Q & A / Ben Horton

August 14, 2013

Ben Horton started his career as a photographer by taking photographs of places where other people simply couldn’t go. The more remote the location, the harder it was to get there, the more appeal it had for the young upstart. It wasn’t long before Ben moved on to working in the commercial world, and was picked up by some of the top names in fashion and advertising. As it goes, Ben’s original passion caught ahold of him once again while shooting a documentary project on a remote island in the Pacific. Ben was awarded the first ever National Geographic Young Explorers Grant for work he did to expose the issue of shark poaching on Cocos Island and as a result, he was invited to join National Geographic Explorer in Residence Will Steger on a two month arctic adventure, using photography to document the effects of global warming. Ben is now a contributing photographer for National Geographic, and is currently working on the story of Genghis Kahn, Endangered Trees, and the Haitian earthquake recovery.

What inspired you to become a photographer?

I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller. For a long time I thought that meant writing, and I do write on occasion, but when I discovered that I could tell the same story through images I was quick to change my focus from writing to photography. It also helped that my photos started selling while my writing didn’t get picked up right away.

Does your mental preparation change when you are shooting for National Geographic compared to shooting fashion or commercial photography?

It is an absolutely different mental process. I think that’s also why I like doing both National Geographic work and fashion/commercial work. It stimulates different parts of my brain. When shooting for National Geographic I’m trying to take an existing scene and interpret what I’m seeing accurately, but in a way that intrigues the viewer, that means building whole new tools to help me capture an image, or finding ways to see something from a new angle. When I’m shooting commercially, or fashion, I’m creating an image from scratch. Sometimes I visualize concepts with paper and pencil, and then try and recreate that image in reality.

What is the best advice you have been given that was related to photography?

To never give up. I wasn’t born talented as a photographer, but I do have one talent that a lot of people don’t have, and that’s the willingness to work longer and harder than the next person. That’s the most important talent anyone can have.

You have traveled all over the world, is there a particular location you love to visit and why?

Everywhere has it’s own draw. It’s hard to compare the high arctic to a submarine landscape 2000 feet below the surface of the ocean. I would go back to any of the places I’ve visited, but I think if I had one place left to go, I might choose to go back to the arctic. It’s like being on another planet. It’s the most remote place that I’ve ever been. Imagine going two weeks without any sign of man at all. I didn’t even see a plane in the sky for two weeks. There’s bear, wolves, muskox, giant rabbits and tiny reindeer. It’s a really fascinating world.

What project moved you the most?

In Haiti, you just saw a broken country, where even the presidential palace was literally falling apart, about to collapse. But the people were for the most part kind, happy, and spirited in the face of all that had happened to them. The country is beautiful once you get outside of Port Au Prince. First world aid programs were everywhere, but in many ways they were taking advantage of the Haitians as much as they were helping them. It was all a very large contrast to what we hear about on our news channels.

With DSLR’s now capable of shooting video, do you experiment with shooting motion when you are in the field and has that changed how you approach an assignment?

I do, and I enjoy shooting video when I am on an assignment. I shot a lot of video when I was in Mongolia, and they ended up putting a large portion of my work into a documentary on NGTV. I’ve shot a few TV shows and even had some of my own projects put on television, so it’s always good to collect some motion while in the field. It is hard sometimes to decide what matters most, stills or video, because when something important happens and there isn’t someone there dedicated to shooting just video it can be missed.

What Tamrac gear do you use?

I have three tamrac bags, I’ve got the Expedition 8x for hard hiking, and remote places, the Rally 6 for when I only need my camera and a lens or two, and the speedroller 1x for when I’m shooting in the city or when I’m traveling. I’m also thinking of getting an Evolution Speedroller so I have something that both rolls and can be worn like a pack. That would be great for traveling assignments.

What do you love about your Tamrac bags?

I strap my bags onto the back of my motorcycle and I fully trust them. Having lost a lot of camera equipment to the roughness of travel, it’s nice to have something that I don’t have to worry about. I would even check my bags and feel safe.

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