30+ years as a photographer, a Realtor in my past life, and FAA Certified Drone Pilot! I’ve been a photographer since my Senior year in High School. I’ve made a living with my camera for 30 years. Yes, I’ve worked in different professions which have served me well in my photography career. I broke my neck when I was 21 years old and at the very least should be a quadriplegic. This experience has made me look at the world in a different light. The glass is always full, it’s always sunny, and EVERYTHING is possible. I live my life with passion and love to share with others my knowledge of photography. I also love to share my passion for how to build a business, and how to manage your mind when life challenges you. I believe that my life experiences can help you and your business grow. But, how to have success in life as well.
Randy Henderson/ Success Interview
How to reach Randy Henderson:Website: www.hendersonimages.com
Location:Originally Grangeville, Idaho but Currently Springfield Missouri
What's in Randy Henderson's Camera Bag:
(2) Nikon D750s, typically with a Nikon 16-35 f4 lens. My backup lens is a Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 which is great, but tends to flare a little more, and I miss the extra reach of the Nikon. My flash photography is done with a Nicefoto N-flash. It’s a 680 Watt studio flash with a handle, that runs on a battery and triggers to the camera. If I put it on half power, I can light a church. I also use a couple of Yongnuo 560 IV small hammerhead flashes that trigger off of the same flash trigger, and can pop a little light into an adjoining room or a shower. I use cheap generic carbon fiber tripods, I tend to break one a year anyway, so the $120 price tag lessens the pain.
Randy Henderson was born in Grangeville Idaho, where he discovered his mom’s Argus 75 twin-lens reflex camera when he was 10, and proceeded to spend all of his time and paper route money learning how to use it. Inspired at 14 when he first picked up a copy of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” and motivated at 16 by winning $15 in a local newspaper photo contest, he decided that photography would always be a part of his life.
After graduating with a business degree from the University of Idaho in 1983 (“My dad wouldn’t pay for a Photography degree – but I didn’t tell him that all of my electives at Idaho were photo classes”), Henderson worked for a few years before pursuing his dream of selling everything he owned and moving to Spokane Washington to enroll in one of the best Commercial Photo schools in the country. Henderson remembers, “I darn near starved to death. I practically lived in the darkroom and the studio, and ate a lot of mac and cheese. I owned a sinar 4x5 view camera, a broken down Chevy Chevette, and 3 pairs of jeans. It was glorious.” After college, he moved to the Midwest with his wife, and settled in Springfield Missouri. He eventually got a job as a Realtor to make ends meet, while still shooting weddings and portraits. “I was the typical hobby photographer, and assumed that was going to be my life.”
About 10 years ago, the internet suddenly thrust real estate marketing into a world-wide market, and Henderson found himself in demand as a real estate photographer. By developing some unique techniques, he started Henderson Images, the first real estate photography company in Southwest Missouri. After shooting 25 homes his first year, Henderson Images. LLC has grown to now photograph over 1200 homes each year, along with magazines, corporate brochures, and various advertising assignments.Henderson is a member of the Professional Photographers of America and his portfolio has been chosen for inclusion in the Real Estate Photographers of America and International. He has mentored real estate photographers that are now running thriving businesses in Denver. CO and Bentonville, AR.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
My mom. I was digging through a closet one day when I was about 12, and came across an Argus Seventy-Five twin lens reflex camera that she had purchased in 1949. I asked her if I could “mess” with it, and she inexplicably said I could. I bought a roll of film with paper route money and took 10 black and white pictures of my neighborhood. When I got the pictures back from Irwin Drug 10 days later, I was hooked. I’ve still got that camera sitting on a shelf in my office.
However, my real inspiration came from a book called “The Americans” by Robert Frank. I was about 14, and had just gotten braces for my teeth. Because we lived in such a rural area, we drove 150 miles every 3 weeks to Lewiston, Idaho to get my new braces adjusted. Mom used it as an excuse to do some big-city shopping, and we always ended up at a high-end stationary/book store called Klings. I would wander around bored, and one day I stumbled across Frank’s book. I won’t go into the details of the book here, but it fascinated me. My world at that time was pretty white bread and antiseptic, and Robert Frank had captured images of a world that I never knew existed. It looked so …real. I looked at that book every single time we went to Klings, and I knew that my Argus could make pictures like that, I just needed to figure out how.
Tell us about your first photo that really validated your interest as a photographer?
I had a paper route and when I was 16 I entered a photo contest that the newspaper held. They had over 200 entries, and I won second for a landscape I shot that the paper called Arroyo Sunrise. I won a whopping $15 and it just fueled me to want more.
Back when you were just starting out, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome that?
When I started shooting real estate in 2008, agents saw very little need to spend money on something they thought they could do themselves. Smartphones didn’t exist, but every Realtor had a digital camera in the closet. The first year I was officially a real estate photographer, I shot 24 homes, and half were donations to charitable organizations. As far as overcoming it, the market overcame it for me. The pictures I shot went on the multilist, which eventually went to Zillow and out into the world. Those images gave the perception that these were better quality homes, and they sold quickly. Suddenly, sellers, who were on the internet looking at homes, told their agent “When you list me home, I want my pictures to look like THAT.”
What do you enjoy photographing the most?
Believe it or not, real estate. Maybe it’s because I don’t have time for anything else, but there is something about the control you get from images where nothing moves, and you have the time to control and experiment with every aspect of the image. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure I would still love to shoot a wedding or portrait session, but there is a lot of stress, dealing with time constraints and personalities. Real estate is very Zen.
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
When I realized that Henderson Images was going to succeed. I had gotten a college degree in business, and had a stable, financially viable career path lined up, and I literally walked away from it to become a photographer. It cost me income, and put stress on myself and my family. I knew that there was a good photographer inside me, and I could make it work, but I also got frustrated when other people were padding their 401k when I was barely paying the bills. My proudest moment is when I realized that I had somehow created a new industry in Southwest Missouri – real estate photography – and that the business was going to become successful in a way I had never anticipated. Even though I had confidence that it would happen, I was still amazed that it did happen – and the people around me were even more amazed.
Tell us about time in your photographic journey where you failed at something and how did you pivot to overcome this?
My first years after photo school were pretty dark. I worked in a one hour photo lab, took pictures for an amusement park, and shot weddings in the park for couples that couldn’t afford anyone else. My pivot was to swallow my pride and get a real estate license so I could feed my family, while still having time to pursue photography. It was probably the smartest, and luckiest, thing I ever did.
We all have weaknesses, what is yours relating to photography?
Not giving enough value to my work. My biggest feari isn’t charging too little, but rather charging too much and letting a really cool house be photographed by someone else. There is a really cool post-modern house in Springfield that I have driven by a hundred times. I have knocked on their door (twice) offering to photograph the house for free. I don’t want the money, as much as I want the experience (and the photos).
Nailing a composition right can be a challenge. What do you think the trick is to mastering composition?
Learning a different way to see. We have 2 eyes for a reason - depth perception. Depth perception is the reason that I don’t think I’m going to walk into that telephone pole – because I can perceive that, while it’s in front of me, it’s also across the street. Unfortunately, that’s also why every beginning photographer takes a wedding portrait with that phone pole coming out of the back of the brides head. Your brain has trained you to ignore the pole, it’s not really behind the bride. Mastering composition starts with turning off that brain function. You have to see a three dimensional world as a two dimensional photo. Now that I have retrained my brain to see in 2 dimensions, I see like that all the time. It’s like once you see the world like that you can’t unsee it.
There are many photographers starting out, who don't have the money to buy the camera gear they want. What advice can you give to them?
My first photography professor told me that a good photographer should be able to take a picture with a cardboard box with a pinhole in the end. And for the next 2 weeks, that’s exactly what we did.
I just looked online, and a Nikon D3400 with a 24-70 zoom, and a 70-300 zoom is $500 as a package. That is absurdly cheap. My advice is not to buy what you want, buy what will get you behind the lens. Work up to what you want.
How do you feel photography has impacted the way you see the world?
We re-watched the movie Forrest Gump the other day. My wife said “That’s a great movie” while I was thinking “They have Tom Hanks perfectly centered on the left third of the screen, and his body shape perfectly mirrors those mailboxes to the right. That’s brilliant composition.” It’s almost annoying at times, but I almost always see the world as contrasting colors, interesting compositions, and endless possibilities for a photograph.
What do you see photographers doing today, that if done differently tomorrow would improve their success?
Photographing without thinking. I was in the Louvre 4 years ago, and there were hundreds of people in front of the Mona Lisa, even though the rest of the museum was relatively empty. They all had their phones over their heads, shooting with absolutely no regard as to what they were photographing, and then moving on. Most of them never got closer to the painting than the back of the room.
What’s the purpose of that? You can get a postcard in the gift shop that has better detail, a book that explains the history of the painting, and – if you had waited 15 minutes and shuffled to the front of the crowd – a much better look at the real thing.
I think that if, when someone picks up a camera, they ask “What is my purpose – my intent – of this image?” they would create more well thought-out images.
I do this every day in my business. It isn’t “Ok, I need a shot of the living room”. Rather, it’s “I’m going to move to this other corner, because my intent is to show how the living room flows effortlessly into the kitchen.” That’s shooting with intent.
To get your creative eye focused, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Every other real estate photographer I see. I purposely seek out photographers that are better than I am (there are a lot) and remind myself how far I have left on my journey. Then I go to work with a chip on my shoulder, determined to be better than I was the day before. My work today is as good as the photographers I aspired to 5 years ago, but I just keep moving the finish line. I just find better photographers to admire.
What is your best photography related tip?
Have at least 2 of everything. I go into the field with 2 cameras, 2 wide lenses, 2 big flashes, half a dozen batteries for everything – heck I even have extra shoes and a work shirt in the car. You never know what might happen. As an example, my camera, the Nikon D750, supports 2 card slots. Every day, I put a 32 Gig card in each and format both. The camera writes the same files to both cards. At the end of the day, I take card #1 out and process the images, then return it to the camera in the morning and repeat the process.
I have literally had a memory card in slot 2 for three years. It has been reformatted 1000 times, but I have never taken it out of the camera or looked at a single image on it. But one day, after I have shot 800 frames and driven a hundred miles, card #1 will give me an error, and #2 will be waiting in the wings.
Your photos look amazing, what’s your secret sauce when it comes to post processing?
The nightmare of any real estate shoot is mixed lighting. I shot a house yesterday where everything in the house (paint, cabinets, etc.) was gray, black, and white. Unfortunately, the house had yellow incandescent bulbs in every room, except the bathroom, where the builder inexplicably put daylight balanced bulbs over the sinks and incandescent everywhere else. In addition, the house was full of huge windows, illuminating half the house in cloudy, blue daylight. Now, assuming that a builder that took three months to pick out pearl gray as his signature color doesn’t want pictures with buttercup yellow walls, how do you color balance the daylight and mixed interior lights into a unified image?
That was my challenge early on, assuming that employing multiple flashes and hours of time spent on each home wasn’t a viable business model.
What worked for me was discovering an amazing program from HDRsoft called Photomatix. It is a software that combines several images at varying exposures into one image, expanding the dynamic range of the camera, something we now refer to as HDR (high dynamic range) photography. In other words, I can shoot one image to expose for the golf course out the window, and another to expose to the kitchen on the other side of that window, and the resulting image would show both, giving you the best of both worlds, and a far superior architectural image, without the time and expense of multiple lights.
However, it didn’t address the problem that natural light images had weird colors from mixed light sources, and a image using flash looked great, but was plagued with harsh shadows and hotspots.
One night, I literally woke up (I do this a lot) and thought “What would happen if I combined a flash shot and a natural shot in Photomatix? Long story short, it worked. Basically Photomatix relies heavily on the flash image, but blends out the harsh shadows and hotspots in favor of the natural image, while keeping the colors pretty accurate.
I still tweak each image, but for the most part, my “secret sauce” is a camera on a tripod photographing a well exposed flash image and a well exposed natural image, and blending them in Photomatix.
Speaking of which, what’s your post processing workflow?
I come home at night with al least 3 frames of each image in the camera. Usually a shot that is slightly underexposed, slightly overexposed, and a perfectly exposed shot (natural light outdoor, but using a flash bounced into the ceiling for the interiors}. I always shoot in RAW, so I don’t have to deal with white balance (you can adjust the white balance on a raw file in post-production, the same as if it were in camera}. I pull all 700 images into Adobe Camera RAW together, and go through the frames, tweaking the white balance on each (remember, the daylight frames are going to have a different white balance than the flash ones). Once that is done, I make sure that I have exactly three frames of each photo. Then as a batch, I sharpen them, add some noise reduction, and correct the lens distortion, and I export them as Jpegs. I know that a Jpeg is a lossy format, but I already have the images exactly the way I want them, and the file sizes are much more manageable. Also, Photomatix works better for me with Jpeg files. Finally, I tell Adobe Camera Raw to process the images. Even with a beefy computer, this process may take 30 minutes.
Once that is done, I open PhotoMatix, and tell it to batch process my files, three at a time, and create an HDR image in a separate folder. The rest happens automatically. Then I go through each, tweaking them, taking the photographer out of the mirrors, spotting a dirt speck, etc. Then I put them in folders, email them to the client, send them an invoice, and I am ready for the next day.
What would you like for people take away from your work?
That I love what I do. I’ve been approached by folks that want to “manage” me. Get me to write a book, teach a class, franchise my business to surrounding towns and manage other photographers under my name. It’s simply not me. I’m a photographer.
What are some ‘must have’ items in your camera bag?
Backups, backups and more backups. Lens cloths, a level, a flashlight, a multi-tool, and a small wrench that fits every nut and bolt on my tripod. And duct tape – lots of duct tape. Oh, and a golf ball. Toss a golf ball into a living room with no whites in it, and you can color balance in post-production in a snap, then just Photoshop the golf ball out.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is the ONE photography book you would want to have with you?
That’s tough. A runner up would be The Negative by Ansel Adams. The only reason it doesn’t win is because a lot of it deals with the developing film phase, which isn’t very applicable anymore, but still a great book.
Ok, I’m going to go with something you would never expect. “Captured by the Light” by David Ziser. Ziser is a world renowned wedding photographer whom I’ve gotten to meet a couple of times. His fundamental understanding of photographic lighting is, in my opinion, unmatched. Captured by the Light is one of those books where you read page 4, then read page 5 and go “Wait, what?, then go back and read page 4 again. If you can absorb Captured by the Light, you have a fundamental understanding of the relationship of light to photography that few people will ever achieve. Forget that it is a wedding photography book, it should be on the must read list of every photography student on the planet.
Final question, and it’s a fun one: Life has been found on another planet and none-other than Sir Richard Branson is piloting Virgin Galactic and has put together a team of engineers, scientist, doctors and has asked you to come along to document the journey. The challenge is you can only bring two lenses and one camera body and two other items. What would you bring?
Nikon D750 camera because I can operate it in my sleep. I own 2, and both are on their 3rd shutters. Nikon 16-35 f4 for the wide stuff, Probably the 28-300 f3.5-5.6 for everything else. (by the way I have these three things in my car right now). Two other items would be…A Godox 600 w battery powered flash, and a Manfrotto Carbon fiber tripod. And when Branson has his back turned, I’ll sneak in a golf ball. Who knows what the color balance will be on that planet?