Commercial Advertising Photography: Montana’s Hidden Gems with First Opportunity Bank

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Everybody who talks about working in advertising, including myself, is mostly just a huge creative nerd. Don’t get me wrong; I love that about us. However, working in the advertising world can often feel like you’re either tied to metrics, image aspect ratios, online banner ads, or filling holes in billboards. But the truth is that commercial photographers are given an opportunity that is so much greater..something that we can hold on to and project into the world.

I love commercial advertising because it’s a medium designed to be seen by as many human eyes as possible. It is a powerful platform, and it’s also a beautiful way to speak into the world. All the good and true things that need to be in the world, can be revealed through advertising.

In the summer of 2021, I was able to travel on a 10-day road trip for a community bank in Montana known as First Opportunity Bank. I loved the authentic campaign I got to create for First Opportunity Bank because they trusted me to discover the very soul of their state and the people they serve.

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As a commercial photographer, I believe that my work is about finding and merging the seen with the unseen. Because when you do that, you start to discover the soul of a place, a person, or even a business. Having that contemplative and deep awareness of what's going on around you can open up opportunities as vast as the Montana sky.

There is this sense of hiddenness somewhere in the vast landscape of Montana. Every so often, a beautiful jewel is waiting to be discovered at every turn. As I combed through the mesmerizing state in my car, I began to discover these hidden gems.

I remember seeing these beautiful, old, broken-down houses in the Southside of Helena (link to Helena blog). The most beautiful light just poured into these homes. One of the things that First Opportunity Bank does well, even as a small regional bank, is tune in with their client's needs. I just looked at this beautiful, ramshackle house. And while I know that a ramshackle house is not the ad that we want, it might be the ad that we need.

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I was really amazed by the architecture in the old west because it borrows so much from Europe. The beautiful textures, limestone, and locally available sourced building supplies all just take on this gorgeous character of their own.

During the trip, I stayed in hostels, tents, and a couple of bed and breakfasts along the way. Even though I felt alone; I was not alone. The presence of God went with me, but I also met the most incredible people *Link to Helena Blog* on this journey. From the ranchers and farmers I stayed with, to the amazing tea shop and hostel owners, or the passionate park rangers… it's really the people that make Montana fantastic. I unearthed so many hidden gems in this lovely community. I met people in an old mining town called Billings, who have struggled to make ends meet, but deserve everything in the world. I also met industrious business people in the capital of Helena, and amazing progressive liberals, with accompanying great coffee in Bozeman.

Towards the end of my trip, I decided I really wanted to go up to Glacier National Park. Glacier is known as the crown jewel of America’s National Park system. Even so, it is not a popular park because you have to drive really far north, nearly to Canada. There are also a lot of bears, and it can be very cold and treacherous; even during the summer. I was determined to go because I knew those were going to be some of the moments that needed to be shown in the campaign.

I had been spending most of my time in the car, and there was just this beautiful presence and peace that washed over me when I pulled into the park. Even from a car view, there are so many beautiful vistas to witness. Not even the wildfire smoke could hide the beautiful shape, color, and texture of these majestic vistas. I just spent about 24 hours there, driving through taking photographs, and looking at the beautiful trees burned by wildfire controlled burns, simply appreciating what our National Park Service does to conserve these beautiful gems of land.

When a client takes the time to see and know their community, there's just this synchronous thing that happens: trust is built with that community.

Driving through America, I was able to see that sometimes the land of opportunity is not as opportune as it seems. First Opportunity Bank is creating a bridge for people to find more financial freedom, and more opportunity, right where they are.

This job was about showing the viewer; we are Montana. We understand Montana. This advertising campaign allowed the world to see the raw, rough, and natural beauty of this place and community.

Endlessly grateful to Clark Hook at Financial Marketing Solutions for inviting and trusting me on this journey.