Ross Lewin uses photography to pursue both his professional and personal ambitions. The 27-year-old Columbia native abandoned a marketing career to follow his passion behind the camera.
As a photographer, Lewin shoots portraits as well as sports teams. And he founded Cameras for Cancer, a non-profit that channels funds to research and pays cancer patients’ hospital bills.
How did photography transform from a hobby to a profession for you?
My father was a hobbyist photographer and he would have people over for photography clubs. I wasn’t extremely interested in it until I finished my sophomore year at University of Maryland — College Park, when I took a summer job as a telescope photographer in Ocean City.
So you did your undergrad in marketing with photography in mind?
Not even. The first time that I picked up a camera was that job in Ocean City. I really excelled because I brought my personality to it. You have to be very demonstrative, and have good social skills. I had to run along the beach, talking to families, and couples, convincing them to do a photo shoot. They come to the studio later, and you sell them pictures. It’s a sales job mixed with photography.
Describe how the entrepreneurial side of your career came to be?
I wanted to do what I really love to do, and was willing to work really hard. I started HoCo Photo right then. I just jumped into it. Every day, I’d go to a different sporting event at the Howard County high schools, and I would show up at a JV game. I would take pictures in the first half, and then I’d go up in the stands, talk to people and pass out my business cards. In that first year, I shot over 400 high school athletic teams. I registered my company name with the Maryland government and I got business insurance.
Why shoot high school sports?
As a high school wrestler growing up, I remembered there were never any pictures of me on the mat. Also, my dream was to be my own boss. I’d do these shots during the day, and at night I’d go onto YouTube and try to teach myself even more. I learned based on necessity.
Did you photograph at schools since you didn’t exactly need media credentials?
I wanted to shoot every day, and I didn’t have gigs then. I just picked places where I could just show up. I looked into the Howard County Public School web page. From that, I started to make a name for myself. My first gig was County Sports Zone. They hired me to be their photo blogger. Parents [of student athletes] would ask me if I did headshots or family portraits.
What do you remember most about your Birthright experience in Israel?
[Israelis] have great pride in fighting for their culture. When going to the Wall, I wanted to feel some presence of God — and in a sense I did. I remember feeling the collective energies of the millions of people that fought for that spot. I felt more closely connected to my Jewish friends. I felt great Jewish pride.
Describe Cameras Against Cancer.
I gathered beauty professionals, massage therapists, and asked them to volunteer for a total modeling experience for our donors. Because of the volume, we’re able to charge affordable rates. All of the donations from these prints go to cancer research and support. The donors are paying for the photo shoot. We’ll take anyone that’ll be a model.
We’re donating all of the proceeds to Zaching Against Cancer, a nonprofit in Howard County that provides financial support to families needing to pay their cancer bills. Our next event [on May 15] is at Haven on the Lake at the Lakefront in Columbia.