A Strong Foundation
The MuÃ±oz family legacy (nearly 100 years in the making) started in 1909 with Tom's great-grandfather in Cuba. And it was a MuÃ±oz who actually photographed, made negatives and hand-delivered one-hour photos in the '30s. That entrepreneurial drive and creative spirit--and the photography business--has continued with each generation.
"We've always stayed on the cutting edge," notes Tom. Whether it was the switch to digital (they went digital 10 years ago) or the fact that they became their own full-service lab (keeping all their printers and other equipment up to date with the newest technology), the MuÃ±ozes always push to offer the best to their clients.
Each of the MuÃ±oz children felt that push in the right direction as well. As it says on their website, "Fathers taught sons and grandfathers taught grandsons the standard that it took to be a MuÃ±oz photographer."
"We weren't given a choice," Tom says, referring to his start in photography. Photography was a skill that his father wanted to pass along, so the children learned it early, providing a strong foundation if they later decided to follow it as a career. Tom's first solo wedding was at 12, and at 16 he was shooting one about every weekend. "My brothers and I lifted weights so we looked older to the clients!" he remembers.
Finding a Personal Love
Many stories tell of people feeling stifled or unhappy with their place in a family business--but that's not this story. This is the story of an occupation that found its place in the hearts and minds of Tom and his brothers. They made photography a personal love.
For Tom, that realization really came during his time at the University of Florida. While there, he took his father's suggestion to work with wedding photographers Stewart Powers, M.Photog.Cr., API, and Susan Powers, M.Photog.Cr. "They adopted me and introduced me to PPA, the Photographic Exhibition Committee (PEC) and competitions," Tom says. "They showed me a whole different side of wedding photography, inspiring me to learn even more."
And learn he did. Tom went with Stewart to a competition judging and found even more "open doors." He met more professional photographers who invited him to come and learn from them (like Peter Dyer, M.Photog.Cr., F-ASP, of the United Kingdom).
"I think I've studied with or met with about every major wedding photographer there is!" Tom adds. "The relationships I've created are my favorite part of being a member of PPA."
And it's those relationships--and the resulting experiences--that pushed him to recognize his own love of photography and finish his degree online so he could work full time in the family business.
A "MacGyver" of Photography
While the MuÃ±oz team will photograph what is needed, Tom's favorite specialty is weddings. "With all their challenges, weddings are the toughest to photograph," he explains. "You have to be a great portrait artist, be able to photograph products, be a psychologist and that's just the start. A great wedding photographer is like the MacGyver of photography."
An example of the MuÃ±ozes' own MacGyver-esque talents is in how they work with wedding clients to get the expression they want. "We will change our approaches depending on the culture and type of group we're working with," Tom explains. "We want to get people excited about their photography, which encourages their own input."
For example, Tom was shooting a wedding where all the groomsmen were firemen...and not that excited about the pictures. He became a man's man, setting an atmosphere and tone that said, "Let's have fun and get this done." By relating to them in this way, they weren't bored and one of them even suggested what became a great, smile-inducing shot: the long line of groomsmen flexing their muscles.
"What we ask people to do for a photo is all about getting that authentic expression, not about the pose," he adds. "And it's not just about laughing with the client. We will actually change the way we talk. If I want something soft and romantic, my voice will change."
Despite his love of weddings, Tom is always interested in learning more. "If I don't know how to do something, I'll find someone who can and learn from him or her," he says. For example, he learned about photographing watches from Al Audleman, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, API. He used what he learned to shoot a whole jewelry line. And when he learned to shoot architecture, he applied that to his wedding dÃ©cor shots.
That's the key right there, says Munoz--applying everything you learn to the job at hand.
Photograph Like You Compete
Not only do Tom and his family believe in applying what they learn, they also believe in applying competition to their everyday work.
"My old high school wrestling coach once said: 'You wrestle like you practice. If you don't do it every day, you won't be able to do it when it counts,'" Tom recalls. "That's how we feel about competition."
The MuÃ±oz "secret" is to compete every year...and only with client work. "Once you get in the mindset of competing every year, you won't cut corners anywhere because you don't know what will be the stand-out wedding," explains Tom. "Plus, we want a certain level of quality in everything we do."
One of Tom's biggest pet peeves is when someone tells him not to worry about a flaw in an image because the client won't notice. He wants both the client and himself, as the professional, to love the images. And if he sees it, he knows a juror will see it.
That point of view (and his early experiences) helped Tom do very well in competition very quickly. He first competed at 18 and received his PPA Master of Photography degree at 21, one of the youngest ever.
It was his own competition enthusiasm that inspired his brothers to compete, and they don't stop at the official competitions. "I think the biggest advantage of our studio is the competition among the brothers," Tom laughs. "We'll meet up after an eight-wedding weekend, open up a laptop and say: 'Ok, who won this weekend?'"
With the majority of the MuÃ±ozes competing--officially and unofficially--they often face critiques, which are never easy. Still, it's something that Tom appreciates. "I'm open to getting critiques from everyone," he says. "You can learn something from anybody, even if it's how NOT to do something."
The End Goal
What you learn and how you can help someone often stems from the relationships you create, and Tom MuÃ±oz is a perfect example. Working on client relationships helps him get the perfect expression for their image. Connecting with photographic mentors helped him improve skills, discover competition and understand the importance of sharing knowledge. Most important of all, his family relationships set his foundation and still give him constant educational opportunities (both as teacher and student). And his eight-month-old son--the next generation of MuÃ±oz photographers--is already coming into the studio every day.
His end goal? "To be the worst photographer in our family's studios."
ALL IMAGES Â© TOMAS MUNOZ