Get To Know Craig Hensel: From Pastor To Photographer

Introduce yourself

Hello everyone, my name is Craig Hensel. I was born and raised in Minnesota and grew up in a town called Rochester. I spent majority of my life there. I currently work as a Senior Content Manager at Havas.

How was life growing up?

It was pretty interesting man. My mom raised me, although my dad was around, my mom pretty much raised us all by herself. I got into a lot of trouble when I was young. In some ways I was kind of a messed up kid and not the best role model to follow for my younger brothers. Things didn’t really level out for me until I was a junior in High School.

When did you begin to witness you had creative talents?

I think I always knew I had creative talents. Back then I started playing guitar. In high school I started playing with friends and we would jump on shows here and there.

Lets talk about life before becoming a photographer. You first were a Pastor, how did that come about?

My wife and I met in 1997 in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute where we attended college. We got married and stayed until 2002, then moved back to Minnesota. After graduation I became a pastor at a small church there.

How do you make the transition from a pastor into one of my favorite photographers?

I was a pastor for 10 years in Minnesota. At the end of the 10th year we had this hunger to get back to the city. We were searching for ways to return, but ended up in Michigan for a year. Michigan was great for our marriage because we needed a detox. While living in Michigan for a bit, I found a gig being a pastor in Chicago and finally got to make the move back. We were a family of 5 in an 800 sq.ft apartment off of Division and Damen. A year into being a Pastor, things fell apart, the church let me go and we started to question what to do next. I started doing the only thing I knew at that point and that was photography.

Following the lay off, you got involved with the guys over at Pixuru.

I got involved with the guys over at Pixuru in 2012. For those that don’t know, Pixuru is an app you can print photos from your phone in high quality. I was networking in the Bucktown neighborhood when I met this entrepreneur, who owns Simply Color Lab professional printing company. I started working with him and I started working with other apps like Mextures. He wanted these apps to have a print option where they get into the share menu so my job was to sell this idea to these different apps. We ended up with 20 different partners for 20 different apps.

When did you begin to really dive deep into your photography work?

I was always taking photos but not like what I do now. I used to take these trips to Colorado and the only thing I would take pictures of was my homies and I up on a summit. At the time I was using my point and shoot, 3.1 megapixel Kodak camera. 4 or 5 years ago, around the time I lost my job, I began shooting weddings to make money. I learned everything about photography from my wife. I remember going to our first wedding, I took the guys out, I get them all staggered, and the pictures were horrible.

February 1st 2013 you posted your first photo on Instagram, when did you begin to start taking Instagram more seriously?

The first photo on my page is not the first photo I posted. I deleted some before that. My first photo was a cafe photo. It wasn’t until I lost my job, when I decided to jump into the Chicago culture and that’s when I met Kyle Buckland. One day I went out with him and shot on a rooftop. After that day my photography shifted, I started shooting creatively. Not too long after that we had a meet up. The first one I went to was an underground meet up hosted by a pub, that’s actually where I met Dennis. I was making all these friends and people started following me. The community in Chicago is great. It has completely changed my life and pushed me in a direction I never thought I could go photography wise.

Over the years on Instagram you have quickly drew a huge following, reaching up 66k followers. Do you have a certain strategy or favorite times to post?

Everybody does what he or she wants with Instagram, it’s a tool. It was never about followers for me, but more about the community. Normally Monday through Thursday I post at 10pm. I used to post twice a day and earlier, but that took time away from my kids. Now I post after they go to bed. For 6 months I tried posting at midnight for the late night scrolls and the early morning scrolls the next day. For me it’s more about my community anticipating when I drop work.

How important is Instagram to marketers now-a-days?

I think Instagram for marketers and creatives is essentially your online portfolio. I was telling a friend of mine, who took a social media break for years, that Instagram is built off community and trust. If you don’t have a community you’re not going to do well on Instagram. It’s two ways to get growing on Instagram; getting connected through the community or through the media.

Do you think there’s a clear formula to creating a photo that will get a ton of likes on IG?

I don’t think so, unless you post an epic sunset banger everyday. I post a lot of different types of work. The way I think and the way I work, I’m all over the place when it comes to photography. My number one liked photo was a fall shot of Minneapolis. It had something like 5,000 or 6,000 likes and it was just a street shot. Posting relevant content is really important. There was a march that happened a little bit ago and I posted a photo of that, which brought in a ton of likes as well. I posted that shot the same day and I didn’t think it would do as well as it did. 

You started at Havas in September of 2014. How were you introduced to the people over there?

I got introduced to the people here through Instagram and the community. I met Jason Peterson at a meet up through a mutual friend. He asked me “what do you do?” I told him I was a Pastor. He said, “you’re what?” I said again, “I’m a pastor.” I told him I was looking for something to do next and he told me to come talk to him about a job. I went and spoke to him and we really got to know each other. The next person I met was Paul Marobella, the CEO of Havas, and it was a cool conversation, didn’t even feel like an interview. Havas is very intuitive with leadership so they want to figure out your character first and then where your talents are.

If anyone follows you on Instagram they would see one of your favorite spots is the Humboldt park lagoon.

I’m a huge fan of my neighborhood. It’s really a diverse melting pot. I shoot there a lot because it’s 5 minutes from my house and its one of the few places in Chicago you can watch the sunset, enjoy it and it not be blocked by the buildings over the horizon.

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Last year you tweeted, “iPhone could be the best tool for street photography”. Why do you think that?

It’s so discreet. I remember the photos I took that day and I didn’t have my camera on me. I was on the blue line and a guy was coming up the stairs with his suitcase. I grabbed an image on my phone and edited it on Lightroom. As I’m editing, I became blown away by the shadows and how much I could play around with this Iphone image. You are able to get these really natural facial expressions without putting a camera in people’s face.

You’ve been able to travel to many different places to shoot, where has been your favorite?

California has been really great. My wife and I love the sun so we take spring breaks to different places. One of the coolest places we’ve ever been is Tulum. I started connecting with these Tulum bloggers because I wanted to shoot the Mayan Ruins under the stars.

(Mayan Ruins)

When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?

I want to be remembered to my kids as a good Dad. I want them to look at my wife and I and say our marriage wasn’t perfect but they saw how much we loved each other. As far as professionally, I want to be remembered as the guy that put his heart into everything that he did. Deep down I want to be remembered as the guy that was a friend to others. I want others to say Craig was the guy that helped me in my life, in my photography. If I’m able to help people find their gifts and their strengths, then I know I did a good job in life.

Written By: Cory Jackson