Unexpected Opportunities: Shaping a Life, Shaping a University

I feel especially honored today to share with you an Alumni article that my Alma Mater, the University of Mobile, featured on me, “Unexpected Opportunities: Shaping a Life, Shaping a University.” I had a great time rehearsing my experience with UMobile with the writer, Amy Wright, & was humbled by her article (especially since my article is right next to Actor Erin Bethea of “Fireproof” & Condoleezza Rice is on the cover… talk about being out of your league!). When I visited the mailbox yesterday & saw that the magazine had arrived, I wanted to squeal like a 7th grade girl… very excitedly & loud. I’m so proud to be a graduate of UMobile; I’m thankful to God for the school’s foundational role in my life & I dearly love the people of UM! I hope you guys don’t mind me sharing the story!!!

These are the two pics they used for the article… this is my favorite pic of our family! Love it!

Here’s the article:

When John Benjamin Finch, ’02, strummed his first note in Weaver Auditorium as a freshman, he didn’t know how unexpected opportunities like this one would shape the rest of his life.

Neither did he know how his life would later shape the University of Mobile, once Finch’s education and life experiences had equipped him in a unique way to reinvest in his alma mater.

In 1998, the freshman marine science major had learned a few guitar chords and worship songs with a guitar he received for Christmas. While walking to class one day, the school’s campus minister “handed me his guitar and literally pushed me out on stage to lead worship for chapel that day. I had never even played the guitar in public,” said Finch.

But that day was only the beginning for Finch. He continued to lead worship on a regular basis at UMobile and in church ministry. His life’s calling became increasingly clearer when he took a theology course, which prompted him to change his course of study to religion and communication.

“I had become a Christian during my senior year of high school and I was eager to know more about my own conversion,” said Finch. “I realized that I couldn’t see myself studying anything else. (My studies in religion) really helped nourish my soul.”

Though the shift from marine science to religion and communication was also unexpected, it served as the launching pad for Finch to enter church ministry. There, he recognized his core purpose: “to connect with people.”

Learning and Leadership

Finch’s passion for people motivated him to become a worship leader and college pastor. That is, until another unexpected opportunity presented itself.

“I just began to feel a sense of discontent. I became eager to connect with people who will never be in the presence of a church. I want to be a godly influence in people’s lives, and in the marketplace,” said Finch.

So following his completion of a Master’s of Divinity program, Finch shifted his focus to leadership.

“I think people are realizing that it’s great to be well gifted, and to know your trade, but you have to work with people and know how to lead them in order to accomplish your goals,” he said.

 That realization jump-started Finch’s consulting career. Following doctoral studies in leadership, he began traveling across the country to teach organizations how to become healthy.

Many of the struggling practices Finch encountered became thriving businesses in his wake. Eventually, Finch turned the organizational health curriculum he developed into a book titled, “A Remarkable Practice: Developing Leaders Personally and Professionally.”

Drawing from his background in music, Finch’s book compares the organization to a song. “All good music has a good melody. An organization’s melody is its purpose and mission that influence everything that it does,” he said. “If you get away from the melody, then your song becomes something other than it was intended to be.”

In the book, Finch explains that a healthy company culture keeps the “song” in harmony because everyone is doing their part to keep the “rhythm” of the organization steady.

By leading others to lead as well, Finch’s professional consulting role became another note in Finch’s personal melody that is driven by his mission of connecting with people in the marketplace.

Finding His Rhythm

“I’ve always wanted to do things with excellence. It’s about creating work that honors God, our Creator,” Finch said.

So Finch began developing curriculum for use in church ministry. “I wanted to help people learn how to approach Scripture so it can build their faith in an engaging way,” he said. The curriculums he formed out of that desire, called “Connected to Jesus,” and “Connected to Ministry,” were taught at numerous student conferences and events.

Though Finch’s influence was rapidly expanding, he encountered his share of frustrations.

“I struggled because I had so many friends who knew what they wanted to do and they did it, but I felt like I had occupational ADHD. I didn’t know what in the world my life was going to end up like. There were times of frustration and disappointment because I wasn’t always able to use the things God gifted me with, but as I’ve grown into that, He has brought so many more opportunities my way,” Finch said.

Even through his occasional disillusionment, Finch kept listening to the melody – the mission – God had given him.

Through the counsel of a friend from UMobile, Finch realized that he was trying to define his calling instead of letting his calling define him.

 That’s when Finch and his wife, Joy Baldwin Finch, ’04, decided to take a leap of faith. Though he continued in church ministry as a volunteer, Finch moved into full-time entrepreneurship, starting two businesses: Ben Finch Photography and The Visible Group: A Marketing & Design Firm.

“It made no sense whatsoever to the traditional mind. It was a tough economy and we had just had our first child, but it made us trust God when we wanted to trust ourselves,” he said.

Making a Reinvestment

Soon thereafter, Finch’s marketing and design firm led him back to the beginning of his career path – the University of Mobile.

After seeing some of Finch’s work, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Brian Boyle scheduled a meeting to discuss a redesign of the school website, including its logos and brand identity. In the end, Boyle chose Finch’s “Visible Group” to undertake the project.

“We were impressed with the creativity and quality that Ben brought to the project,” Boyle said. “Beyond that, working with a graduate was a great experience. Ben understands what makes the University of Mobile special, and he has a real desire for other students to share that experience. The result is a website that reflects well on the university, and an updated logo and brand identity that is fresh and inviting to prospective students.”

Finch was humbled by the opportunity. “I just wanted to be a small part of the difference that UMobile is making. I couldn’t have chosen an organization more dear to my heart or one that I was more eager to reinvest back into. I love that UMobile is making such a difference in student’s lives. My life is forever enriched by the impact the university has had on me, both personally and professionally.”

Today, Finch’s businesses are thriving. “I’m finally enjoying the career of my dreams. I’m connecting with people,” through photography, the graphic arts, and various other communication outlets, he said.

In addition to a fulfilling career, the Finches have three children – Brennan, 3, Knox, 2, and newborn Molly Claire.

Finch is constantly finding new ways to influence others. In 2008, a journey to Israel yielded a collection of stunning photos that became his next published work, “Israel: A Photographic Journey.” Today, his photography blog benfinchphotography.net reaches tens of thousands of people in almost 60 countries.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Finch’s far-reaching influence is rooted in deep faith that was cultivated at UMobile. “The faculty was especially influential in their guidance through their teaching, and their classes played a big role in forming my beliefs. I was truly challenged in my faith and gained a solid grounding in the tenants of Christianity,” he said.

The relationships he built at the university are still intact. “Many of my dearest friends are those I went to college with. I still talk to many of them on a regular basis,” he said.

President Mark Foley even officiated the Finch’s wedding ceremony. “Getting to know the Foleys was just a privilege,” Finch said.

Through those relationships “and through many of my classes, God gave me a heart for people and the courage to share the Gospel with them” he said.

It’s Finch’s heart for people that motivates every step of his journey. Though his life has been full of unexpected changes and challenges, his story resounds to the tune of perpetual growth. Reflecting back on the day he nervously strummed his guitar in Weaver Auditorium, Finch said, “You’re going to grow at UMobile.”

Tennessee Wesleyan College {Athens, Tennessee}

It’s quite an honor to be neighbors with so many wonderful businesses in our community. Among the relationships I’ve built, it’s hard to beat my friends at Tennessee Wesleyan College. Every interaction I’ve had with TWC has been extremely positive & I’ve come to highly value our friendship. My friend, Blake McCaslin, serves as the Director of Public Relations and Marketing at TWC. For years we’ve talked about how we’d love to pursue some projects together. Thankfully, in mid-April, I was privileged to photograph for the College. April 12th, 2012 marked the official inauguration of Dr. Harley Knowles as the 21st President of TWC & I was fortunate enough to photograph the day’s events. As well, I was asked to do photos that the College could use in their promotions & advertising. It was such a pleasure… here’s a recap of the day. 

I love these vintage pieces… such beautiful images of a rich history.




I am so diggin’ that yellow blazer!



Just prior to the inauguration ceremony was to begin, the last minute preparations were taking place. 

I had a wonderful time getting to know Dr. Knowles better. Not only is TWC enriched by his leadership but I’m thankful to his leading in our community. When I first met him, he startled me as he began speaking of my photography & certain photographs that he greatly enjoyed. I was humbled & honored that he took the time to consider my work… especially after I found out that he has an Undergraduate Degree in Art.


I love this pic!

During the inauguration.

And the reception in the quad following the ceremony.

Following the events of the inauguration, we spent time with students all across the campus gathering images for their promotional materials. I’m excited about so many of these images & have been pleased to see them already incorporated into their web & print work.













As the sun was beginning to set, I brought out the off-camera flash. I love the feel of these images… the rest are probably my favorites!




There are many more images that’ll be showing up across mixed mediums; let me know if you see any! What do you guys think? Which are your favorites? Do you have any ideas for our next shoot?


Memorial Day Tribute {In Remembrance of Joseph Warren Finch}

He was a man we called Paw-Paw. As I recall, he was careful with words, tender in spirit. Though we lived a few hours away, when visiting, he’d always take me to the grocery store to buy sugary cereals (which my mom didn’t allow in our home), followed by a quick stop by K-Mart where I could pick out a new Hot Wheels car. Those little trips I’ll never forget. Of my fondest memories were when  he would lead us in prayer before meals & his voice would tremble as he thanked God for such blessings. As he saw it, there was nothing greater than being in a free country, surrounded by his children, grand & great, enjoying us in his home. I learned so much about reverence & affections for God through those moments & witnessing a man who would read through his Bible two times every year. Joseph Warren Finch, Paw-Paw, is a man our family will never grow weary of thanking God for. On this Memorial Day, I’m thankful for the role in played in my life & for defending our country from enemies, foreign & domestic. To that end, I was eager to thank all who give their lives to protect our country. Thank you is not enough!

Many months ago I took some time to photograph some personal work. At the top of the list was photographing some of Paw-Paw’s war memorabilia.
My favorite piece, pictured below right is a poem I found in the collection, “A Soldier Finds Christ in a Foxhole.” It reads:

“Christ, I thought I knew all the answers, until madmen started the war, I never gave you a second thought nor even talked to you before. The age old story of Bethlehem, and the drama of Calvary were nothing more than mere fairy tales – yes, Lord, mere fairy tales to me. But tonight my helmet is heavy. And so is the pack on my back; barbed wire has left me two torn hands, and my feet have a bloody track, my shoulders sag neath this heavy gun; my body is weary with pain; and my whole tortured being cries out for rest and release, but in vain. For the first time in my life I know you head hurt from a thorny crown. And your tired, bleeding shoulders ached when that heavy cross weighed you down. Those nails cut into your hands and feet; every inch of your flesh was torn; and your bruised body was weary. My God – once you, too, were careworn, but you didn’t quit – you carried on until the grim battle was through. And now I know you did it for me – so I’ll go on fighting for you. I want you to know I’m sorry; it was my sins that put you to death; and I’ll keep on saying I’m sorry until I draw my last breath. Christ, I never knew that war could be the means of saving my soul; how little I though that I would find you in the muddy foxhole.”

We’re honored to be a part of the legacy that Paw-Paw left for his family. We love & miss you!

Emma Nicholson {9 Month Session | Madisonville, TN}

As I (Alan) sit here gathering images and composing this blog recapping Emma’s 9-month session, one thought keeps running through my mind; “Girl, when are you going to start looking like your momma?!”  We’ve had the opportunity to watch Emma grow over the past nine months (you can catch up with our previous posts here and here), and she continues to look more like John each and every day!  Not to worry though, because Emma is quite the cutie.  I had so much fun photographing Emma and her parents (and grandmother and great-grandmother!) the other day.  We met in Madisonville on  a cloudy, somewhat dreary day.  It even sprinkled on us a few times, but this did not dampen Emma’s spirits one bit.  This is such a fun stage of life to document.  Her personality is so bubbly, and curiosity is in full effect.  She just couldn’t wait to explore the world around her.  Speaking of exploring, she is oh-so-close to walking.  In fact, I thought for a minute we were going to capture her first steps; more on this in a few images below!  Thanks Elizabeth and John for letting us capture Emma as she continues to grow; can’t wait to get back together in 3 more months to see how she has changed again!

We met at Emma’s great-grandmother’s house.  Isn’t all the landscaping beautiful?  Here is a four generation picture.

Those eyes are still as blue as ever!


All smiles during playtime; she even has some teeth starting to come in.

I told you her personality is really starting to shine!  I can only imagine what she’s thinking on the righthand image.






Some of my favorites of her playing in a chair next to the flower garden.



So we captured a big milestone:  first time pushing up!  I thought we were about to witness her first steps; it won’t be long now!

Mobility is SO close!

A helping hand from dad gets her back to her feet.


As our time was drawing to a close, Emma ALMOST started to cry (I was interrupting nap time I believe).  However,  a quick hug from Mom and all was right with the world again!


Recent Film Favorites {Mamiya RZ67 Pro}

As many of you know, I’ve been on a huge quest lately to shoot film as much as possible & I’ve been eager to show some images. Most weddings & engagements I now find myself hauling around an extra 20 pounds so that I can shoot film as a supplement to my digital photographs. About 6 months ago I purchased a medium format camera, a Mamiya RZ67 Pro. It’s a huge camera that has a leaf shutter & makes a sound similar to a muffled gun-shot… I love it!!! And clients love it too as they usually respond, “Whoa! What’s that?”

At the moment I can’t see myself shooting entire weddings with it but I definitely foresee it happening in the future. There are so many tremendous advantages to shooting film & I can’t wait to incorporating it more into our shoots. Here are a few recent favorites from Jamie & Keith’s Wedding at Historic Scott Mansion in Tellico Plains, TN. To check out the recap from their wedding, click here.

The dynamic range of Medium Format film is amazing. If this were taken with a digital camera, the sky & the tree would both be blown out, however, the details remain. Beautiful! Plus… little to no post-processing! Hallelujah.






Such a beautiful, nostalgic feel.

Any more film lovers out there? What are you guys shooting with? What advantages do you see of shooting film vs. digital? I’m planning to do a Film vs. Digital blog post in the near future, what questions do you have that you’d like answered?