Michael Sidofsky, the travel photographer behind the wildly popular mindzeye Instagram channel, has always had an eye for composition. Growing up, his grandfather, a painter, would teach him the ins-and-outs of his craft and its elements. Today, he uses the same advice to compose thousands of otherworldly images that sell at major auction houses. From a mysterious alleyway featuring a lone figure idly walking home to a calm Tuscan nightscape, each of Sidofsky’s shots brim with individuality and intrigue.
Featuring more than 130 color images from places like Paris, Venice, San Francisco, Switzerland, Toronto, and more, Wonder Around Every Corner will be available fall 2023.
How long have you been a photographer and what initially drew you to the profession?
In 2015 I was dabbling with VR, just walking around Toronto with my phone. Sometime that year I started really loving what I was doing and then decided to buy myself a decent camera and take it to the next level. And then I completely fell in love with it. It took a lot of time and I learned as much as I could. Then, in 2016, I started getting requests for work, which was enough for me to become a full-time photographer.
What made you interested in travel photography in particular? Have you ever delved into other subjects?
I started off in Toronto, shooting in the streets and the skyline and vantage points from wherever I could get them. At the same time, I was discovering a lot of other artists and photographers and seeing their work from all over the world. That just made me want to get out and see a lot more and shoot a lot more. That’s what got me traveling for photography in the first place, and it was addictive. Whenever I had a chance and whenever I could do it, I traveled and then I started getting work in the travel industry, which made everything so much easier. I'm still working in that industry, and still traveling as much as I can.
What is your process like for shooting a new location? Do you try to match the feeling of the place with the image that you produce, or is it much more spontaneous than that?
It's a mix. It really depends. If I'm shooting for a client, they often want the major landmarks in the images, so that’s something I have to consider. I do try to always be unique with the compositions I'm making so that it’s not just a standard shot from a main viewpoint that everybody is always shooting from. I do a lot of exploring in order to find those types of angles. I also do a lot of exploring just to find things that I didn't expect or the client didn't expect, but that is still characteristic of the destination.
Going back to composition, your grandfather, Mickey Katz, was a painter. How does that affect how you compose your shots?
He gave me a head start because of how much of his art he exposed me to. When I was very young he taught me how to draw and paint, and he’d explain which elements should go where, where the horizon should be, and correct the mistakes I was making. Although it took me a long time to actually become an artist myself, I carry that advice with me. I'm always going back and looking at his works, studying the colors that he used and the way he lit his subjects, and it's like he’s inspiring me all over again.
Tell me a bit about your editing process. All of your shots have such an otherworldly feeling to them.
It really depends on the photo. Sometimes the lighting is just perfect, there are zero distractions in the image, and the scene is exactly how I want it. Then it just becomes a matter of shaping the light, and maybe giving it a nudge here and there by dodging and burning which is selectively brightening parts of the image and selectively darkening other parts. That helps the viewer focus their eyes and attention to more important areas of the photo.
Then there are other practices that are more complex that require blending of different images together to achieve a higher dynamic range than the camera’s capable of capturing in one file. Another technique is focus stacking, where I want the entire image from front to back focused, but it would be impossible to do so in one shot, regardless of my camera settings. In that case, I have to take different shots and focus on different points in the scene, and then blend those focus areas together.
It's like a technique called focal blending where I'll take a scene and I'll take shots at different focal lengths and distances, so my foreground won't be wider. With a wider shot, for instance, that maybe has mountains in the background that are very tiny, I’ll zoom in a little closer for the background and then stitch those images together so that I get a fuller frame. I’m always trying to get the shot to be a little bit closer to what I saw when I was there.
Is there a city or country that you recently visited that inspired you above others?
Well I was just in Belgium, but the first thing that comes to mind is always Italy. I really love Venice. I’ve been there four times now. I went to a small city called Matera recently which was incredible, and my new favorite place there. I've been almost everywhere in Italy, every region. But there's just so much to see and explore.
What location have you yet to visit that’s at the top of your bucket list?
I want to do a real deep dive into Asia. I've been to Indonesia, but I want to explore Japan, China, Korea, and Hong Kong. That’s the next frontier for me.
What advice do you have for other travel photographers?
Just learn as much as you can absorb — all the knowledge from other photographers. There are tons of YouTube videos on shooting and editing. A lot of photographers have courses. But then also try to find your own voice once you've learned all the skills and techniques, and just enjoy yourself. I think you can travel to another country and focus entirely on shooting the whole time and then in a way miss the whole trip. Find a balance between your work and your play.