Photographer Mixes Hobby, Ministry Into Thriving Business

By Roy Maynard Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas.

Callynth Finney never truly left the ministry or her chosen mission field; she merely changed her focus.

After spending some years with Living Alternatives, a local Christian ministry to young, unmarried mothers-to-be, Callynth took her hobby -- photography -- full-time. She has now opened a studio downtown.

It's been a journey of faith, she said. She grew up in Minnesota and came to East Texas in 2001 to work with Living Alternatives. She never intended to be a photographer, but it worked into what she was doing with the ministry.

"I started doing photography when I was pregnant with my first baby, who is now 20 years old," she said. "That's when I got my first real camera -- a Ricoh. It was broken; it had light leaks and other problems. But that was kind of cool. It meant I had to learn more -- I had to improvise."

For several years, she focused on developing her skills.

My only desire with photography was to be a blessing to others," Ms. Finney said. "I started doing photos for moms at Fatherheart (Living Alternatives' home for young women), and photos for other missionaries. It was all trial and error, at first."

But she soon sought out ways to sharpen her skills.

"Then I had some friends, some good photographers, who would critique my work," Ms. Finney said. "I spent a lot of time reading and researching and having other professional photographers show me things."

The transition to full-time photography was gradual, she explained.

"I did it for free at first, and then I agreed to accept some donations," she said. "It just grew from there."

But a few years ago, she said, it became something that "financially, our family needed to do."

Her husband Robert is in college and is running the college ministry at Christ Church Episcopal.

"My heart is still with Living Alternatives, and I still do what I can," Ms. Finney said. "I gave a year's notice, and it turned out to be two years. But this is what I need to be doing right now."

The transition has been challenging, she added.

"The business aspect is something I've had to learn," she said. "I have two skills -- I love people and I'm creative. That's me. But there's a business side to take care of, too."

It's a highly competitive business.

"There are tons of photographers out there," she acknowledged. "And digital photography has changed the business immensely.

New digital cameras make it easy for people to shoot tons of photos on automatic settings -- and they can get some OK stuff.

But there's a big difference between OK and professional. When people look back, they're going to regret they didn't have their wedding professionally done."

BIRTH, LEARNING Like her ministry, much of her professional efforts are focused on birth.

"I document the whole experience, whether it's in hospitals, in houses, or in the water," she said. "I see a woman at her most vulnerable and at her most brave. I see how her husband interacts with her at this extremely intimate moment. And I'm honored to be a part of it. Then I document the baby's first breath."

But her bread-and-butter is corporate work, of products and events for companies.

"It's not as artful but it keeps the business open," she said. "I'd like to do more of it."

Something she's added recently is photography instruction. She has a number of students now. One of them is Blake Bailey, a Tyler attorney who travels in his semi-retirement. He wanted to learn to better document his journeys and the new friendships he forms in other countries.

"Callynth is an excellent instructor," he said. "She is accomplished at teaching the linear aspects as well as the creative. You acquire technical awareness to convert a collection of photographic data into its underlying essence. Not only that but she puts up with me, which is really saying something."

She also has a vision for what her studio can be -- more than just a collection of bland backdrops.

The studio is 2,100 square-feet of space with many, many uses. It has a makeup and dressing room, along with a small kitchenette. That allows Ms. Finney to host events, from dinners for college students (part of their ministry) to tea and princess parties for young girls and glamour and dance parties for teens. She has a professional makeup artist, Tasha Meyer, who works alongside her on a contract basis.

"In July, I'll have the first wedding reception here," she said. "We're excited about that."

The space has also served as a backstage area for the Liberty Theater when it has hosted musicals.

"My studio also doubles as a venue, and I'm working with an event planner to bring in more things," she said.

She has some assistants, she added. Her sons, 20-year-old Sampson and 10-year-old Oliver, have both worked with her. While Sampson is leaving for college now, Oliver is setting up his own space in the studio. He calls his portion "Photoliver," and he just held his first independent photo shoot.

Her husband, Robert, says photography is a natural for his wife.

"Callynth sees beauty where others might not, and I think her gift is being able to draw it out and show it," he said. "I think the photography is a physical expression of who she is. She sees the useful and the good and the beautiful." Ms. Finney agrees, with a little clarification.

"Photography is my product," she said, "but my passion is people."

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