By Meredith Knight | Photos by Morning Watch Photography
When Joe Henderson was 15, his buddy introduced him to an older man in town. That simple introduction changed the course of his life. “I was interested in photography and this guy had been a professional photographer for years,” Joe said. “My friend introduced us, and I felt like I could have talked to him forever.” The feeling must have been mutual because, before long, he’d given Joe an old camera to try his hand at photography.
“He began giving me assignments and teaching me lessons,” Joe said. “He had no family, and we became like family to each other. I found out years later he’d actually taken classes from renowned photographer Ansel Adams.” It didn’t take long before he was taking Joe along with him when he photographed weddings. As his mentor handled the formal shots, Joe made his way around the event capturing candid moments.
His photos were a huge hit, and more and more couples began requesting them. “I called it ‘wedding photojournalism’,” Joe said. “If people were looking at me, I wouldn’t take their picture. Instead, I wanted to capture the natural, spontaneous moments. Before long, people were requesting my candid shots more than the formal ones, and my mentor encouraged me to go out on my own. At 16, I was pulling down $2,000 or $4,000 a week and had no idea it was a big deal. We still did some gigs together with him taking the traditional shots and me getting my candid one.”
That photojournalism approach still informs Joe’s work today. “I always keep an eye out for candid moments,” he said. “If the husband gives his wife a quick peck on the cheek, if a child is crying, or they find something to play with, often those unexpected and unplanned photos are the best. My first job as a photographer is to help my clients feel comfortable. I want them to enjoy having their picture taken as much as I’m enjoying taking it. And their feelings will show through in my photos.”
That 15-year-old boy so long ago couldn’t envision all the places photography was going to take him. As a ship photographer aboard a naval vessel, Joe photographed the men onboard performing their duties, unique places like the North Pole, and high-ranking officers such as Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Roughhead, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Korean submariners, and other foreign high-ranking military and government officials.
He’s found marketing photography particularly rewarding because he loves helping small businesses find success. “I know what it’s like to struggle starting a small business, and I like knowing my photos can make a real difference in getting a family-owned business noticed,” Joe said. “Because my own family is my greatest joy, I also really love photographing families. It’s fulfilling knowing families will cherish the photos I take for generations.”
Joe has a particular rapport with older people, and one of his greatest blessings is offering free photos of people over 80 or who are on hospice. “I cherish the conversations we have as I’m photographing them,” he said. “They have valuable knowledge to impart. I also offer free photos of pets on their last days, as my schedule allows.”
Even when he’s not officially “on the job” the camera is never far from Joe’s hand. “I like to fill my time with as much photography as possible,” he said. “It’s what I do with family and friends, as well as work. Now, I have my own two boys I can teach about photography and that’s a whole new, wonderful adventure.”
The inspiration for his company name, Morning Watch Photography, came during his time in the Navy. “During my five-year enlistment, my favorite in-port watch was the topside morning watch,” he said. “While everyone else was coming in to start their workday, I got to stand nearly all alone on the pier, watching the sunrise. It was a small slice of beauty in a day filled with never-ending work. Even today, what I most enjoy is being in the countryside, near a campfire, watching the sunrise, with a cup of coffee in one hand and my camera in the other.”