JMU Grad Starts His Own Photography Business
Story by Alexa Livezey
Photo courtesy of Casey Templeton
Casey Templeton has never known the luxury of a full-time job. For him, inconsistency and risk are just part of his work as a freelance photographer. “You know, everybody says it’s so risky to work for yourself and to have your own business, but I think it’s more risky that another human being has control over whether you have a job at the end of the day. It’s very scary,” Templeton says.
This fear has been a motivation for Templeton since he began photographing at 16 years old for Lifetouch, a photography company. Then, while attending James Madison University, along with working for student publications like Curio, he started doing freelance photography for publication companies like USA Today, the New York Times and the Associated Press.
“Those were all kind of like cheap thrills at first, but then it’s like that kind of wore off … I just kind of got more into the commercial side of it,” Templeton says.
His passion for photography helped him discover his true calling: business. “I love business, so I would consider myself a businessman who happens to be a photographer,” Templeton says. Since then, he has blended both of his passions. One of his biggest influences during college was Tommy Thompson, a photojournalism professor who helped him refine his photography skills. “Casey portrays a magnetism that just attracts … he has that attraction to want to work with him,” Thompson says. Shortly after graduating from JMU, Templeton worked for National Geographic as an intern. Then he moved to Richmond, Va. and landed his first commercial-work freelance job doing a couple of advertisement campaigns for Wal-Mart. From there, he branched out. “It seems like every day, it changes — what I’m working on. But most of the time it’s just focusing on how I can better fulfill my client’s needs,” he says. “That’s the only constant thing every day.”
Even those who have worked with Templeton as associates rather than clients recognize his focus. “In my capacity, it is a wonderful experience as he understands the collaborative process and also how to have fun,” says Suzanne Sease, a creative consultant for commercial and consumer photographers and long-time business associate of Templeton. “Casey is good at that fine line between having fun and being professional.” Along with doing work for corporations such as Altria Group, Bon Secours, General Electric Co. and numerous pharmaceutical companies, Templeton began to expand the kinds of work he does as well. “I really love the corporate side of it all, like working with businesses and helping them come up with a brand, like a visual brand, and helping them create image libraries of their photo work,” he says. “That’s the work I really want to be doing.”
Templeton started a couple of small side businesses along the way, including one in investment real estate and, most recently, a small business called Shift Change that specializes in video. Templeton is in the process of branding Shift Change with his video partner. “We’ll kind of run our major video work through that company. It’s all in the vein of coming across bigger than you really are,” he says. Creating illusions like this is one of Templeton’s main focuses when he is photographing as well. “I never like to accept what I see as the best that I can get,” he says. “So I always try to make scenes look completely different than if someone were to be standing beside me and see what I saw.” In the business world, he prefers to use this technique with his favorite type of photography: lifestyle. “I try to bring a lifestyle feel to a corporate environment, so I do a lot of natural-light work,” says Templeton. He then edits the light in the photo by adjusting the exposure to change how the image appears.
However, no matter what style of photography he does, he always thinks about aspects such as balance, backgrounds, clean edges, space, and text treatment. “But really my biggest thing is just making people feel comfortable when I’m photographing,” he says. “If they’re not comfortable, it shows.” Templeton himself has learned to become comfortable with certain things in his professional life. He has learned that if he gets out of his own way and focuses on his passion for photography, the business side will take care of itself. However, part of the job is to keep marketing yourself.
“A big lesson for me is that no matter what kind of work you do, you’re always in sales,” he says. “If you can’t sell yourself to other people, then no one is going to do that job for you, so that’s a huge focus.” And focus is exactly what Templeton has had to do for the past several years. “It’s just been one thing after another. As long as I can keep my focus on my clients, it ends up paying off for me,” he says. So far, Templeton has found what he calls the “sweet spot” in the world of freelancing. “The biggest perk of my job is the flexibility I have to spend time with my family,” he says. “I travel a decent amount, but whenever I have a chance to break away from the office, I always just try to come home … It’s a blast.”
However, he feels the best is yet to come. “If I sat around and just kept reminiscing [about] the best work I’ve ever done, and … thought that it was all work I had already done, then that’d be a pretty depressing outlook,” he says. In the past year, Templeton frequently worked in Europe, and his international presence is about to expand. He is planning three trips to Southeast Asia over the next few months to take photographs in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam for General Electric Co.
“I often think my best work is ahead.”