I’ve been excited about this interview. I came across Ben’s work a long time ago now, it’s something that I’m dying to try. There are plenty of photos around where you see star trails, thats nice but when you see photos like Ben’s it’s a completely different level. From what I understand you don’t actually require to much high tech gear to pull some of these shots off. Anyway enjoy.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I am originally from New Jersey, now living in Portland, OR. My early 20’s were spent trying to do as much international travel as possible. I landed a job working in Guam and Sardegnia, Italy as a civilian contractor for the US Navy. A few years in, that dried up, and while bored in New Jersey I realized it was time to leave the East Coast for something more scenic and new. A road trip with a friend introduced me to Oregon and that short meeting was all I needed to steer my sights here when I decided to move. I’ve been here a little over 3 years and I love it.
What made you get into photography?
I was a dabbling hobbyist with a point and shoot during my global backpacking days, but got into it seriously a bit over 2 years ago after a serious hand injury with a table saw. During time off from work healing in between surgeries, I was lent a Canon 30d by a friend and used the camera to vent my stifled energy taking pics of everything and anything around me.
How did you get started?
Somewhere in that time off, I was out camping, mesmerized by the incredible display of stars overhead. I had the camera still setup from taking sunset shots, so I pointed it up to the sky and for sake of curiosity I tried to get a shot of the stars. The image that popped up on my lcd screen was out of focus, underexposed, poor color balance, but the camera showed so many more stars than I could see. And, I thought I WAS seeing a lot of stars! So, from then on, I was hooked with shooting stars.
I still juggle a full-time job to pay the bills as I further my craft and learn how to make money from it. I am slowly making progress in gaining income from my photography. It is a frustrating transition of keeping my bosses happy, but also putting my photography as my main priority and goal.
What sort of photography do you mainly do?
I shoot stars over landscapes. Others call it “landscape astrophotography.” I say “shootin’ stars.” My big focus is to include terrestrial elements in the images, with bright stars overhead.
What gear are you using?
Canon 5d Mkii and usually the 24-70 f/2.8
Whats your favourite lens and why?
Oh man… for me, lenses are like songs. Each one fits a different mood and style. Sometimes I need the uber-wide 15mm fisheye; other times the more normal view of the 16-35mm does the trick; since I have the 24-70 that lens gets used the most, but I really like that it has such little distortion. One of the sexiest night lenses is the 24 f/1.4 L – oh man, that’s a sexy piece of glass for star shooting… (anyone want to buy one for me?!)
How are you marketing yourself?
I’m exploring and learning that all now. Flickr was certainly my public beginning. I kept tabs on other local landscape shooters, and then as I got better people kept tabs on me. Since then, my girlfriend has been incredibly supportive of this night photography endeavor and passion. She’s been helpful in nursing my ill-tempered self back to health after 3 nights of shooting and no sleep, but she’s been incredibly helpful in setting up all my social media accounts as well. Having a presence in all the online platforms has made an incredible difference when it comes to people finding my work. It’s like a fishing boat with lines casted out in all directions.
Magazine editors found me on Flickr. An international audience found me on Facebook. I keep tabs on my work being blogged about through Twitter. I was lucky to have started a 500px.com account right before it got trendy, so as that exploded in recognition, my name and work already had a foot there. I keep up to speed with the visual creatives on Tumblr. I have tutorials and time-lapse videos on Vimeo. And, just yesterday I started using Google+ (again, with much prodding from my GF) and BAM, a G+ hotshot spied my work and mentioned me in a post and in 24 hours I have 1000 people following my stream!! I’ve been using wix.com as the drag and drop platform for my website, but am currently having it re-done in a non-flash code so it can be viewed by Iphones and Ipads. I am experimenting with stock photo agencies also. NOT micro stock, but professionally priced stock agencies; all of us selling semi-pro images for $2 a download will demolish the market we’re struggling so hard to get in.
As I said, much exploring and learning. Social media is a bit exhausting to keep up with the comments, trends, posts, etc- but when I can, it seems to really help foster interest in my work. …and it’s really great to have a girlfriend that puts up posts on things happening when I forget or am passed out catching up on sleep! *laughing*
Just last month I won first place in Nat Geo’s 2011 Travel Photo Contest!! (By the way, when did National Geographic turn into ‘Nat Geo’??) That was an incredible surprise and honor, and awesome prize for winning. But, the larger value has certainly been the exposure from their announcement and website, and then the “legitimacy” my work received after being recognized by Nat Geo. It’s interesting the…. “credibility” my work now seems to have adopted since winning that comp. So, if you feel your work is getting good and you have some shots unique or special in some way other than what everyone else is doing- find some photo competitions the images would be appropriate for and enter them into it.
Going back to 500px.com, Flickr was the hot place to share photos a couple years ago, and it’s certainly not gotten smaller. But, there’s some new exciting stuff going on at 500px that is worth paying attention to. First, if you’re looking for inspiration and want to challenge your current level of photography, go over there and check out what’s showing up in the “Popular” screens and “Editor’s Choice.” It’s beautiful stuff and images to aspire to. But, besides that, for $50 you can get your own website hosted, and it looks damn good. I wish I knew about this a couple years ago when I was using Flickr pages as my “website” to send magazine editors to! 500px is professional looking, easy to use, very affordable and completely built and fashioned to meet the needs of photographers. These guys want your business and they are ready to meet your needs to get it. Go check it out.
Whats your favourite photo you have taken?
Advice for new photographers looking to go pro?
*laughing* Uhm… figure it out and tell me! I think we need someone to eloquently explain the difference between being “paid full-time” and being considered a “professional” in your field first…
Let’s see, I would say… be you. Learn from others: yes, adopt techniques and styles used by others: yes, but in that process, start finding your own voice, your own eye, your own pattern. Believe in what interests and fascinates you, then take the techniques and methods you’ve learned from others and apply them in new ways that uniquely express you. In that vein of thought, experiment like crazy. Lately, “interesting” is trumping “excellence.” If you can have excellent interesting then your gold! But, really, if you can do something new and fascinating moderately well, then your work will get picked up by bloggers and if the right ones post it, BAM, suddenly your images have done 3 loops around the global internet! In the meantime your work is being showcased, then you relentlessly perfect that style and technique that has proven interesting to the general public.
But above all- enjoy what you do! Your passion will always shine bright and draw attention.