This photographer built a thriving photography business despite heartache. Or did his freedom to create come from the very challenges we try to avoid?
“My experience is that life is hard, and you’re not alone.”
Everything Ryan Sims says rings with Southern humor and wisdom – the kind of gritty sincerity gained from years of profound heartache. Ryan’s worst fears reared their ugly heads when he was young: “four or five years old,” he describes. That’s when his father died of cancer, leaving Ryan and his older brother to be raised by their mother: alone, on a teacher’s salary, in the small town of Laurel, Mississippi.
Somehow, they thrived.
“My brother and I would visit the local comic book store,” Ryan reminisces, “and thus began my love for superheroes!”
Get Inspired by the Little Things
Today, Ryan creates photo composites of the very superheroes who sparked his imagination as a kid. And while Ryan draws inspiration from comics, film, television, and video games, his clients and fans draw inspiration from him.
Ryan just doesn’t seem to realize it.
“If I met myself for the first time at this stage of my life, I’d probably be like, ‘Wow . . . this guy is super-distracted,” Ryan jokes. “Like, a man-child.”
“Super-distracted” or not, one thing is certainly true: Ryan is super-talented. In Nashville, with the love of his life, Kelsie, he began pursuing digital art opportunities alongside a blossoming music career. And what better way to employ your skills as a digital artist than to embed yourself with a community of creatives?
For Ryan, this was the cosplay community.
cosplay • noun • ˈkäz-ˌplā
: the activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction (such as a comic book, video game, or television show)
Shake the Money Tree (but Don’t Rely On It)
Cosplay photography isn’t known for shaking the proverbial money tree, but Ryan doesn’t seem to mind. After struggling financially for much of his life, he holds space in his heart and on his creative calendar for folks with small budgets – or no budget at all.
“I want to give everyone an opportunity to experience having great photos,” Ryan shares, “because not everyone can afford them. So I try to work with people and their budgets.”
From photographing cosplayers to providing pro bono photography to his church, Ryan enjoys the kind of compensation that only comes from paying it forward: the freedom to create. “It’s fun getting to hang out with people who are just as pumped to be there as you are!”
Freedom to Create, the Community Edition
While many photographers continually fight a bitter sense of competition, Ryan subscribes to a belief that we’re all stronger and better when we tap into our freedom to create together. “I tag everyone involved in the creation of my images,” Ryan explains. “It’s probably obnoxious how much I do it, but I couldn’t do what I do without these companies. Tagging is how I’ve gotten noticed by some of them!”
Social media tagging is certainly pertinent to his success. But Ryan also thrives by making his images easy to enjoy, and his process completely transparent. He regularly creates behind-the-scenes videos of his post-production workflow, like the one below.
“No man is an island,” quotes Ryan. “You can’t do anything alone. Everyone needs someone. Surround yourself with friends and family who encourage you, who push you, who motivate you. We all need that.”
Find Your Freedom to Create
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” Ryan quotes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. His faith is the underpinning of every photograph he makes, every composite he creates, and every song he writes. “It’s a reminder to me that, regardless of someone’s beliefs, regardless of anyone’s past, and regardless of whether anyone agrees with me, each person is still made in the image of God, and therefore deserves an equal amount of dignity and respect.”
Ryan’s big heart for his fellow humans is evident throughout his work – and through the tools he chooses to showcase that work.
“ShootProof works for me because it enables me to quickly and efficiently upload my images for clients to view,” Ryan raves. “I love the variety of prints, the ease of use, and the overall layout. It just works!”
“I’m not defined by my photography.”
But what matters most to Ryan isn’t found in a software – or his camera.
“I love photography! It brings me so much joy,” Ryan acknowledges, “but I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I could go blind and not ever be able to photograph again. So I’m not defined by my photography. What matters most to me is my relationship with God, my three beautiful children, and my beautiful wife. That’s what gives me the confidence and courage to do what I do without fear: knowing that whatever comes my way, I’ll be alright because my foundation is built on a Rock.”
With his feet grounded in faith and family, his heart beating with compassion, and his head swimming in creativity, Ryan is living the life most photographers have set as their goalpost. But he cautions other creatives to show themselves plenty of grace as they follow their own paths. “There are so many things that I would like to do that I haven’t done yet,” he confesses. “You just have to set those goals and work toward them one at a time. Baby steps. You’re not Superman, ya know.”
Ryan’s present is shaped by his past – a past rife and rich with challenges, obstacles, and more than a few moments of pure serendipity. And he knows there’s more to come.
“If I could go back in time and say something to myself to prepare myself for all my experiences, I would tell myself, ‘Dude….just be ready.’ And then as my younger self walks away, I would pull an Obi-Wan Kenobi and say under my breath, ‘He’s not ready.’ “
Do YOU have any tips for staying alert and ready for both challenges and opportunities?
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