We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Freeman, owner of Still The One Media, and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, what do you attribute your success to?
I contribute my success primarily to two things: first, my passion for art, particularly photography. After spending most of my twenties and early thirties living in Europe, I got see a lot of the greatest art ever created and it left an impression on me, for sure, sparking my love for art. And second, I still live by a set of core values dating back to my 25-year military career – “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all that I do.” If you’re fortunate enough to already be doing a thing you absolutely love, and then you fuel that love with an intense discipline, success becomes your only option. Do I have struggles like anyone else? Yup! Do I ever let them stop me? Nope!! I wake up each morning excited about what my day will bring, even the challenges. The fact that I get to create something beautiful that others will enjoy puts a smile on my face. I felt that joy the moment I started shooting as an amateur decades ago.
I picked up my very first camera when I joined the military back in the mid-80’s. It was a little polaroid instant, and we’d write all over the borders of the pics – that was “Instagram 1.0” LOL! I happened to be living in Europe at the time and traveled a lot, and I wore that little camera out. It was there that I fell in love with photography. I was mostly taking pictures of other peoples’ art or simply documenting my travels. But the more I’d shoot, the more I wanted to tell a more compelling story with my images. I slowly transitioned from a touristy style to a more artistic style of photography. Even basic photos needed a little extra something, a unique perspective, a different composition, just something, anything that made it feel uniquely my own. Every time I looked through my viewfinder, I’d look for something new, something that we normally wouldn’t notice with the naked eye. Over time, I began to view life the same way, as if I was looking at my surroundings, as well as people, through my viewfinder. I came to realize exactly what photography had done for me. It opened a whole new world. My camera had taught me to view this world without my camera. I learned to see beauty in everything, everywhere, and in everyone. Those two and a half decades, 17 countries, and thousands of people really shaped my love for this art.
Much of my military career also required me to spend long stretches of time away from family and friends. And during that time, I missed so many precious moments, like holidays, birthdays, graduations, weddings and more. Sometimes it wasn’t even about missing the actual moment as much as not having a keepsake photograph or video to make those moments last forever when I was away. Meaningful pictures can be comforting and help make us feel connected to the most special people and events in our lives. However, while so many families might have a rich collection of professional photographs and videos spanning generations, there are so many others that have very sparse collections, if anything at all. That’s one of the things that helped launch my journey into portrait photography. I just think everybody deserves beautiful pictures of themselves and their loved ones, and I find real joy in being able to provide that for them.
When I finally retired from the military back in 2011, I had a decision to make. I could go directly into the IT world (my first specialty) or even the defense industry where I was sure to be well-compensated, or I could choose a totally new path. But first, I had to answer a very simple question; “what does success mean?”. And for me, that meant doing something that I love, doing it well, and doing it with a sense of service to others (harking back to those core principles).
I’d already spent most of my life serving my country, and now I wanted a new challenge, one that I didn’t feel the corporate world could give me, at least not on my own terms. So, I rolled up my sleeves once again and accepted a new challenge, to grow a successful business from the ground up. I’d already lived a proud life of service to my country. Now, I get to serve my local community and I couldn’t be happier. In fact, in the last 30 days alone, I photographed a newborn baby, a family’s first portrait, an engagement session, a band’s first album cover, two college graduations, two first communions, as well as an actor’s and realtor’s professional headshots – all right here in my local community. I find that incredibly gratifying, and that’s the most important thing. If you want to be successful, start by doing what you love. I think the key to my own success is that I’m doing what I love, first and foremost, but I feel I’m also a photographer that the community can trust.
The great Michael Jordan was once asked how he could possibly be content knowing he’s only the sixth highest-paid player on his own team when he was already arguably the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. He answered, “Because I truly love the game, so why would I demand even more money to do something that I’d probably do for free”? That quote stayed with me all these years. Though I clearly cannot shoot my clients for free, what I do for them feeds my spirit. Each shoot sparks my passion in whole new ways. There are a lot of photographers in my area. Many of them are quite talented, too. But I never measure my own success against whatever those photographers are doing. Or, as I like to say, “I’m not looking in anyone’s pockets.” I only compare my craft today to what I created yesterday. I’m not doing anything by myself, either. When my clients are happy, I’m happy.
Each of my clients understands that with each click of my shutter we are creating something special, together. It’s that connection with my clients that’s so unique. By the end of each shoot, we are usually very good friends. And it’s those special connections that typically lead to the next client. I’ve been blessed in that I don’t really need to advertise. Nearly 90 percent of my business comes because of my previous clients sharing their experiences of shooting with me. They come to me already having a certain comfort level because they’d heard about me and know my character. In this business it’s obviously important to have contracts in place. However, I believe there’s something even more important than contracts and that’s that you have impeccable character (again, integrity, excellence, and selfless service). It’s not my contracts that a client ultimately puts their trust in. They put their trust in me, so I do my best every shoot to take care of it.
What should our readers know about your business?
I’m the proud owner and lead photographer for Still The One Media (www.stilltheonemedia.com), a multi-published media company based right here in Phoenix but providing services nation-wide. We are fully insured, and all our photographers are proud members of “Professional Photographers of America”. We work frequently with major companies, medium and small businesses, as well as with individuals and families in a variety of ways. We provide on-location glamour and business portraits and headshots, environmental portraits, and even video and photo-support for creative professionals. We also specialize in larger special events like business seminars, fashion shows, music concerts and weddings. Our team of photographers, videographers and hair and makeup artists work easily in small spaces or with large groups, and we always, always, always aim to make entire the process as stress-free and fun as possible.
And speaking of makeup artists, we partner with top Hollywood-trained hair, makeup, and wardrobe stylists in Arizona to get our clients photoshoot-ready using only luxury brand makeup as well as fully mobile services. Yes – we can come to you! Let our image consultants help you create that personal or professional look you’re going for with one-on-one consultations and even personal shopping trips! We craft packages to suite nearly any budget. And by combining professional media, hair, makeup, and styling packages we’re able to offer our clients significant cost savings for elite-level services.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Day 1. I recommend spending a chill day up at Canyon Lake in the Superstition Mountains. It’s one of the most scenic locations in the Southwest, complete with swimming, fishing, boating, grilling, and tent or RV camping. There’s very little light pollution so once the sun goes down on a clear night the stars put on a spectacular show.
Day 2. You must start your day with breakfast at my favorite breakfast spot, “Breakfast Club”, followed by shopping at the Scottsdale Fashion Square or Biltmore Fashion Park. For dinner, Steak 44 is arguably the best steakhouse in the Southwest and an absolute must! Have you ever created sparks with your fork and knife? Yeah, it’s just that good.
Day 3. Wake up before sunrise and take an early morning hot air balloon ride to watch the sunrise over the Sonoran Desert, followed by a champagne breakfast at the landing spot. In the evening, you can pre-game at the downtown Phoenix Hard Rock Café before ultimately walking across the street to catch an NBA or MLB game. By the way, the Phoenix Suns are the best team in basketball right now and they’re still getting better! Super high energy arena. Plus, the nachos and brats are the bomb!
Day 4. That’s right – we’re catching a concert! Phoenix has THE BEST concert selections in the entire West (outside of LA), but at a fraction of the costs. There’s always a great band playing somewhere on any given night and for any genre – rock, soul, r&b, latin, old school, ska, punk, rap, you name it. And 80’s bands love it here! The Celebrity Theater is an awesome spot for very intimate shows of world class bands featured on a circular, rotating stage. Every seat in the house is the best seat. After the show, grab some drinks at Boondocks in Scottsdale, where even more nightly live music is always on point!
Day 5. For your more ambitious friends – you know, the ones with the glutes – try hiking Camelback Mountain. This iconic hill sits right in the center of the valley and sports some of the most breathtaking 360-degree views of the city and surrounding valley. You’ll be hungry afterwards so head over to Lo-Lo’s to fill up on some chicken and waffles and whatever their soul food special of the day is. If the hike didn’t do you in, Lo-Lo’s likely will. But if not, get those glutes to one of the dozens of dance floors in Scottsdale’s Entertainment District, a sprawling hub of door-to-door nightclubs. The party never stops, even in the streets between venues as patrons “hop” from spot to spot.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would love to give a shoutout to Kristina at Dress You Up AZ (www.dressyouupaz.com). Kristina’s one of the top hair and makeup artists in Arizona as well as a clothing stylist and consultant. She’s always done such an incredible job preparing clients for their photoshoots, making the entire experience for myself and the clients flow without a hitch.
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