Michael Thorn – ACHUKA

With a wealth of experience in his illustrious career as a writer, educator, and coder, Michael explored photography as recreation. Today, photography has come to the forefront, and he’s taking one captivating photo after another. Check his story out below.


Say hello to Michael:

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Where are you from?  

Grew up in London. Moved around a bit. Settled near the coast in the southeast of England.


What’s your favorite place in the world?

The village where my grandmother lived and where my mother grew up. We holidayed there three or four times each year, so it was like a second home to me. It has a wonderful spirit of place.

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How would you describe your visual style?

I like to work in a variety of styles depending on the project, but my great love is achieving (along with the model) a depth, mood and atmosphere in an image.


How do you find your inspiration?

From a lifetime of appreciating art and photography – in exhibitions, books, magazines and online.


Tell us the significance behind the name, ACHUKA.

Nearly 20 years ago (1997), I founded a website dedicated to news and reviews about children’s books: www.achuka.co.uk. I wanted a name that would start with an A to get to the head of alphabetical lists, I then used the CH from ‘CHildren’s books’ and the UK to identify it as a UK website, and added another A at the end to get ACHUKA. From then onward, all of my online life has been associated with that word. I have occasionally seen Japanese restaurants with the name, so I assume it is a real word in that language, but have no idea what it means.


You taught yourself how to code – what prompted you to take on such a challenging venture?

In those days, the web was comparatively straightforward. I taught myself using a book called Teach Yourself HTML In a Week by Laura Lemay. It actually took more like four weeks, but by the end of the month, I had the first iteration of ACHUKA established. I was up and away and have gradually extended my coding knowledge since then.


Tell us about your career.  How did you get into it?

For much of my life, I’ve had a mixed career – as a writer, educationist, and website owner, rather than as a photographer. During that time, photography was primarily recreation.


What types of photography do you do?

I’m in a position now where photography has become the primary creative purpose in my life. I’m fully committed to becoming better and better as a portrait, beauty, and fashion photographer.


What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?

I think it goes back to those visits to my grandmother’s house. She had an old biscuit tin full of black and white prints of various sizes and condition. Photos of my mother as a young girl. Photos of my grandmother’s home at the tiptop of Scotland (my great-grandfather had been a shepherd for the Duke of Sutherlandshire). I adored browsing in those photos and was soon asking to be given a camera for my birthday.

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My grandmother as a young auburn-haired woman.

A tough one – of the photos you’ve taken, which three are your favorite? 

Yes, that’s tough, choosing just three!

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This photo was used as promotional copy for a local exhibition my work was included in twelve months ago. I do think it’s one of my most memorable portraits. Its impact owes much to the model, Estrany, who was exceptional to work with.

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This is probably my favourite location portrait. It was one of those days, as you can tell from the sky, when the sun was often hidden by clouds, and there was a stiff breeze. The photo captures one of those fleeting moments of full sunshine.

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I like photographing Asian models, and one of my main editing techniques is playing with colour balance and toning. This has been a particularly popular image.

Photography is competitive.  How do you stand out?

Ultimately, you have to stand out by the quality of the work you show to the world. But you do have to show it, so an online presence is essential.


What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?

Take photographs as frequently as possible. Join sites like Flickr and 500px. Follow photographers whose work you admire.


What was your most memorable photoshoot?

First time shooting as part of a team – with MUA, designer, and stylist. It was memorable partly because the Italian model, Alessia Vaccaro, was so good to work with, and it helped me learn to keep my place and let the team prepare each look – so there was a lot more waiting around than when I’m working a pure portrait shoot.

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Who do you want to give a shoutout to?

I joined Flickr in 2005. Here are some of the photographers whose work I find inspiring:

Rui Palha (fabulous street photographer), Anka ZhuravlevaNadia Bautista, Bogna Altman, and Jody Miller.


What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?

Shoot as frequently as possible. Don’t rush the edit.


What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?

I can tell you what’s a dealbreaker when deciding NOT to do a shoot: poor communication. I’ve cancelled shoot arrangements on a few occasions when it’s become clear a model isn’t reading messages or shoot notes, asking the same questions over and over, etc.


How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?

Making them feel at ease. Not pushing. I tend not to talk or comment while firing the shutter. I like a certain quietude at those times (though there would be music playing in the background if it’s a studio shoot).


What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?

Haha – no longer being (on the surface at least) in the prime of manhood.


What kind of gear do you have?

I use a full-frame Sony a99. When I was a purely recreational photographer, I couldn’t justify spending money on pro standard gear, so for many years shot with a modest Minolta film slr. When photography went digital, I used Sony point and shoot cameras for event photography connected with the ACHUKA website. When Sony brought out its first digital SLR, it made sense for me to get it, because I had a few Minolta lenses that were compatible. I’ve stayed with Sony, and I love the quality of images my a99 produces when coupled with my favourite portrait lens, a Sigma 85mm 1.4.


What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Don’t limit yourself to the standard setups. Recently, I’ve been feathering my key light rather than having it pointed directly at the subject.


What are your current projects?

Since the summer, I’ve been posting fashion-editorial style sequences to Instagram, but I have some portrait projects coming up that I hope will produce independent images with a strong impact.

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What is your most life-changing event?

Meeting my wife.


What’s one of your biggest fears?

Heights.


What will you be doing five years from now?

God willing, more of the same, to an even higher standard.


What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?

Go to America and travel coast to coast.


For anyone that wants to get in touch with Michael, here’s some contact information:

FStop: Profile

Website: photo.achuka.co.uk

Instagram: @achuka

Flickr: Profile

Tumblr: Page

500px: Profile


Michael, thank you so much for sharing your story with us! 🙂

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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