This week’s Questions with a Pro features Benton Henry.
Benton is an architectural, aerial, commercial and industrial photographer covering the Southeastern region of the United States. He has been producing visual work for over 30 years and has expanded to book publishing during this time. He is an FAA licensed drone pilot, which has especially come in handy for his large scale architectural work. Here, Benton details how he found his niche in the photography industry, shares some information about the books he has published and contributed to, and reveals the most important business skill he uses in his business.
We asked: How did you find your niche in the photography industry? What advice do you have for new photographers working to find their place?
Benton said: For me, it was an evolving process. Photography has always been part of my life as early as I can remember, but I definitely took the “road less traveled” to get where I am today. I did farm work while in high school and then at a fiber plant during college. After that, I was a night watchman, a computer programmer at a textile plant, an order specialist at a carpet plant, recaustization and kiln operator at a paper mill, and a process manager at a plant that demilitarized arms and ammunition. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this path to a new photographer, but there are benefits to taking your life experiences and incorporating them into your photography.
We asked: Describe the steps you had to take to start incorporating aerial photography into your business. How did this incorporation impact your business?
Benton said: I have always loved flying, so it was pretty easy – not to mention fun – to combine two passions into my business. I see aerial photography as another tool – or means to the end, if you will – which is to get the photograph. Personally, I’m always excited to go up for a shoot or to fly the drone to make the shot, but I realize that ultimately, most clients don’t care how I get the shot; they just want to know, “Did you get the shot?”
Over the past 10 years, the bulk of my architectural work has been large commercial structures. Almost all of them have needed aerial photography, so aerials have truly become a staple of my work flow.
We asked: What drives your personal work? Where do you find inspiration?
Benton said: At the death of the artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille-Corot, his friend and fellow artist, Camille Pissarro, said of him, “Happy are the artists who see beauty in a modest place where others see nothing.” I can’t think of an expression that better describes my work, both personally and professionally. Pissarro didn’t mention how good his friend’s art was, but rather how happy he was in creating the work.
As a photographer, my job is to look for the beauty, the interesting and the often overlooked. Sometimes I think my professional work is mere practice for my personal work, and I love that there are times that the lines between professional and personal are blurred. I think that’s the best part of what we do as photographers. When we get a job, the client is asking us to go out and look for inspiration in their project. And for me, personal projects are often the same – you have to look or work for inspiration.
We asked: Tell us a bit about the books that you have published or contributed to. What led you to book publishing?
Benton said: For 20 years, I provided photography for local and state magazines and would occasionally be asked to contribute to a few books. The Great Harvest started with a museum director who wanted to put together a show about the historical impact of tobacco farming in the area. He had heard that I had been photographing tobacco barns and other aspects of farm life and asked me to put together some images for the show. He also asked Dr. Eldred Prince, a local professor, to write some extended captions for the work. The show was well received and most of the prints sold at the end of the show. It also happened that Dr. Prince had been working on a book about tobacco farm life in the area and hoped to publish a coffee table book. We teamed up on the project, with me taking on the role of publisher and handling the printing. There have been two printings so far and both have sold out – definitely a pleasant and rewarding surprise.
We asked: What is the most important business skill you find yourself using most frequently to run your photography business? Why is this the most important skill, and how did you learn it?
Benton said: Communicating with the client – which sometimes means figuring out who the client really is – tends to be the skill I use most frequently. My work is contracted with a company; that’s who pays me and that’s who my work represents. But in my mind, I narrow the client down to the director of marketing or public relations, the one person I’m communicating with directly about the job. A photo shoot for that individual is often just another set of problems for them to handle. So I make it a priority to make their life easier, seeing how much of their burden I can take on. I’m ultimately trying to build a lasting relationship with an individual and not just land a one-time job with a company. If I can satisfy that one individual, then the company is satisfied as well.
Find more of Benton’s work on his website.