WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - You've probably seen one of his stunning landscape masterpieces largely displayed on a business' wall. Or, you've seen him tagged in one of many gorgeous wedding, engagement, baby or family photo shoots posted to social media.
If you were only looking at those images you might assume the photographer, TJ Drechsel is a world traveler who has the easiest gig in Wilmington taking perfect pictures of people and some of the most exclusive real estate in town.
If that's all you looked at you'd be missing out on getting to know a farm boy from Idaho, who was homeschooled for 12 years and comes from rather humble roots.
"You can be whatever you want and do whatever you want, you can go to college, but either way it will be outside of this house," Drechsel laughed, remembering the stern directive of his mother/school teacher.
Drechsel thought he should be what most everyone is - an employee. So he took a job in Wisconsin to pound the frosty pavement in corporate sales. He excelled and even converted into a Packers fan to fit in.
"I think there are times where we have to make decisions based on necessity and certainly, and I think we have a God give passion we have to find," Drechsel said.
He found his passion far from any office. Now making some money, he had the chance to travel.
"Bringing one of these roll snap cameras and just taking pictures while there and bringing them back and thinking, 'Oh it was so much better than that,'" Drechsel said.
He taught himself, and you can be sure there were more than a few trips between those first shots and what bears the Drechsel watermark today.
"We are each given something that makes our soul come alive," he said. "We have the choice to chase it and do something with it or leave it buried somewhere."
Often left out of any story is the time it took between start-up and success. It took Drechsel five years to move to Wilmington and when he did, there were no jobs. If he wanted to stay, he had to make one.
"Ok, I can start a painting business to survive for a while until I can figure out something else," he explained.
The suit and tie were replaced with brushes and buckets, Drechsel Professional Painting began.
"I grew up that nothing should be beneath you, from cleaning to working hard in the yard to any service industry - and I think you're in trouble when that starts to be beneath you," Drechsel said. "As a job, who dreams of being a house painter? That's not a glamorous position but it is a means to pay the bills and a means to fund your life. What if it's a means to develop a passion inside of you?"
It took years of painting all day and editing late at night but today, booking a shoot with TJ Drechsel Photography is the sort of thing people brag about.
"The painting is still very much a funder of a lot of things in my world - that won't change," he explained. "There are seasons to chase something that doesn't feel like it's your passion but maybe it pays the bills for a while and there are seasons you can chase what is passionate for us and makes our soul come alive."
As he grows both businesses, turning a side hustle into his dream job, he has some advice for anyone else striving to do the same.
"What's your next step?" he asks. "You don't have to think about the 10th step down the road or the 20th step where you are doing the thing you dream of doing but you probably have one step that could put you in the direction of something that you're passionate about."
We see a stunning landscape photo - easy gig, right? What we don't see are the years of trade-offs, twists and turns it took to even hold that camera.
We don't see the hundreds of other attempts just to get that one perfect shot.
What we do see, in the case of any success story or stunning image, is someone who captured every moment of opportunity with razor sharp focus.