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16 February 2024

By Cesar Ballesteros

Thank you for the opportunity to tell our story. I initially started with photography when I took digital and film photography as part of my art minor in the University of Texas system. I found it fascinating, but as work took more of my time I let the newfound hobby fall off to the wayside.

I’ve been artistically inclined since I was four or five years old creating mostly pencil art. As I became a teenager I realized that making a living with art would be an uphill battle as I lived in the Rio Grande Valley and there were no employment opportunities in the arts with a living wage. Without a plan to move from McAllen, TX, I decided that art would be something I did for myself and would never make it a career. It was a hard pill to swallow so I repressed my dreams and just worked.

I’ve been working as a salesman for the last 11 years selling everything from custom home electronics, to Coca-Cola and lately, retail buying group memberships. My intention was never to become a salesperson and in fact, I’m not fond of it, but I seem to have a knack for it. All through the years, not being able to express my creativity and turning a blind eye to it has taken a mental toll. Regardless, I kept on with sales to pay the bills and climb the social ladder.

Just over two years ago I met my best friend Maggie. We had a ton in common, including that she was a freelance photographer. Watching her take pictures inspired me to pick up the craft again. I went to a big box store and bought a Canon EOS RP. I quickly got to taking street photography as I had been trained in college. That led to nature photography and I became addicted. All I thought about was about getting back on the trails and finding wildlife and recording the rich fauna in the many world birding centers in and around the Rio Grande Valley. I didn’t realize I was blessed with such a rich ecosystem until I picked up a camera to document it. I then quickly realized I was under equipped for many of the shots I was trying to get. This is where the expensive hobby of photography/filmography began to evolve. Luckily, my job was lucrative enough to afford a good assortment of equipment.

It began with my first 100-400mm lens from Canon. Within a few months I had several lenses, tripods, speedlights and other equipment. Despite having a healthy wage, I did have to make sacrifices in the way I lived to feed this new addiction. Then it clicked. What if I could make photography a creative outlet and earn money by photographing events? I began building a website and creating social media pages for this new pseudo business. As the ball got rolling, my first few gigs were unexpected. I kept landing jobs for promotional videos for local businesses. I invested in a better camera to record 4k 60 fps video, a shotgun microphone and video editing software.

As I went about recording these promotional videos, I noticed that I simply couldn’t get so many dramatic shots that I knew would elevate the quality of my videos. I initially had no interest at all in buying a drone. At the time, it seemed like another money pit, a huge learning curve and just overall so different from everything I’d done so far. I watched many YouTube videos and read many forums to decide if it was something I wanted to pursue. I was taken aback by all of the cinematic shots people were getting with drones. To say my mind was blown is an understatement. I had to do it. I had to get my first drone.

I started small with my first DJI Mavic 3 Mini and a Fly More Kit. The controller was cumbersome with the need to connect my smartphone to the controller in order to fly. It quickly became an issue when I would receive calls or notifications while I was learning to pilot and recording footage. Despite this inconvenience, I was blown away by the angles and the coverage I could get with a drone. Shots I had never dreamed of accomplishing were now at my fingertips.

In my research about drone fundamentals, I came across videos stating that commercial use of a drone would require an FAA Part 107 remote pilot certification. I was devastated. I did not expect to spend more money on an exam and to spend months studying for it. I bit the bullet  and began my studies. I was driven to do what it takes to realize my dream of turning my creative outlet into a career. I studied the Part 107 material for three months. I eventually registered for the exam at Mcreery Aviation in McAllen, Texas. I’m glad to say that I passed with a B. Now I was ready and legal to use the Mini 3 for my projects.

My dream was beginning to take flight, pun intended. I landed gigs for a local water park, a culinary institute and a furniture business. The drone added a whole new dimension to my finished product and my clients were incredibly happy with their promotional footage. Although  my videos became more engaging than ever, as I became more adept with editing footage, it was clear that I wanted more performance from my drone. I got a personal loan and purchased a Mavic 3 Pro. This was another big step into my new future. The three different optical focal lengths and the overall image quality were the cherry on top.

About three months ago, I was able to juggle my day job and my little side business. For work I took care of a territory from the Rio Grande Valley and as far north as Eagle Pass and Victoria, Texas. However, due to my good performance, I took over a much larger territory covering San Antonio and Asutin, Texas. Although I appreciated the gesture and the fact that my employer would trust me with a huge share of their clientele, this meant that my travel time more than doubled. Suddenly I went from traveling one week a month to traveling three weeks a month. This led to me rejecting many gigs and unable to market my services as I was too busy and often out of town. With a fraction of  time that I used to have to pursue my dream, the gigs began to die off and my craft took a back seat.

I have since decided to endure a dramatic pay cut to return to a local job and my previous employer in order to put my dream back on the front burner. I will be starting this new job mid February 2024, and I’m looking forward to it.

Luckily, while I was busy working my larger territory, I had trained one of my best friends on how to film and edit footage so that I wouldn’t have to turn down all the gigs that came my way. As he became better acquainted with filmmaking. I made him my business partner. We have recently directed, filmed and edited a music video that has gone locally viral. He had to take the 70% of the reins on this project because I was out of town most of the time.

But soon, with my local job, I’ll be able to continue nourishing my deep seeded need to make a living with my creativity.

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