While they have their clear differences, a filmmaker and a photographer are ultimately working toward the same goal: to tell a story with an image, or a series of images. Full Sail grad Alex Menendez has made a successful career out of doing both.
“When I was 15 I picked up a Ricoh camera and started capturing my buddies surfing,” Alex remembers. “We would travel to the Bahamas, Barbados, and up and down the East Coast. After some time at a community college, I saw an ad for Full Sail and was hooked. While there I learned how to shoot video and film, which to me was just an extension of those stills.”
As a freelance photographer, Alex’s images have been published in major newspapers and publications around the world. He’s based out of Central Florida but is frequently on the road – everywhere from on the sidelines at the Super Bowl to backstage with superstars such as Willie Nelson and Beyoncé, in the same room as the President, and beside diplomats and pro athletes on humanitarian trips. He’s also the founder of Instinct Films and the co-founder of Delve Productions, film production companies that have created dozens of video and online training programs for AAA, McGraw-Hill, The Department of Homeland Security, and more.
Alex got his start in photography and film after graduating from Full Sail in 1990 and taking out a loan so that he could buy his own professional camera. It was a Betacam, and with its battery pack and portable lighting equipment, Alex’s set-up weight around 35 pounds – a lot different from the DSLRs and GoPros of today. He worked at a video production house in South Florida, where he honed his skills in shooting and editing video (and catering to clients) before branching out and founding his own company, Instinct Films, in 1997.
In between shooting videos for Instinct and the company he founded with a friend, Delve Productions, Alex started to photograph local sporting events, such as University of Central Florida football games and surfing competitions. Eventually, those photos led to contract positions with the Associated Press and Getty Images Sport as a stringer and freelancer.
“When you’re a stringer for a national wire service, they basically hire you to be the only photographer to cover an event for them,” says Alex, “and your photos are the ones that everybody across the country is probably going to see. Though as a stringer they own your uploaded photos, it’s great exposure on a larger story. Fortunately for me, I was able to negotiate a freelance deal where I own all of the copyrights to my photos and am able to upload them immediately once I’ve captured the story.”
So in today’s Instagram-saturated world, where seemingly everybody at an event has the ability to be a photographer, how does Alex get the shot that ends up on the front page? “My secret is to get to where the action is,” he says. “To research my story and be objective. I start back at a wide angle, then work my way into the scene, all while trying to be a fly on the wall. I shoot wisely and pick my moments – you don’t have to lay on the shutter the entire time – and then I hope that a good shot that exemplifies the story makes it onto my memory card.”
Between photography gigs and months-long contracts shooting videos for various companies (which in 2007, earned him a regional Emmy Award for his work as a videographer on The Waters Edge-Bahamas), Alex is keeping pretty busy. His advice for students: Think about the last memorable photo or video that you saw, ask yourself what about it made you keep watching, and then try to capture that same feeling and incorporate it into your own work.
“I’ve captured so many memorable moments throughout my career,” says Alex. “Traveling with Dwight Howard after the earthquake in Haiti and seeing him as a real person, not just a superstar athlete. Photographing multiple rocket launches near the end of the Space Shuttle program. Seeing the reactions – and the aftermath – of the Trayvon Martin shooting. I’ve got to meet some really amazing people and witness the way that they’ve been able to change lives. Photography tells stories, and if you are lucky enough to help someone see that, that’s a true gift.”