by Brad Herndon
We have many people ask us how to get started in outdoor photography since it seems like such a fun way to make a living. Therefore, before I get into the teaching aspect of photography I want to share how my wife Carol and I got our start, and how we progressed to where we are today.
First of all, neither of our families had any background in photography. In addition, both of our families would have ranked at the lower end of the income scale. Actually, my family never owned a camera all the years I was at home. After Carol and I got married we finally purchased a cheap camera and took 20 or 30 pictures per year. This is the way our picture taking remained until 1984, the year we decided to make a special trip to the Olympics in Los Angeles and then on to Alaska.
I knew we would need a good camera to capture these special moments and after much research I settled on a Nikon FE SLR camera, a 50mm lens and an 80-200mm lens. I also did a small amount of reading about photography but essentially I was clueless as to what made a good picture. I was full of desire though, and so I blazed away during our two month long trip, tallying up what was to me an amazing number of images, over 500 in all. Some of them were pretty good, so I became somewhat hooked on the picture taking bug.
Like many people, I had my share of jobs when I was teenager. Between the ages of 22 and 37, however, my brother Bill and I were partners in two different businesses and did well in them. Our last business was declining due to a change in people’s purchasing desires, so my brother and I sold out our business in the early 1980s in order to pursue other interests.
I grew up hunting, fishing, and gathering nature’s bounties and simply loved the outdoors. Carol had my same interests and spent as much time outside as I did. Therefore we tried to figure out some way we might make our living by spending time in nature and came up with the idea of wildlife photography. The year was 1985 when our daughter JoLinda went to college, so we purchased Carol a Nikon F3 camera and her own 80-200mm lens and we were good to go. We still didn’t have a clue as to what made a quality image.
Knowing that turkey hunting was the fastest growing shooting sport at that time and there were few wild turkey pictures available, we decided to specialize in wild turkey photography. Interestingly, we learned to photograph on wild turkey, mastering composition, exposure, and capturing action along the way. To test the quality of our images, in 1987 we sent several wild turkey pictures to Turkey Call magazine. Editor Gene Smith purchased five of them for $25 each and one made the cover! We were ecstatic!
With this taste of success we started marketing our images to various publishing companies, and various other manufacturers, and sales continued to climb. Then one year we attended the National Wild Turkey Federation meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana and while walking down the aisle a young fellow came up to us and said, “You’re Brad Herndon.”
“Yes, I am,” I replied, being somewhat surprised. “Come on over to our booth,” the guy replied, “I want you to meet Bill Jordan, and we want to send you a couple sets of camouflage clothes.”
It turned out the young fellow was David Blanton, and Bill Jordan was the founder of Realtree Camouflage. David had seen our wild turkey pictures and really liked them. He knew if we had their clothes we were likely to photograph hunters in them and market the images to magazines. David was correct, of course and this was the beginning of a special friendship that continues to this day.
A couple of years later Dodd Clifton, Realtree’s Marketing Director, called me and asked if we wanted to try photographing their clothes for national ads, particularly their effectiveness shots. I had no idea what he needed, but I agreed to give it a try. So we would go out and photograph people, evaluate the pictures and send them to Mr. Dodd. He would mark up the pictures in red—bleed on them—and show me what needed corrected. Although he couldn’t use the pictures, he still paid us and let us try again.
One day Mr. Dodd said, “You’ve got it!” I’ll tell anyone, and often do, that Realtree, Bill Jordan, David Blanton, and especially Dodd Clifton are responsible for the success we have today. This is true because Mr. Dodd had the gift of correcting our work without hurting our feelings or discouraging us--and this enabled us to improve our skills to a higher level. He is our hero!
A high percentage of Realtree’s national ads over the past several years have been our pictures. Our images have also adorned the covers of Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops catalogs, and the covers of nearly every major hunting magazine on the market.
Thousands of other images have appeared in various other venues, such as books, advertisements and Internet usage.
I will be the first to tell you that being successful in outdoor photography didn’t come easy. Things were very lean at first, and looking at bad pictures day after day was a truly humbling experience. And it took years of study to master some methods of photography since information was scarce back then. Fortunately, numerous people helped us along the way, and that is why we will be passing on to you what we have learned over the past twenty some years.
Our photography journey became successful for many reasons, such as hard work, enthusiasm, honesty, and a never quit attitude. The primary reason it turned out so well is because others, such as those previously mentioned folks at Realtree, saw potential in us that we couldn’t see in ourselves.
Other parts of my life are like that as well. I still make lots of personal mistakes along the path of life, but there is one who looks at my work, evaluates it, and sees unrealized potential in me. And those black mistakes I make that I can never make right, he corrects in red, turning them pure white by his atoning sacrifice on Calvary’s Cross. Yes, Carol and I have heroes here on earth, but Jesus Christ is our real hero!
Because of this, when we’re out photographing this incredible earth we see His hand in each part of His astonishingly beautiful creation, and we feel His presence within us. And that is why we know we are without excuse if we don’t believe.
Copyright Brad Herndon