Welcome to podcast episode number 10 of the Mobile Alabama Business Podcast with Matt Gates. My name is Marcus Neto. I own Blue Fish, a digital marketing and web design company based in downtown Mobile.
I'm the host of Mobile Alabama Business Podcast where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.
In today's show, I sit down with Matt Gates. Matt is an environmental portrait photographer based out of Spanish Fort. I used to lead worship at Spanish Fort United Methodist Church when Matt was in the high school youth group there and played in the band. His mother was also the teacher of two of my boys at Rockwell Elementary School. Over the years, I've watched him grow and learn about the craft of photography. He has a great eye and makes his subjects look amazing. So let's dive right in with Matt Gates.
Matt, I want to thank you for coming on the podcast today.
Matt: Thanks for having me Marcus. It's great to be here.
Marcus: As an intro, just tell us a little bit about yourself and in the business that you’ve got, Matt Gates Photography, right?
Matt: Matt Gates Photo. So it would be www.mattgatesphoto.com. Really the business started out of just a short back story on me is I started at Faulkner State Community College in the graphic design program. I was an okay designer, better photographer. My dad kind of pushed me the photography way instead of...
Marcus: Guided you.
Matt: Yeah, yeah he kind of said you should probably pursue photography, you love it a lot more and you'll have an easier life as far as getting plugged in at work. So I started shooting pictures with a film camera that he had and just loved it ever since, and kind of built a business based on portraits, like connecting with people on a one on one basis and a small group basis and tell their stories.
Marcus: That's very cool. I remember some of those early projects that you had going on. If I remember it correctly, you came over to our offices one day and took a portrait of me. If I remember correctly...
Matt: Yeah, probably. Yeah.
Marcus: It was for a school project. I don't know if I ever saw that picture.
Matt: I don’t know if I really ever saw the picture either. (laughter)
Marcus: Yeah, it was. I know it's funny but I know it's been a while. So now you've grown into Matt Gates Photo. What kind of stuff are you working on? What projects have you had come up recently?
Matt: Well as of recently I do Matt Gates Photo full time and I do wedding videography with a company in Mobile part time, but as far as Matt Gate Photo goes, I've been working a lot with magazines such as like Guide Post Magazine and Access Magazine locally. To do short I guess you would say photo journalistic, but more my style environmental portrait assignments for them. I was just about to throw on my Instagram a picture of this blind bicyclist that I got to meet and take pictures of him and his friend that he rides tandem with. They're about to do a cross country trip so Guide Post sent me to document them as a duo.
Marcus: Is he local?
Matt: Yeah, he's out of Milton/Pensacola area.
Marcus: That's so cool. I can't wait to see that. How did you get started? You said you kind of went down the path of graphic design and then were pushed. But you know beyond that like actually getting into the business and stuff like that. Give us some background on how you got started.
Matt: Yeah, as far as like generating business, it was a lot of take pictures of friends of my dad. He did freelance web development for a little while. So, any client that he had that needed pictures, that he thought that I could sort of enhance or you know be better than what he would take then he would ask me to come do it. Or he would introduce me to Terry Edicar at Pixelar in Mobile and just allow us to develop a relationship through my dad. So really my dad is a pivotal part of me starting as a photographer because he already had the connections as far as like building the brand from that infancy to now, it's been a lot of networking and meeting people like you and other designers and ad agencies, just becoming friends with these people. I believe that authenticity and being real, which one or another and developing like a close relationship as a friend, we can all help each other’s businesses.
Marcus: Absolutely. I totally get that. Seeing you kind of grow as far as like your branding goes and what you're putting out there and stuff and I was noting the other day that you'll never be able to change your eyeglasses ever.
Matt: No. I wear RayBan Clubmaster sunglasses that an obstetrician put regular lenses in.
Marcus: So you don't even needed glasses?
Matt: No, they're like they're glasses lenses. It's like they're prescription, but not like sunglasses.
Marcus: Oh, I got you because I they're normally sunglasses. That's too funny. No, I mean I love them but I just think it was cool. For those of you that don't know and can't see this, Matt actually wears glasses that are very unique and they are his logo, of sorts. If you go to his webpage, you'll see those there. They're very distinctive shape.
Matt: They're a lot more popular nowadays than when I started wearing them.
Marcus: You're such a hipster.
Matt: They really are actually, they’re like that, like 50's era, glasses but it's interesting to run into a guy that's like in his 50's that are wearing them now and he'll look at me and I'll look at him and he'll "nice glasses or whatever." It's too cool.
Marcus: Yeah, what project have you been working on lately to build the business.
Matt: Recently we acquired the drone, specifically a Phantom 2.
Marcus: Explain to us what a drone is, because not everybody is going to be familiar with that.
Matt: Right. A drone would be a multi roader or multi engine prop helicopter that shoots aerial video and photography, specifically with mine, it uses a GoPro Hero 3 that attaches on the bottom and has a stabilization system to acquire the smooth video and photography. I recently acquired that and have been trying to push it, as well as not push it right now because we're still, as far as the drone market goes, we're still in the infancy of like trying to figure out what the FAA regulations are going to be. So it was the early adopter and now I'm having to kind of weigh my options on whether I want to do...
Marcus: How expensive you want to give or as fines and stuff like that.
Marcus: It's been interesting to kind of watch over that because I know that there are some big names in videography that are not even based out of the US, but it's just been kind of promoting what's going on with drones and stuff, and Philip Bloom is one that I keep in touch with and he had some choice things to say about our regulations as it relates to drones. But I get it I mean especially in higher populated areas that have a lot of air traffic. Like we don't have a whole lot of in the Mobile area so it's not as big deal but I'm originally from Washington, DC. We lived up by Dulles airport and at night you could literally every three miles there was another plane that was landing and you can see just a long trail of airplanes coming in and of course something like that, you don't necessarily want a drone flying into a path of 747 or something along those lines.
Matt: Really the issues with as far as like what the FAA... because I've got a buddy that flies commercial aircraft and he also is a… he does education on the drone stuff and he said the biggest issue for the FAA right now is trying to figure out what regulations they're going to put in place for flying over people and stuff. Because if one of those things fall on you, or you get wiped by the roader or something, you're going to cut or you're getting to get hurt in some way. That's kind of where they are and I'm as far as it goes I'm all about safety. I know some people around here that they'd rather get the shot and worry about the safety later...
Marcus: We won’t name any names.
Matt: I'd rather air on the side of caution and shift when there's nobody around than fly over a group of kids or something like that.
Marcus: So what if you, I mean just to stay on the drone topic here for a second, what if you had a chance to use that what commercial application are you seeing for that?
Matt: For me as far as cinematography and the film-making that I do, I do a lot of commercial stuff for businesses that non-profits are a lot of what I do. Like I just did a video for Prodisee Pantry where the drone just created the transition point for me. So basically like coming from one story and transitioning into the story of the pantry. And so I use to as far as like doing a fly over the pantry and minimalized the tool like utilized it in an effective way. It's easy to get into when you get a new tool to use it all the time and over use it. But I think if you can find some finesse between utilizing it in a smart way and effective way and not abuse the flyer version of whips around people and stuff like that, it makes far more greater impact.
Marcus: Yeah. That's a great organization, sir. It'll be exciting to see that video when you get that. Is that up there online?
Matt: Yeah, Prodisee Pantry put it up and then al.com, put the video up on the article about the event.
Marcus: If I remember it correctly it's prodiseepantry.org.
Matt: Yeah. Prodisee pantry. P-r-o-d-i-s-e-epantry.org.
Marcus: Right. As a business owner, what's the one most important thing that you've learned over last three or six months?
Matt: Over the last three or six months, (laugh) cover your butt.
Marcus: What do you mean by that?
Matt: As far as like the photography market or the videography market, it's really easy to find dry spells or really easy for dry spells to come upon you. So if you are like specifically with Prodisee Pantry thing, I shot it in a moment, in a period of this year that I didn't have a lot of real business coming in like steady, steady business. So as far as photography goes and the photography business, save your money and not spend it and plan ahead. But as far as like another big thing, I've learned is be honest and true and mean what you say and say what you mean.
Marcus: That stuff tends to follow you around as a business owner. If you don't treat people the way people are supposed to be treated. And also if you don't do what you say you're going to do then it tends to, it definitely can hurt the business because people talk.
Matt: Like I'll send this out tonight or telling the client, "yeah, I'll get that to you as soon as possible" is better than saying "I'll send it to you in five minutes and then send that three hours later or something.
Marcus: Give yourself some leeway I guess.
Matt: Yeah. I went to a conference this year. It was really about a wedding video, but it ending up being about like finding your vision and being authentic in your business. And I heard it best from one of the speakers that says “give yourself time to make failures.” Give yourself time to fail in photography and video. If you're innovative and you're trying new things. Not everything you're going to try is going to work out. So you got to give yourself time to fail and get back up and try something else instead of waiting to the last minute to shoot whatever you need to shoot or edit what you need to edit or whatever.
Marcus: We're talking about being innovative and I know you work with some local musicians on videos and things of that nature. What does that bring to you? Is that just for the fun of it or is that a chance for you to kind of explore who you are as a creative, or...?
Matt: A lot of the musician stuff that I do from anybody that's dealt with musicians they know that musicians have zero to no money, or they have zero to no money that want to put into their brand, which is interesting to me because that's all they are is a brand that puts out constant contact or constant content. But as far as the video stuff or the photography stuff that I do for the musicians, it's like a way for me to explore or to create something that I haven't created before or try a different technique that I've always wanted to try.
Marcus: With a chance to fail or is it basically what you're...
Matt: Yeah, give myself a chance to fail so I can find where the success is, so when a commercial client or somebody else wants to come in and do something similar, I already know how to do that.
Marcus: It's just really interesting to me because like in our industries aren't so different and those of you that have listened to this podcast and I do a lot of photography, as well, but in the digital marketing industry, and also just in the industry of building online applications, the motto is fail fast, fail often. Because you want to be constantly pushing those boundaries to find what that next thing is that's going to set you apart from the guy that's got maybe a little better funding or maybe has a little bit better idea at the time or something along those lines. So it's cool to see that as a videographer that you're still kind of pushing those boundaries and allowing yourself that freedom, because it's necessary especially in the creative arts.
Matt: If you don't push yourself. You don't push yourself to create something different then everybody's content is going to end up looking the same and that's just a bland, stale world.
Marcus: Are you a reader?
Matt: I am a reader. I mean a very small reader. I've read a whole bunch of stuff like I just read Donald Miller's new book, Scary Close. For me as far as like a Christian and a person, it was great but as a business owner it was great too...
Matt: As far as like finding ways to be authentic with people and really thinking about if you're listening or something, there's a book about being intimate in relationships as far as like being authentic with people and being real with people instead of like...
Marcus: Having to face...
Matt: Yeah, putting on a costume or a mask or whatever. So as far as like a business owner especially in my field, it's a lot more easy for me to be authentic in the way that I put myself out there. Like I've heard from a lot of different photographers and videographers about staying true to yourself and finding personal projects to work on and a lot of times your commercial clients will come in and be like , "Oh, I really like what you did for yourself. Can you do this for us?" And it's interesting that dynamic, because we feel like, as photographers and videographers, that the commercial clients want the same stuff but they really want something that's different, that's you, that’s...
Marcus: That they just can't vocalize.
Marcus: So it's helpful to help give them those options visually so that they can just point and say, "Yeah that." Chase Jarvis is a big proponent for that at least in what I've read over the last couple of years. And he talks about how personal projects can also propel you into new directions as any kind of creative agency, whether it's web designer, photography or videography. If you're taking on some sort of creative project on your own and you are the one that is setting the requirements for that project and you can take it in whatever direction you want, and then it gives your next season of clients the ability to say "Man I really loved this project that you did. I know it was an internal project but you do something similar for us?"
Matt: Jeremy Cowart is another one that does the - he started that Voices of Haiti project and it got picked up by CNN and all these other big media outlets as far as like whenever the Haiti earthquakes happen, he went down there and shot portraits of people that survived. And that's propelled him into rebranding his website and making it to where the website caters more to his personal projects and sharing his experiences with other photographers, rather than clients because he saw that most people that visited his website was photographers and clients.
Marcus: Yeah, he's got a huge following in the photographer community.
Matt: Right, yeah, I mean it's incredible to see what your personal projects, how they push you and how they cultivate new work because people want authenticity in the content they put out.
Marcus: It's awesome. Any of the resources that you found helpful? Any blogs or any websites or anything that you frequent?
Matt: I listen to a podcast with a guy named Jared Polin, froknowsphoto.com.
Marcus: FroKnows Photo. we may get a cease and desist letter for.
Matt: We might...
Marcus: For those of you listening that don't know Jared... He's got a huge afro.
Matt: Like gigantic.
Marcus: It's just massive. Instead of seeing that as a detriment, he actually branded himself based on something thats sets him apart which is this massive - but he's got a body of work that's just incredible too because...
Matt: He's a big concert photographer but he also does a lot...He's more in the education world now.
Marcus: Yeah, he's kind of changed gears.
Matt: And photography education, but he talks about business and marketing and stuff like that. I've listened to a couple Fizzle episodes, podcast called Fizzle who does entrepreneurial podcast stuff, but I listen a lot of podcasting. Do a lot of content absorption that way. That way I can be driving down the road and still listen to stuff that matters.
Marcus: It's in the car or mowing the grass or washing the dishes or whatever. Yeah, it's a nice way to kind of get into education in a time when you may not be able to do it.
Marcus: What do you like to do in your free time?
Matt: What free time?
Marcus: Do you have any hobbies?
Matt: It's interesting in this space, because what I get to do for a living, it was my hobby. It was the thing that took up the extra bit of time after work or whenever I have like a stupid part time job. As far as me having like an extra hobby, I mean hanging with my wife or...
Marcus: Going to Disney...
Matt: Going to Disney. We love going to Disney. Or volunteer at church all the time, but I shoot for church, like I'm in charge of the photo team at church.
Marcus: Which I think is incredible like I want to stop for a second and affirm you because I know you kind of gotten really involved over Bay Community Church/City Hope Church and so those photos turn up in a lot of different ways in so they're being used in a really cool way to reach people in those areas.
Matt: As far as personal projects, Bay/CityHope have become like huge personal project for me.
Marcus: I can see that.
Matt: Like I push myself all the time to shoot worship differently or photograph pastor in a different way. I started a little project that I'm going to continue doing portraits of the volunteers at Bay and kind of telling their little story. And so it ties all in from a lot of what I've done in the past six months, I've really found a way to hone my brand in as far as like I know exactly what I want to do with the brand. I know exactly how I want my brand to be. I mean for me it's all about telling people stories and I’ve never had clarity about that. I've always loved doing environmental portraits or doing portraits of people but as far as like a stale studio type stuff, it has to be really on purpose. It has to really play to your story. other than that story-telling is like my main brand, my main focus. And that goes with the video and the photo stuff. I've paid attention a lot to what I put out as far as like, it has to tell a story whatever I put them on Facebook, on website, it has to tell a story in some way.
Marcus: That's one of the hardest things as you were maturing in any kind of creative space, whether it be musician or a photographer or a videographer, it's having that filter of ,“is that really worthy? Is it like what I wanted to put out there?”
Matt: Does this help my brand or does it hurt it?
Marcus: Or does it hurt my brand. And sometimes it's a very fine line. In episode 1 we were talking to April and Trisha and I think it was Trisha who made mention of she's the technical one so if there's an image that's slightly blurry or whatever, then she'll want to throw it away and April was saying, "No, it communicates something. It tells a story." And so technically speaking the photography doesn't necessarily have to be exactly perfect, like perfectly focused and perfectly lit and all that other stuff. As long as the story that's being communicated is what you're trying to get out of the person, then that's what's important. I think it's awesome to think about how a church would use this to get people excited about what's going on with their volunteers. And to get other people excited about becoming part of that. That's extremely powerful stuff and then also just knowing that those photos getting shown up in all kinds of places for inviting people to come to church that may have ever attended or anything. It's just cool. What does the average day look like for you? So you wake up at such and such time.
Matt: (laughter) 10, 10:30
Marcus: Okay. So you're that guy huh?
Matt: I'm not definitely not a morning person. I will stay up all night and edit or whatever, but as far as getting up, I either had to have a meeting that morning or I had a shoot at 8:00 in the morning, at the crack of dawn.
Marcus: So those of you listening, we're actually recording this at 2:00. So what you're saying is you rolled out of bed about thirty minutes ago?
Matt: Four hours ago. For me it's not important to wake up early. It doesn't matter to me. It doesn't hurt my day. But like if I have a client that's like we really need to shoot 9:00, obviously I going to be 15, 20, 30 minutes early and be there on time, be professional, but it's not a favourite part of the day. But after I wake up I usually, I start my day consuming content. So watch like a Youtube video, kind of get my brain woken up. I'm not a big coffee drinker. So content is what wakes me up.
Matt: And I have a Youtube show that I watch everyday. It's called “Good Mythical Morning” and they do like the weirdest stuff. They'll talk about the weird things. Today it was “Top Ten Weirdest Things that Sell on Amazon” or something like that.
Marcus: I can only imagine.
Matt: It's strange. It's just something monotonous that kind of propels my brain into a space that's creative or thinks differently. And then I have an app that I have a to do list on. It's called “Wonder List”. And I'll get through and I'll figure out what I need to do -
Marcus: -what the schedule for the day is. Prioritize.
Matt: Prioritize, thank you, my day around what it is in the to do list.
Marcus: It's cool. You are more of the night person versus the morning person as you were saying earlier. Where can people find you? So give us an idea. You may have a website, mattgatesphoto.com. Give us your social media accounts as well.
Matt: So Facebook/mattgatesphoto, Instagram, @spiritfightingflesh, Twitter, @mattgatesphoto, It's all important for your brand, having brand awareness and being able to for people to find you really easy. So I kind of tried to really, I haven't kind of, I've tried really hard to keep that brand awareness throughout all my Instagram, Twitter and stuff like that.
Marcus: You never know where your next client is going to come from. It's good that you're kind of pushing content out into those different avenues.
Matt: Yeah, I try to post on Instagram everyday.
Marcus: Nice. Well I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast.
Matt: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Marcus: To wrap up are there any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Matt: The only thing that I may been praying a lot and thinking about this interview and this podcast and trying to figure out what I should say and stuff like that. And I guess the one thing that comes to mind when I think about it is photography is the thing that nobody wants to pay for, but everybody needs as far as business goes. You may not think but the photos matter on your website or brochures or anything like that. A lot of times people try to get away with doing iPhone photography on their website. I know you don’t, but hiring someone that can really tell your brand story or your company's story or portray the image that you want to portray is priceless.
Marcus: Yeah, I agree 100%. Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur.