Palm Tree Nov 2017

Jake Michaels is a serious photographer with high profile clients and a beautiful portfolio. As a sideline he also goes under the name Joke Michaels, sharing many of his street pictures and changing my mind about humour in photography.

Photographer: Jake Micahels.

Why I Love This Picture

I love photographs, they can spark lots of feelings, but few make me laugh - Jake Michael’s street pictures do.

“Funny” pictures tend to be very direct and in your face. They can be slapstick or staged - the pictures you get from UK party political conferences, with the unfortunate politician carefully framed against some clever or insulting sign or prop in the background. I find these pictures quite cold. Clever yes, but they come across too nasty to be funny. They’re subject versus photographer. Jake Michaels also uses carefully framed backgrounds, but unlike in the tabloids, they’re not used aggressively. His pictures are warm. Michaels uses the backgrounds to make the subject look better than they otherwise would - he’s on their side.

So much of this picture is about composition. Careful timing has placed the man under the shadow. It would have been a fun picture anyway, but the subject’s gait, matching the curve of the palm tree, sets this image apart. It’s so contained and complete. It looks like the world is bending to the will of the man.

There’s a lot of “rule of thirds” going on in this picture. Most photographer use that hack, but it’s only the starting point here. The grid structure in the building is pleasing - the horizontal lines contrast neatly with the angled road. There’s a strong sense of direction, both the man and the tree lean in to the hill, looking like they’re working to overcome gravity. Michaels has captured the man neatly inside a single grid element. He’s surrounded, but has plenty of head space and room to walk in to. He’s not breaking any grid lines, on the wall or pavement. That his front foot is just above the ground adds movement and gives the image some pace. The timing of this picture, pulling all the elements together, is perfect.

The pastel tones, particularly the pink, is signature Michaels. He shoots a lot of pictures around LA and these art deco colours are regularly part of his work. The solid red stripe marking the edge of the pavement neatly underlines the colour of the wall. The picture has a restricted pallet, it’s nearly all pink, red and grey, combining with the composition to make this a very tight picture.

I like this picture because it makes me laugh and love it because it makes the subject look cool.

*Photography Nerd Notes

This picture is not about the technical details of the camera, lens or processing. It’s all about Jake Michael’s vision and persistence. How many of us would even notice the palm tree shadow? Michaels can see the final picture in his head, but how long did he have to wait to get just the right frame? There were likely many good pictures, but he had the dedication and perseverance to keep going until he got this image.

Hello. I'm Darren Shaw, a software developer at Net-A-Porter, which I've occasionally written about.

I also play at being a portrait photographer - but it's just a hobby. I love the photographs of Boo George, Norman Jean Roy, Steven Meisel and especially Peter Lindbergh. I've also written about why I like their pictures. I sometimes do test shoots, so if you're interested in working together please get in touch.

Darren, June 2022.