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Meet the photographer with an epic beard who’s soon to be a TCC grad

Jeff Heiser

After 12 years in the Navy, Jeff Heiser tried his hand at “a real person’s job” working as a field service engineer.

He hated it, realizing he wanted his future to be about what he so enjoyed in his past – snapping pictures. Now he runs his own business and has the education to go with it. Heiser will graduate this spring from Tidewater Community College with an Associate of Applied Arts with a Specialization in Photographic Media Arts.

“I’ve always been a creator ever since I was a kid,” said Heiser, who grew up in Merritt Island, Fla, near the Kennedy Space Center. “I started at an early age with drawing to pass the endless time of school to stay out of trouble. I used to draw Disney cartoon characters for my sister to color.”

Heiser enjoyed tinkering with cameras, too, buying his first 35 mm one, a Minolta, from a pawn shop prior to joining the Navy. Multiple deployments provided the opportunity to take pictures from some of the most exotic locations in the world, including France, Spain, Japan, Hong Kong, Monte Carlo and his favorite, Thailand. That’s where he took among his favorite photos on Phi Phi Leh Island, the fabled beach Leonard DiCaprio sought to find in the film “Beaches.”

“It was simply amazing – the cliffs and the jungle right over the blue water,” Heiser said. “I knew when I joined the military I was going to go places my family members wouldn’t be able to go, so I wanted to document it.”

Heiser is grateful to be studying under  Professor Tom Siegmund, who provides, he said, an academic foundation for many of the technical skills he’s already mastered. Heiser has also improved his Photoshop skills and with the help of Siegmund, gained an internship this spring with the automaker Valeo, where he focuses on product photography.

“Tom really helped with getting over the fear of being a creative person,” Heiser said. “I realize now that’s what I was meant to do.”

Heiser’s pinup: “I can do this too.”

Heiser’s business, named Epic Beard Photography in deference to his chin of fuzz that a random teenager called “an epic beard,” shows off his versatility. One of his specialties, theme photography, allows him to explore clients’ offbeat interests; a recent shoot explored a King Arthur theme. His pinup, “I can do this too,” is part of TCC’s student and faculty arts exhibition that opens at the VAC on March 24. He’s a regular photographer for the Virginia Beach Horse Show Association and recently bought his own Saddlebred, Grace, for shoots.

“Who wouldn’t want an engagement shoot with a horse?” he asked.

Someday, Heiser would like to try his hand at aerial photography from a helicopter and hopes to travel to the deserts in Africa to photograph the animals there. He also plans to work toward his master’s in fine arts and later teach young, creative minds in search of the foundation he discovered at TCC.

He recommends plowing forward for anyone remotely considering a photography career.

“Don’t give up,” he advised. “Don’t let a negative critique bring you down. Learn from it instead.”