Welcome back to our ”I’m a Photographer: Discussions on the life of a Photographer“ series today (three weeks late). I apologize for the delay in these, however I had a very good reason. (also see here). If you aren’t sure what these interviews are all about, check this out. This is our 3rd of 6 interviews and the last three will be posted in the next week and will include guys like David E. Jackson.
Our next interview comes from my good friend, Stephen Hunton. He is full time professional photographer and as of last month started his own Advertising firm – another busy guy. Stephen is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known and his dedication for his art and furthermore for his family shines through – even while being busier than ever. Stephen lives in Atlanta and is one of the only photographers I know that truly practices what he preaches – get your butt out there and hustle!
Quickly describe your situation/life/craziness as a photographer.
Full-time photographer, hustler, marketer, people meeter & greeter
Real quickly tell us what you shoot, your style and what the perfect day of photography would look like.
Right now I shoot a little of everything, from corporate to music to weddings. My sweet spot is music/editorial and I hope to grow that into commercial. My perfect day of shooting is really a bunch of days before and after the shoot. I love to concept a shoot, plan, prepare and then execute that vision on set and in post production.
Where did the photographic bug come from? Why do you suspect it hasn’t faded away?
In high school I took a photo 101 class. We used film cameras and got to play around in the darkroom. I LOVED IT. But, I guess the real bug came in ’06. My first son was about to be born and my parents hooked me up with a D80. I was terrible with a DSLR but because I’m a bit uber-competitive, I just shot everything under the sun until I started to figure things out.
I guess it hasn’t faded away because it’s the best way for me to exercise my creative side and I love the emotion that comes from the images. It’s also just cool how this photographic community has grown online/offline and I think that keeps you drawn in, when other photogs are sharing/caring/encouraging each other.
Why do you think it’s so hard to transition from a person working a full time non-photographic job to a full time photographer?
It takes a completely different mindset. You go from knowing that you have a new check in the mail every 15 days to wondering when the next gig will be. There are these huge roller coasters of ups and downs. I’ve always been a people person, but once I hit the ground as a full-time photographer I became an instant hustler. Nobody knows me unless I somehow figure out how to share my work with them.
What’s the most frustrating thing about being a “Recently full time” photographer?
Not knowing all the right moves. In my old job, I could do pretty much any project easily because I’d done it before. Shooting a TV campaign for $1 Million wasn’t difficult because I’d done it before and there was an amazing team of people around us to make sure everything alwasy got done. Now it’s JUST me and there are days of feeling like things just are not progressing and days where validation pushes me back to center again.
What’s a bad day look like for someone in your position? What’s a good day look like? What are the frustrations and successes?
A bad day…. no leads, no meetings, no emails. It’s rare to not have any emails come through, but back in December I got my first taste of a freelance Christmas… nobody’s working. nobody’s responding.
A good day is shooting a fun project that is more than just showing up and clicking the shutter. I prefer shooting when it’s involved creative input and some vision. I also love days where I’m getting to network and meet new people to either share my work or hear about what they’re doing.
If you had to give an educated guess, why do you think most people in your position struggle to make it?
It takes really thick skin to do this and you have to be willing to fail often. Some of the most talented people I’ve known in life, whether creatives or athletes or musicians, have struggled the most because they just felt that it should be given to them. Just being a good photographer isn’t enough, you have to also have a hunger to grow your business. I honestly probably use my camera 5-10% of the time. The rest is business growth, whether it’s meetings, emails, introductions, phone calls, blogging, tweeting, lunching… you get the drill.
What’s a recent or next “big step” or decision in you photographic career?
A next step in my career is figuring out how to merge photography with my advertising career. I’ve had some opportunities to do branding consulting/development and have realized that I do love that business as well. I think diversifying my business will help me to bring more value to corporate/commercial clients and hopefully allow me to be more selective in the types of photo jobs I go after.
I started a consulting/branding company called Rocket Shine recently and am spending a lot of time figure out its brand and how we’ll move beyond the first Client we won (before we had a business name) and find a balance between growing the photography side of my life with the growth of this business.
What keeps you going? What motivates you to keep doing this?
I’m passionate about creating images and growing as a photographer. I know I’ve got so far to go in this journey and it’s my family that really motivates me to push hard and stay a “hustler”. We’ve been at this for 10 months, and “the lights are still on” (the phrase I use when people ask how it’s going), so we’re blessed to have come this far.
What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation as you?
Get hungry. If you’re not hungry, don’t come to the table because there are plenty of other photogs out there that are WAY better than you. But, there are plenty that are nowhere near as good as you. To recall my Senior Quote from highschool (and the mantra I lived by when working my butt off to get a college scholarship to play D1 Tennis) “Hard Work ALWAYS Beats Talent, if Talent Doesn’t Always Work Hard.” We all fall somewhere into that quote, but if you work hard you’ll find yourself getting more opportunities to prove yourself and grow your business.