We had the good fortune of connecting with Brendan O’Malley and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Brendan, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I had started in photography years ago when film was the only option and stopped because I had a few experiences with people whose work I admired but, they turned out to not be the people I imagined and the fear in mind was I had to be like them to succeed.

I gave up photography all together for many years and went into a totally unrelated career field which interested me and allowed me be to very successful and provide for my family. I have been working in this non photography field for many years and have gotten to the point of “I’m done” on a personal level because it no longer provided the satisfaction photography gives me as an individual. Photography feeds my soul, takes all of my attention, and allows me a level of satisfaction that cannot be provided anywhere in the corporate world.

My biggest concern was costs so, I picked up a very cheap camera with a few even cheaper lenses at a local big box store and got to work. I started off supporting a local girl’s ice hockey club (San Diego Junior Gulls, now the San Diego Angels) by photographing games and players. It gave me satisfaction in the sense of giving back to a great organization and allowed me to get comfortable behind a lens and learn however, I needed more so I started photographing local landscapes using this same, now very worn-out camera. Living in San Diego has made it fairly to find locations to photography however, there is more to the area than the ocean and finding those unique places in the county that many others don’t know about can be challenging. 

I asked a lot of questions, made a ton of mistakes but I learned and my work improved. I went back to school which felt good and learned the “how’s and why’s” of photography and started applying what I learned to my work. 

I also studied the work of famous landscape photographers (Ansel Adams, Takeshi Mizukoshi, Edward Weston, Peter Lik, Gallen Rowell, Tim Shields and many others) but also went back to the Master’s in the sense of Renoir, Van Gogh, DaVinci, and how they used light and shadow to add dimension, structure and light to a painting. I studied all the major photography fields but stuck with primarily landscape photography for two major reasons: nature doesn’t complain when she shows her world to me. She gives me her beauty and it’s up to me to capture it and try to share this beauty with others. Other reason is the challenge. I have no control over what nature gives me in the sense of light, weather or environment but, it is my job to take what is given, find those few spots that can be photographed and really show the location and share it with others. 

I am now focused on this effort and getting to the point where people are providing some really terrific feedback on my work which provides both satisfaction and areas where I can improve which is always needed. I am also becoming more aware of the business side of photography, discussing my work with a few companies and the possibility of my images being used for things I never imagined. 

What’s one thing about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of? 

It is very competitive almost to the point of being cut throat. To survive, you have to work on your style and what I call “message to others” to make your place in the industry. 

My style is based on a few key points before I photograph a location: popularity of the location, message, and style. How popular is a spot? Does it convey a message or pull a person towards it? Can I do the location justice using my style? I have never had a problem with style however, if I photograph Half Dome in Yosemite, chances are my work will be very similar to someone else simply because it has been photographed by so many others. That is why I try to focus my efforts on the less popular locations and photograph them. 

Perfect example is when I went to Holland for a week and photographed some areas that I read about before the journey. Of course, I took photos of Amsterdam however, it is a truly over photographed location and not much is really new there and I did not have a chance to go find something new or unique on my own. I did have a lucky moment where the sunset complimented some older buildings which I photographed however; nothing spoke to me in the photos I took. I then went northwest to the coast near Zandvoort and also Northeast to Hoorn and got a couple terrific photos at both locations which I can really express to the viewer because they are something new and unique. This trip also reinforced my belief that I can find beauty to share almost anywhere just so long as I allow myself the moments to find them. 

The biggest reason why I had such challenges is because I did not really plan this trip well. The Holland visit was a bit “last moment” and I walked into it very unprepared. So, rather than getting frustrated, I allowed myself to take time and just enjoy the areas we visited and be just a tourist rather than a photographer. Once I allowed myself to relax and enjoy my time, I was able to capture some terrific photos.  

Risk taking: how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career? 

Risk is always present but can be managed. I had a previous job which was incredibly dangerous and learned early on to discuss risks, find ways to manage them, and then commit to the moment. I learned from these times how to manage risk and apply it to my current photographic journey. To do this, I broke down risk into two predominant categories; business risk and photography risk. I did this to simplify everything for myself and make it more manageable on paper.

Business risk is just that, a risk to the business. My biggest concern is cost and seriously overextending myself so to minimize this, I have carefully managed finances while ensuring I can still do photography. 

As a photographer, I have a lot of equipment that I own that is needed for my photography business however, I did not want to buy everything again so I lease my existing equipment to the company and charge per use fees for my equipment that I own personally. I also bought used computers, had them checked out and repaired if needed, and charged all this work to the business. This plan has reduced my overhead and monthly expenses a lot and allowed me to invest the money I would have spent on all new equipment back into the business.

Managing risk for photography is more of the creative side and is the prep work that I do prior to photographing a landscape, especially if there is travel involved. Nothing is more frustrating than to plan a photography trip and have the trip ruined or delayed by some unplanned event. I do the research regarding weather, sunset and sunrise times and how weather affects images at that location. Plus, you have to understand the area and what it takes to get there. Is it a two-day hike which means camping and camera gear? Is the location on top of a mountain? More than a day’s hike? What equipment do I bring? Do I need a visa? Hotel and food costs? Best time of year to go? Or, does the location have easy access which could mean crowds of people and other challenges? 

To lessen that chance of that happening, I plan extensively which involves scouting the location using my computer, reviews of the location, and other things that I think are crucial for success. First thing I do is find the location I want to photograph on a map and then look for environmental challenges and what needs to be done to overcome them. I consider the weather, the area, hotels or camper rental, food and where to get it. I also consider the mundane things like hospitals, crime rates and places to wash clothes. Once work planning is done, I look for spots to go get away and decompress and find those spots where I can unwind a bit during the trip. Take a moment to put the camera down and just enjoy the world around me.

Even though I plan a trip extensively, I do allow “catch up days” if needed which are days to unwind, explore the area for those special places that many others don’t know about and photograph them or enjoy them in some other way. Sometimes, these are days filled with mundane things such as catching up on laundry or grabbing some groceries but these are still the days where I take the time to decompress and, in some ways, just be a goofy tourist with a camera and really enjoy the location I’m visiting.

The last thing I do is talk with my family which involves me sharing my plan with them and checking in regularly when I’m traveling. If I have to hike somewhere, I call when I’m done and let them know I’m ok. If I change my plans, I share the plan with them so they know where I am if something should go wrong. 

Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success? 

What has helped the most is not limiting myself to just one form or type of photography. I focus most of my effort and get the most enjoyment from landscape photography however, I do many other types of photography so my talents and skills can be diverse and I can change to meet what customers want. Though I refuse to limit myself to just one genre, I do not work in certain photography fields such as fashion photography which I worked in when I was much younger because it interested me at that time however, I quickly realized I don’t enjoy it. 

One thing I did due to COVID that has been successful is move my focus from a larger landscape format to occasionally working in the macro aspect of landscape photography which opened a totally new interest, broadened by skills, and allowed me the chance to develop another perspective using my photos. I chose macro photography because I could find everything locally. I photographed weeds in my front yard, wildflowers down the street in a nearby field, and anything else that grabbed my interest. This has led to a whole new interest in my work which will likely result in a macro series which I may release next year.

What is the most important factor behind your success / the success of your brand? 

I enjoy photographing landscapes because it gives me so much in return. For the brief times I am photographing, I am allowed to pursue what interests me. The world around me and all of its demands are not tugging at me and I can just allow myself these quiet moments to just take everything in and see the beauty that’s in front of me. When this happens, I believe my enjoyment is transferred to the viewers through the images I share. 

A perfect example is during the first easing of COVID restrictions, I planned to go one early weekend morning to Elfin Forest Reserve and take some photos involving water and land. It was an early spring weekend morning and I had planned everything. Checked the weather, batteries charged, gear packed, clean lenses, everything. Got up early Saturday morning to rain and fog which was not in the forecast. What do I do? I decided to still go and took the photo “Just a Little Green” which is now one of my most popular images and is also one of my favorites as well. Sure, I got wet and cold but you know what? It was quiet in the park with no distractions and nature in all her wonder gave me a deliciously rich environment with water that was moving quickly, an empty parking lot, a subdued sun hidden behind fat clouds filled with water and few wonderful moments where I was allowed to get lost in the moment, to pause and listen as the rain gently fell and the water in the stream as it went rushing by. I still get chills when I think about that morning and it was worth every waterlogged, cold to the bone moment. I had waivered in my commitment to this idea of becoming a photographer before but after that morning, I was “in” 100 percent.

What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make? 

I had planned on moving from a totally different career field to photography by June of 2020 and well, it didn’t happen due to COVID. That was a tough blow but I did not dwell on the plan changing. I regrouped, cut costs, and found other means to keep interest in my work while developing new skills at the same time. The difficult decision resulted in me delaying my plans but I will not allow it to stop my plans. I am still in what I call “delay mode” which means I am photographing locations however, I am still limiting expenses and focusing on refining my style, and focusing on the craftwork, not the adventure behind the images. 

Work life balance: how has your balance changed over time? How do you think about the balance? 

Honestly, work life balance has been something I have rarely enjoyed in my life. I have worked multiple jobs in the past where I was always on call and had to be ready to support someone or something else at a moments’ notice. This does place challenges on a person’s life however, I learned to manage this and allow myself moments instead of days or weeks to find balance. 

Initially, my photography on top of my existing job took all of my time however, I have become better at managing my time due to all the demands. I have learned to set time aside to find balance and make a point to not over commit myself to work whether it be for me or someone else. I schedule time with the family and make “dates” with my wife where we go out and just be a couple and try to not talk about business, work and other commitments and just be ourselves. 

Whenever I travel, I also make it a point to just stop and enjoy the moment whether it be to a stop to grab a quick photo or go someplace social and talk to others. These are my moments to find balance, have a good conversation and some laughter, or a quick “pull over and grab the camera” moment is for me the best times and allows me to connect or reconnect with the people and the environment around me.

Do you have a favorite quote or affirmation? What does it mean to you / what do you like about it? 

I don’t know who made this quote or where it came from. Heck, maybe I made it myself. Anyway, my favorite quote is “You’re going to have two pains in your life. Physical pain and the pain of regret. Pick one.”

When times are tough, I think about that quote and it is my reminder to just keep pushing whether to better myself or to endure some discomfort to get another photograph, provide more for my family, or help someone else. I view difficulty as an opportunity to set challenges. To push myself beyond what I am used to, past my comfort zones and really strive for something new, challenging or unique.

There are times where life is tough, we all have those moments however, when life is tough for me, I remind myself of the quote and quickly remind myself that physical pain is usually temporary. Something may hurt for a while or give you some quirky pain but, it usually goes away. 

Regret is for me a monster that lives on my shoulder, always reminding me of an opportunity that I passed on or missed and reminds me to keep pushing, take the challenges that life throws at me and just keep moving to better myself. I don’t like regret and prefer to meet challenges or difficulties head-on, address the issue or problem then, move on to the next challenge.

Why did you pursue an artistic or creative career? 

Quite simply because I needed an outlet for my creative side to explore new things. I have worked for years in a heavily regulated and controlled environment and though it pays the bills, the personal satisfaction has never been there for me and I felt like I was going crazy and needed to engage on something creative in life. 

So, I did. I got back into photography, made a ton of mistakes but, I have received so much satisfaction in return. In return, life is more complete, I have new challenges to tackle, I set my goals for myself, not some corporation who is trying to pull all the can out of me. 

What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to remember about you? 

I only have two so, I’ll break them down into their own topics.

For me on a personal level, I would like people to remember that I lived my life on my terms and made my childhood dreams a reality. I have never let others define me or say what I can or cannot accomplish in my life. I have built this life around my childhood dreams, been quietly successful, and had the most incredible adventures and experiences as I fulfilled my dreams.

Professionally, I already had my legacy happen. I had an image hanging in a gallery in one of those out of the way spots and I watched a young man walk past it, pause, and go back to the image. He stopped and just stared at the photo. I watched in him take the photo in with his eyes and after a couple brief moments he said “Wow!” 

That’s all I‘ve ever wanted with my photos, to encourage others to stop, look at the beauty that’s all around us and really appreciate the world around them.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I truly believe what sets me apart from others is both my research into a project and my willingness to put my research aside and just “wing it” to find what I’m looking for in the sense of an image. I put a lot of research into every location that I photograph. I look at the work from other photographers and also research the lesser known locations around the location I planned to photograph. When my research is done, I plan the photo shoot however, if something is not as planned, I still go to the location and work to get my images.

In most cases, I am fortunate to get what I wanted but sometimes, I just walk away from the location and go to my “wing it” locations and photograph the lesser known spots. It’s when this happens I have the most success because my planning is past, I can relax behind the lens and just enjoy the moments in front of me and it is these moments I believe my relaxed state shows in the images I take and share with others.

This isn’t easy though. I have stumbled into some tough situations which took some work to get out of however, the photos I captured made the difficulties well worth the effort. I have gone into survival mode just to make it through an unplanned storm that rolled through an area I was photographing. Thankfully, I had been taught to make it through situations like that so although it was tough, I knew what to do.

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?

If I had an extended weekend with friends, I would focus on the lesser-known spots around the house during the odd times of the year. I would encourage my friends to come in the beginning of the year so they could perhaps experience the early morning fog that happens on the coast, catch some waves, and just enjoy these moments.

I would grab my buddy and take them to Ponto Beach and take that short hike through the ice plant, over a couple fences, and listen to the waves break on the beach but not be able to see them due to the fog. A quick trip to Roberto’s for a breakfast burrito then, off to Scripps to stroll around, check out the Birch Aquarium or wander around the beach for a while followed up by a quick bite at Caroline’s Cafe.

Next day would be Julian, driving the local roads and seeing the sights and maybe play in some snow at William Heise County Park or Julian Museum & Pioneer County Park. After that, maybe go hit up Miner’s Daughter for lunch, walk the main areas of Julian and then take my friend to the Julian Jail and just be a tourist for a bit. After that, we would head into Escondido and go to Cuscatlan Salvadorian Cuisine for dinner and have some Papusas and Modelo Beer for dinner.

Third day we would focus on the more touristy spots. Head down to La Jolla and hike Hermosa Park for a while then head over to Sunny Jim’s and check out the cave for a bit. After that, we would head over to the tide pools if they’re not too crowded or Marine Street Beach and check out the ocean for a while. Then, go over to the Girard’s, grab a couple Vegetarian Subs and head over to Mount Soledad and pay our respects. Then hit the Five freeway north back to Carlsbad where we would head over to Pelly’s and grab some shrimp tacos with Mexican Slaw. The drive over to Tamarack State beach and hopefully find a place to park so we could enjoy our tacos while our toes rested in the sand.

Last day would start off early with a trip south to Coronado with a quick visit to Centennial Park to grab some photos of San Diego. Then lunch at Clayton’s for a quick bite then we’d head back over the bridge to the harbor near the airport where we would stroll along the waterfront. Then over to the Star of India for more photos and watch the tourists wander around. Then, off to the airport where I would wish my friend a safe journey home and thank them for the visit and spending time.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?

There are a few that I have to thank and like so many others, I have to say my family provided the most support. My wife Susi telling me when my images were something special to my kids Grace and Brendan giving me a perspective on life through their younger eyes. I could not do this without their love and support.

Also have to shoutout to my good friends Matt and Carrie Foster who have always encouraged me to just keep taking photos and always spoke positively about my work. Their encouragement has always pushed me forward.

I also have to say many thanks to Tim Shields who served as an example of what I can do with my photography and how I can make my work better. I have used his work as an inspiration for mine and hope that someday I can stand next to him in some out of the world location personally and professionally and just say thanks.

Website: brenomalley.com

Instagram: bren.omalley.photography

Twitter: @BrensPhotos_

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.