Art & Culture

The man behind the picture

Rene Rodriguez created the photo at the top of BenitoLink's homepage. Bold and dramatic, it captures a San Benito winter view of multiple ridge lines.

Rene Rodriguez, whose photo can be seen on the banner of BenitoLink’s homepage, remembers his first camera, a Kodak 110 Pocket Instamatic, one of the first cartridge film cameras, which he bought when he was in high school. Photography came naturally to him, having watched his father, who loved to travel and take pictures.

As he celebrated his 59th birthday on Dec. 21, Rodriguez told BenitoLink his father worked for Almaden Vineyards. He lived in the Paicines area and moved to Hollister after finishing the sixth grade. Today, Rodriguez works as an estimator for a construction company in Campbell.

“My dad always had a camera wherever he went,” he said. “He had all the Polaroids you can think of. I saw how his pictures made everyone happy and that’s where I got it from.”

As a young man, Rodriguez said he took pictures of “whatever was in front of me.” He particularly enjoyed trips to Yosemite, where he became interested in landscape and wildlife photography.

Those were the days of film photography and he still has many of his early pictures in albums. He describes himself as a self-taught photographer who “experimented and spent a whole lot of money on film.” Because of the expense of film photography, he said he had to get it right the first, or at most the second time, and he was glad to see the invention of digital cameras.

He also describes himself as an artistic photographer rather than technical.

When Rodriguez got his first single lens reflex camera, he “started learning about what all the buttons do, because automatic back then wasn’t really automatic,” he said. 

“Little by little, I knew what f-stops and depth-of-field and speeds meant. What really got me going was entering photo contests at fairs and freelance contests. I did pretty good and finally got my first digital camera a while back and bought better equipment.”

Rodriguez enjoys the outdoors and can be found on the backroads of San Benito County during his days off.

“On longer days, I go out at least twice a week on Santa Anita, Quien Sabe or Lone Tree Roads,” he said. “During these shorter days, it might be once over a weekend near evening. 

“When I head out I’m prepared for wildlife with telephoto lenses because you never know what you’re going to see out in the fields. If I see a scenic shot it’s easy enough to just switch lenses.”

“Growing up in Paicines, my childhood was about spending most of my days outside,” he said. “I got to explore San Benito River with friends looking for fossils. I was lucky enough to go hunting with my dad because he had access to private property.”

He said he found his photographic haunts among the vineyards and ranch lands, where he came to know the people who worked the land. 

“Our local barns have a lot of history behind them,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to hear some stories from their owners. I have made friends with some ranchers, but I’ve only scratched the surface. The owners seem to like it if their barns make the calendar. It’s nice to meet customers who purchase my work in person. I don’t mind delivering my product in person.”

He said he’s been selling his photography for a number of years.

“I do an annual calendar, and people can buy anything off my Facebook page,” Rodriguez said. “People will buy pictures for their websites. It’s mainly people who live around Hollister or have moved from Hollister and want to keep in touch with the local scenery.”

Besides providing photos for BenitoLink’s home page, Rodriguez has covered a few events, but he doesn’t have a desire to cover news.

“I’m not much of a journalist,” he said. “I’d rather provide stock photography. I’m often hired to cover events and they use the pictures however they want. I also just like to go to events on my own and take pictures for myself, then if people are interested, I have them.”

At this time, he describes his interest in photography as 80% hobby and 20% sales, but he aims to be a full-time photographer after he retires. While he primarily uses Canon equipment, he said he is not above taking out his iPhone to grab a photo.

Rodriguez just got the new iPhone Pro Max and said he’s ready to start using it. “It’s great for panoramic shots,” he said

Most of his portrait, wedding and party jobs are the result of word-of-mouth recommendations. He doesn’t overtly market himself because he still works full-time.

After he retires, Rodriguez said he would like to start traveling more.

“I grew up looking at National Geographic,” he said, “That would be my dream job. Then I think about all the harsh conditions they have to go through and think ‘maybe not.’”


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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: