Building a Dream out of Nothing but Light

Creating a Photo Business While Holding Down a High-Stress, Full-time Creative Job

Looking forward to a more manageable Midwest pace


You love us, or you hate us. But either way, we’re good with it. We’re flexible. How come we’re so darned intellectually — and sometimes emotionally — elastic? Because we see both sides of any story as if each side were the only side.

This, of course, makes us rockin’ negotiators.

It also makes us the most indecisive individuals you’ll ever meet; maddeningly so, if you’re say, an earth sign. Capricorns, for example, the so-called “CEOs of the zodiac,” are notorious for their inability to understand the Twins’ chameleon-like way of shape-shifting for virtually any topic or situation.

Then there’s this Gemini Achilles heel:

Buyer’s remorse.

After all that damned indecision, we finally make up our minds (or so we’ve led you to believe with yet another academy award winning performance) and then…because of the aforementioned curse of the Twin Sight, we see just how advantageous the other choice would have been.

The contract’s been signed. Congratulations. Martini? Don’t mind if I do. Actually, make mine a double. Up. And shake the heck out of it.

Takes a lotta torque to move heaven n' earth...

The movers are coming.

On January 6th, people whose profession it is to wrap and pack and do it quick will invade my personal space, and reduce it to neat, square, cardboard chunks. On the 8th, I’ll point my little red VW GTI towards Cincinnati, Ohio. And with that, goodbye New Jersey. After 11 years of intensity of all kinds, I’ll be moving back to the Midwest, and back to the land of full-time creative directoring, in an industry that is reeling from cultural and economic change.  It’s an industry ripe for leadership and innovation. The timing is good. At least for the full time me.

This farewell is likely to be emotional.

It’s goodbye to the land of Bobby, Frank, and Dean. Goodbye to “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” Goodbye to the Jersey Shore; the real Jersey Shore, with weather-beaten boardwalks and little Italian restaurants that have been in real Italian families for generations.

Goodbye to a part of the country that this idealist found true to his expected stereotypes…a little too fast, a little too expensive, and a little too direct for introverted sensibilities.


Like so many of my Louisville, Kentucky mates, I was obsessed with the need to “get out of Dodge.” As an artist throughout my growing up and my college education, the creative Mecca was the northeast. New York. Philadelphia. Boston. That’s where you went if you were good at your craft.

I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long… Harry Bailey

In New Jersey, I became a frequent squatter in Gotham, worked for a while as a copywriter in Philly, lived in Springsteen’s and Bon Jovi’s neighborhood on the shore, and around the ivy-covered walls of Princeton. I studied Chinese Kung Fu in Manhattan, cycled up and down the Jersey Shore, and enjoyed my Ducati along the riverside of the Delaware Water Gap .

Not a bad run for a Picasso-wannabe from Kentucky.

Did I tell you the movers were coming on the 6th?

Earlier this year, when I first started seriously photographing horses, I spoke about getting reacquainted with my roots. How could I have possibly known I’d get the opportunity to do more than shoot Jersey horses in an attempt to learn more about where I came from?

Smile real pretty for me, now. We're about to be neighbors.

Last year at this time, I had hoped to turn what was a considerable amount of free time into a burgeoning photo business. Now, economic realities have driven me to accept a new, fulltime position back near where I grew up. I’ll be putting the specific industry knowledge I’ve gained from here into this new gig. It just so happens, that the northeast was the place to get the Master’s Class education I needed.

So now, I have not one, but two real opportunities ahead of me. Both of which will tax every last detail-oriented neuron I own. (And if you armchair astrologers out there know anything about creatively-driven Geminis, you know that details are not our strong suits.) All of my experience as a creative developer, team builder, and conceptual driver will be brought to bear in a more realistic pace, a more sensible economy, and with eager companions.

And lest I forget to mention it, across the river, there are plenty of horses to shoot. Oh, and hills to cycle over, both with, and without an engine.

The new digs have a larger, drier garage for the Ducatis, a spacious loft for the studio and an extra room for an office. The cost of living in Ohio beats the bejeezus out of the costs of Jersey. samlowephoto is simply relocating. Played correctly, samlowephoto will be growing.

It’s the playing that is so crucial.

Those creative director duties will be all encompassing for the foreseeable future. I have a staff to educate and motivate. I have a new way of creative thinking to instill and manage. There is a challenging mandate to grow the slice of the business that’s been entrusted to me.  How can I do that and grow my business as a narrative portrait, editorial, and fine art photographer?

Use the time I’m not shooting to plan for the shots I want to take.

New home. New environment. Same tools.

You are not what your business card says.
I’ll be surrounded again with the pressures and the details of big business. I’ll be working every day with creative talent of every level of skill and maturity. The hours will be long, and I’ll arrive home tired and ready to recharge my batteries to go at it another day. But every hour offers creative planning opportunities because every hour will be jam-packed with stimulation and data. All that info, combined with my own desire to create compelling images and stories, means a veritable portfolio just waiting to be planned.

Here’s how I intend to focus:

  • Use that Moleskine notebook!
    In a previous blog entry, I spoke of my almost romantic addiction to those little European notebooks. I’ve been using one religiously to create new sketches. If I cannot shoot new material because the day job is getting in the way, I can still capture a concept as a sketch, and make lighting notes. With time away from the studio, I can also focus more on shooting images in series.
  • The best camera is the one that’s with you
    Chase Jarvis is so right. My iPhone, as you’ve seen here on the blog and with my Twitter feed, is as viable a note-taking tool as my Moleskine. When I see something alluring or meaningful, even though I can’t control depth of field or lighting, I work for the best angle, and click. I then store them away with notes for future shooting.
  • Share. Watch. Listen. Consume.
    PDN magazine. Various shooters on Twitter. It’s crucial to be a part of the visual stream, not so you can ape a trend, but so that you can sharpen your own visual style. Be aware of the cameras, the advertising and editorial visual languages, the way digital gaming is shaping photography. Share what moves you. Be a part of the discussion.
  • Weekends are Creative Rechargers
    Although my weekends threaten to be nibbled at because of day job concerns, the loft and the garage are the places where my right brain will go to gorge itself. Those sketches will need to be acted upon, and my body will need to stay nimble and fresh. My employers will benefit from my home-based Nikon, Ducati, and Fuji time, as well: I’ll be driving more innovative work, and be more focused on telling a broader story in a more compact space.

I plan on putting lightstands in my loft, rather than hay. But, you never know.

  • Words are as important as exposures
    If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that sharing images is only about a third of my activity. I philosophize as much as reveal pictures. Humor and social commentary are human interactions that wind up coming to a head in a visual series down the road, but the spoken word is the fertilizer for the graphic word. My commitment is to keep sharing with you where my head and heart is along the way.
  • Stills. Videos. Repeat.
    Remember the wiffleball video? That’s not been forgotten. I have been chipping away at cataloging the takes, and getting more and more proficient at Final Cut Pro. The work was all arranged on 3 hard drives by mid-November, right as the talks for the current fulltime position were heating up. I’m committed to thinking in video terms. Still shooters now must become proficient at expanding beyond the single frame. I have an edge, due to my nearly three decades in advertising, in that I’m aware of the workflows and the technical specifics. Now, I have to manage time to reveal what I can do.

Keep following along as the boxes get filled and the map is drawn west. I’ll snap and jot when the spirit moves me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: