Michael Winokur’s Life’s Small Pleasures


I got an email from San Francisco photographer Michael Winokur letting me know that the first in a new motion series Life’s Small Pleasures was up on his site. Michael is a portrait and lifestyle photographer specializing in casting and shooting real people for commercial and editorial clients. As everyone builds their motion portfolios, it’s fun to see how they evolve with this new medium, to see who embraces it and is having fun learning something new and how the people and even the fog and landmarks of San Francisco that they’ve been shooting for years abandon their watch as guardians of the still image, leave the page and come to life in time, space and narrative.

Will the music match the action? Will they let their actors ‘act’ or will they play it safe and pan the camera, keeping their actors frozen in 2D? What from their still work is expanded upon in their motion work? And sometimes, what finds its expression in motion that wasn’t there in their still work?

Life’s Small Pleasures is an ambitious 2.38 minute piece based on a deceptively simple and sweet idea—the delight of having clean sheets. The complexity came later as Winokur layered on the creative and technical challenges: he cast a couple, shot it in a house with two floors, told a story with gesture, expression and detail shots all perfectly synched with a fun score that helps tell the story. I don’t usually post submissions or projects that friends share with me, but loved this one and think it’s such a great example of what can happen when one jumps into something with inspiration, dedication and heart.

I thought a short Q&A would be fun and Michael agreed to answer a few questions. Enjoy!

POP: How long have you been working on motion?

I dove into teaching myself about filmmaking about a year ago. The whole thing seemed daunting before I started. Now I’m really happy I took the leap. I’ve discovered that motion combines the best parts of photography with a set of storytelling tools: pictures, time, sound that are limitless. I did a behind-the-scenes video for Yoga Journal who is also a still client. I expect that more and more clients will become interested in integrated campaigns.

I believe strongly in life-long education, so I’m always looking for something new to teach myself. Learning to shoot and edit motion has been incredibly rewarding. Each of the motion projects I’ve tackled over the last year has been conceived to be a creative challenge as well as a technical one.

POP: This is such a fun marriage of personal and commercial work. You’ve been shooting real people and lifestyle campaigns for many years. The models in this piece carry it very well and seem relaxed, natural and happy. How is directing people in motion work different than directing them for still projects?

I’ve been working for 10 years as a commercial photographer. I’m not trying to reinvent my work as much as use a new tool set and language to accomplish the same things for my clients. So, it makes sense for my motion projects to come form the same sensibility as my still projects. This project was intended to have a very commercial format with a narrative and a clear payoff at the end but with a little more freedom in the edit and time-line since it’s a personal project.

Directing people in motion is much more challenging than for still. Next on my list of self education is a deeper understanding of working with actors on performance. I knew that directing people in an ongoing scene would be a very different challenge than creating a moment for still. I prepared for the shoot by writing an extensive shot list that included notes on camera angle, camera movement, lighting, location, and motivation. By breaking my story into this minute level of detail I knew for each setup exactly what I needed to capture—this gave me confidence that I was directing not just the actors but the whole crew to create all the puzzle parts I would need at the editing stage.

POP: You had a knee injury earlier this year and have had quite a recovery. Though you stayed busy the entire time, it must have slowed you down in some ways and given you a new perspective. What impact or influence did this have on your work and your motion projects?

My knee injury has been really inconvenient. I don’t recommend skiing. It’s just not worth 6 months of recovery. There are several still and motion projects that got put on hold while I was off my feet. My energy comes from working so it’s been hard being injured. However video editing requires lots of time in front of the computer, so I’ve got that going for me.

The thing about having a bum leg is I was forced to become more of a director. I have always worked with a crew but forcing myself to stay in my chair and give instructions made me better at explaining to my team what needed to happen and then letting them execute. Seeing and believing that I could work well with my hands off the gear is really the one good thing about this injury and long recovery. I’m lucky that some of my clients, in particular Yoga Journal, trusted that I could work after the injury. I shot three jobs from the wheelchair and several others working from crutches.

Thank you again to Michael. Can’t wait to see the rest of the series!

One Response to “Michael Winokur’s Life’s Small Pleasures”

  1. 1 Mike Morawski

    Wonderful interview. I really liked how he approached the new medium.

    Oh and the video…really sweet. Nice job Michael.

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