How Learning to Capture NYC Nightlife Changed My World…

When I first moved to Manhattan, I was trying to overcome a really tough breakup and an even more tumultuous rebound. I was in my late 20’s and felt more than a little lost, living in my dream city with very few friends and a shaky confidence in myself. And then one night while trying desperately to organize my shoebox studio apartment (all I can tell anyone living in a studio now is go up, shelves are your friends!), I came across a little red card I had been given months earlier at a work event, “You’ve been captured by the Joonbug.” Curious, I went online and came across a website full of smiling people at bars and clubs around New York City. As I scrolled to the bottom, I came across the “Want to Work for Joonbug?” link and clicked. Their basic requirements: a digital dslr camera, a speedlight and an outgoing personality. I had two out of the three and figured the last one I could fake, how hard could this be? I filled in my contact info and went about the rest of my evening, cleaning and finishing off a bottle of wine ;)

New York City Nightlife

Le Souk Harem in Greenwich Village.

A few days later, having all but forgotten about the Joonbug card, I received an email from Perry. They were interested in hiring me as a photographer and when would be a good time to speak. And just like that, I took on my very first role as a paid photographer. A paid photographer in New York City. I was on cloud nine.

New York City Nightlife

That first Saturday night was a tough one. I felt more alone than ever as I tried to squeeze my way through the crowded bars in Midtown East. I figured people would see me with the heavy-duty camera setup, turn and smile, just like that. And maybe a few did. But not nearly enough for me to reach my hourly quota. I did the unthinkable. I had a tequila shot at the bar. And then another. Before I had a third, I realized I still had to be professional and I had my precious camera with me (at the time, a Canon 5D before the name “Mark” was ever attached to it). I couldn’t get wasted. I turned back to the crowd, determined to get people to stop and take notice as I snapped their photos, handing them a “You’ve Been Captured by the Joonbug” card in return.

New York City Nightlife

It did get easier. Weekend after weekend, I mustered up the courage to walk up to total strangers in different bars around the city and have a quick conversation with them while I snapped a few photos. And then one night I was out for my own fun and not working for a change. I found myself chatting away with a few girls at the bar while I waited for friends to show up. And I realized just how far I had come. I no longer shied away from talking to people, I had the confidence to walk into any place, on my own, and not be worried about being judged. I may have had to fake an outgoing personality in the beginning, but it had stuck around all on its own.

New York City Nightlife

The Public House, New York City

It’s been a few years since I covered a nightlife event for Joonbug. Perry had left for Miami and his replacements just didn’t look after the veteran photographers the same way. But I will always be thankful for the opportunity he, and Joonbug, gave to me. The chance to break out of my shell and experience the city I had always wanted to live in without fear of having to have someone by my side at all times, friend or beau. The opportunity to tell people “I’m a photographer.”

New York City Nightlife

Covering events for Joonbug grew into covering events for other companies, which grew into people asking if I shot weddings, birthdays, portraits… I started shooting more, which pushed me to learn more about the craft and starting my own business. It never ceases to amaze me how one small decision can have an impact on the rest of your life.

New York City NightlifeBesides, there are worse things than spending a Saturday afternoon at a rooftop bar in Midtown, taking pictures and making friends, all in the name of your job!

New York City Nightlife



2 thoughts on “How Learning to Capture NYC Nightlife Changed My World…

  1. I love this! It’s amazing how you really can “fall into things” and find your passion. I guess the lesson is to be able to spot opportunities and chances to learn / grow / experience and those usually come with doing something that seems scary.

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