Spotlight on Alumni
GTCHS alumni do remarkable things. Spotlight on Alumni is an article that showcases some of our alumni.
Yet Another Cover Story For Will Crooks
By Spencer Wilson · October 18th, 2016
Will Crooks is a 2010 graduate from GTCHS. He graduated from Furman University with a degree in accounting, but later switched directions to pursue a career in photography. Currently, he is the visual director for Community Journals. Links for his work are located at the end of the article.
SW: So, what is going on with you?
WC: I’m the visual director for Community Journals. We’re a company that produces five publications and a daily email. I handle visual direction, hiring for freelance, photography for covers, art direction- all that kind of stuff.
SW: Wow, that sounds like a lot. How did you get into that?
WC: Well, it was not what I went to school for initially. Actually, I was in school to be an accountant. I was even in graduate school for accountancy for a few days.
SW: That is so funny, how did that switch happen?
WC: Ok, I am such a bad example!
I got a full ride to college, and another full ride to graduate school just to drop out the third day. I dropped out to become a photographer.
I’ll never forget when I met up with my professor to tell him that I was leaving the program. He said, “Well, Will, there was about 32 things I thought you'd come here to tell me today, and this was not one of them!”
SW: That's incredible. Why did you decide to leave on the third day of graduate school?
WC: Well, actually it was very important that I left when I did. If I hadn’t quit within the first week, I would have been responsible for paying back the year’s tuition. So, I really had to make the decision when I did.
It was pretty scary dropping out of graduate school, but I knew if I'd continued, I would have felt too invested to change later. I'm sure I'd be in accountancy if I had stayed, which would’ve not been true to myself.
SW: I’m curious, how did you decide that accounting was not the path for you?
WC: Well, this is good point that I would make to anyone in school: do internships.
You may love studying something in school, and you might even be really good at it too, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like doing it as a job. Internships help you figure that out with experience.
This was true for me.
We often skip out on the idea of how young we are when we enter college. Honesty, as an 18 year old kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I kinda picked accountancy. I was actually good at it, which was great!
Well, it was great until I graduated, and quickly realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I think this is a common story for people.
SW: So, tell me what inspired you to go into photography. Were you always interested in it? What is it like being in a creative field?
WC: Well, I didn’t get into photography or arts until college, actually.
I had always been more into sport stuff. But I got injured, and during my recovery down time some friends challenged and expanded my ideas and interests- one of them being photography.
Later, I decided that I wanted to start a photography blog. At the beginning, I was just taking pictures with a point and shoot camera. I decided that if I kept up with it, I would buy a real camera.
So going into my junior year of college, I started the street blog. I was taking pictures of people I meet on the streets that were visually interesting and very aesthetic. It all came down to documenting a story, a narrative.
So, that was the start of it. I’ve had the blog for about four years now.
SW: How were you able to make your hobby a career?
WC: Well, honestly, at first, I thought photography would be nothing more than a hobby.
Back then I was thinking about it in a realist and practical way. I thought that photography was a hobby, not a real job. I also thought that almost nobody could turn it into a living unless they were doing weddings or portraits. I knew if I had to do that forever I’d just go back to being an accountant.
Making photography a career was just a seedling of an idea when I started the blog in college. My realistic thinking kept me from switching over completely to photography then. I was about to graduate, and I felt that I was really good at accountancy. I thought I couldn’t switch majors. I mean, I could have, but I didn’t think it was a real possibility at the time. Obviously, I jumped ship later.
There's a good lesson here- just because you're good at something, doesn't mean you should or have to do it your whole life.
I think a lot of people get stuck on the idea that if you can do something then you should do it. Just because you can get into law or med school and do well, doesn't mean you ought to do it. Still there is a lot of pressure to continue, and even family can reinforce those ideas. I fell into that trap, and I went along with it for the last two years of college and the first three days of grad school.
Fortunately, when I made the switch, I was able to focus on the blog. I did that for a long time. The blog was my job, and for three years I posted a new picture on the blog everyday. And I really mean that I posted everyday, 365 days in a year for three years. It was three years of just that, and I spent 20 to 30 hours a week just shooting. I was never really sure if it was ever going anywhere. Those were not the easiest days, and I would question myself, but I loved what I was doing.
Anyways, I kept at my street blog, and I later got some attention from Greenville’s Town Magazine, which a big lifestyle magazine for Greenville and the South East region. They decided to do a story on me, and I later started to work as a freelance photographer for them, which later became my full time job. And ironically, Paul, the guy who took my picture for the story now sits beside me in the office when I was hired years later. He’s the art director.
SW: So you really like your job?
WC: Yes, but acknowledging that every job has its drawbacks with things like emails, scheduling, and meetings.
I have a job where half my day is out in the community. I will be shooting anything from a youth boxing program for underprivileged kids to art shows. Every week is different, so there is a lot of variety. This job presents its own stresses for sure. There are a lot of jobs that you can just shut off when you return home, but photography is kinda my life, so it doesn’t stop. That something that can happen when you make your passion into a career. It can be hard to want to pick up a camera after a long work week of scheduling and editing. It’s a fair trade off though.
It’s a really good job. I feel like I randomly fell into this job even though it took a lot of perseverance. I'm fortunate that the opportunity came along too.
SW: What’s something about your job, a photographer’s job, that people don’t realize?
WC: Photography is one of those careers that people put up on a pedestal and glamorize, especially when you do fashion spreads.
Yes, it is glamourous and fun for everyone - but the photographer!
The stylist has a lot of fun. The hair and makeup crew have a lot of fun. All of those are important supporting roles, but if the photographer doesn’t do their job well then everyone looks bad.
I learned early on that the big fashion shoots were the most stressful time frame to work. It was also some of the most enjoyable and valuable work though. It's definitely not a job where you simply run around beautiful models with a camera going snap, snap, snap!
Photography is a lot more technical, and to be successful involves a plethora of life skills. This is especially important for someone just starting out. You have to become very skilled in the technical side to differentiate yourself.
You have to differentiate yourself, because anyone can pick up a camera and call themselves a photographer. Face it, anyone can take a picture. Cameras are such an easy tool to access, and there is going to be a million people who are kinda creative, but the way to set yourself apart is learning how to use lighting equipment, retouching, and the other aspects of photography that aren’t the most exciting.
Actually, it requires more than just creativity and technical skills. For example, I spend a few hours a day shooting, and the rest of the time I am emailing, driving, scheduling, editing, and dealing with clients.
Also, because I'm portrait photographer, I have to be good at making my subjects feel relaxed and comfortable. Unless they are a model, most people don't know what to do when someone takes their picture. So, it's also my job to get them to open up with me. This helps me take the most natural pictures.
A lot of photography is being able to stay on the grind. Most of the National Geographic or Time Magazine photographers have 20 years under their belt before they get their position, and there is only a handful of those jobs anyways. You can’t go into photography thinking you’re going to immediately start taking pictures of celebrities. The reality isn't so glamorous. You grind and grind until you get somewhere you like, and then you grind some more and maybe with some luck you’ll get one of those jobs. You need realistic expectation, because in general it's a lot of hard work.
Uh, I think I just made it not cool to be a photographer.
SW: No, I think you just made it ‘real’ to be a photographer. A lot of people have one of two polar views, one being dismissively pragmatic and the other ignorantly idealistic. The reality seems to be somewhere in between- with a lot of hard work.
WC: It has real struggles, but you got to do what you love. So, that’s why I do it.
SW: What advice would you give to a high school kid who wants to make a career out of photography?
WC: The strange thing is, most creative fields don’t require you to attend college to pursue it.
Now, that’s not me saying that you shouldn’t go to college. College in itself is a very good experience. I don’t regret going.
I think you have to approach college as an opportunity to increase your ability to think critically. There is no wasted time in college, unless you close off your mind off and just keep your head down and do your assignments without much thought. I think college can broaden horizons, and defeat some of those ideas and ignorance’s we tend to have. This is a big part of a liberal arts education.
On the other hand, you can be successful without going to college.
Photography is something you can learn on your own, but you have to be self reliant, committed and put in the time.
Greenville Tech actually teaches this self reliance well. As a high school kid taking college course, no teachers are going to be on you about finishing your college homework. So, from an early stage you are responsible for managing yourself. That skill made college a lot easier, and that makes having a job a lot easier too. This is especially true in photography where everyone starts out in freelance work, where you have to put in the work and sell yourself to clients. You can’t sit on the couch and eat Reese’s Puff cereal all day. There is nobody to motivate you but you.
SW: So, when was the last time you wore the school uniform?
WC: Oh, man. This is hard, maybe the last day I was in school?
Author's Note: Interviewing Will Crooks was a pleasure. It was not until after our interview, that I found that he was being modest about the extent of his work. A quick google search revealed more articles and links to his work and even a TEDx talk. Check out his blog, and be on the lookout for his work in the Community Journals publications.
Will Crooks' Links
If you or a fellow alum, would like to share a positive experience or be interviewed as an alum, please contact us! We would love to hear from you. Please send an email with your name and graduation year to Spencer Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.