Retouchup Blog

November ’21 – Week 3 – An Interview with Michele Celentano


Michele Celentano – photographer, instructor, prestigious Canon Explorer of Light, successful business woman, traveler, Italian enthusiast – shares her experiences running a profitable business. Whether your photography business has been going strong for years or you’re just getting started, there’s something for everyone in this month’s interview! Full audio and transcript are below! 


Full Interview Audio:


Links to websites and resources mentioned:

Michele’s website –

Photography education with Michele –

Michele’s Instagram handle – @michelecelentanophotographer

Find Michele on Facebook –

CreativeLive –

The Portrait Masters –


Full Transcript:

Trevor: We are very excited that we get to speak with Michele Celentano today! Raised by her grandparents in Brooklyn, New York, Michele found her love of photography in high school and continued her education in New York city at the Germain School of Photography. After working as a cruise ship photographer, Michelle started her own business as a wedding photographer and never looked back. At the age of 35, Canon USA Canon Explorer of Light invited Michele into the Canon Explorer of Light program. There are only 40 Explorers of Light in the US! She’s been teaching photography for more than 20 years, from intimate workshops to massive keynote presentations! Michele, it’s so awesome to have you here, welcome!

Michele: Thank you! Thank you for having me! And I’m just going to say that Canon has actually added a few more explorers in the last year, so I think we might be up to 50, but that’s pretty new in the last year or so.

Trevor: Right on, okay. No, that’s great to hear. That’s still impressive though. Being asked to join them at the age of 35. So, I mean, hey, kudos to you.

Michele: Yeah. This year it’s 18, 17 or 18 years, and it’s still, every day I pinch myself.

Trevor: That is so awesome. And hey, as I was doing a little bit of research on you, I found that you’re from New York, love Broadway, so I got to ask, what is currently your favorite Broadway musical song?

Michele: Oh my gosh. There’s so many. It’s so funny because, at WPPI I sang “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

Trevor: No way! On stage?

Michele: Yeah!

Trevor: What?!

Michele: Yeah, I mean, I’m a huge fan of Hamilton right now and The Prom, which saw. I just, yeah, when I get in the car for a long drive, it’s showtunes. Lion King, I’m a showtunes girl.

Trevor: Right on. That is great. No, I, I can enjoy a good show tunes so that’s awesome to hear. Well, want to just jump right into things. I know people would want to hear you and what you have to say. So, just kind of as, as I get started here, you know, as I was learning more about kind of your background, I learned and kind of heard a story actually from you in another interview where, you know, you didn’t have it easy when you were first getting started. I mean, in listening to this, you told a story about you going to a kind of a photographer’s convention wanting to get feedback and get better at your craft. But there was this older experienced gentlemen who took a look at one of your photos and then just started to scoff and criticize, and just couldn’t believe that you were paid to take these photographs. And as I thought about that, you know, anytime we get criticized, especially harshly, it can seriously hurt. So, I mean, what did you do after that experience to get back up on the horse so to speak?

Michele: That kind of criticism actually drove me because I, I mean, I was 23 or 24 at the time, and it was in New York, it was at a professional photographers grade in New York meeting, and it was a much older gentleman. At the time he was probably in his, you know, late seventies. And so he’s been around for a really long time and these were all people that I really looked up to and I brought him my first wedding. So there were multiple images. And he literally looked at it and said, you got paid for this? And at first I was like crushed. And I was like, yeah, I got paid for it, and how can I get better? And I just always kind of have that city grit in me where like, okay, all right, all right, yeah, I’m gonna prove to you that I can do this. Like, I’m new and I want to learn, and if you’re not going to help me, I will find someone else who will. And so that really, that kind of stuff really pushes me. It doesn’t, it doesn’t bring me down. And I, I knew then that if I ever, you know, became an instructor in the industry, that I would never ever say something like that to somebody who came to me for help, I know I’ve always tried to encourage them and, you know, to help them to improve their work and say, this is, this is where you are at now and that’s good for where you’re starting, but here’s where you can go and let me help you get there. So I think that was a pivotal point. And, and I was used to kind of that criticism. When I first asked my parents, if I could go to the Germain School of Photography, it was about a two-year program and it was expensive. It was, you know, a $10,000 program back in 1991. So it was really expensive. And, you know, my parents looked at me and they were like, this better not be an expensive hobby. And I was like, okay, I will prove you wrong too. So I’m kind of like the feisty one, who’s like, all right, if you’re, go ahead and tell me I can’t, and then I’ll show you how I can.

Trevor: That’s awesome. So I guess this, whoever this older guy was, that was giving you that feedback, man, he kind of like lit the fire underneath you.

Michele: Oh, for sure. Absolutely. You know? Yeah, absolutely.

Trevor: That’s awesome. Cause like, I mean, putting together a business that’s, I mean, just doing that by yourself is incredibly difficult. And I mean, you’ve been doing this now for 25 plus years, so I mean, what would your advice then be to like, you know, what’s the top thing other photographers should know when trying to run their business and make it successful?

Michele: Probably the first thing is to have some sort of business education, which I didn’t, it’s definitely a regret that I didn’t study, you know, business and marketing and accounting and all of that. I think that is a really good foundation because most people get into photography for the love of photography. They love their camera and photographing whatever – people, food, fashion – and they think to themselves like, oh, this would be a great business. And we’re creatives. In general photographers are creatives first and so we tend to like go in that direction and then don’t always really know how to run a profitable business. So I tell young photographers all the time, you know, don’t just take how to become a better photographer workshop. Also take business workshops, and now you can study anything online, where back in my day, I hate to say it that way, but, you know, in the nineties there was no online education. And now you can, you can go do workshops on marketing and pricing, and pricing for profit and what that looks like. And, and also increase your work as a photographer because I feel like a lot of photographers start off underpricing themselves because they feel like their work isn’t worth charging, you know, standard rate or, you know, kind of a, you know, a universal price that photographers should be starting at where they are actually profitable. And they feel like, well, as my work gets better, then I can raise my prices, but that’s kind of the wrong way to come at it. It’s better to price yourself first as a business. And then as your work increases, the quality of your work increases, then you can raise your prices, but you need to be at a good base level to start with so that you are profitable. And then you can afford to take the classes, you can afford to buy the equipment. You’re at a level where you’re profitable right away. And then you can really start working on the rest of your skills, technique, you know, business, all of that kind of stuff.

Trevor: Wow, I love so many of the things you just talked about, like being able to, like price yourself correctly. One thing that came to mind is I almost wonder, like in, with you having spoken to so many different photographers all across the world, do you ever get people who then come back to you and say, well, I would, I would love to charge more, but I just feel like I’m going to be a phony if I do so. Like, people are gonna, like, I don’t know, find me out in a sense.

Michele: Oh yeah. So imposter syndrome is real. We all experience it. And sometimes I think it actually gets worse the better you get, because they’re still in your mind, like I’m not that good. Like other people are better. And it’s so easy to compare ourselves now. Again, with social media and being online, you know, you may be following photographers you really admire, or you learn from, and you feel like, you know, they’re so much better. They can charge more, but that’s the wrong attitude. You know, you have to figure out what your demographic is, what, what area you live in, what can your market tolerate, what you need to be profitable? Know what are your expenses, what are your costs of goods, all of those things. So if you price yourself as a profitable business first, you won’t really get that feeling of I’m not good enough because, you know, in order to stay sustainable in business, you have to at least be here pricing wise. And then you can start going up in your pricing as your work improves, or as your market changes, you may start, you know, with say a lower price point, lower income kind of clients, you know, as you’re building your way up, but then say you want to move into like, you know, middle price client or a high end client. And then your work will really dictate as you can, what your prices should be based on your demographic. So there’s so much that goes into pricing and looking at your business from a profitable standpoint when starting out that, you know, and here’s the thing, the quality of your work will improve faster than the rate of inflation or the rate that you can increase your prices. So know that you’re going to get there and know that most of it is really in your customer service and the service that you’re providing to your customer. So most people feel like my work isn’t quite there. I can’t charge that much, but the average consumer doesn’t know the true difference between mediocre and good work to like really good work. And so you have to charge based on what you need to earn in your business. And so once photographers can get their head wrapped around that, you’re not really feeling like a fraud because you are, you are a business first, photographer second, if that makes sense.

Trevor: No, yeah. That makes a ton of sense. I mean, really kind of puts the whole thing on its head. Like, hey, yes, that’s great that you, you know, you have this hobby, you’re good at photography, but if you want this to become kind of your, your income, generate your, you know, your life for you, you really need to learn kind of the backend business part of it. You can’t just rely on just, you know, clicking a button and taking some pictures if I’m understanding that right.

Michele: Yeah. I mean, it’s the same in any sort of artistic, you know, say you were to open a flower shop because you love floral design and you’re just getting started in floral design. And maybe your floral designs aren’t like absolutely amazing showstopping floral designs, but you still have to figure out what your cost of product is on your flowers and your vases and your, you know, all of the accessories that you use to build floral design. And so you wouldn’t be able to keep your flower shop open if you weren’t pricing out your cost of goods correctly with all of the other things that go into that, like your overhead, and your insurance, and all of the tools that you need, and the education that you’re spending on to become a better floral designer. So I think when you, when you can talk to photographers in terms of an actual product, you know, we sell albums, we sell wall art, we sell all kinds of things, but photographers tend to base that cost on the value of what they think they’re putting on those products, as opposed to like that florist knows a dozen roses cost her or him, you know, $15 and it’s two hours to design this floral piece and my overhead is X and my insurance is this. So in order to be profitable and keep my doors open, I have to sell that, you know, floral designs at $150, which sounds ridiculous when, you know, somebody thinks, oh my gosh, those flowers only costs $15, how can you charge $150? But when you add in all of those other costs of doing business, well then it makes total sense. And photographers, I think, forget to do that. They just like, I’m new, I’m not that good, I don’t have a truly professional camera, I don’t have the best lenses, so I have to produce this wall portrait, or a say like an 8 by 10, an 8 by 10 from your lab could potentially cost, you know, $2.50. Then you mount it and that’s another $4. And so now you’re at $6.50. And if you outsource your retouching, now you have to add another X amount of dollars to that. And then if you put it in a box with tissue paper and a ribbon, and a thank you tag, all of that brings that 8 by 10 now to around say $15, $20. And then you have to factor in your time, your overhead, and all of those things. And so when people hear $100, $150 for an 8 by 10 and they immediately go to, well, that’s ridiculous. It costs $2.50 cents. That’s not the full picture. And so you have to factor all of that in as well.

Trevor: Wow. Wow. Wow, man, that was very clear and like, easy to understand. It’s like, you’ve taught this before something, I don’t know. I love it. No, absolutely love it. I hope everyone’s scrambling to take down some notes like this is, this is awesome. And then kind of interesting to me as well is we’ve, you know, all of this great advice for some of these up and coming photographers who really want to kind of get their business off the ground, but what about on the flip side? For you, you know, what, what do you do to keep your job interesting? Let’s say, you know, you’ve got this established business and everything, what do you do so you don’t fall into a rut, so, you know, where does that inspiration come from after you’ve been doing it for decades, you know?

Michele: Yeah, I love that question. Continuous education. I love continuous education. I go to all the conferences. I make sure I attend classes. During COVID I spent a tremendous amount of time purchasing and studying online courses from other photographers. Personal projects is huge. I didn’t really start learning strobe and studio lighting until I was well into my career. I’ve only really started learning and playing with strobe lighting in the last four or five years. And prior to that, I was all natural light. So going into that side of photography was new and exciting and learning modifiers and white patterns and, you know, light ratios. And so I love to do personal projects where I’ll invite models into my studio and we’ll style them and, you know, I’ll try different lighting techniques and, you know, anything I can do to keep continuing to grow in my career will keep you pretty motivated cause it is easy to get into a rut. And it, you know, especially when you do the same thing over and over. For me, part of that is I’m very active and involved with, and this will come as a surprise, the local community theater in my town because I love theater. And so it’s a youth, kind of it’s a youth through like, high school, college age theater. And I do a lot of work for the theater. Every show we do all of the headshots for the cast, and then we do all of the promos for the cast. And so when they come in for the promos, they’re dressed in, so, so, such fun costumes that that really lights me up and then I get to photograph all the shows. And so that’s something I’m really passionate about. And then kind of put your mind in a different, a different thought process than producing work for clients. Like, you know, the family portraits and, you know, high school seniors I do. So that is always stepping outside my comfort zone a little bit, because I’ve got to research the show. I have to like, see what other kind of promos have been done for those particular shows. And then I’m working with kids and that’s always a lot of fun. So I would say constant education and personal projects is the way to keep yourself fresh and engaged and motivated and, you know, inspired in your own, whatever genre or in your photography business in general.

Trevor: I really liked that cause I, I’ve been actually taking a new online course to want to help, you know, just improve myself in some areas. But I found myself, because it had been so long, that like my brain just started hurting. I was like, oh my gosh, like I need to like be more consistent in education. You know, hopefully my head will hurt so much. So I love what you’re saying about consistently get out there, learn something, cause then you’re gonna be, you’re not gonna, you know, have a lack of like, oh, okay, what about, what do I do now? Like, no, you’re going to be staying on top of everything. Like I love that.

Michele: Yeah, definitely. And it’s funny because like, I’ll talk to like, you know, people who are, you know, younger in the industry than I am, but are doing incredible work. And I’ll say to them, I’d love to take a workshop with you. And they’re like, you want to take a workshop with me, but you’ve been doing this so much longer than I have. And I say, yeah, but there’s always something new to learn. And sometimes newer photographers have fresh ideas and they’re doing things differently and you can always take something from that and work it into what you do. Not that you go and get educated to copy or to, you know, be just like the instructor you’re studying from, but to take real pieces of the really cool things that they’re doing and then incorporate that into your own work.

Trevor: That’s awesome. So, so awesome. Just have couple of questions left and actually this talk of continued education kind of leads into something else I wanted to ask you cause what, what are some of the resources that you’re using that you would recommend to other photographers to, you know, either help them in their business or get better at their craft? What are some of your favorite resources?

Michele: CreativeLive is a great resource and they have an annual subscription that’s like $150 and you can pretty much watch almost any course that CreativeLive offers. And they offer everything from business, to personal development, to marketing, business side of photography, fashion photography, family photography, food photography, anything you could possibly imagine, you can pretty much find there. Another great resource is The Portrait Masters website. And they have courses by retouchers, they have courses by fashion photographers, fine art photographers, people who just do amazing fine art photography, people who do compositing, you know, studio portraits. Some of my favorite classes, I took Chris Knight’s class over, over COVID. There’s another website, I cannot think of it off the top of my head, but it’s another fantastic resource that I’ve, you know, gone on and bought courses from there. I mean, it’s an endless supply of education. And even if you can’t afford to like buy courses, YouTube, is like YouTube University, right? Like everybody knows, if you want to know something, go to YouTube, type it in, and you will find tons of videos on it.

Trevor: Totally. Gosh that’s so true.

Michele: Even just learning your software, even learning the software that you use. If, you know, I, I work in Capture One and Capture One offers so much education through their website and YouTube. I mean the same with Adobe and Photoshop. Any of the softwares that you use in your business, just go YouTube them so you can get better at using them. The better you are using your software, the less time you spend in post-production, and the more time you can spend learning the more creative things.

Trevor: That’s awesome. Man, I’m like, can’t wait to go back and listen to this to learn even more again and again. This is so great.

Michele: Thank you!

Trevor: No, absolutely. Thank you! And Michele, if people want to connect with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Michele: Oh, it’s easy to find me. It’s Michele with one L Celentano when you’re in the U S you say Celentano, but I love you for saying Celentano the Italian way. C E L E N T A N O. I’m on Instagram. I’m on Facebook. You can check out my website. I have an entire course on family portraits and posing, which is just, I spent two weeks filming this class and there’s so much information. I photograph seven families. I teach all about body sizing, body posing, positioning, how to puzzle pieces together because I don’t know the last time any of my fellow family portrait photographers have an entire family of runway models, but it usually doesn’t exist. So I, you know, for me, most people come to me with a question of how do I pose these body types, the average American body type? And that’s one of my favorite things to teach because those are the clients we’re working with probably 90% of the time. So I’m easy to find.

Trevor: Heck yeah, that’s so awesome. Michele, you’re incredible! Thank you so much for sharing all of these great insights today. We really appreciate it and are so excited for this episode to go out to everybody.

Michele: That went so fast!

Trevor: It is quick. That’s true. Especially when you’re learning! Man, I can’t wait, I got to go online and then start going onto your seminars and webinars, everything!

Michele: Yes, or at conventions. Spend the money. Invest in your craft. When you can invest in your craft. That’s what I say all the time. Put off buying a new piece of equipment in lieu of using the equipment you have to the best of your ability and being creative with what you have. And then when you upgrade to the newest, greatest, latest, wonderful equipment, it will just make it all that much better, but it’s not the equipment that makes us great photographers. It’s how we connect with our clients, how we make people feel, the work that we produce and the service that we provide.

Trevor: Wow. Man, I think that’s the perfect note to end on, remember that. Learn your craft and then spend money on the toys. Absolutely.

Michele: Yes indeed. Cause you’ll go bankrupt fast, buying all the latest, greatest new toys.

Trevor: Oh yeah, for sure. There’s so many fun things. Wow. Well Michelle, thank you so, so much for your time. Man, hope you have a great rest of your day!

Michele: Thank you, you too! And thank you so much for inviting me to do this. It’s just a blast for me and I’m always honored to be invited to do stuff like this. So thank you for the invitation.

Trevor: Absolutely. And is it, and in Italy they say ciao for goodbye, is that right?

Michele: Ciao, yes.

Trevor: Ciao. Well hey, thanks so much, Michelle. Have a great one.

Michele: Thanks Trevor, you too!

Trevor: Thanks, bye-bye.