Derek Jensen

Megan McDowell

Derek Jensen
Megan McDowell

Megan's mom made a lot of things possible that she still appreciates today. Her mom would be proud.

Take us back to you as a kid.

I grew up in a small town in southwest Iowa. It was the kind of town where kids could stay out until dark and you didn’t need to lock your doors. In addition to being a small town girl, I was also a weekend farm kid. I loved my time spent with my grandparents and family out on the farm. There were memories made and lessons learned that you can’t get from growing up in a big city that I value more and more as the years go on. I was a bit of a tom boy, so to speak, and I also would go shooting with my dad or accompany him out coyote hunting. I had a very supportive mom who helped my get into activities and groups like 4-H, youth group, band, and choir. She made a lot of things possible for me in my younger years that I still appreciate to this day. It was actually through 4-H I discovered my love of photography and learned more and more each year with every photo I entered at the fair. 

What's keeping you busy?

I work 3 jobs, one being a full time, Monday through Friday job, another is part time which I do as often as time allows, and then I do photography as well. I also try to volunteer as much as possible. Septembers keep me very busy with the Red Alert DSM drive.  I also love bringing my friends together, and to do so, I plan group outings and events, and usually am coordinating and planning one or two fun things at any given time. Plus, I like to spend time with my family, which requires some traveling at times too.

"There were memories made and lessons learned that you can’t get from growing up in a big city that I value more and more as the years go on."

Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own thing?

I was working for a national studio, which was great because you worked with a great team, had access to all kinds of props and backgrounds and got to meet a lot of nice people, but then the studio underwent some major changes. Sessions were shorter, less focused on the creative aspects, as it felt to me, and it was more about the sales process. So I decided to leave and pursue photography more seriously on my own. Which I definitely don’t regret.

As a photographer, what has changed for you now with things like Instagram and iPhones?

I just have more fun using my phone now with Instagram. I still use my pro camera for my jobs and for travel photos, but the ease of getting a shot, since you always have a camera with you on your phone, which is nice and handy, then you don’t miss out on a potential memory or beautiful moment.

"I just get lost in the people I’m photographing."

How do you focus on the work you love doing? Walk us through a good day.

I just get lost in the people I’m photographing. Doing portraiture or weddings is an opportunity to make people smile, capture life time memories, and make people feel good about themselves. When I’m doing a family photo shoot, I forget all about myself and focus on getting my subjects to laugh and smile. I let all my pride go out the window and will do anything to get that tired dad or shy kid to smile. I’ve been known to make a fart noise or two, and it makes kids laugh too. ;) Weddings are a chance to be creative or be that fly on the wall, and capture moments the bride and groom were unaware of until the moment they get to review the photos. It’s a wonderful experience.

What have been the challenges? Who and what has helped?

I’d say not having a studio of my own has been a challenge in how it limits the size and scope of my sessions. I can do an indoor shoot with window light, it was how I have first trained in college anyway, but I am limited to one or two subjects, whereas a studio, I could photograph larger groups more easily in my opinion. But I work around it, I’m more of an on location photographer now, and I enjoy finding new fun and interesting locations for my sessions.

Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them?

Never doubt yourself, and if you do, don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask for advice to those who are more experienced than yourself.

Why Des Moines?

I’ve lived in other cities, some more populous than others, plus visited many others, and I can truly appreciate how great our big, little city is. Now that I’m older, I also value having my family close by. I’ve come to make a lot of friends and connections in Des Moines, to me that is what makes living here wonderful. No matter where you live, it’s the same thing really, but I believe it’s the people you meet and the friendships you develop, that make it worth calling Des Moines home.

Des Moines is growing. What’s one new thing that caught your eye?

How many new homes that are being built! There are so many nice, big and beautiful new homes being constructed, but I wish that there would be more growth in building more modest homes. I love my neighborhood of Oak Park and would like to see smaller homes, like in that area, being added by developers as well. Not everyone needs 4 or 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms in a house after all.

If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be, and why?

I would want more dog-friendly venues. I’m a fairly new dog owner, and I find myself so often wish I could take my dog, Julius, more places with me. I think an indoor, year round dog park and entertainment venue would be wonderful. Iowa has such shifting weather and temperatures, I can imagine a lot of dog owners out there would appreciate having an indoor, climate controlled environment they could take their pups to.

Convince someone new to DSM your favorite place to go on your day off.

I can’t say I have a go-to favorite place to go on a day off. I like mixing it up, trying new places and activities. But I can say one of my favorite days was spent in the East Village on a Saturday. I was able to shop, eat, visit the Capitol, take photos, have drinks, play games and people watch. It is a great area morning to night.

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

I would say all of Des Moines is underrated to those who aren’t familiar with our city. People who have never visited or know people from Des Moines might make assumptions about our small Midwest city. But we are really coming up in the world in so many areas! In art, music, food, culture, growth, jobs, affordability, and more. There’s more to see and do here than even the folks who live here might realize.

"I can say one of my favorite days was spent in the East Village on a Saturday."

What are you most proud of and why?

It’s so hard to think of the one thing I am most proud of, but I am proud of myself for joining the Navy. I had a medical discharge and didn’t get the opportunity to serve my full four years, or maybe even longer, but the time I had in was a great experience and it made me realize how strong I can be not just physically, but mentally, and how I can rise to challenges. It really helped me grow as a young adult.

In three months what do you hope to accomplish?

Well, with the fall colors currently just around the corner, I will have quite a few photo sessions coming up, and I hope to be able to have a quick turn around on the editing process of the photos. I have family and friend gatherings on the books too and look forward to bringing those all together and making them a success. I also want to stay on track with my savings goals for my next vacation to Europe. And with the Red Alert DSM drive, I hope we meet and exceed our goal of 100,000 items!

"Never doubt yourself."

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about?

Definitely, the Red Alert DSM drive in the month of September. Through the Des Moines Girl Gang, I met our wonderful committee of women who care about the needs of less privileged women, and together we created a successful campaign to raise money and collect donations of tampons and pads to donate via partnerships with various shelters, organizations, schools, and groups in the Des Moines area. These donations of feminine hygiene products can help women avoid missing school, work and job interviews. They help those who can’t always afford to buy these monthly supplies, which can really add up cost wise. I strongly encourage people to learn more by visiting our website here.

What challenges are there to do something like Red Alert and how do you overcome them?

To me, the challenges are getting the word out to a broader audience. You can network and meet people one on one, share posts on social media, or talk to your friends, but unless you can really spread the news about the drive, you may miss out on potential support of the cause.