Venezuelan Immigrant Builds Dream Life Photographing Dream Homes In Bergen County

Finding a better life in the U.S. was not a guarantee for Edwing Hernandez when he immigrated with his wife from Venezuela in 2012.

Edwing Hernandez, Incustudio.

Edwing Hernandez, Incustudio.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Edwing Hernandez, Incustudio.

But it was a possibility.

He had $3,000 in his pocket, and a simple dream.

"For me at that moment, [my dream] was to be in a safe country with freedom of speech and be able to live and have my basic needs covered," said Hernandez, 34, of Union City.

For years, Hernandez worked physically-demanding jobs and long hours, sometimes 14 a day, commuting two hours to and from work, for only $8 an hour.

Life would get a whole lot harder before it would get easier for Hernandez, who in 2021 took a leap of faith and started his real estate photography business, Incustudio.

A life that once felt intangible to Hernandez is now well-within reach, but Hernandez says his life of freedom has only just begun.

Hernandez earned a degree in graphic design and spent his early 20s working in the industry in Venezuela, landing jobs at a local hardware store and later doing work for magazines like "Cosmopolitan" and "Vanity Fair."

But the quality of life was far from good amid an ongoing political crisis.

"Things were really not safe at all," Hernandez recalls. "There were supply problems and the price of everything got super expensive. You couldn't find food. You had to wait in a line outside of the supermarket for hours and I wanted to leave."

A friend Hernandez made playing video games invited him to come and stay with him in his North Bergen apartment.

"It was obviously a little risky, but I preferred to take the risk than live in that situation," he said.

And so, he and his now-wife, Luisanna, left Venezuela with a few thousand dollars, a couple suitcases, and a hope.

Hernandez's first job was at the only job he could get at the time: A carwash in Ridgewood. It was a two-hour commute and the pay $8 an hour.

"It was crazy, but I had to do it," Hernandez said. 

He later found a carwash closer to his apartment, one he could bike to. Eventually, he got a new job, this one far more demanding in nearly every way, delivering kitchen appliances.

Hernandez woke up well-before dawn and returned home sometimes close to midnight. He recalls one particularly grueling 15-hour shift. 

"My hands were so exhausted I couldn’t grab things," he said. "One night I couldn’t even wash myself in the shower. I couldn't grab the soap."

Hernandez quit the job and was unemployed for two weeks while he looked for a new one. 

In 2015, Hernandez began working in a warehouse in Secaucus. This time, his wife, who had been working at a local coffee shop, joined him. By then, the two had moved into a new apartment in Union City.

"We were poor, just trying to survive," Hernandez said. "I saw people working there for 10 or 20 years and I was like, no way. I'm going to find my life and figure out how to get better."

Hernandez realized the people who spoke English were in more desirable positions. Hernandez says that's when he knew he had to master the language.

"I stood with the English speakers all the time," he said. "I wanted to learn."

And he did, slowly. In 2016, Hernandez found a new job in construction. This one, 10 or 12-hour days, breaking down buildings in New York City. Within a year, he began looking for a job he was qualified for — one he wanted to do: Graphic design.

"I was applying like crazy," he said. "I thought it was going to be easier but it took me six months to even get an interview."

Finally, a month later, Hernandez was offered work.

"I felt like Will Smith in the 'Pursuit of Happiness,'" Hernandez said. "It was just like, finally."

Hernandez skipped down the sidewalks of Chelsea, thrilled to be doing something he loved. He happily completed one assignment after the next, finally able to save up some cash and use his brain. 

Mostly, things were looking up for Hernandez. But there were aspects of the job that were not: Long commutes from New Jersey to Long Island, rigid hours.

"After a year at the job my daughter was born," Hernandez said. "I watched her first steps on a video taken by my wife. I was like, 'I can't have a job like this.'"

Hernandez was making good money but continued running into the same problem. On his daughter's second birthday, which fell on a Saturday, his bosses demanded that he come to work.

While Hernandez thought the better-paying jobs doing what he loved would put him closer toward living a life of freedom, he felt he was even less in control of his life. 

This time, when he quit his job, he did so with the intention of starting from scratch, working for himself, building a life he wanted to live.

Hernandez drove for Uber Eats and worked as a private van driver to pay the bills as he figured out how to launch his own business, and what he wanted to do. He listened to podcast after podcast, read book after book, studying how to become his own boss and open an LLC.

Over time, Hernandez realized the common thread between most wealthy people he met was that they all worked in real estate. Sometime in 2019, the idea to merge real estate and photography came to him.

"I saw there was a huge opportunity in the market for real estate photography," Hernandez said. "But I knew nothing about it and it was risky, because I wasn't sure if I was going to make it."

With nowhere to go but up, Hernandez purchased a camera on a credit card. He figured if the gig worked out, the camera would pay for itself. All he needed were clients.

He started by sending about 1,500 cold emails and direct messages to New Jersey realtors, offering one free photography session. He received about 20 responses. Some took him up on his offer, others didn't reply at all.

Jen Greenberg was one of Hernandez's first clients. He found her on Instagram.

"I had a big listing and I wanted to pull out all the stops," Greenberg said. "He offered to do a good job and show me how great he was, and he did."

The home was at 67 Crest Dr., in South Orange: A 5,000 square-foot colonial on one of the nicest streets in town, Greenberg said.

"Edwing's eye saw things that are not typical in real estate photography," Greenberg said. "The angles, the details in the video. He's very creative, and I'm creative. I was looking for someone who thought outside the box, which is not typical in real estate, and I found that in him."

Hernandez arrived early and worked late. He was meticulous in his work. He wanted it to be perfect, and he wanted it to be different. And it was.

Greenberg credits Hernandez for the $1.7525 million sale of the Crest Drive home, and has worked with him for every single one of her listings since then. 

In turn, Hernandez credits Greenberg for her help in taking Incustudio from a part-time gig to a full-time job, which has become a six-figure, three-employee business, Hernandez said.

There are days when he he simply can't keep up with the work, but he says, it's a blessing.

Incustudio will photograph and create videos of all types of homes: New and old, big and small. Hernandez has worked with some of the biggest names in the New Jersey real estate, such as Tony Nabhan and Michelle Pais, and photographed homes in Paramus, Fort Lee, Franklin Lakes, South Orange, West New York, Andover, Sussex, Saddle River, and more.

He continues to be passionate about the work, always working toward mastering another skill, sharpening the tools he already has.

An even better future for his family, however, remains his biggest motivator.

"I incorporate my wife and daughter's take on all the houses that I photograph," he said. "My daughter wants a pool and a house with nice stairs, and my wife likes a screened porch to watch and hear the rain while drinking coffee.

"I grab specific parts and aspects of different houses that I’ve photographed to envision myself in my custom house in the future "Every detail that I like, I save it in my mind to have it in my dream house."

A dream house is just a small details on Hernandez's dream life, which he says is a bigger picture filled with travel, even more love, and, of course, freedom. 

"I practice gratitude every day and remind myself where I came from — the hard times," Hernandez said. "And when I remember that, my eyes just fill with water, I cry. I feel so grateful."

Click here to see Edwing Hernandez's work on the Incustudio Instagram.

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