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Michael O’Neal on detail and minimalism
The former Apple creative director has emerged as an extremely versatile photographer

Though you may or may not know him by name, you almost certainly know Michael O’Neal’s work. After all, he served as a cross-functional creative director at Apple for much of the 2000s, helping to launch everything from the iTunes Music Store to the company’s many consumer products.

With a BFA in Graphic Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, there’s no denying that the San Francisco-based O’Neal possesses a keen visual eye. He now puts his visual sense to work on the regular as a fashion and lifestyle photographer.

O’Neal’s portfolio contains a little bit of everything, and he’s got a long, diverse list of clients who can attest to his versatility. Still, if there’s one thing that unites his work, it’s quality. With an eye for detail and a penchant for minimalism, O’Neal’s photographs are images that you can truly get lost in.

We caught up with the photographer to discuss a recent series of dance photos taken at the de Young Museum.



What inspired this particular project?

Cameras and Dancers is a social media initiative bringing the mediums of dance and
photography together. Its brilliant creator — now a good friend of mine — is Jacob Jonas, a Los Angeles based choreographer and art director. Jacob Jonas the Company organizes a monthly “Instameet” with a local host, most often a social influencer and photographer. I was very humbled and excited to be chosen as the co-host for the San Francisco series last October.

You’ll notice that most of these images are at the de Young Museum, the other two are in Mission Bay. Our wonderful subjects for the former are dancers from Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. It was a beautiful morning shared between photographers, dancers and artists, all enabled by the kind folks at de Young Museum. The reason this project is one of my favorites is for the exceptional effort from these individuals to come together and make these images a reality, all for the sake of art and community. You can see several interpretations on Jacob Jonas’s website and the full project through my lens here.

Are you purely a photographer or do you have other creative pursuits?

I work as a photographer and art director, but I do appreciate many other mediums of expression. I love to sing and play guitar on my own or with friends. Musical expression is very therapeutic for me. I’m also challenging myself to explore film, to use all of my experience art directing and photographing to see what I can create in that realm.

Why did you choose photography over other creative mediums?

I chose photography for its unique ability to capture and replicate a moment. Time goes by so fast — it’s my only way of stopping it. Photography also seemed like a logical progression from studying graphic design and advertising. You have the unique opportunity to work side by side with some of the world’s best photographers and after a while you get the itch to pick up the camera and try it for yourself.

What camera did you shoot on?

Canon 1D X Mark II.

How does your gear help you as a photographer?

Having the best gear for the task at hand definitely gives an artist an edge, but in the end, it really comes down to a very human capability to see the image before it is captured or constructed. Some of my best work has been shot on an old iPhone, so it holds true that the best camera really is the one that’s with you.

Despite this, advanced technology does allow for the capture of extraordinary moments, and allows us to see things we cannot fully comprehend with the naked eye. These moments with the dancers, for example, are there and gone in an instant. With fast continuous shutter like the 1D X, you’re able to get all of the in-between moments when your subjects are in motion. It’s a great advantage to have so many frames of a split second.

If you could shoot any subject who would it be and why?

I’d love to capture an intimate portrait of the artists that have inspired me and my work the most. These are musicians especially, like Thom Yorke, Sufjan Stevens and Ben Howard.

If you could go anywhere to shoot where would it be and why?

I’d like to visit Antarctica and Greenland, and revisit Africa.

As part of our Sponsored Stories series The Creator Class has partnered with Canon Canada  to join our creators in exploring and enabling their creative endeavours.

To get involved and have a chance to be featured, email your pitches to submit@thecreatorclass.com

For more of Michael’s work: