Photo Op: Former math teacher’s photography interest turns into biz venture

Six years ago, Tyler Leipprandt had no idea his life was about to change.

He’d earned a degree in education and had spent years in the field. First he taught math to fourth and fifth grade students. Then he began working alongside fellow teachers as an instructional education consultant, harnessing technology to benefit the students.

“New technology always had me curious,” said Leipprandt, a former Bad Axe resident who now calls Traverse City home.

It was that infatuation with technology that led to changing his home town as well as his career, trading education for a business model based on photography and tech. Leipprandt now has a web-based portal for selling his photos while also working in retail ecommerce, real estate and video streaming.

It goes back to his interest in photography. He had worked with early digital cameras, and when remote remote-control drone aircraft came on the scene, Leipprandt was anxious to get his hands on one to see what he could do with it.

“My brother got one and was taking pictures,” he said. “I wanted one too.”

Leipprandt wouldn’t be satisfied with the cheapest he could find. He had big ideas. Rather than just having fun with a drone, he believed he could use it and make his money back. (At least, that’s what he told his wife.)

He ended up spending about $1,500 then had to learn the ropes of flying it and taking photos … along with making some money.

“I took some pictures of landscapes with the drone,” he said. “Drones were so new, you could take photos you’d never seen before.”

Enthralled with the images he was capturing, he began selling his photos online at MichiganSkyMedia.com.

At the same time, he looked into using his skills in the real estate market, talking to a couple of Realtors about shooting home photos.

Soon he was in great demand. And yes, he kept his word to his wife.

“Within the first month, I’d made my investment back,” he said.

The real estate connection led the restless experimenter into learning the ins and outs of creating virtual tours. He controls his camera with an iPad, rotating it six times to capture 360 degrees.

“Then I take the tripod six feet away and do it again,” he said.

When it’s all done, he uploads the images to his computer, where they are then seamlessly stitched together.

Leipprandt was now making more money on the weekends than he was in his “real” career, a job he loved. He didn’t want to get burned out, so he knew he had a difficult decision ahead of him.

“How do you leave a great job?” he asked rhetorically.

Ultimately he came to the realization he couldn’t do both to the best of his ability, so he left his education job last fall to go full-time with his photography and videography business.

No longer tied to a full-time, in-person job, he also decided to move from Bad Axe, in the thumb near Saginaw, to Traverse City, where his brother had already relocated to.

“Traverse City had been on our radar a couple years,” he said. “Michigan Artists Gallery sold my photos. I said, ‘Let’s sell and move to Traverse City.’”

So that’s what they did, finding a short-term rental home to keep the summers open for travel.

“We bought a 30-foot camper to travel to the state parks,” he said. “In the fall we head back for the winter.”

The state parks weren’t simply a fun place to go – they are a client. Leipprandt got contracts to shoot the state parks, and today boasts a client list including Pure Michigan, the Detroit Free Press Marathon, M22, Vernors, and the state Department of Natural Resources.

These days he’s also using his photographic and IT skills to assist retailers interested in ecommerce. He is now offering virtual tours of stores with clickable links, so rather than simply scrolling through a list of products like on Amazon, shoppers can “walk” through a store. When they see something they’re interested in, they can click on it.

Leipprandt said a number of retailers look for him to shoot the inside of a store when they open for the season or get new stock for the upcoming season. And what happens when said store runs out of that hot new product?

“If they can’t get it back in, I have to go back in (to the virtual tour) and make the item unclickable,” he said.

Leipprandt is bullish on the concept for other endeavors, from reserving particular tables at restaurants to touring hotel rooms. And as with the stock in a store, you could make particular items in the room – beds, pillows, even the mini-bar – respond to clicks with more information.

“There’s so much you can do with virtual tours,” he said.

Another new client is the Sportsman Channel, a streaming service geared toward hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. He filmed a friend hunting in Alabama for a future show on the service.

He’s also entered a series of his photos into ArtPrize, the Grand Rapids-based art competition.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Leipprandt. “Not just the Michigan sky.”

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