WITH GREG THOMASON
The Story of How I Became a Photographer
I’m Greg Thomason, a commercial headshot and portrait photographer from the Nashville, Tennessee area. In addition to my commercial work, I lead photo trips and teach workshops.
Like many kids, I had numerous dreams about what I’d be when I grew up. Superhero, soldier, shark expert – they were all there, swirling in my head. As I aged, some faded away. After all, you can’t really be Superman if you were born on Earth, and not Krypton. The shark expert thing (ichthyology) became a casualty of my bad study habits but a couple of those dreams stayed with me.
The soldier dream grew stronger. An old movie, The Frogmen, and a family neighbor who was a Special Forces soldier flamed the fires. At the same time, my father had a Hasselblad camera he traded a car to get. He also had a Nikon F like the one that went to the moon, along with a lot of cool photos he had made as a young man. A camera worth as much as a car? Photos made in space with a camera like my Pop’s? That was cool. As I aged, teenage angst, and the strain it can cause, was eased somewhat by the time we spent together in our hot, stinky, bathroom darkroom. Still, the warrior seemed like a possible career choice. Being a photographer was something I could do, not someone I would be.
After school, I went into the Navy. My old Olympus OM-10 went with me on deployments, and exercises, when possible. I figured out how to snap a few pictures, between the aircraft and ground, when parachuting. I took pictures of painted faced brothers doing cool shit when I could. I still wanted to be a photographer, but it was still only something to do when I had the chance. When you have a hobby you love, sometimes it is hard seeing it as a vocation. This was especially true prior to the internet and digital images.
My Prior Career
My military dreams morphed into my career with the FBI. My need for adventure, and my desire to serve, were still being met. While working terrorism cases I was lucky and was able to travel to lands I never thought I would see. My camera went with me. Upon returning from Afghanistan, I had multiple rolls of film processed. I saw the style of a photographer I was aware of but had not consciously studied. In those slides, Steve McCurry’s influence was obvious. Now, I didn’t have any photos that would have made it into National Geographic, but I saw the rough imitation in my photos. I knew I wanted to show peoples’ emotions and tell their stories in pictures.
My Mentors and Friends
A few years went by, and I “met” a photographer online who was transitioning from a career in the fashion industry to that of a nature and cultural photographer. I watched as Piper MacKay’s career grew. I paid attention to her growing pains as she made the leap. Little did I know that I would partner with her in the future.
I found another photographer online. He would have the biggest impact on my future as a photographer. Peter Hurley’s videos on YouTube captured me. As I leveraged information from his Headshot Crew, I began figuring out how to be my own boss. I started focusing on headshot techniques. Uncle Sam had owned me long enough! Shooting more often, and making some money on the side, I was ready but needed a push. I photographed a local actor who had been on a popular television show. She told me her regular photographer was upset she had gone with me instead of him for her updated headshots. When I was in New York City I relayed this story to Peter. Between bites of his burger and sips of beer, he said, “I know that guy. His studio is near mine. He’s a nice guy, but you’re a better photographer.” A few months later I made the leap and became a working photographer. Now, being a photographer is something I am, not just something I do.
I was in a position where I was doing something I enjoyed and was good at it. Therefore, I could build up resources, gear, and money as I made the transition slowly. That worked for me, but some people need to make a sudden leap. My two mentors had the sink or swim mentality, and it worked for them. Regardless of the method of transition a person takes, it is essential to find advisors. My mentors influenced my style and subject matter, but others are helping me continue in my photo journey. The Mikes, Schacht and Sansone, are teaching me marketing and sales at Headshot Hot Sauce. Others are giving me advice on other aspects of my business. Very few succeed without help from others, don’t be afraid to ask.