What do the world of real estate and the art of photography have in common? According to Tom Benoit, a top-producing Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Independent Sales Associate and professional photographer, the two professions have more similarities than you might think.

Tom explains that while photography and real estate are very different in some regards, one thing is for certain: he always strives for excellence in both.

“There’s such a thing as good and good enough, but excellence is rare,” says Tom. “This idea resonated with me years back in a photography workshop when everyone was given the same negative and was asked to develop the print. The next day we all brought in our photos and it was obvious that one print was ‘excellent’ while the rest were considered to be ‘good’.”

Tom continues, “If you strive for excellence and live by that—regardless of your profession—you’ll be fine.”

We asked Tom to provide us with an insider’s look into his longtime career in photography and in real estate—and how he achieves excellence. The result? Tom puts his career into focus and offers some of his other “best kept” secrets to maintaining success.

You’ve been a successful photographer for over 40 years. What inspired you to begin a career in photography?

I’ve always been enamored with how light is able to transform things. The way it falls on subjects has been a fascination of mine since the start of my career and has lent itself to my passion for photography and for capturing things in their natural state.

Were there any artists in particular that helped ignite your passion for photography?

While there are a number of photographers that have inspired me throughout my career, I would say the most notable influences include Ansel Adams and Ruth Burnhard.

In particular, Ruth Burnhard has played a major role in the development of my work.

Ruth, a well-renowned American photographer, was an instructor of mine in the late 70s in San Francisco and taught classes from her home. Her desire to simplify photography has become engrained into my work and overall philosophy. I can still hear her guiding words each time I take a photograph: “When you include something into the frame you’re telling the viewer it’s important. So remember, if it doesn’t add, it subtracts. If it doesn’t help, it hurts.”

The life of a photographer is typically synonymous with traveling. Has your photography taken you anywhere special over the span of your career?

Most definitely. Every place I travel to—whether it’s a simple stroll around the city or trip around the world—is a great opportunity for photography. That’s why I bring my 4×5 camera with me everywhere I go.

Out of all the places I traveled though, I would have to say that the Four Corners in the southwestern region in the United States has been the most memorable thus far. That’s what inspired my latest work of the Anasazi Indian Ruins. I started traveling to that area in 1994 and have returned at least 7 times. And trust me, getting to that part of the ruins isn’t an easy task—I enlisted the help of a guide for my last three trips and did my due diligence in researching all of the backcountry ruins locations and off-road hiking routes.

Pueblos, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado 2010. Silver-gelatin print. Photo courtesy of Tom Benoit.

Was there something about the ruins that drew you there?

I think the most intriguing element of the ruins is the mystery behind the culture and the life of the Anasazi people. These people were cliff dwellers that endured a very hard and challenging life in all aspects of the sense. They made their stamp on the world and then they simply disappeared around 1300, without explanation. To this day, no one is certain of what happened to them. I think for me personally, the ruins are a form of art in and of their own. I envisioned the luminous tones of gray and the richness that photographs depicting these complex dwellings could bring.  

Speaking of traveling, congratulations on having your artwork featured at SFO. Can you tell us a little more about your show and how that opportunity arose?

I actually started the conversation with SFO myself and went through their committee and approval process in order to show my work there. I do photography for myself, as it’s a true passion of mine, but at the same time I enjoy sharing my work with others, including my real estate clients. It’s fun for them to know that there’s a “real person” on the other side of the phone and not just a real estate broker.

The show ran from November 24, 2015 to January 31, 2016 and featured photos from my Anasazi Indian Ruins portfolio. All prints were made from a 4×5 View Camera, which I printed in my own darkroom.

Kiva #2, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado 2010. Silver-gelatin print. Photo courtesy of Tom Benoit.

We also learned that your pieces are going to be featured in Novato and Tiburon later this year. Can you provide a visual “sneak peek” of sorts into what artwork will be featured and what we should expect from these events?

The airport only had room for 12 pieces, but I will have the full portfolio (22 16×20 prints) on display at the Museum of the American Indian in Novato from February 6 through July 2016 with an opening reception on February 6 from 4 to 6 pm. And then later this year, in September, my photos will be on display at the Belvedere-Tiburon Library. In addition to my work they asked that I give a talk about the images and the subject matter.

When you’re not behind the camera, you’ve also been a top producing REALTOR® in Marin County for over 26 years. Is there a secret to balancing your career in real estate with your career in photography?

I firmly believe that the key to successful career is maintaining a balance between working and enjoying yourself. Don’t get me wrong—you can enjoy your career, but if you don’t take any personal time to regenerate and reboot you’ll inevitably burn out. That’s why I spend my weekends from 6:30 am to 9:30 am as a time to make prints and develop my negatives. It’s my passion so I make sure to set aside time for it. It’s also very good therapy.

It’s hard to describe—but I get this rush when I see a print in the tray and it starts to come up in the dark safe light and looks like a winner. If those tones or gray illustrate what I felt when I was photographing the subject, there’s no better feeling. It’s a rush!

Speaking of your real estate career, it’s no secret that the Bay Area real estate market—though one of the nation’s hottest markets—has had its fair share of issues surrounding supply and demand. How are you able to manage these ups and downs within your local real estate market?

For one, I stay “in tune” with the market by teaching for Coldwell Banker and attending seminars. While there’s not really one secret to being successful in this business, being consistent, staying in touch and treating people respectfully can make all the difference. I also make it my goal to set aside at least two hours a day to connect with my clients. It helps me build relationships and referrals over time.

Can you share with us what makes your real estate philosophy and business unique?

I try to serve my clients in such a way as to develop long-lasting friendships and relationships. My personal philosophy is to go above and beyond the call. Do more for them than they usually would get from someone else. And look for opportunities to do better and exceed their expectations.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others that are looking to take on outside passions and/or hobbies in addition to their real estate careers?

I’d tell them three simple yet effective things that can translate into any career and/or a passion:

  • Do the right thing
  • Strive for excellence
  • Show people that you care

If you live by that you’ll be fine.

Well there you have it! To check out some of Tom’s artwork in person, visit the Museum of the American Indian, February 6 through July 2016, and the Tiburon Library in September 2016.