Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to attend Texas A&M University and be a member of the Aggie Corps of Cadets. My senior year in High School, I was denied admission to Texas A&M even though I satisfied the admission requirements. Texas A&M was overwhelmed with applications and they just didn’t have enough room. I would not take “No” for an answer. I then had to find a way into the door, so I went to Texas A&M at Galveston for a year and then “changed my major” so that they had to send me to Texas A&M in College Station, TX. I joined the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and had the pleasure of sliding own the quad in my Senior Boots. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, I am a Fightin’ Texas Aggie through and through. I may be from Houston, TX but my true home is in Aggieland. If a door is shut in your face, then find another door.
When did you first become interested in art, in general?
I started to gain an appreciation for art as I travelled around the world and saw the images that different cultures produce. Whenever I go to someplace, I do not bring back T-shirts that are mass-produced for gift shops, usually those are not even locally made. I like to bring home street art or something that a local artisan created. A unique item that has had life breathed into it by someone who is local to the area and can capture his or her homeland. What makes this exciting is that I have no idea what I may find during my next trip, it’s whatever speaks to me and tells the story of the place that I am travelling. During a trip to Korea in 2000, I found a street artist who painted on tapestry with pieces of leather as brushes. I watched in amazement as the artist turned this scroll into a work of art and to this day, I look at that piece and it brings back great memories.
When did you first become interested in photography, specifically?
Through my travels of Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and North America, I have seen so many beautiful things. My biggest regret was not having pictures of some of the wonderful things that I have seen. I had a point and shoot camera most of the time and was very limited with what I could bring home. Looking back on these pictures, I used to get a sense of loss of what could have been. Now, I feel a burning desire to go back and capture that, which got away from me.
A couple of years ago, my mom announced that she was taking my brother and I to Israel for a Holy Land tour. It was at that moment that I decided it was time to either get into photography or completely write it off. I knew I could not shake the attraction that I had for photography, so I began to do some research. Two weeks later, I took my son to a baseball game and met a guy named Tim Stanley who looked pretty serious with his camera gear, so I struck up a conversation. Talking with Tim we quickly realized that we go to the same church. Little did I know but our church has a photography team that meets monthly and Tim is the one who organizes that group. I immediately went out and purchased a camera and a couple of lenses to start my journey in photography.
By the time I left for my trip to Israel about 9 months later, I had learned a lot from my mentor and newly found friend Tim; I had even already sold a couple of prints!
In what other forms of art do you also work, if any?
I do not work with other forms of art, but I definitely have an appreciation for other people’s craft.
On which style(s) of photography do you specialize?
I really enjoy shooting night photography and being that I live in an urban setting, it is only natural that I got into urban landscape photography. I like to go to places that may not look all that impressive or attractive and then bring attention to beauty that may be hiding. A buyer of one of my prints once gave me the ultimate compliment, “I drive by that place all the time and never really noticed what was there, but now I think of your print every times I pass by and I love it.”
Of course, I also like going to new places and just finding something to shoot when I can find the time. There have been weekends where my friends and I will all hop in the car and drive on a quest to find something different along the way. During these trips, we meet great people and hear their stories. It is this interaction with my audience that I truly cherish.
Has your style changed from when you first began?/strong>
When I began, I didn’t have a style. I am constantly trying new things and finding new subjects to shoot. I would say that my composition has improved because I am now able to visualize what I want to see in the Post Processing of the image, so I make sure that I get the shot that I really want in the moment.
What kind of equipment do you use?
I started with a Nikon D5100 and the kit lens. I later picked up a Nikon 35mm f/1.8, Sigma 8-16mm HSM, Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and Nikon 55-300mm lenses. For my trip to Israel, I wanted a carbon fiber tripod that I could tote all day without breaking my back, so I ended up with a Promaster T325p with a Manfrotto 496rc2 ball head.
Eventually, I picked up an Apple iMac 27” for my post processing as well as Adobe Lightroom 5, Photoshop Elements 12, Photomatix and Perfect Effects. Lightroom is where I spend most of my time, but if I need to do something extra special, I will take it to Photoshop.
Recently, I upgraded to the Nikon D7100 and I truly love the D7100.
What made you choose that equipment?
I have had friends in the past that were Nikon shooters and so I took their advice with picking Nikon. I have since found that no matter what, if you get a high quality DSLR camera and good lenses, you will be able to produce some great pictures. For some reason, I have sense of loyalty towards Nikon, but I am thinking that down the road, I may go mirrorless. If Sony called tomorrow and offered to send me an A7r to showcase what their camera can do, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Are you a specialist photographer?
I shoot photography for the adventure and sense of freedom that I get, so I typically do not shoot events or portraits – the exception to this has been when I volunteer for events such as the Wounded Warriors Golf tournament or the Danny Dietz Memorial Team Roping event benefiting the Navy SEAL Foundation. When it comes to supporting our Country’s Veterans, I will help where I can. Aside from that, I specialize in shooting whatever it is that moves me at that moment in time. There is a certain sense of self-gratification that I get out of shooting a subject and capturing it the way that I want to see it. I also particularly enjoy shooting places or things that have historical significance.
I am a big history buff, so going out and capturing an image that draws an emotional connection to the history behind the subject is a very rewarding experience.
Do you have favourite times of the days to take shots in?
My favorite time to shoot is at night, but I also like to shoot with the first hour of light or the last hour of light. During the day, I still take pictures too, but I get a higher sense of drama during lower light conditions; the shadows are much stronger and it gives greater contrast to where the light lands.
I absolutely love to travel see new things. I have been blessed with going to Kenya twice for missions with my church. Working with orphans in Kenya has not only given me an appreciation for the blessings in my life, but in a way, has also come with a little bit of envy. I have seen some of the poorest people on the planet who are filled with happiness when those with wealth seem over burdened at times. This has taught me that happiness has nothing to do with money, it’s all in the way that we gauge ourselves and what it is that we value. I have been greatly rewarded by being a father and investing my time into my son. I enjoy teaching him new things and watching him mature; by those standards, I am a rich man.
Are you a patient photographer, waiting for the right moment, or do you tend to just shoot and hope for the best?
Am I patient? Not once I get out to go shoot somewhere. I would say that most of the time, I plan my shoot well in advance of my journey and take into account what lighting conditions I hope to have at that time of day or night. I follow the “Semper Gumby” rule of planning, I have a plan, but it is always flexible. I will adjust and even completely divert from my plan if another opportunity presents itself.
Tell us about one of the longest shoots you had?
I once planned a shoot a month in advance based on the lunar calendar. I wanted a moonless night so that I could go deep in the woods and take pictures of the Milky Way. I got two of my friends, Tim Stanley and Jeremy Mancuso; we drove out into the middle of nowhere to get eaten alive by mosquitoes as we waited for the perfectly timed shot of the stars. It was a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to do it again.
Of course, the longest that I have ever planned a shoot was when I went to New Orleans, Louisiana. I contacted the State of Louisiana and asked for their permission to photograph a historical site that is closed to the public and they were gracious enough to say, “Yes.” You’ll never know unless you ask and so far, my experiences have been pretty good. I met another photographer, Andy Crawford, through Fine Art America and he joined us on our trip to New Orleans.
How often do you go out just to photograph or, do you have your camera ready at all times, even shopping?
I try to go out on the weekends and typically travel with one or two other friends who also enjoy photography. Tim Stanley and I have really gotten to know one another through our photography adventures together. It doesn’t matter if we shoot the same subject, we end up with completely different images that each have their merits. This also gives us an opportunity to challenge each other and share in the lessons that we learn as we go along.
Then of course, there are some opportunities that arise where I will grab my camera bag and run out of the house to go get that shot. It just comes down to what I feel like shooting.
Do you edit in Photoshop or another programme?
I usually use Lightroom for my post-processing, followed by Photomatix for HDR processing. Of course, I will use Photoshop if it is warranted. To me, Lightroom is like going to a General Practitioner, he can typically do what is needed and on the occasion, you may need major surgery; that’s where Photoshop comes into play.
How much time (on average) does it take to edit a work?
It depends on the image and what I want to see out of the final prduct. There have been some works that I have spent hours in order to create them only because I had a specific look in mind when I started. In other cases, I may only spend 30-45 minutes on an image.
What was your worst job?
When I was in high school, I worked at a theme park in Houston. Aside from the meaningless wages, it was hot and unrewarding work. It was not unusual to be supervised by people that I would normally consider thugs. I have to thank that job, however, because it gave me a renewed spirit in my studies at school. I did not want to have to work in an environment like that any longer than I had to.
What was your best job?
The best job that I have had was serving as a member of a security detail in a hostile environment. Despite the harsh working conditions and the tremendous risks that we undertook on a daily basis, it was very rewarding to see our client make it safely to their destination. It was also an environment where I had to trust my coworkers with my life and they had to put their lives in my hands as well. No matter what happens the rest of my life, they will always be my brothers.
How do you know when a piece is finished? Is it easy to walk away?
I know a piece is finished when I get the look that I had envisioned when I took I the shot. Of course, there are times where I will go back through photos that I have taken in the past and I’ll find something that I did not process at the time, but now I have a vision of what I want from that shot. It’s a creative process that is exciting and unpredictable, which is why it continues to harness my attention.
What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?
I don’t know that I have really reached a time where I had a block. I have shot certain subjects to the point that I decided to take a break from those kinds of subjects and then challenged myself to go out and get other shots.
How well do you take criticism and how do you make use of it?
I always listen to criticism and then weigh it based on who is giving the critique. I have learned many valuable lessons through listening to the helpful hints and suggestions given to me by other photographers and friends. I do inject my own emotion into my work and I am not willing to make changes if it changes what I see in the work. Like I said, it all depends on the content of the criticism and where it originates. I view myself as an artist and I do not want to place myself in a position where I am trying to satisfy the vision that someone else has one of my works, it would not be true to myself.
Who is your favourite photographer?
It is so difficult to pick a favorite, I have many photographers that I have a great respect for including Trey Ratcliff and Serge Ramelli; each has their own unique style and have a way of injecting their style into their stunning images. I have also learned a lot from both of them with regards to post processing and HDR, so their influence can definitely be seen in my work.
My photography’s very personal for me, but it is also something that I enjoy sharing with the world. I shoot what I want, when I want and how I want. I will get an idea of how I want to shoot a subject and then I will develop the idea into the finished product. This entire process is very soothing to me and gives me a sense of peace. I find it to be the ultimate compliment when someone else looks at my work and they tell me that they like it too. In this way, I feel a connection with those who purchase my art. Whether they have a particular shared attachment to the subject or they just like the emotion they get from the print, it brings us to a mutual appreciation, which I find affirming.
Operating in hostile environments in the past has left me with many images in my mind that I would be okay loosing. Through photography, I am crowding out those images and replacing them with something new and beautiful. I call this “Image Replacement Therapy.” It may sound strange, but I have already bonded with another photographer who basically has the same connection.
Which one of your photographs is your favourite?
Probably one of my favorite images that I have taken was the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel. This picture represents everything that I had learned in nine short months after getting my first DSLR camera. To me, the shot embodies the reason that I finally took action in order to pursue photography. I knew that I was going to Israel, so I made it a priority to learn everything that I could before leaving and this picture captures a little bit of everything that I learned, giving me a sense of accomplishment.
Have you used smartphone cameras?
The best camera is the one that you have on you. I take shots with my smartphone, but usually only for the purpose of planning a shoot somewhere. I do not get the quality that I am seeking in my work from a camera phone, so I do not offer those prints for sale.
Camera phones have already changed the world; the instant something happens, the rest of the world can see it to. I also think that smartphone cameras have influenced the way that people look at pictures and post processing, but when it comes to capturing a street at night or the stars, I do not see a time in the near future where a camera phone is going to be able to compete.
Of course, if a smartphone is all you have, then shoot and master your camera phone. Never let equipment place limits on your passion.
Have you exhibited any of your work in galleries?
Yes, my work was included in a local area Photography show and recently I was featured in an art show at the Soho Art Museum in New York City.
Will your work be included at any upcoming contests or galleries?
Currently, I do not have any plans to be showing at a gallery any time soon, but if history is any guide, that can change quickly.
What are your plans for the future?
Photography is a source of therapy for me, so I plan on continuing to produce works. I want to eventually go to a full frame camera, but for now, I just want to go new places and shoot. Of course, I do want to travel back to some of the places that I have been in the past in order to capture those sights.
What advice do you have for budding photographers?
The best advice that I have is find other photographers in your area and learn from them. I would also encourage a new photographer to search YouTube for tutorials on post processing and the fundamentals of photography. They say the more basics you master, the more advanced you are. Knowing how to change the variables of Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO in order to get the picture that you want is the ultimate goal. I would say experiment; do not be afraid of coming home with a bunch of shots that did not work out. What images I don’t like, I just don’t show them to anyone. There have been some instances where I tried to time the motion of my body with a moving car in order to get the car in focus and the rest of the frame blurred, I probably took 200 pictures before I got the timing down just right. Don’t be afraid to fail.
Have you done any courses to help you?
I have not taken any formal training in photography, but I have remained open to learning from those around me as well as using online tutorials. I personally think that YouTube is a treasure trove of good information for new photographers.
What do you do to market your work?
I market my work locally in a few businesses as well as on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, StumbleUpon and Pinterest. If you run into me while I am on a photoshoot, you will likely end up with one of my business cards. I follow the ABC’s of marketing – “Always Be Closing”
Do you enter your work in contests?
I tend to avoid photo contests. Many of the ones that I have seen either want you to license them to use your photo however they choose or you have to pay to enter the contest. If I have to pay in order to get someone to look at my work, then maybe I should keep my work to myself.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
I am available for commissioned work if the price and circumstances are right. If someone likes my style of photography and they want me to capture a subject, then I might go for it. Of course, if I get to travel in order to get the shot, then I am much more inclined to say yes. I will not shoot weddings or similar events.
Have you got hobbies?
Aside from photography, post-processing, marketing my prints, managing my website and keeping a day job, I am not sure where I would find room for much else. Of course, I always enjoy spending time with my son and playing video games with him (even when he beats me, which is most of the time).
Where are you based?