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August 21, 2015

Professional Photographer Interview – Mike Henry

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Written by: Lawrence
“I did a bunch of editorials, kept assisting, learning and eventually the next big gig that I had was for Target.  It felt like a natural transition.”


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM In your early years of high school, were you involved in the yearbook ? What sparked your interest in photography? Do you recommend all the weekend photographers out there to initially stick with the subjects they know and build from there? Do you have any suggestions on how to build that progression? How did you progress to where you are today in photography?

MIKE HENRY: I took a job at the Museum of Contemporary photography when I was attending film school at Columbia College in Chicago, which really sparked my interest in photography.  Shortly after, I took a required still photo class and I really loved that I could work on my own, rather than the collaborative nature of a film project.  From there I was hooked and transitioned from a film major to a photo major the next semester.

I think people who are just starting out in photography should try shooting everything they can…still life, landscape, portraits (both environmental and studio) nature…  This way you get a feel for what you like best and where your talents lie.  From here you can really focus on building a portfolio of the work that suits you best.

For me, I tried it all but found that shooting people was what I enjoyed most.  I started assisting right out of college, which gave me a great foundation for how the business worked.  My time assisting was a priceless education, I traveled the world, learned lighting from some of the biggest and best photographers out there and also learned the in’s and out’s of the commercial photo business.  Which is essential.


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM Do you still have photos taken from the early years when it all started? What were your subjects? Are the pictures online to share with everyone to compare with your work today?

MIKE HENRY: I still have boxes of all my negatives from school and my first jobs, which for the most part were corporate jobs…guys in suits.  My style has completely changed since then.  I used to shoot like Albert Watson, who was a big influence of mine in the beginning.  Not much of my early stuff is out there, but if you dig you might find something buried deep somewhere on the internet.

PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM  What books did you read at the beginning of your photography career that helped you prepare for today? Title of book, author and price of book please…just messing around, the title of the books should be fine thanks to google search. Do you recall any other resources that you referred to heavily to help you prepare for the photography business? We want to know what the must have resources are to fully equip ourselves when and if we ever plan to take that leap of faith.

MIKE HENRY:  I never really was heavy into technical books on photography, my schooling and assisting really taught me that side.  I did read a lot of books on business, negotiating and inspirational books that I think are a huge help to artists.  Here’s a few:

-The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

-Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

-Luck Factor – Richard Wiseman

-Secrets of the Young and Successful – Jennifer Kushell

-The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating – Richard Weisgrau

-Licensing Photography – Richard Weisgrau

-ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography – ASMP

I think that those photo books may be a bit out of date, but will still give you a great base for starting out in the photo business.  The first four books, which aren’t based in the photography world are amazing and inspirational reads.

PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM  What was your very first professional photography job? Was this purely out of luck that you were at the right place at the right time? Was there a hidden plan to penetrate the market from within? Would you recommend it to new photographers trying to break into the market and that are having difficulty breaking in? Once you had your first job under your belt was it difficult to get another gig? What did you do to acquire more work besides providing awesome images? Have you ever considered being agency represented? If you are agency represented how did you attract a photography agent?

MIKE HENRY:  I actually got my first job through my web designer.  At the time  (early 2000’s) there were no photo templates available and I found a guy who did web design on the side, but worked at an agency full time.  A few months after my site was built, he came to me with a project through the agency.  It was a great example of how networking really works.  People like to work with people they like and know.  After that, it was really a matter of marketing.  While I was still assisting, I starting sending out postcards and pounding the pavement, having meetings, showing the portfolio around and the jobs slowly started coming in.

PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM After your first job, What was the next photography gig you obtained and how did you go about your execution? Did you apply all that you’ve learned in all the books you’ve read ? Did you buy more books or accessed any more resources to help you jump to your next big step in the game of photography? What tools do you recommend that are a must have that helped you get to where you are present day?

MIKE HENRY: I did a bunch of editorials, kept assisting, learning and eventually the next big gig that I had was for Target.  It felt like a natural transition.  I had been assisting for years, shooting on my own, I knew how to light, work with a crew, direct the talent…  Everything that I had learned on the road to this point was put into play.  There is no greater education than experience.  I would just say immerse yourself in whatever type of photography you want to do, build a portfolio and market yourself like crazy.  Marketing is 3/4’s the battle.  You can be a great photographer, but without marketing you’ll starve.  So learn to be the best marketer you can.


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM What keeps the money rolling? Your brand is possibly a huge factor to your longevity? Am i right?  Do you have any recommendations on brand building for weekend photographers and/or Photographers in general.

MIKE HENRY: You have to hustle non stop.  I don’t think even the biggest photographer can just rest on their brand these days, there is just too much competition out there.  I would say yes, build a brand, but you have to keep your work fresh and get it out to the right people on a regular basis.


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM  What is currently in your photography bag? Please be as detailed as possible for those starting out photographers that want to be just like you. From your photography equipment arsenal, what do you bring most of the time for your wedding and portrait shoots?

MIKE HENRY: In my camera bag I have 2 5d Mark III’s, Canon 24-70 L Series, Canon 50mm L Series, Canon Speedlight 600ex-rt, Quantum Turbo3 battery, Teathers, Teather Lock, 2 500gb back-up drives, 4 canon battery chargers, 10 16gb flash storage, card reader and sensor cleaning supplies.  This goes with me at a minimum for every job.

PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM  What is your favorite image in your current portfolio and why? How did you approach the execution? Give us a glimpse on how you construct an image from scratch.

MIKE HENRY:  Oh jeezz..  That is a tough one, it’s like picking a favorite child.  I have an image of a couple at a bar, drinking, laughing and one of them is on the phone.  There is really nothing special about it, but I like how “real” it feels.  This is really how I hope all my images come out.  I try and set a scene, give the talent a bit of direction and then let them go.  I hope this way I can capture true authentic moments that don’t seem staged or set-up.  I shot this for my portfolio / getty images and had no crew, no permits, no equipment aside from my camera, just a few talent and myself, roaming around DT Los Angeles having fun and making pictures.  I try and keep it as simple as possible.  It is never like this on a commercial set, so when I can have this freedom it is nice.  That is why I like shooting for my portfolio, it gives me the freedom to keep it loose and do what I want.


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM  Is having your own studio space essential for any commercial photographer.  Do you have a photography studio of your own? If so, what do you look for in a photography studio?

MIKE HENRY:  I think it is different in every city.  For advertising, lifestyle, catalog photographers in Los Angeles, I think it is rare that people have their own studio’s.  Space is just too expensive.  Unless you are shooting studio work all the time.  Still, I think people mostly rent per job, because there are so many amazing studio’s.  I think if I lived in a different city and space was a little more affordable, I would look for a nice open space, with white walls, lots of natural light with the potential to black out if possible.



PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM What are your immediate goals as a photographer and artist?  Are you planning on releasing any how-to books? What are your recommendations to people thinking about starting a photography book?

MIKE HENRY:  I just want to keep building my own portfolio with work that I love and hope that attracts commercial clients that love it too.  No plans as of now to put out any sort of books.  Although I wouldn’t mind putting together some sort of fine art project for a gallery showing of some sort.


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM A lot of professional photographers are starting to run workshops. Will you start offering workshops in the future? I know TIME is not your friend, but there are ways to get around that maybe offering internship opportunities to intern with you for a small fee during one of your paid shoots. Or maybe provide an opportunity to be a spectator for one of your weekend shoots?

MIKE HENRY:  I have interns that help with marketing and office work, which is great for learning the business side, but rarely do I have interns on shoots, but I am not opposed to it, I just haven’t set-up any sort of program yet.


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM  I am sure you’ve read many articles discussing how in the future videography and photography will be one? What are your thoughts on that and how will you evolve to the new morphed medium?

MIKE HENRY:  I think video has a huge roll now and will continue to grow as a medium that still photographers need to add to their tools.  On almost every job that I do, the client requests some sort of video, whether it’s BTS or some sort commercial footage that backs up the still imagery.  I have my go to team that does it all.

PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM Ok so thinking about the future and how it is very important in any endeavor especially the photography business. What do you suggest photographers do in the future to solidify their presence in the industry? What will you do to ensure that you remain on top, not taking into account your photography niche?

MIKE HENRY:  Video is one thing you can do, but I think there are plenty of big photography jobs happening out there now.  I think your best bet is create photography that is great and that you love.  Don’t try and make images that you think will get you the job, because that rarely works.  Make it great and the more unique it is, the more money people will pay.  It has to hold some sort of commercial qualities of course, but make it your own.


PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM Thank you again for your time and giving back. What would you like to leave for us photographers to think about when moving forward with photography for the future? If you have any words of wisdom will be appreciated.

MIKE HENRY: Becoming a commercial photographer as a career is something you do because you love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.  It is a tough path, there is lots of competition and you can never stop hustling.  That said, I love every aspect of it, from shooting, to marketing.  If you can’t see yourself doing anything else, then go for it.  Keep shooting, all of the time, find mentors, find your vision, learn everything you can from the technical side to the business side and keep at it, you will see your portfolio and career develop over time.




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About the Author

Lawrence Atienza is a Jack of all Trades and Master of ALL. Whether it be in the realm of Advertising/Advertising operations with over 10+ years of experience to dabbling in the creative realm of photography and founding/writing for, Lawrence Atienza gives his all. You can find him on Google+,Twitter and the major social media outlets.