Whether you're just starting out as a creative or want to switch from one career to another, Mike Will is an inspiration to us all. This London-based creative photographer travels all over the world to create content and energetic brand campaigns.
He's known for his vibrant urban style and eye-catching colours, as seen in his night cityscapes, landscapes, music festival and travel work.
You'd imagine it's taken decades for him to reach this pinnacle. And yet, five years ago, he didn't even own a "proper" camera.
Mike was, in fact, a professional athlete for ten years and represented Team GB in Ice Hockey at the World Championships. It was an experience that gave him a strong work ethic and a sense of teamwork that he's carried through to his new career.
We chatted to Mike about working for big brands, founding a global photographer community, and the tech he uses to bring his visions to life. We also hear more about his new partnership with Huawei to launch its flagship new monitor, the HUAWEI MateView.
How did you get started in photography?
I started shooting in 2016. I had a little point and shoot, as well as my phone. I started shooting at night with a long exposure. It was so much fun. So I started shooting a bit more.
Later that year, I bought a camera. I had another job at the time, which led me to move to Guildford in Surrey. Being so close to London really opened up the city. And that's when my creative juices exploded. I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm so close to the city, and I can just come in on a train and start shooting!' And my creativity grew from there.
You make it sound simple. But some people will wonder how you got so far, so quickly.
I guess I just threw myself into it. I was a pro athlete for ten years, and I understand what it takes to move things to the next level and dedicate time and energy towards reaching a goal and achieving a dream. So when I decided I wanted to become a pro photographer, I set aside everything to do that.
Editing is critical to your work. How did you learn how to do it?
I don't know how I learned how to edit. I opened up Lightroom and was like, 'What do these sliders do?' And I just started practising on the sliders, manipulating colours, until I found my unique style.
I wanted everything to have a clean aesthetic across the board, so I could then post a portrait next to a landscape next to a cityscape, and it would all be intertwined together. Obviously, it took years and years. And I'm still learning now all the time: it's a constant process.
Nowadays, I see my techniques being used across social media by other creators, which is really cool. It's a compliment when people want to replicate your style.
You've worked with some huge brands. How much of a challenge has that been?
Being a sportsman has prepared me for that. I love a challenge: the excitement of thinking, 'I've got to create something different, something new'. I've always tried to step up and bring it to the next level, outdo what I've done in the past.
I'm very fortunate to have worked with very supportive brands that appreciate the creative direction I want to take. So 99% of the time, I've been able to create what I want. You need to follow the briefs. But genuinely, the support has always been there.
How do you approach a brief?
I research the brands: you know, what their message is, and what they're looking to do. And then, I intertwine it with my personal brand and what I want to create. I don't want it to be the same as what I've done before, and I think that's one of the reasons brands come back to me.
On the whole, it's about shooting cool stuff. And I've been lucky to be able to do that creatively. I've created lots of different kinds of ads in my style but incorporating a brand's message.
What kind of set-up do you have for your editing?
I work on a MacBook Pro using a Magic Trackpad, and I've recently got a HUAWEI MateView monitor, which has been a great help because of its true-to-life colour accuracy.
Colours are essential to me and my work. Having excellent colour accuracy in 4K on the MateView is incredibly helpful because I'm zooming in – right in – and back out of my images. I've used other monitors in the past where they don't quite match up. It ruins the creative workflow.
The screen size, 28.2 inches, is perfect for me. Because much of my work is social media-based, it's portrait rather than landscape I find interesting. So having the extra bit of size, that is important. Plus, it looks so sleek. The space I'm working in is the pride of life, with the lights and the kind of cool vibe I have. So that's important to me too.
We're told that having stability is the way to work, but there is a different way. If you hustle, if you're a good person, and if you enjoy what you're doing, there are plenty of amazing campaigns and projects to work on. So go out there and do it!
Back in 2016, you founded the photography community World Shooters. How did that come about?
When I first started photography, I went to LA and met many photographers who were very well connected. Instagram was already quite big there, and I'd meet people with 10,000 followers, who'd get sent free products from brands. Then I came back to the UK and thought: 'Where's the UK community?'
There was nothing. Team sports have been such a big part of my life, and I wanted a team to be involved in. So I started UK Shooters, which grew into World Shooters, and now we have this global community. We ran our first event in 2016, then the second one in February 2017. That's when it all blew up. So it was a case of how can we keep building this community? How can we get brands involved? How can we give people opportunities?
Having a social platform like Instagram is great, but actually bringing people together in person is even better. Especially right now, when people who have been DMing for six, 12 months can actually see each other face-to-face and say: 'Oh my God, nice to meet you. You're such and such and are so cool!' And in a safe environment, when you're with loads of people. We want as many people from as many backgrounds as possible to come and meet each other.
You do a lot of shooting at night, which sounds cool. But I'm guessing it's pretty punishing in practice?
Absolutely. Especially in winter. Autumn's my favourite time to shoot because you have slightly longer nights, but it's not freezing cold.
Some nights will be all-nighters: you'll work till two, three, four in the morning shooting. But I'm a bit of a night owl anyway, so I prefer working at night, getting in the zone. On a non-shoot day, I usually do emails and social stuff in the morning and day, then edit at night.
How do you see the next five years in your career?
Who knows? I mean, I want to get back to travelling. And I also want to shoot more with DJs. This summer has been great so far: I think I've done 15 festivals, which is sick. And I'm looking for next year to do some live music. I want to work with some big pop artists. But other than that, I'm just going along one day at a time. Going by the motto on my wall, 'Do epic shit'.
Finally, what advice do you have for anyone wishing to switch careers and follow a new creative passion?
You have to enjoy what you're doing. If you enjoy it, then love will come with it. Which then means you'll want to hustle. You'll want to shoot more, and learn more, and get better, and improve. If you genuinely believe you can do it, then you can genuinely do it. You have to put your mind to it and not worry about anything else.
Personally, I've never had a job where I've known where my next paycheck is coming from. With hockey, you had two weeks in your contract, and if you were fired, that was it. You were looking for your next contract. So I've never known stability.
But I don't feel that we need stability. We're told that that's the way to work, but there is a different way of living. If you hustle, if you're a good person, and if you enjoy what you're doing, there are plenty of amazing campaigns and projects to work on. So go out there and do it!
The HUAWEI MateView is available to pre-order from the Huawei Store now and is on sale, RRP £599.99. Customers purchasing from a Huawei Store and selected retailers before 30 September 2021 also qualify for £200 cashback.