Interview: Ben Horne

Reading interviews of some of my favorite photographers has been a major help in many aspects when I was first learning photography. Even now I love to learn how other photographers work, what they think before creating an image and even who their own influences are. With this in mind, I wanted to interview some of my favorite photographers and ask them questions I thought were not only unique but also ones I believed would be beneficial. Rather than take the traditional route and ask the same ten questions to every photographer I interview, I chose to send a document full of questions. This document contains five mandatory questions along with around thirty others for the photographer to choose themselves.

So without further ado, allow me to introduce you to...

Ben Horne

Large Format Landscape Photography

1. Tell us a little about yourself (who you are, where you are based, what you shoot, etc.)

I am a landscape photographer based out of San Diego, Ca. Though I’ve been interested in landscape photography since I took my first high school photography class in the late 90’s, it wasn’t until 2009 that I started taking it seriously. I owe much of this to the down turn of the economy. At my day job, business become very quiet, so I volunteered to help the company by taking unpaid time off work. I went on at least a half dozen dedicated photography trips that year.

I’ve found that I am more productive by shooting smaller, intimate landscapes. This is also where large format film does especially well — resolving the smallest of details. It is very rewarding to find great subjects in scenes that some people might simply walk past and never notice.

2. How did you get into landscape photography?

I remember having a camera when going on family trips as a young kid. My parents gave my brother and I point and shoot film cameras, and we took photos on family camping trips. When I was in college, I experimented with many different subjects ranging from sports to portraits. Though I did okay at those, it was really only landscapes that I enjoyed. I remember one summer in college where I spent a lot of time along the coast here in San Diego. There was something almost therapeutic about finding a subject, then waiting for good light. Most of the time, clouds would build in at sunset and snuff out any great light, but there were times when everything aligned just right and I found myself in the right place at the right time.

3. Tell us about your photography techniques and the post processing of your photos.

The majority of my photos are taken on color slide film, which is a bit like shooting Jpeg on a digital camera where all the processing is done “in camera” based on the film stock that I use. Fuji Velvia 50 is my favorite film because it has some very nice contrast and saturation. After shooting the photo and getting the film developed, I must scan the film, and if everything went well when I made the exposure, the goal of the post processing is typically to keep the digital image true to the original film and perhaps fix a color cast and maybe tweak the contrast a bit. Almost all the work I do on the film scans is accomplished with the curves tool on an adjustment layer. Often times I will apply adjustment layers to different parts of the photo via layers and masks if I need to work on a smaller portion of the image. The beauty of shooting color slide film is that there is minimal time spent on the computer editing the photo. That’s one of the things I’ve really come to embrace with shooting film.

4. How do you develop your own, personal style?

I believe personal style is the result of all the decisions we’ve made through the years. It’s a bit like a complex flow chart based on past experiences, both good and bad. As humans, we are creatures of habit. We learn from mistakes, and try not to repeat them. The subjects we find, the compositions we select, and the techniques we use, all form a sense of personal style. When I started shooting landscapes, I went through a process of trial and error. I found what worked, and what didn’t. I learned from my mistakes, and that helped me the next time I came across a similar scenario. This is an ever-evolving process that constantly shapes us as photographers, and allows us to grow. Eventually the subjects we choose, and the compositional choices we make are all the result of the lesson we've learned, and this forms a sense of an ever-evolving personal style. When the learning stops, so does our development as photographers.

5. What draws you to a scene which leads to a photograph?

My landscape photography is guided by my sense of curiosity. I like to spend a lot of time wandering around until something catches my eye. Often times I become curious about something. I’ll stop and look at it for a while, and in that time something else will catch my eye. There have been times that I’ve found some really cool subjects that other people have simply walked past. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy getting off the beaten path, and finding an area where I am free to wander around.

6. Do you travel far from home or stay close more often?

I very rarely take photos close to home. I think that’s because I need to be in a certain frame of mind when working with my large format camera. I find that I do best if I’m at least a 5 to 12 hour drive from home, and I dedicate at least a week to each photography trip. I’ve tried going on some long weekend trips, but by the time I started getting into the swing of things, it was time to head home. When I dedicate a week to a solo landscape photography trip, I have time to properly scout subjects, and get photos when the light is at its best. I don’t know how other photographers can stay in the field for more than a week though. By the time I get to day 8 or 9, I’m completely worn out and ready to head home.

7. How do you go about getting noticed?

This is a tough question because there are so many photographers out there. I went down the classic path of finding a niche and sticking to it. I started shooting large format in 2009 when people were more excited about digital than film. Now of course we’ve seen a resurgence in film photography. I think the key to standing out these days is finding something you truly enjoy, and just keep working at it.

8. Do you feel social media has a positive or negative effect on (new) photographers? Please elaborate.

This is definitely something I’ve thought a lot about. For photographers, social media is essentially a very crowded room filled with attention seeking people. The influence of social media is strong, and has definitely shaped the way many people take photos. To some degree, this has always happened, but social media gives people a greater voice. I think it’s important to follow your own path, and take photos that you really enjoy rather than trying to follow the crowd.

On the plus side, I really like the networking aspects of social media. I’ve met many very talented photographers through social media. This past January when I severely damaged my Ebony 8x10 camera in Death Valley, it was because of the help of two photographers I met through social media that my camera was repaired. One of my friends is a very talented woodworker, and was able to rebuild part of my camera, and the other happened to have a spare ground glass for the exact camera I had. Without those connections forged through social media, I’m not sure what I would have done.

9. If you could only take one more picture, what do you think it would be of? How would you begin to make that decision?

That’s a tough question because I think most of us landscape photographers tend to “explore” the world around us by taking photos. It’s not a quest for that ultimate, life changing photo, but more so a way of expressing myself and trying to capture the feel of being somewhere. If I had to make the decision to take one last photo, I would likely procrastinate and keep putting it off, perhaps never shoot it, but keep exploring in the mean time.

10. If you had to choose one location to photograph forever, what would that be?

Without a doubt, Zion National Park. I love the diversity of subjects there — everything from delicate maples and narrow slot canyons to sweeping grand vistas. I’ve been returning there every year since 2009, but there is still so much to explore and photograph.