sure any imperfections on the samples were retouched out, either by me, or our master retoucher J.M. Zinter, who’s job it was to clip out each and every shoe with a path in Photoshop, and then also add in natural drop shadows. Working with Johnny was a dream.
I’m someone who needs to be constantly challenged, and if I’m not, I get complacent, and bored. I was super excited when Global Creative Director Brandon Avery asked me to start shooting lifestyle campaigns. I truly LOVE shooting people, and to get out of the studio finally and out into the fresh air shooting lifestyle for Converse, that’s when I knew I had found my true love and passion. I cherish the relationships built on-set, and how so much has to come together in order to make a shoot successful. One person who was so incredible at making all that behind the scenes magic happen was and still is Samantha Rockman. A long-distance plutonic friend at the time, Sam would fly east from CA to Boston or NYC or Alabama to produce some of our big Lifestyle shoots, and we’d sometimes spend weeks together in the car, and in those moments we got to know each other better and better. It wasn’t until years later, that, well, Sam and I have now been married seven years and are lucky to be parents of our now 4 1/2 year old son, Julian!
The thing I love most about my job is how I’m constantly meeting new people, making new friends along the way, while also getting to cherish those relationships I’ve been lucky to accumulate over the years. Some of my clients have been shooting with me going on 10, some even 15 years now, so we’ve gotten to know each other quite well let’s just say! So yeah, meeting new people, making new friendships.. some of my best friends in life are those I met through work, one way or another. And as previously mentioned.. my wife! Talk about perks…
By far the hardest part of being a freelance photographer for me, is being as productive when I’m off the job, as when I’m on the job.. meaning, when I am on a job, I give my 200%, nothing will come in between me and pleasing the client. I am go-go-go, nothing can stop me. The client needs a huge set built, for tomorrow, and we are just finding out now? As insane as that might sound to some folks, especially if you saw the set-designs, to me, it’s just another challenge that I love undertaking. The hard part is, after the incredible highs of shooting for a week straight for an amazing company like Saucony or Riddell, settling back into regular old life can be challenging a bit the week after. You miss a lot of the faces, and the camaraderie that comes with nailing a shot, time after time throughout the week. It’s like the thrill of being in a big sporting event.. and you’re doing everything in your power to win the game (nail the shot)… sometimes after it’s all said and done, there’s a bit of a down time, so it’s good to just embrace the Monday after. Maybe rest up, go see a movie if there’s time. Schedule a test shoot is my best advice, so you have something on the books if you don’t already! But what I was getting at is, the hardest part for me, is giving my own business that 200% that I give to my clients. Marketing and selling myself does not come naturally. But in order to be successful, you need to continually pound the pavement, reach out to new potential clients, like it’s your job! Because it is. But that’s the hard part, doing both. I’ve got a knack for business, am really good at sales, the hard part of the equation is selling yourself, because it can be so personal.. it’s easy to list off all the great features of a new gadget, but when it’s your own photography, you’re really selling your personality, your image, your SELF. So, if you’re like me and you were brought up to be humble, not to brag even when winning, to show thanks and gratitude at every possibility and not be showy, it’s sometimes even awkward to feel comfortable posting photos of my work, because in some ways it feels like, “oh look at me” but I am very proud of the work I do… I just get in my head a bit with the whole social media thing and of course, reaching out to new prospective clients, since I know people’s time in the office is so valuable, I hate bugging people when I know they’ve got a million and one other things to tend to. But I guess if I looked at it in the sense of, “I can make this person’s life better, their work easier in the end, because I can provide better service than some of the competition” then I guess I’d be better at it! Sort of comes down to separating the left and right brain, I suppose, and just knowing it’s a numbers game, and also making it a habit that no matter how well you’re doing, you’re always reaching out, always prospecting. No one said it’s easy though.
There have been many people who’ve been instrumental to my success in business. I’ve never answered this question this way, but today I’m going to say, my father! When going off to college, I really wanted to major in Art. My Dad had other plans, and essentially said, “you’ll major in Business” and that was pretty much the end of that. I became a Business major and ended up minoring in Art which I loved. But I suppose it’s been the business-sense and extremely hard work ethic instilled in me by my father that has gotten me along this far. When we were little, my Dad worked full time for the US Government, was getting his master’s degree, working a part time job on the side, and was in the Army Reserve… all at once! Of course, none of that would’ve been possible without our Mom doing most of the work at home during that time, but still, he instilled in us how important it is to work HARD. To be honest. To have integrity. To continue being grateful for what God has provided and to keep striving to be better.
I personally think most companies these days are tightening their hatches, preparing for what could be another big economy downturn, and in doing so, more and more, they seem to be going direct rather than through large agencies. Or if they do use an agency, they seem to be smaller these days, so business can be more fluid, and able to change with the times. Many budgets call for both stills and video, which I always love since I can do both, and in turn, save companies from having to hire two separate crews. Another thing I’ve noticed is people tend to love behind the scenes content. So I’ve tried to incorporate that into our sets more and more, someone always shooting BTS. At the end of the day, it’s all about giving the end client more and more bang for their buck.
If I were to give any advice to models or talent striving for more success in the industry, it would go something like this…
Some things cannot be easily taught this late in life, you either have it or you don’t. One of those things is the innate instinct of being a good person. Being grateful, showing thanks, being positive-minded. Nobody wants to hear a model complain on-set. And at least in my opinion, contrary to that, everyone wants to meet someone who greets you with a smile and brings positive vibes to set. These things were hopefully instilled in you at a young age by your parents, grandparents, mentors, etc. I’d say that of all the agencies I’ve worked with, the thing I love most about SLU is how they continue to grow as a family, and the talent they attract and subsequently choose are all around GREAT people… folks who are not only gifted physically but also have a head on their shoulders and are both grounded and truly awesome people with whom I’d love to be friends with! OK, advice… If you happen to be having a bad day, you’ve got to find a way to leave that at the door, because the entire shoot, client, budget, everything is dependent on you being “up”. So many times I’ve shot talent and athletes who’ve had to squeeze their size 12 or 13’s into sample size 9 or 10 shoes, and you don’t even hear about it until after the shoot as they’re taking their last pair of shoes off, and only then if you’re super observant and happen to catch that small wince of pain. It’s those folks who are grateful they’ve got an opportunity to be a part of something fun, those are the people we as photographers (and I’m sure the clients) want to have back, time and time again.
I am personally SO grateful for the relationships I’ve made through SLU. From the bottom all the way to the top, everyone associated with SLU is top-notch, and because of that, I’m so proud to be associated with such a great agency! Thank you so much for everything, SLU!!! You guys are the absolute BEST!!!!