Since he was given his first camera at age ten, Hank Schless has immersed himself in the art of photography. Today, Hank draws inspiration from classic New England vistas like cobblestone Boston streets and landscapes along the coast. A Beacon Hill resident, Hank has an affinity for the neighborhood and a unique ability to capture its character. We are delighted to have several of Hank’s local shots on view in our Beacon Hill office. Read on to discover how Hank got started in the industry, his photography bucket list, and his advice for aspiring photographers.
Tell us a bit about your background in photography. How did you learn the craft and get started in the industry?
When I was much younger growing up in Connecticut, I remember always gravitating towards engaging photographs and wondering how the photographer was able to capture what I was seeing. It started with photos of sports, as I would immediately rip through the first few pages of Sports Illustrated where they have their featured photos of the month, but eventually grew into a great appreciation for the skill and attention to detail it takes to create a truly great photo in any environment.
It just so happened that a very close family friend of ours, who is from Marblehead, was at one time a professional photographer and now runs a successful agency. Once I decided I wanted to get a camera, I remember asking him whether I should go with film or digital (it was 2002, so this was still a debate). The next time I saw him, he had a little point-and-shoot camera for me, and at ten years old, my journey began.
I took that camera everywhere. Eventually, I saved money from summer jobs to buy my first digital SLR, and really started to dive into more complex work. In that time, I also started photographing athletic events for my high school and realized there could be a business side of this. Eventually, I went off to college at Bates, and if I wasn’t on the water or in the erg room as a member of the varsity crew team, I was covering athletic events for the school.
Once I graduated, I started to explore more of the artistic side of photography by focusing on landscape work. I also started paying more attention to the business side and now have a healthy balance between my full-time cybersecurity career and photography as a side business that I’m very passionate about.
Your work features many shots of city scenes, along with many landscape pieces. What are the unique challenges or benefits to shooting in each environment?
One of the biggest challenges with any environment is that it might not always be exactly what you’re hoping for. Whether it’s in the city or a spot that I drove hours to get to, There have been plenty of times when the light isn’t right, it starts pouring rain, or clouds roll in ten minutes before sunset and the colors are all gone. You need to be willing to adapt to your environment, and I actually enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to compose an image on the spot that isn’t exactly what I had in mind on my way there.
By the same token, I think ever-changing environments are one of the biggest benefits to any form of visual art. Living in New England means we have four unique times of year, which means we have at least four ways to capture the same scene — especially landscapes outside the city. Being in the city, we have the benefit of people to help add context to a scene. For example, you might capture an image in the snow, but if you have a passerby framed correctly in the image and that person is completely hunkered down into their big winter jacket, then the viewer understands how bitterly cold and windy that moment was.
We are thrilled to have several of your photographs of Beacon Hill hanging in our office at 66 Beacon Street. As an artist and Beacon Hill resident, what drew you to the neighborhood?
What’s not to love about the Hill? I’ve been here for six years now and as long as I’m living in the city, this is where I’ll be. What drew me to it initially is the history and how classically New England it is, but with a hint of old Europe as well. The brick and brownstone buildings look good at any time of year in any weather, and you have so much right at your fingertips both in the neighborhood or within a walkable distance.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that it really is a neighborhood. You start to recognize people who are walking their dogs, going for a run, or grocery shopping at the same time as you and eventually you come to know them.
Do you have any favorite local spots?
My favorite spots on the Hill definitely vary a lot. I think my favorite street is Cedar Lane Way because of how it’s almost hidden in plain sight and feels like a secret cobblestone passageway across the Hill. As a rower who spends a lot of time on the Charles, my favorite place to walk or run is the Esplanade — especially the stretch between Community Sailing and the footbridge by the Hatch Shell.
My favorite bar is definitely The Sevens — talk about a local spot! If you like darts, pretzel bites, good beer, and an awesome staff, it’s the place for you. And a fun fact is that they were the first pub to carry Harpoon beer, so Harpoon now brews them an exclusive Sevens Ale. All of the restaurants on the Hill are winners, so I don’t know if I can pick a favorite, but the great thing is that they cover just about anything you could want.
From the pieces in our Beacon Hill office, which is your favorite and why?
I picked these photographs for the Beacon Hill office because I felt that they encompass so much of what living on the Hill has to offer. And asking a photographer to pick their favorite piece is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child.It changes every day!
If I had to choose one, though, I would probably say Nor’easter with George. When I took that photograph, it was in the middle of a huge snowstorm and I was thinking about Washington crossing the Delaware. That statue has stood there for years, and much like Beacon Hill it hasn’t really changed too much in the best way. Whenever you walk through the Public Garden you can rely on George being there to greet you no matter the weather.
How do you approach each photoshoot?
I approach every shoot with an open mind. Of course, you have shots that you want to get, but as I mentioned before there are all sorts of things that can get in the way of that. By not getting hung up on one particular type of shot, you will likely surprise yourself with what other results you get.
Are there any specific subjects or locations in Massachusetts or elsewhere that are on your "bucket list" to photograph?
I actually have a map saved with locations all over New England that I want to photograph. As a New Englander, anything that features the coastline, the mountains, a lighthouse, or a covered bridge is something I want to take a picture of. Here are some that are still on my list:
- Coastline: Bald Head Cliff in Maine, World’s End in Hingham, Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island, and the Schoodic Peninsula in Maine.
- Mountains: Lake of the Clouds in New Hampshire, Step Falls Preserve in Maine, and Underhill State Park in Vermont.
- Lighthouses: Beavertail Lighthouse in Rhode Island, Annisquam Lighthouse in Gloucester, and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Hampshire.
- Covered Bridges: Ware-Hardwick Bridge in Ware, Babb’s Bridge in Maine, and Cornish-Windsor Bridge in New Hampshire.
Do you have any tips or advice—it could be about gear, techniques, business or otherwise—for aspiring or novice photographers?
I have two key pieces of advice for aspiring photographers.
The first is to take your camera with you wherever you go. Even if you can’t bring your big camera, our phones can be almost as good in many situations! The key is to do this so you’re always practicing and honing your eye. Think about unique angles of things you see everyday or zooming in on the finer details of a subject. The only way to get better is with repetition and being open to feedback from anyone who is willing to give it!
There is no right or wrong way to take a photograph. It should be your vision and you should be conveying the image in the way you see best. Photography is incredibly subjective, so people will always have their opinions. Don’t ever think a photo should look one way or another. It’s yours!