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August 27, 2020

Student Highlight: Darrell Cassell

Interview By
Joel Fuller

Darrell Cassell is an outdoor lifestyle photographer based in Asheville North Carolina. He has been a full time photographer for two years now working on commercial projects with clients like Toyota and shooting outdoor elopements and weddings. We caught up with him and discussed how he’s pursued a career in photography.

"The best thing about going full time is that there’s been no loss to the joy photography gives me when making it my day job."

J: When did you think you could make a professional career out of your passion? 

D: Like many of us beginning our careers, I am still so uncertain with the term “professional” photographer. The moment I’d say I considered myself a professional was when I did some work for Toyota for the first time and thought, “Alright, I can probably make a career out of this”. Trying to book clients has always been the goal and the struggle. Following people like Andrew Kearns and Michael Flugstad, I always wondered how they were getting these awesome outdoor clients and jobs. The kind of jobs and clients I dreamed to shoot. I took advice from them, grinded it out, and now I can consider myself a professional.

I’ve been a full time photographer for about 2 years now, but there’s still a lot of progression I want to make. The best thing about going full time is that there’s been no loss to the joy photography gives me when making it my day job.

J: Tell us more about how you broke into the commercial world with Toyota. 

D: When I moved to Asheville I was one of the few outdoor lifestyle photographers in the area and Southeast Toyota was doing a big campaign here. They wanted some images that best represented the outdoors in the area. “You can’t go past ‘Tennessee’ because we’re ‘Southeast' Toyota” they said. I got an email from them explaining the campaign and wondered if I would be interested. I couldn’t believe it to be honest, I emailed them back SO fast, usually I give a moment with clients to think etc, but on this one I got back immediately. I’ve shot with them a couple times now.

J: Why did you choose to pursue your creative career in Asheville?

D: I’ve been in Asheville now for about two years. I was raised in Tampa, Florida, a place that’s super busy, hot, and removed from the outdoors. I wanted to move somewhere with a Pacific Northwest vibe, somewhere like Bellingham in Washington would’ve been ideal, but my family in Florida means the world to me and I didn’t see them wanting to travel that kind of a distance to visit. When I found out about Asheville I fell in love. A place surrounded by mountains and forest, the second most breweries per capita in the States and close enough to Florida making family visits pretty easy. 

Living here has given me so much opportunity to shoot what I love: the outdoors, lifestyle, and weddings. Almost all my free time around here is exploring with my camera in hand - shooting and scouting new locations. I think outdoor adventure photographers would love Asheville, it’s a bit off the beaten path, not many people think of North Carolina and the outdoor lifestyle.

Compared to Florida there’s a lot less competition here regarding weddings too, that’s helped a lot and opened a lot of doors for me.

J: Is there anyone you look up to for creative inspiration?

D: When I first started out, Andrew Kearns and Michael Flugstad were my biggest inspirations. They used to vlog everyday while I was still living in Florida and I’d always see them outside in the mountains shooting. They’re a big reason why I ended up moving to Asheville. Andrew’s brand work is incredible, it doesn’t feel too commercial or overly ad like, it’s really in the moment, Flugstad’s work too. Sam Elkins is a big inspiration of mine as well, his work is classic and timeless. He shoots a lot of things I’m into: Tesla, Landrover, amazing portraits etc. 

Whenever I’m planning a shoot, I’ll go to Andrew’s website and gain inspiration from his work. When I wanna go explore outside I also look through Mason Strehl’s work or Alex Strohl’s for some inspiration.

J: What have been your biggest challenges so far as a photographer? 

D: I think the struggle of always trying to improve your work and being so hard on yourself. It’s good to hear compliments from people, but we’re our own biggest critics. I think to myself after looking at my portfolio and Instagram “woah I suck, what am I doing?! How do I get better?” As a photographer, as an artist, and as a creator we’re just so hard on ourselves. 

I’m in the middle of the Burkard workshop right now and I am sure there have been moments in his career where he has really beaten himself up over similar things. You would never think someone like that would be hard on themselves, but it’s just how we’re wired as humans. Being hard on myself is my biggest challenge, I wish I could just be happy and content with my work, but I always want to be better. 

Getting work is always a challenge too. You’re always looking for new clients and revenue for your business. Heading into winter I always have to think about ways to diversify and make money, for the most part people don’t get married in the winter.

J: How have Wildist courses helped?

D: The Business of Photography with Chris Burkard and the Resiliency Workshop were incredible. 

The courses are all so different, but they all tie together all the things that being a better photographer and running a successful business require. As a resource they’re super helpful and valuable. YouTube is flooded with “how to’s” editing and technique etc which is great, but there isn’t much quality on building an actual business and being resilient. This is the most valuable part for me from Wildist workshops: learning how to run a good business. 

I’ve learned so far beyond the obvious. I’ve learned tools for real success, from successful photographers that share everything they know and learned. 

J: Do you have any dream projects?

D: I would really love to do a book one day. Kearns did a book recently and Joe Greer did a book called “nyc, i love you”which was insane. There’s something so special about flipping through your own images, something so tangible. 

I’ve flirted with some covid ideas, I have some flight attendant friends and I was curious about doing a project based around that and their experience flying again.  A winter project maybe.

We’ll see, I just wanna keep shooting as much as possible.

Darrell's work can be seen here and here.

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