As a child, I was always fascinated with photoshop. At age 14 I asked my dad to purchase me a book about it. I believe it was adobe photoshop 7 if I remember correctly. I was creating composites by the age of 15 in high school art class. One of the very first composites I ever created was giving George W. Bush a massive beard from images I downloaded off the internet. (To this day I would give anything to find that image.)
I would go to see my favorite movie in the theater. As I walked in I would gaze upon the epic movie posters, and analyze them. I often wondered what kind of person creates such masterpieces. How did they get so lucky to create something this beautiful? Where did they acquire the skill set? How did they find the opportunity to be a part of something so vast?
In the midst of my nerdy child hood obsession with photoshop, I never thought to actually make composites out of images I had taken myself. Around the age of 19 I landed an extremely well paying job at Citi bank. I was the youngest in my department by far, and of course I was young and inexperienced with life. I thought I was set forever so I decided to make the irresponsible decision of purchasing the most expensive camera I could find just for the heck of it. I never had any specific project in mind, I just wanted to buy myself something cool for Christmas. After playing around with my camera and eventually using it for something other than silly house party beer pong photos, it naturally clicked "Wait a minute! I can actually create stuff out of images I take myself!"
My job at Citi bank was to take inbound calls and talk clients out of canceling their accounts by counter offering them with lower interest rates, balance transfers, and increases in credit lines. I quickly learned the importance of retaining clients and started to develop the gift of gab. People would call to close their account and before you knew it I had them paying off their car loans or remodeling their kitchen with that exact account. I, however, spent most of my time studying the fundamentals of photography through books, and online resources as well as advanced photoshop techniques. I still remember to this day my boss walking by my cubical and looking at all the notes and papers tacked to my cubical walls shaking his head at my obsession.
I went through several phases as a young person with a camera. In the very beginning, I was just like any other new photographer. You think you're only as good as your latest image. I started out photographing people who wanted to be swimsuit models, photoshopping their faces into oblivion and giving them the "plastic skin" look all while considering other photographers as "competition".
Years later, you get to a point to where you realize that other photographers and artists are not competition. Because no one can be you, or do you like you. You eventually develop a style, and if you keep at it, your personality will start to show through your images. People still to this day ask me why I'm so willing to "give my secrets" or help other artists so much. Well, It's because the more you help them the more you learn about yourself. And if they're doing nothing but copying you, they will always be a step behind. There's an unexplainable wonderful feeling helping someone find themselves as an artist.
After 10 years of being in the photography industry, my daily life was just like any other entrepreneur. I would work a day or night job,(Currently with BestBet) investing every dime of the money I had into marketing, gear, and production tools, as well as traveling across the country to meet some of my most influential artists for the opportunity to learn all that I could from them. Even with all that going on I was still scheduling photo shoots during the day and doing all my post production on the weekends. When I wasn't doing client work I was pushing my skill set by creating self-portraits and learning new techniques every chance I got. Everyone around me followed my work regularly and I would often receive inquiries from the people I worked with to create images of them and their loved ones.
This was pretty much my standard lifestyle. Working two jobs, unable to pursue and invest in my passion full time because I was either too scared to make the jump, or investing too much of my time working for someone else. People would always question me at work like "What are you doing here? How are you not doing photography full time?". That dream always seemed slightly far-fetched. It affected my relationships, my health, and I sometimes even wondered if I should quit. I think the only reason I never quit was that I imagined myself as an old man on my death bed contemplating the life I lived. I knew I would regret not trying hard enough, not failing hard enough, and I didn't want to go out like that.
I eventually came to the realization that sometimes failing is the best thing that can happen to you. So I continued, I pushed harder, and I never gave up. I talked about it every day. I shared my love for the field with everyone I knew. I was developing important connections across the country, and I was making more money than ever. However, I was just barely under what I needed to quit, and pursue it full time without the fear of sinking.
Then, one day out of the blue, I received a text from one of the most amazing people I know in the poker industry. Her name is Allie "McDeal". She was the one who actually taught me how to perform the day job I was currently working. She asked me to do some photography for her because BestBet Jacksonville was filming a commercial. She is a great friend, and one of the reasons I had my job in the first place. So without a doubt, I was going to create images for her.
As I was capturing images in between the video commercial takes, the marketing director casually approached me and asked me if I was doing the images just for that day, or if I wanted to be contracted for the website as well. When he said, that my heart sank with excitement. I knew that this was an important stepping stone. Composing myself the best I could, I just simply replied: "I'd love to be contracted for the website and promotional images." Then, I immediately regretted how under dressed I was. That's pretty much how I received my first big Jacksonville Commercial Photography Contract for the Multi Million dollar company BestBet.
This was one of the biggest Commercial Photography jobs I've ever been assigned. I was actually kind of nervous. Especially coming from an intense Fine Art Photography background that was heavily ingrained into my style for years. To give myself the right mindset, I would often remind myself that I knew the industry like the back of my hand. I know what relates to customers. I deal with them almost every day(no pun intended). I know what's important, and believe it or not, I may very well be the best person in Jacksonville for this Commercial Photography contract.
I learn something new about photography and about myself from every single photo shoot I do. One of the things I learned doing this specific Commercial Photography job, is I have it mentally engrained in me to try to create some of the most complex, and astonishing images. I'm the kind of photographer that's used to spending hours creating one image out of multiple images. Making sure it's perfect in every way before being gloriously printed with a premium finish, was the norm. Applying effects, lighting, layers, and paying special attention to colors and how they affect the viewer's mindset, was part of my standard work flow.
In Fine Art Photography, it's your job to meet the viewer half way and break into their imagination. For this specific Commercial job, I had to break free of the mindset that the more complex and harder the image is to create, the better it is. Also, one of my best teachers in the Fine Art world taught me the importance of having a consistent style, and not to sacrifice that for the sake of a client.
In the Commercial Photography world, things are completely different, almost the direct opposite. What's most important when doing Commercial Photography isn't the texture of an image, it isn't the layers, dust, or conveyed feeling from a muted color pallet. What's most important is capturing what matters, and how a typical person will view it for a split second. It needs to make the viewer want to be a part of that industry or activity. What's important is how it affects your clients brand and their brand representation. Making their brand feel "special" and not just another poker room, and capturing the over all vibe and feeling was extremely important. Finding the businesses overall feel and message to their client, and summing it up perfectly in one frame was the goal.
Pick up any magazine, and look at the images. The colors are bright, not muted like in fine art. The lighting is sharp yet soft, and more often than not you want to be that person, or be in their position. You want to know more about what ever it is they are holding, featuring, doing, or wearing. You want to feel the excitement of winning! (That's the goal anyway!)
BestBet Jacksonville really is an amazing poker room. They offer almost all forms of poker, parimutuel gaming, and they're consistently looking out for the best interest of the players. Working there I would regularly hear players from other states and even from other countries talk about how well and professionally run the room is. Not only is the staff super friendly and respectful, they have some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry behind the scenes creating an atmosphere for all walks of life to enjoy.
They have had some of the best sushi in Jacksonville from the very beginning. It is rumored that BestBet acquired some of the best sushi during the early days when the owner first opened the poker room. He enjoyed sushi so much, he actually had a personal sushi chef make sushi for him at the room while working, and was kind enough to start making it for the players that asked. It was history from there, and the room was never the same without it.
BestBet also has some of the sweetest, most down to earth, cocktail waitresses who are beautiful inside and out. They truly understand the importance of "the game" and don't disturb you while you're in the middle of an intense poker decision, yet they know how to check up on you regularly. The one on the very right, her name is Sunshine. She has a love for doing boudoir photography. Every cocktail waitress has something special and unique to bring to the table.
BestBet features multiple locations that offer a truly unique experience. BestBet Orange Park has live greyhound racing, and an all you can eat buffet that's perfect for any date night.
BestBet is one of the biggest poker rooms on the East Coast. It has tons of action on a regular basis. It is the home of massive circuit tournaments. This includes the world renowned WPT (World Poker Tour). People from all over the world travel to play in these tournaments, and have had several high profile poker players play in the room from Phil Helmuth, Jamie Gold, Daniel Negreanu, and more.
I received one of the best gifts on my birthday. When I was driving home I saw a huge billboard on the side of Atlantic Blvd. It happened to be a billboard for BestBet, and it was featuring an image that I captured on it. I also occasionally see images that I created featured in poker player magazines. Yeah yeah, I know, big deal right? Well, for someone who grew up as a kid wondering how photographers got the opportunity to create such images, it feels kinda cool to be able to say that an image I captured is finally on a billboard.
In conclusion, I find it ironic that one of the easiest images I've ever captured ended up on a billboard. Considering the fact that I spent years studying advanced techniques, I grew up thinking that the more technically advanced an image is the better the chances of it being published. When in all reality, sometimes you just need a little bit of luck. Sometimes you just need to explore the world and be in the right place at the right time. Maybe that's why the game of poker hasn't changed for years, yet is still played by millions of people world wide. There's a famous quote that I occasionally hear poker players say from time to time. "I'd rather be lucky than good."
O yeah, BestBet has some of the best humans in the world working for them. They are hands down, the best community of loving individuals I've ever experienced. I truly do consider them my work family. Here are some of the images I created along my life journey with them.