He’s only been shooting professionally for about a year and a half, but Matt Hernandez is well on his way to becoming the next big name in sports photographer.
The 31-year-old half-Mexican photographer recently claimed the People’s Choice award at the Google+ Photographers Conference in San Francisco with one of his Sports Illustrated-worthy images. Hernandez, who saw all three of his submitted images selected for public voting from more than 200 entries, was one of 18 finalists vying for the peer-determined prize.
“After I entered my work, I didn’t really think about the fact that I could win an award from it; I went for the sole purpose of bettering my work and building my social network,” admits Hernandez. “So it was such an honor to be recognized by my peers, and also by photographers that I look up to!”
Despite his award-winning skills behind the lens, Hernandez didn’t initially pursue a career in photography. The Paducah, Kentucky-native with a passion for art actually studied graphic design in college.
“It was a natural choice being that I always loved to draw,” says Hernandez, whose work was featured in Graphic Design USA magazine. “I started drawing at an early age, doodling superheroes and Nike shoes as a kid. I actually sent a shoe sketch to Nike and got a letter back from the company. I thought it was the coolest thing ever!”
After graduating from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Arts in studio art, Hernandez moved to Nashville to work as a professional designer.
“I designed print material for Sunday school curriculum, then I moved into the sports industry and began working at Athlon Sports,” recalls Hernandez, who won two consecutive design-related awards from the College Sports Information Directors of America for his work. “I almost didn’t go to my interview for Athlon because I was going to a Notre Dame football game! But I’m glad I did, because the job at Athlon helped me land jobs at IMG and the University of Kentucky Athletic Department.”
But it wasn’t until after spending seven years working as a professional graphic designer and game-changing move back to his hometown that Hernandez discovered his true calling.
“I was actually planning to start a web design company with my best friend. I had always been interested in photography, so I decided I would take a class while we were getting things settled for our new business venture,” says Hernandez. “I took a photography class at the local community college and when I came home, my wife pointed out how excited I was about it. It was then that I found my true passion for photography.”
To fuel his passion, Hernandez started going to local sporting events and taking action photos to see where it led him.
“I had a parent of one of the football players ask me to do a session for his son and a couple of his friends, and that’s all it took for my photography business to take off,” reveals Hernandez, who now shoots local sports teams, senior and family portraits and some weddings. “I’m doing some work for the local county schools, as well as some local businesses.”
So what separates Hernandez from other photographers? It could very well be the way he’s been able to merge his creativity behind the camera with his graphic design skills to create awe-inspiring images.
“In the beginning, my Photoshop experience definitely helped me fix errors I made when I was still learning how to work the camera properly,” admits Hernandez. “As a designer, I already had a good sense of composition. And I’m big into composites, so my design background has helped me tremendously in developing composites that are realistic and artistic.”
Since catching the attention of his peers at the Google+ Photographers Conference with his realistically artistic images, Hernandez has seen his star rise, especially on social media pages like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
“In a sense everyone is viewing these sites, so it’s basically free advertising,” declares Hernandez, who lists Scott Kelby, Jeremy Cowart, Peter Hurley, Joel Grimes and Dean Bradshaw among his favorites photographers. “People really get a feel for your work and your personality through interactions on these sites. If people see that you are a good, down-to-earth person, they want to work with you.”
So what’s next for Hernandez, who recently conducted one of his most memorable shoots: photographing his one-year-old niece.
“Sports is my passion, so I’m hoping to start attracting clients outside of Paducah,” says Hernandez, who says the favorite part of his job is seeing his clients’ reactions when they see their photos. “My goal is to shift to photographing college and professional athletes, as well as some corporate sports photography.”
With his crazy-cool creativity, award-winning talent and inextinguishable passion, there’s no doubt Hernandez’s work will be featured in Sports Illustrated in the near future.
To see more of Hernandez’s stellar work, visit his website.
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