I love photography. Correction, I’m in LOVE with photography. The very thought of capturing a single microsecond in time, that will never be seen again, is mind-boggling. With each and every passing moment, every one of us sees the world from a slightly or vastly different vantage point, experienced only by our own eyes and minds. For years, I loved walking around with my Point & Shoot camera, taking unique pictures that I could place in my photo album with the pride of knowing many were “one of a kind”. But then something unexpected happened and a casual hobby quickly became a business, but more important, a passion!
My favorite niches? I read that each photographer should specialize (or focus) on three. I’d say my favorites are Sports, Concerts and Landscape photography. I’ve tried the others and do enjoy them immensely: Birding, Wedding, Portraiture, Trick photography, Macro, Food, etc. I try to keep myself fresh in every one because you never know when and where your services might be needed.
Anyway, here is my story…
It all began in 2013 with a going-away party at a Mexican restaurant for a co-worker. After dinner, we all went upstairs to the Salsa club, where I took pictures of my friends and everyone else dancing. After about two hours of conspicuous shooting, I was confronted by a dancer who had his own club, wanting to know where he could see the pictures. After connecting with me on Facebook, he tagged my posted photos for other party attendants who saw my work and eventually reached out to me. Before I knew it, I was receiving inquiries and requests to shoot other events including an engagement party, birthday parties and family portraits.
This was all so unexpected and happened rather quickly for me because I was busy focusing on a possible transition from a 20+ year career as Environmental, Safety & Health Director to private EHS Consultant and Trainer. I’d already realized that I was tired of working in factories, trying to convince management teams to do what they already knew was right, only to be the center of (attempted) blame or question when the company had a serious accident or citation as a result of not listening to things I’d advised. Despite their pointing of fingers, I was always ready with a memo, agenda, audit, email or meeting notes that clearly indicated certain issues needed attention. Still, producing an “I Warned You” document got old. I didn’t need vindication, I needed people to listen so there would be no resulting problems. That was why my job existed and why I was hired: pro-action and prevention, not RE-action and regret. I needed to work for myself. Besides, the benefit of being a consultant and trainer was that I could make my own schedule, decide with whom I worked and at what capacity, answering to no one but yours truly. So I took a leap of faith.
Unfortunately, being a one-man-show made it difficult to compete with the companies that provided the same services on a much grander scale. It wasn’t that I couldn’t deliver a quality product/service, but I was up against the big dogs. These were organizations with longtime established names, accolades from well-known clientele and full teams of personnel with decades of combined experience, specializing in various and specific fields of safety. I didn’t shut my company down, but I found that focusing on this new world of photography was immediate, a little more guaranteed and much more gratifying.
Working with a very close friend who was a seasoned photographer, he became my mentor. I accompanied him in shooting a charity race, gospel concert, a high school football game and several track & field competitions. I also assisted him with taking school photos at a high school. He soon sent me out as his photography replacement for the annual New Albany Classic (concert, outdoor fair and equestrian event) and a semi-pro football game.
During this time, my work was featured as the front page photo for the Columbus Post newspaper, four different times! They eventually offered me a job as a freelance photographer after my work shooting the election. This also led to me being hired to shoot my first music video.
But the biggest challenge, the one that really started it all, came when I met someone at a networking event. She was a successful event coordinator who saw what I did for a living and asked me if I was interested in photographing her daughter’s party which was actually a surprise marriage proposal!
The party was an exciting event and resulted in additional service requests from party-goers who got a chance to see some sample shots as I transferred them wirelessly from my camera to my phone, then to hers. They gave me great compliments and hired me right then and there for upcoming events of their own.
But the wonderful lady who hired me wasn’t finished with me. She asked me to photograph her daughter’s wedding! Wait. WHAT?? WEDDING?!?!?!? I had never done a wedding before and felt it was way out of my league. This was the most important event of her daughter’s life and she wanted to entrust it to me, a novice in that realm. Now I know that every surgeon has that inaugural moment when they put someone under the knife, but to me, this was like having a woman ask an inexperienced doctor to perform his first Triple-bypass on her own father! I asked why she wanted me for the task, especially when she had her own list of professional and experienced photography contacts. She told me that she loved my work and knew that I would do a great job (and she knew I had to start somewhere). For the record, I’m forever indebted to her for her kindness and the faith that gave me the confidence to pursue photography on a more professional level.
I nervously agreed and called my mentor in, as he had several weddings under his belt. When the day arrived, I was operating on almost zero sleep because I spent most of the night before, worrying about how I might screw things up. Even with my mentor present, I was hoping that I could put him in position to get all of the key shots, as I feared mine were probably going to be terrible or at the most, subpar. That morning, in addition to my anxiety he dropped an even bigger bomb on me. He said he was NOT going to give me any instructions because I had already done enough research and had met with the pastor, bride, groom and wedding attendants. He said he would be working FOR me and under MY direction.
C’mon, man!!! I need you to tell ME what to do!!!
Seeing that he was not going to change his mind, I slowly exhaled and accepted his decision – not that I had a choice. Momma bird was pushing me out of the nest that day. I slipped away and asked the pastor for a private moment, knowing that time was short. I was literally shaking when I told him that I was shooting my first wedding and terrified of making a mess of things. I asked if he would pray for me. He kindly closed the door, took my hands and gave one of the most inspirational, dedicated and mind-blowing prayers I’d ever heard in my life. Then he firmly gripped my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “Now go out there and do what you already know how to do. And do it WELL!” (Thank you, Pastor Nedd. God bless you.)
That was all I needed. I went out into that church with renewed confidence and eagerness to take my game to the next level. I knew that the fundamentals were there and the only thing that could stop me was myself.
The wedding was beautiful, our combined shots were successful and I couldn’t wait for another opportunity to get more practice!
Be careful what you wish for, people…
That very evening I got a call from one of my son’s friends, who I had already photographed with his girlfriend. He asked if I could come shoot his wedding, scheduled (noooooooo) the next day – the day AFTER my first wedding!
No better practice than the very next day. I immediately accepted.
In wedding #2 the ceremony had barely gotten underway before the wedding attendants left their seats, ran up to the front of the church fellowship hall and clustered around the wedding couple and Officiant with raised phones, recording the event. Photography Lesson: Be prepared for any and everything and don’t panic. I had to find a direct view by shooting from the stage, at an angle behind them.
The wedding went without a hitch until one of the bridesmaids backed into the Unity Candle, which set her hair on fire! Thank God they put it out in time. I later told my mentor what happened and he asked me if I “got the shot”. I told him that I was too busy running for the nearest fire extinguisher. We laughed as he told me that a true photographer wouldn’t have missed such an opportunity.
I guess safety is just too deep in my system.
As time passed, I joined several photography groups in the Columbus area, happening upon several members in my daily travels. Most of them would be found during my practice shoot outings at various Metro Parks throughout the city.
I found myself enjoying this new “hobby” more and more. I watched and read everything I could get my hands on: YouTube videos, books, webinars, online and personal training sessions – I did it all. Then came the day when my mentor told me that I didn’t need him as much as I thought, commending my growth and obsession and having the “photography bug”. He told me it was time for me to handle things on my own.
At the suggestion of friends and satisfied customers, I decided to make my services available to everyone. It was time to make it a legitimate business.
Am I a “professional” photographer? I’m 6 years in and I get that title a lot, but I don’t see myself as such. I prefer the term, “Practicing Photography Enthusiast” myself, but if I have to go by “pro” to get the business, so be it. Personally, I have a lot of work and additional studying to do and there are so many things I’d like to accomplish before I attach that to my name.
Today, I look back on my early work and wish I had done many things differently, but that’s the maturation process. I always want to do better. To BE better. Not better than other photographers – better than the man I was 6 years ago. Better than the photographer I was, yesterday. I’m in constant competition with myself because that’s what truly matters.
As far as where I fare in the world of photography, I just want to be different. I want to be VERY different. I’ve been complimented on my so-called unique eye and I’m honored to know that people see it. I constantly want to break the rules, turn heads and continue to embrace my “vision” for its potential. As I research more and more of and about the expansive world of photography, I find that a task like that is a challenging one, but not difficult. You get out of it what you put in.
Every time I grab my Fujifilm X-T10 camera, “Carmella” (my first camera was the X-E2, which I named “Carmen the Camera“), I know that she and I are going to have fun, no matter what we do. That’s the goal, to always love what I do so I never have to consider it being “work”. I’d like to believe I’m finished with “working for a living”, but still have a consistent means to pay the bills. Loving what you do is no good if you have to do it with no home to charge your camera batteries. The obvious goal is to establish a decent income by “Capturing Moments For All Time”, as said on my ZootShoot Photography website.
And knowing that others get the same joy as I do always makes it worth the while.
Besides, there’s something hilarious about getting paid to shoot people for a living without fear of prison time.
I hope you choose to stick around as I continue this journey. We’ll see where it goes…
Thank you for reading and allowing ZootShoot Photography to capture a few of YOUR precious moments…
…for all time…
Special thanks to Greg Lewis, Melinda Molton Payne, Dee Keller, Columbus Post, George Chatters, Todd Smith, Elaine Farrington Johnson, Siima Sabiti, James Pinson, Lisa Pierpont Hommrich, Scott Zimmerman, Lisa Earley, Lowanda Smith Mitchell, Donnell Hughes, Amber Knicole, MojoFlo, Gene & Gwendolyn Harshaw, Blue Spectrum, Courtney Dobson, Michael & Janelle Harrison, Steve Harris, Di Cook, LaToya Freeman, Heather McClain, Stacie Reed, La’Toya Buzzy Jones, Tim & Sheniqua Sealey, Tonya Johnson, Lori Mangus, Princess Lias Johnson, Barbra Noone Green, Tony Swilley, Tim Andrews, Dee Green, Lisa Patterson, Robert Flores, Lonnie Fillman, Ed Dover, Gary Taite, Joe Brown, Victor Gaines and last, but not least, my sons (who served as assistants on multiple shoots) and Mrs. Davis for allowing me to purchase and KEEP the camera, even though I went over budget.
I love you all dearly and wouldn’t be who I am without your loving support…
If I failed to mention anyone, forgive me. I didn’t miss you in my heart.
Coming Soon: “My 10 Commandments As A Photographer”
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