I’m pumped to introduce you to Shaun Frederickson and to share some of my favorite images from his portfolio. His photographs are at the same time thoughtful and free. He has the ability to create moments without sacrificing authenticity and emotion. Sprinkled throughout the article, the images may not correlate directly with surrounding text – sorry, I don’t have any baby pictures of Shaun 😉 But I hope you’ll enjoy them none-the-less.
Shaun Frederickson, the owner of Firm Grip photography is experiencing, in his words, the best year of his life. He’s pursuing his dreams, pushing the limits of creativity, and empowering as many as will listen, “…because I believe there is so much more in you and me than we realize. We’re capable of so much more.”
He describes his wife Bethany, as “one of the greatest humans I have ever met.”
“She sees the me I want to be, and challenges me to be that.” They have two young children, and a third on the way.
And if that were it, this would be a very short blog post. Add cool pic from Instagram, insert cute remark about dread locks, hit publish.
But that’s not it by a long shot. To get to this place of authenticity and empathy, Shaun had to experience equal parts pain, insecurity, soul-searching, and self-discovery. And this journey started early.
At the ripe old age of one.
It was as this point that Shaun’s parents were divorced, and his dad was awarded custody of both he and his two-year-old sister.
Being a single parent was a bit more difficult than anticipated, so after a few years, Shaun’s dad sent the two kids to live with their grandparents in a rural area outside of Dallas, Texas. It was around this same time, at the age of five, that Shaun would last see his mom until much later in life.
Amid these unique circumstances, Shaun’s family did their very best to convince him that living with his grandparents, 2000 miles away from his dad, having zero contact with his mom, was all normal. And for the most part, five-year old Shaun bought in to that. But looking back, he laments not having the voice to express his confusion over the circumstances of his early life. He was never encouraged to process his pain, which over time, only led to more pain, more confusion.
And we’ll circle back to that.
But for now, picture a five-year old boy from southern California with seven acres of Texas to explore. We’re talking adventure at every turn. This was the wild west. There were cattle to herd, roosters to wrangle, calves to be nursed in the laundry room – yes, the laundry room – when winter conditions were too harsh for a newborn to survive outside. And don’t kid yourself, Shaun owned his new identity as a cowboy: cowboy hat, boots, and most likely a shiny Smith and Wesson cap gun holstered in imitation leather. “I felt like I was a part of something so much bigger than me. And having those moments as a child, where my mom [was] out of the picture, I feel like I hurt…but it wasn’t obvious because I was busy doing things…I was always entertained.”
A couple years later, for better or worse, Shaun’s father brought he and his sister back to Los Angeles. And it was soon thereafter, in the form of a Kodak 110 instant camera – a gift from his dad – that Shaun discovered photography. Admittedly, his first pictures weren’t great, but he was instantly hooked on the opportunity to create something from nothing.
Fast forward to Shaun’s sophomore year of high school, and life would abruptly change – again – as his father was sent to prison. And even though over the years Shaun’s mom had in fact filed papers requesting time with her children, she was never successful. Having had no contact with her in 10 or so years, Shaun and his sister were in a sense, orphans, heading back to Texas to finish up high school.
Making the most of the situation, Shaun continued exploring photography and excelled in multiple sports. After graduation, he was leaning towards some sort of athletic career, either as a coach or a trainer. But in the back of his mind he wondered if all the people that told him he couldn’t make a living as an artist were telling him the truth – or telling him their truth. Shaun remembers his Dad’s attempt to steer him towards a more conventional vocation, “You better work hard, or you’ll end up flipping burgers.” Just what every teenager, exploring life’s possibilities wants to hear.
Still, a year or so into college, Shaun decided the athletic career path wasn’t for him. He returned to L.A. and found himself serving up lattes at a local café. For some, this is where they circle the runway, waiting for the invitation to land on their dream job as an actor or screenwriter. Not really knowing what his next move would be, Shaun began chatting with a “regular” at the café about life, art, religion, and such. Bill was 75, Shaun was 20. But they clicked and decided that some additional conversation would serve them both well.
After a short time, Bill invited Shaun to join him at work – the set of a new movie project where Bill was the cinematographer. Shaun was immediately intrigued by the level of collaboration between all the moving parts and would take most any assignment Bill threw his way. Bill trusted Shaun and empowered him to explore the inner artist that for many years had been smothered by insecurity and negative outside influences. It was here that Shaun realized he might be destined for something more than flipping burgers. If nothing else, he was exposed to a bunch of people making money as artists, as creators. “I had never seen the collaborative effect of creation, and immediately I was hooked.”
On one occasion, Shaun found himself backstage at a large film festival award ceremony, where Bill was the lead cinematographer. Having realized they were short one camera operator, Bill assured the director that Shaun could fill in.
Before he could think of a reason why this really wasn’t a good idea, Shaun found himself positioned on stage-left, shouldering a camera, listening for direction through his headphones and seeing his footage displayed on overhead video screens. Now just to be clear, Shaun, who was 21 at the time, didn’t know much more than basic camera operation at this point – zoom in, zoom out, pan – that’s about it. But, “Bill trusted me. He put me in a spot that if I failed, it was his neck on the line. And I rose to the occasion, because I believe there is so much more in you and me than we realize. We’re capable of so much more.”
Bill’s trust and empowerment meant the world to Shaun. As he gained experience and exposure to additional projects, his confidence grew, along with his reputation. And yet, in the back of his mind, he was still fearful. He was still insecure. His dad’s words could not be silenced. “You’re a burger flipper, a ditch digger.” He wasn’t hanging out with good people – he didn’t deserve to. Not with his past. He was burning through relationships. Get in, get out before anyone gets a look at who you really are. That is, until one day the script was flipped, and for once he felt for himself the pain he had previously caused others. The experience was a jarring wake-up call and Shaun realized he had to deal with this “head on” or end up “following the path of all the terrible people that I [had] surrounded myself with.”
Shaun chose to deal with it. Head on.
He applied to go on a World Race missions trip – 11 months, 11 countries! (I bet you didn’t see that coming – it caught me by surprise too.)
Basically, barefoot and homeless at the time – couch surfing and occasionally sleeping in the bed of his ’66 El Camino – Shaun shows up to the World Race training camp, “A broken kid. Faking it. Not sure who I am. Not speaking a whole lot because I didn’t trust these Christians who I was around.” Immediately he was confronted with the image of a beautiful woman, surrounded by, and confidently leading a group of other women. Later that evening, this same beautiful woman (spoiler alert – yes, it’s Bethany) noticed Shaun, worshipping. His brokenness, clearly evident. “I was worshipping because I had no other option. I was like, ‘God will you forgive me for not knowing anything about who I am, and the failures I’ve made.’”
Ironically, Bethany didn’t engage well with that level of authenticity – which was perfect, because Shaun didn’t engage well with her level of confidence. And yet those seemingly opposing perspectives actually brought them together.
From the get-go, Shaun was up front with Bethany, “I want to travel the world and I want to get lost, because I don’t know who I am. I want to find myself. If you’re willing to go with me, I would love to have you, but I don’t know what the plan is.” Just the words every young woman, embarking on a new relationship wants to hear.
But Bethany was up for it. And together they agreed to live a memorable life. To create a story worth telling.
To that end, a few years into their marriage, when their daughter Aliyah was just two years old, they bought one-way tickets from Indiana to California, purchased an RV in Orange County, loaded up the family and drove it for the FIRST time, onto the northbound 5 during rush hour – heading back across the country. (The owner was afraid to let Shaun test drive the RV, for fear that it might get damaged; so, when I say FIRST time, I mean FIRST time!)
“We intentionally bought the RV for the story, because we knew it was going to be hard. We knew we were going to run in to crazy things, which we absolutely did.”
For the next few years, they crisscrossed the country between San Diego and Indiana, shooting numerous weddings and building a reputation for pushing the creative envelope.
“I enjoy trying and creating new things – pressing into things that haven’t been done before. What’s difficult about being in the wedding industry is how a bride will want to recreate a previous bride. For me as a creator, a free thinker, maybe even a rebel, I love the idea of stepping into something new. Trying something different.”
In order to deliver the unexpected, Shaun focuses first on building trust with a new client – spending time with them – defining values and expectations. “I love to build trust. I value building that relationship, seeing that you trust me, and [that capturing special moments throughout your wedding day] is one less thing for you to be concerned about.”
Not surprisingly, some of Shaun’s most memorable works have come after all the safe shots had been taken – the group family photo, the rings, the cake, you know the ones. But Shaun sees more.
“I know where we’re going. I feel it. They have no clue. And as we’re creating…they’re just following me. And it’s that trust [that fuels my creativity]. Are you willing to follow me even though you don’t know where we’re going? But I know it’s going to be great.”
And while wedding photography allows Shaun ample opportunity to flex his creative muscle, he has always been intrigued by the world of commercial photography.
Much like cinematography, Shaun loves the collaborative energy in commercial shoots, which often include a team – hair, make-up, art-direction, staging, etc. Amid their travels, Shaun happened upon a fashion magazine seeking submissions for a forthcoming issue on creators and the creative process. Shaun called a buddy, who called another, and soon they were a team of four with a combined 65+ years of commercial experience. Funny thing is, while Shaun accounted for a total of zero years of that experience, they looked to him for ideas. They trusted his instincts and were ready to follow his lead.
Rising to the challenge, he walked them through the idea of depicting a person who’s influence, in effect, creates and shapes another person, much the same way Dr. Frankenstein created his monster. The team loved his mad scientist idea, ran with it, and not only were their images featured in the magazine, including the centerfold of the entire spread, many were displayed prominently at the industry release party.
“For me, it was my first experience seeing my work printed in a magazine…it was like solidification of me as a creative…it felt awesome.”
Very cool, no doubt. But after a time, under the pressure of unmet expectations and insecurity, even awesome can wear off. And not too long ago, Shaun began to doubt whether his artistic talents were enough to sustain his family. Bethany was trusting him to provide financially, and Shaun felt like he was letting her, and their family down.
“Last year, I decided I’m done. I can’t do this. I can’t handle the pressure. I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes to survive in the San Diego market. I’m not making enough money. I’m cool with looking this in the face and saying, ‘I’m not good enough.’”
“Because it felt like the responsible thing to do,” Shaun was willing to exchange his passion for financial security and landed a job at Peloton, in Carlsbad. Never one to take a great opportunity for granted, he learned quickly, exceeded expectations, and found himself on the path to leadership within the growing organization.
Sounds great, right? Responsibility for the win. There is certainly nothing wrong with a corporate gig at a great company. But the whole time, Bethany was questioning his motivation, wondering how a bigger paycheck suddenly became reason enough to trade in his artistic dream. She certainly wasn’t asking for that kind of sacrifice. She wanted Shaun to be true to himself – to fulfill his calling.
His close friends wouldn’t buy in either. Out of love and concern they questioned, “Why are you wearing a polo, bro.” (I’m sorry, but that makes me laugh every time I hear it.) “You can fake it for yourself if you want, but we’re not going to believe this.” He tried to convince them that the financial benefits would be worth the artistic compromise, but no one was buying in to the lie. And eventually, Shaun couldn’t maintain the charade either. In his heart he knew his wife and friends were right.
Pushing fear to the side and embracing the trust that Bethany and his family have placed in him, Shaun is investing in himself, and his company; which is why today you can find him working out of an amazing new space in Vista called The Film Hub. A state-of-the-art facility for creatives of all kinds. He’s taking his art to the next level – creating and capturing unexpected moments for each client, for each bride.
And as if that isn’t enough, he wants you to feel that same energy, that same sense of purpose and creativity. Shaun explains “I just want to empower people who don’t feel like they’re creative, to help them see that there is something creative in them. Because [before all of this] that was me.”
While not everyone is an artist “we’re all creating something.”
Shaun sums it up best, “I love my wife, I love my family, I love Jesus. I am doing what I’m doing, chasing my dreams, because of them.”
Definitely – a story worth telling.
To view more of Shaun’s portfolio – or HIRE HIM for your next project – please visit: Firm Grip Photography
Check out his work on Instagram: Firm Grip Photography on Instagram
If you enjoyed this article, I am sure Shaun and Bethany would love reading your comments below. And if you know another business with a Crazy Good story, let us know. We may feature it in an upcoming article.