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Michele Stapleton interview

March 3rd, 2010  |  Published in Featured, Shoot  |  2 Comments

ShootStyle interview with Michele Stapleton

Michele Stapleton, a Maine wedding photojournalist, started out as journalism major following the pre-law path her mother wanted her to pursue. She took all of the standard journalism classes and the single photojournalism class the school offered. This class changed everything for her. She bought her first Nikon for her last semester and says “I went crazy. I joined the yearbook staff. I joined the newspaper, I took any assignment they would give me.”

She lugged her camera with her everywhere while interning at a small newspaper and was more excited about the photography than the writing.

In the meantime, she applied to law school. “The only school I had applied to was the University of Alabama because it was the only one that didn’t have an essay on why you wanted to go to law school. I didn’t want go to law school, and I didn’t want to lie on an essay. I got accepted in December after I finished my internship.”

In the interim she applied for a summer job as a “girl” for a wedding photographer, doing office work, carrying bags, schlepping. “I told my mom ‘I know what I want to do’, my mother said ‘No way.’”  So instead Michele packed her cameras away and got a job as a runner for a law firm.

She did well in law school and got a job with a law firm.  “At this point I brought the camera stuff back out, I was one of the lawyers with the nice Nikons. I had really nice stuff but I was really unhappy.” She took an Adult Ed photography class taught by a local newspaper photographer. Each week she would shoot ten rolls of film in the Mississippi Delta, pick out the best 36 images and show them to the class.  “I was like ‘This is what makes me happy’. I spent a year hanging around the newspaper.

“I’d shoot alongside a newspaper person, I’d go to a football game and I would shoot with them. I’d pay for my own film and I’d put it in the processor and I’d lay it down next to the [staff photographers photos] and I’d go ‘Oh my god, my stuff is so bad, and their stuff is so good’. There were two guys there that were good with interns that would really give constructive criticism. I did it for a year and a half until I had worked up a portfolio of what a newspaper photographer should have.”

During this time, Michele won the grand prize in a national Nikon contest for a little league game she’d photographed. The prize was a two-week trip for four to Washington, New York, the Grand Canyon and L.A.

“That was my two-weeks vacation. I got back, and the Republican National Convention that year was in New Orleans. AP was looking for not shooters, but total runner-wannabes. AP needed volunteers to go around to the photographers and get their film and take it to the lab. That’s all you did, but it got you into the building and into the convention. I thought ‘I want to do that’, but I didn’t have any more vacation, so I walked in [to the law firm] and I quit.”

She took a job at a small paper in Alabama and then she got a staff position at the Clarion-Ledger where she shot for seven years. She took a workshop at the Maine Photographic Workshops with Jay Maisel, fell in love with the state, and grabbed a position at the Bangor Daily News when it became available.

Her transition to weddings coincided with an increase in popularity of wedding photojournalism. The new photojournalists rejected the notion that a wedding was just a series of opportunities to pose people.

ShootStyle interview with Michele Stapleton

“People who came from newspapers made such a big impression because we rejected all these rules.  At first people just thought the difference was that we weren’t posing people. We recognized that moments were happening already, that you didn’t have to make-up moments. I don’t think they realized all those other things we were doing: pushing film, dragging the shutter and not shooting everything at f8 at 250 on 100-speed film. The only thing they noticed the difference in was the moments. They didn’t notice all the other things.”

Michele has great respect for photographers who pose people and encourage their clients in scenarios, but it’s not something she’s comfortable doing. She says: “I’ve seen some fabulous shots and thought ‘oh my gosh, I wish my brides would do that’ and the photographer will say ‘Oh I suggested that’. It‘s executed so well that it looks spontaneous. It’s a hard thing for me to cross over to encouraging people to do stuff. I’m somewhat of a purist; if they don’t do it, I don’t encourage it.”

“I attract people that are a little nervous about the posed stuff and don’t want to do a lot of posed photos. I get the couples who say, “We don’t want to miss our cocktail hour, we want to spend twenty minutes max on posed photos. And that’s okay with me. ”

She prefers to get to the cocktail hour herself. “To me, the cocktail party is a great opportunity.  I don’t want to be the photographer where you open up the album and it’s the bride, groom and preacher, maybe one picture of the bridal party, maybe one picture of the family and pages and pages of posed photos of the bride and the groom.”

ShootStyle interview with Michele Stapleton

Michele explains, “My attitude is that anyone that you’ve invited and has made the trouble to come to your wedding in Maine is fair game. I want to take pictures of the bridesmaids and groomsmen other than when they are walking down the aisle. I want to get pictures of the family other than when they are being seated. The cocktail hour is a great time, they are on a patio, they’re seated on a rock wall, they are spread out and mixed around “

“I feel like that’s what makes me different. I’m taking more pictures than of just the bride and the groom. I want them to have pictures of as many people as possible, because it’s their family and their best friends and the people that are most important to them in their life. I want them to have pictures of everybody.”

ShootStyle interview with Michele Stapleton

“The best advice I got was to join the professional associations and trade groups for your profession; you network with other people who do what you do, you get online classes, you get workshops and you become friends. ASMP, PPA, WPPI, Maine PPA, I join a lot of them, I spend a lot of money on dues. The national organizations do a lot to support things that are important to photographers and they provide educational opportunities. You can’t beat the DWF, especially since we are in Maine– it’s so far way from everything– people [on the DWF] are really generous, it’s an incredible opportunity to learn everything.”

Check out her wedding work at : http://www.maineweddingphotographer.com/

and her editorial work at: http://www.michelestapleton.com/

About Andree

Andree Kehn has written 38 post in this blog.

Andree is a fun Bethel Maine Wedding Photographer, who specializes in contemporary photojournalism. She eats shoots and leaves.



  1. Carol Savage says:

    June 5th, 2010 at 9:58 am (#)

    Great article! It was fun to learn about Michelle, how she got to where she is today! I love to hear about the success of a passion!!! Love the images!

  2. Andree says:

    June 5th, 2010 at 2:33 pm (#)

    Thanks Carol!,

    I had a great time writing the article and interviewing Michele. She’s my favorite lawyer-photographer. :)


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