matt_langesm
Photo by Christi Martin

I want to thank Brad and Scott for giving me the opportunity to express myself on a stage of this level.  I have to be honest, when Brad emailed me yesterday it caught me off guard.  What do I say?  What do people want to read?  Anything I want?  Wow.

But there is only one thing on my mind lately – my new career move.  I read, or heard once (who knows?) that the higher up you get in advertising, the younger you die.  Well, I guess I just signed my death certificate.  My name is Matt Lange, professional photographer, and now the Creative Director at The Fletcher Group Advertising.  The clock is ticking…

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Endure

…the clock is ticking… Literally.  I have less than 5 hours to put my thoughts down collectively for you all to see.  The clock is ticking to make a splash in my new world/career.  No pressure.

So where do I start?

I’ve come full circle.   I’m typing this blog entry from the exact same room I sat in 4 short years ago at The Fletcher Group.  TFG was owned by a friend of mine, Lee Fletcher, who was a great man with a tremendous heart. But anyone who knew him, knew how hard it was to get along with him. This was, ironically, the exact same room in which I picked up a camera again for the first time and started my path to being a professional photographer (I had always taken pictures as far as I could remember).

At the time I was a young, know-it-all designer just a year out of Louisiana Tech University.  Needless to say, this forced my boss and I to butt heads constantly, resulting in my desire to leave.  Now I’m a know it all photographer/designer, right?  Wrong.  In the past 4 years I have come to realize that there is so much to learn.  Something new every single day.  I’m more mature at this point.

I moved to Baton Rouge, LA a year later to work full-time and pursue my passion of being a photographer.  This would be the part when most people would say, ‘and everything was awesome,’ ‘everyone I met was amazing,’ and, ‘I make a living shooting amazing pictures.’

Well that’s partly true.  But why sugar coat it?  This is hard.  Being a photographer is hard hard work.  Getting to be a photographer full-time is even harder.

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If you were to ask me what my goal as a photographer was, or what my dreams would be, I would tell you, ‘I want to be a sports portrait photographer.’  That’s it.  I wanted to wake up everyday and be called on assignment to shoot either a) the standout quarterback for such and such cover, b) the national championship team for a piece by Sports Illustrated, c) the Heisman Trophy winner, d) well, you get the point.

But that’s not the case.  The average photographer knows what it is that we really shoot.  It’s weddings, babies, seniors, birthday parties so on and so forth.

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I did catch a break however, when I got a call from a small media agency called Southcreek Global Media.  I felt as if fate was knocking and it was time to answer.  Through my work with Southcreek, I found myself field side for the New Orleans Saints, LSU Football, LSU Baseball and courtside to the New Orleans Hornets and LSU Tigers Basketball.

Progress.

But, as any sports photographer can vouch, the money simply isn’t there.  So I saved my pennies, as did my wife.  I got to the point where my day job was doing nothing but making me miserable, day in and day out.  So I watched Consequences of Creativity by Chase Jarvis, listened to a lot of inspirational rap music, I talked to my wife and we agreed… It was time to take a chance.

Bye bye day job, hello fulltime photographer dream job.  Knock knock.  Who’s there?  Hello Mr. Recession! It’s never easy right?

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They say it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. For me I guess the journey will never end.  And when I think about it, I don’t want it to.

When I quit my job, things got exponentially harder, but I liked it.  I thrive off of challenge.  I began shooting like a man possessed.  I called all of my athlete friends and posed fake photo shoots.  Anytime I had something new, I sent my work to ad firms and businesses around town to try to improve the work for their sites. Anything I could to keep the lights on.

One day I got home and a friend told me about a blog post on someone named Scott Kelby’s site.  The post, in short, was about a contest Scott held for an amateur photographer to win a pass to shoot on the sideline of a Florida State game.  Well, the amazing world of sports photographers decided, for some reason, that this was a bad, no, horrible idea, and thus the person who won, Alex, had his pass revoked.  Awesome right?

So I emailed in and offered my services to have Alex shoot on the sideline with me at Louisiana Tech.  Needless to say, Alex landed a pass to shoot the Bears, and who could blame him?  However, I got a call from Scott himself.  He wanted to come to Ruston and shoot alongside me.  Wow.  What do you say to that?  Well, when one of the biggest names in the photo industry calls you, wants to meet you, and you can barely afford Ramen noodles, my friends, you say yes.

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So Scott came down, shot the game with me, then at dinner after the game, recommended (or insisted I should say) that I go to New York for PPE.  It was 4 days away.

So I flew to NYC, crashed in Scott’s room, and during the brief 24 hours I was there I had my mind transformed.  I was around the best of the best photographers in the industry, or at least a lot of them. I told Scott at one point that I couldn’t get home fast enough to simply create.

I will say that I wanted to meet Vincent LaForet, but alas, I did not.  His presentation blew my mind and I will always have that.  Perhaps one day I will meet him.  I made a good friend in Scott that day.  The entire time he was in Ruston he had nothing but great things to say about me and my work.  He says I’m entirely too modest about the work I create, but I like to think that I’m just driven for perfection.  But I stray…

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My friend Lee Fletcher was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, and in September Lee lost his fight.  Lee was the first person to tell me I was on my way to great things, outside of my family.  When he passed, I felt a void that I hadn’t felt in a very long time, even though Lee and I hadn’t talked in over a year.  I felt at this point, it was very important for me to do something great.  I felt it was no longer about me and being successful, it was time for me to do great for Lee too.  Am I great?  Put up or shut up.

A few weeks later I got a call from Amanda McMullen, the new owner of The Fletcher Group, asking me if I would be interested in returning. Except this time to have full creative control.  Just when my photography was picking up steam.

I ask the photography public, what would you do?

Well, this guy packed up the car and drove to Monroe, LA and is now typing a blog entry from the TFG studio telling you my story.  My goal is to turn an ad firm located in Monroe, LA, into a nationally known agency doing work across the world.  Through some blood sweat and tears, and with the help of Scott Kelby, we will get there.

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I just wanted to tell how it’s not easy to be successful in this industry.  It’s definitely not the destination but the journey.  You can meet amazing people and do amazing things.  But a lot of stress and hard work has to go into it.  Chase Jarvis was absolutely correct when he said, ‘you can do it but you have to sustain.’

YOU HAVE TO SUSTAIN.

I think it’s easy to look at other people’s work and say that you want to do that.  But a lot of the time you don’t see the sacrifice that they put in behind the scenes.  I may not be able to continue my photography career at this point, due to The Fletcher Group.  But that is a sacrifice I have chosen to make.  I will pour every ounce of my creative energy into this company to see that it succeeds.  I will also use my photography skill to add to the services we offer here.  After all, my degree and training is as a graphic designer, video editor and director.  Photography was just something I was good at. I still want to shoot sports portraits for the cover of Sports Illustrated, but for now it’s back to work.  Back to the grind.

Thank you for reading my story and to Scott and Brad for allowing me to share.  Did I just talk in circles?

Also, thank you to Christi Martin for taking a picture of my ugly mug on such short notice.  You’re the best.  I owe you.

You can see more of Matt’s work at his website, mattlange.com.

About The Author

46 Comments

  1. Awesome post. Such a inspirational read. Awesome photographs on Matt’s website.

  2. Sorry for the, too much of awesomeness ;)

  3. Hey Matt, Congratulations on a great post for a number of reasons.
    1. For putting such a lucid and interesting piece together in such a short space of time.
    2. For encapsulating the trials and tribulations of what so many aspiring amateur photographers think about doing.
    3. For, perhaps inadvertantly, showing us what a great guy Scott Kelby must be. We’ve already seen it with his support for Springs of Hope and other stuff that he does. But inviting someone you don’t really know that well to crash in your room so that they can attend PPE.
    4. For going back to your old job. Although you’re clearly a great photographer, it’s a salutory lesson to all of us that not everybody’s story is ‘rags to riches’ or, in your case, shooting for Sports Illustrated. Good luck in your new job.

  4. Lately, I have been reading the stories of now successful photographers talking about how they took the big jump into full time photography. Reviewing these accounts has given me the push I need to get into business myself. I do not plan on going full time, but I am going to make the venture into part time work. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story Matt, lots of great incite and food for thought here and us guys “on the fence” yet to make the plunge really appreciate it. If nothing more, you have given me the link to Chase’s “Consequences of creativity” presentation which for over 1 year already I have managed to miss. I look forward to finding the time to watch it this evening :)

    I wish you the best of luck at TFG !! Enjoy the grind ;) Now I’m off to listen to some inspirational rap music! :)

  6. Congratulations on the new (old, upgraded) gig Matt. If your story is any indication I’m sure TFG will be a force in the advertising world. It’s interesting to see how life gets in the way as we pursue dreams. Great read and good luck in the future. Hope SI sees your talent and you get that cover as the icing on the cake.

  7. Very inspirational post. Good Luck at TFG!

  8. Thanks for a great post Matt. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I started out wanting to be a sports photographer and then the career just morphed into so many other things. a great journey so far… Hope yours is as well.

    Cheers

    Stu

  9. Thanks for the story Matt, it can be such a difficult thing stepping outside of the comfort zone we all draw ourselves into. And too often we forget the rewards that can be reaped just from taking that one little chance.

    I’m a firm believer of the “Paying it Forward” philosophy, doing something nice just for the sake of doing it. I’ve found that it always comes back and gives to you twofold what you “Paid Forward” – it looks like you’re experiencing a similar circumstance.

    Good luck to you and your (upgraded?) job. (and cracking portraits!)

    Kris

  10. Great post! I really enjoyed it. It was cool to read a post from “one of us” to some degree. You are very talented and your care shows in your work. I agree with Steve, Scott Kelby must be a great guy. I think all the pros could take a lesson from Scott by helping others along the way. Remember folks someone else probably helped you.

  11. Matt, What a fantastic life story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Thank you for giving Alex the opportunity that he won. As one who has many, many years under his belt, I admire your passion and determination to go for your dream! That is lacking with many of our young people these days. Thanks again for sharing you career path with us, just amazing! Oh, if you need an assistant, I’ll be available in June! I’m retiring at 70 in May! :-) Great story! Never lose track of who you are and your dream!

    Scott, Brad, thanks for allowing us the opportunity to be inspired by determined folks like Matt! You guys are a blessing!

    Dennis

  12. Thanks you guys. I posted a followup on my blog. It’s just hard to fit it all in here. I basically wanted to just say, it’s not at all easy, but if you work your tail off it can happen. But you have to be dedicated.

  13. Great post. It’s a tough racket that’s for sure. When I couldn’t make the time to shoot sessions I was getting requests left and right. Now that I can make the time the phone is silent. Are they expecting me to do this for free?…..people are weird, photography is hard work, and I feel the pain. Your story says it all without sugarcoating a thing, your work is amazing and I wish you the best of luck with TFG.

  14. Go Bulldogs!!

  15. Matt, thanks for such authentic and humorous blog! I enjoy reading your journey very much and wish you all the best. Scott, you’re a great mentor!

  16. Good luck Matt. If you don’t stick that neck out there it will never pay off. Southcreek is a great way to get those passes into sports venues, I have a friend who does southeastern sports for them. Keep us updated!

  17. Great post. I’m struggling with the sustaining part…working in a bare bones production firm, trying to see past my day-to-day efforts. I look at photographers and think…yeah, that’s where I need to be…but I forget that they didn’t just arrive on the scene overnight. Thanks for the reminder that it takes work, hard work and lots of it to break into the photo world.

    Congrats on the new position, some one with your work ethic should be able to do great things.

    Matthew

  18. Nicely written! Always great to learn about people like you who are willing to work hard, take a risk here and there, always mindful of how they got to where they are in life.

  19. Great post! You and Scott both exemplify the only two ways I know to become truly great. Surround yourself with the best of the best or help those you have surrounded yourself with to become the best of the best. Sustain a combined course of those two, and incredible opportunities like this will continue to materialize out of thin air. I predict a Sports Illustrated cover or two in your future. I’m so glad Scott gave me the opportunity to hear from you today and that you took that opportunity to say something truly meaningful to me.
    Blessings,
    Kevin

  20. Matt, that was an excellent blog post! I enjoyed reading it. You’re right about how generous and a great all-around guy Scott is. I discovered that when he came up to Birmingham last year to shoot the Indy cars and later motorcycle races with me. It’s funny how photography opportunities can lead into so many different areas. I’m also a designer/art director for a company and I long to be doing bigger and better photography projects. I just keep plugging away and doing the best I can and learning new things as I go. Do great work and it will eventually pay off! Best wishes on the new job!

  21. Excellent guest blog. I’m young and looking for my own opportunities to break in. I have come to the realization all too recently that I need to just find something to keep the lights on related in some way to creativity and photography if I can. And leave the door cracked for opportunities to push it wide open. It’s who you know, what you know, and putting it all to work. Thanks for the inspiration.

    BTW, I thought I was the only one who listened to rap music for inspiration. I find that it helps give me that I can take over the world mentality that sometimes I’m too nice to sport when it’s assuredly needed.

  22. Proud of you Matt!!

  23. Not only are you a great photographer, your writing is superb!. You had me mesmerized with your story. And it really captures the challenges of your journey.

    Thanks for such an inspirational story. And good luck. Though I don’t think you’ll need it.

  24. Great job Matt…It’s nice to see so many new and different people having an opportunity to get to know you a bit. I’ve known Matt for a year or so, actually helped me get my first gig as a sports shooter, and he is a tremendously talented photographer, a good friend and from what I’ve heard, an excellent dancer. :)

    Seriously though, great stuff my man…thanks for everything!

  25. Great story Matt. Thank’s for sharing….This is very inspiring to those of us who are struggling to feed our families, yet still think we are destined for some sort of greatness. I believe that the people we meet, have everything to do with our success. This business can be very rewarding, humbling, and most times frustrating.

  26. Matt, Great stuff…nice window into your world.

  27. Keep it up Matt! I’m so glad you’ve moved on from the “edge” and have some creative freedom now! They’ll never understand what they missed out on.

  28. Matt is the friggin’ man! My favorite part was the where you didnt actually name the “Day-job” that made you (and many, many others) miserable for so long. Advertising aint cheap, fools! hahaha. Keep it up so you can make that company huge and then hire me to run your Baton Rouge branch! hahaha. also: “GEEZ MATT, STOP FAILING SO MUCH!”

  29. Great post! I really like reading about hard work, determination, will make you successful. Its true in any business. Thanks for sharing your story and good luck to you and your family!

  30. Hi Matt,

    Wow, I had an extremely busy day today and just now got the chance to read the guest blog today. One last thing before I turn into a pumpkin and hit the sac. Excellent story, and we all have one. Yours just happens to be very, very good.

    Thanks for an excellent tale of a special journey,

    Mike

  31. Matt Congrats Man, I’m very happy for you, Like you said in your blog, Some people will never understand the stress and hard work that goes into it the passion of photography, I’ve almost given up on my dreams three time but there that inner voice that always tell not too.

    Once again congrats

    Saquan

  32. One of the best photog posts I have read this year. Kick’n off 2010 right. Matt, really enjoyed your story.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Ben

  33. Matt,
    You can shoot with the best of them and you can write! What a Renaissance Man! Seriously, though, I enjoyed your post and will pass this along to my kids. I wish you continued success and look forward to seeing you again. Thanks again for some great words here.
    Nathan

  34. Great article. Just the facts. Matt is a great photographer, designer and person. I wish you him the best in his new journey!

  35. Great post, Matt.
    And very interesting timing. I’ve been a full-time graphic designer/part-time shooter for a few years now, and just a few months ago got sidelined by the economy. Rather than frantically scrambling to find a new design job (as was my initial instinct) I’ve decided to take this as a opportunity to redefine myself as a full-time shooter/part-time graphic designer. We’ll see how it goes [fingers crossed].

    Best of luck to you!

  36. Great post Matt! I know how you feel. I am from India and have been considering attending a full-time Photo-school in the US for many years now, but somehow, the industry has changed so much, that everybody with a digital camera now thinks he or she is a Photographer. They don’t know how much hard-work and persistence is required to make a career out of this hobby.

    I decided not to go, and learn on my own. Being in India here has given me a lot of good opportunities like having my own show to host on MTV India and doing Photography on the side. But then recession stuck and things got real shaky. We were all struggling to keep things moving as sponsors for many of the our shows backed out (like Cadbury’s) and many people got laid-off. I was lucky to have Pepsi as my show sponsors and am lucky to be still on board, but really unhappy with how things are going. I considered leaving everything and opening my own studio, doing more Photography work, building a solid portfolio, but with little or no creative motivation, I decided to take it slow.

    Now that I am typing this post, I am leaving again tomorrow morning, down south, to meet some potential employers and production projects. Your post inspires me to go on and keep fighting. We’ve come so far, so how is it possible we can’t make it to the next level! *High Five*

  37. Matt, what can I say that others haven’t already said… truly inspirational. reminds me of a time when I first started in photography in the late 70’s and ended in the mid 90’s then back with a vengeance in the early 2000. Seems photography has a way of keeping you in its grips. The passion once develop will never let you go. The fact that you fought off such a hard decision to go and do something that is both good for you, your mentor. I’m really impressed with the fact that this ad group will now be able to survive and flourish under the creativity of such a person as yourself. I wish you nothing but the best and don’t worry about photography, it’ll pull you back into its grips, that is what passion does.

  38. Hi Matt,

    thanks a lot for the great post!
    It is inspiring and as well showing the reality very well!
    At least, it took me back to the grounds with my constant dream
    about becoming a pro…

    Keep on doing the great work, i like it very much, starting from the
    post that Scott did after he met you!

    Have a nice one,
    Marc

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