Add to queue: interviewing Ben Horne by Rob Davie
Introducing Add to Queue
Welcome to the first in what I am hoping will become a series of articles each focusing on a particular YouTube video maker who specialises in film photography.
First up is one of my absolute favourites, a photographer who travels into some of the wild places in the US with a large 8×10 field camera and camping gear packed into his SUV, complete with film refrigerator! His trips to Death Valley, Zion National Park and Neon Canyon have been inspirational to me and his channel was key to me deciding to purchase a Mamiya RB67 and go for it in terms of shooting film. I am of course, talking about Ben Horne.
A word on Ben Horne
Ben Horne is, in my opinion, one of the most relaxing and enjoyable people to watch on the whole of YouTube. His style is perfectly suited to the large format photography that he loves – steady, considered and thoughtful. Ben makes photographs of the wild areas in the western part of the United States, including Zion National Park and my particular favourite, Death Valley.
Ben’s channel has two distinct aspects to it. He takes several trips per year (unpaid breaks from his day job), for a week or two each and he records Vlogs each day that cover both his photographic process and; thoughts and observations about America’s National Parks, nature and people’s relationship with it. Some recent examples include Death Valley 2016, Zion Winter 2016 and Zion Fall 2015.
[EMULSIVE: he’s also a prolific photographer of his cat. Just saying…]
The other aspect of Ben’s Vlogs is filmed in (I presume) his house and is entitled “My Photographic Journey“. Ben uses this to show and review his gear, to talk about photography in general and also to speak about issues that concern the national parks and sites he visits. There was a very good one recently about Grand Prismatic Spring and people’s behaviour there which I found really interesting, along with an amazing shot of the spring itself.
So in summary, it’s a wonderful channel that I wholeheartedly recommend any practitioner or lover of photography take a look at, whether film or not, large format or not, nature lover or not.
Ben was kind enough to spare me some time recently and we chatted about a few aspects of YouTube and film photography, here is what he had to say…
So Ben, your big interest is obviously large format photography, what is it that drew you to it and what do you most love about it?
It was in 2008 that I bought my first large format camera, a Toyo 45AII 4×5 field camera. I purchased it based on the recommendation of a friend after a discussion about photography. I had become dissatisfied with the results I was getting with my digital SLR equipment. There was something about the digital photos that I just didn’t like. The photos were sharp, clean and technically good, but I felt that they lacked a quality that wasn’t easily quantified.
At that point, I had been working with digital cameras for 10 years, and felt I had a solid foundation in photography. It wasn’t until I set out to make my first exposure on 4×5 Fuji Velvia 50 at a local beach that I realized something…I had no clue how to properly use a light meter.
It was like one of those dreams where you find yourself in some ridiculous scenario as an Olympic athlete about to compete in the pole vault, only to realize that you have absolutely no clue how to pole vault!
The learning curve for large format was certainly a bit intimidating, but I’ve come to appreciate how incredibly simple these cameras are. What I love most about large format is how hard it makes me work for my photos. When I became disenchanted with digital photography back in 2008, it had nothing to do with the technical quality of the photos. The problem was me, I wasn’t working hard enough for my photos.
They photos lacked soul because I didn’t put enough soul into my work.
My primary camera is now an 8×10 view camera because it’s even more punishing than 4×5. It’s heavy, slow, limiting, and more expensive to shoot. As a result, the 8×10 format gives my photography a sense of direction. I now have to work very hard to create photos, which helps give my photography that sense of soul I strive for.
What are the costs of large format film photography like? (I remember you did a MPJ video about this a while back where you showed all the numbers on the screen?). Is 4×5 considerably cheaper than 8×10?
Large format doesn’t have to be very expensive. All of my cameras and lenses were purchased used, so I don’t have to deal with the depreciation of new equipment. If you find that a camera or lens isn’t to your liking, you can always sell it for nearly the same price that you paid for it. The running cost of shooting large format depends mostly on the format you shoot, and the type of film you shoot.
The primary film I use is 8×10 Fuji Velvia 50, which is one of the more expensive types of film to shoot. Since this film is no longer distributed to the USA, it must be purchased from Japan. A box of 20 sheets of film typically costs between $360 and $400 depending on where you buy it.
The cost for developing is around $8 per sheet, so the total for an exposed and developed sheet of film is just under $30. I typically shoot doubles of most subjects, so that amounts to about $60 per subject. That might sound like a lot, but considering I don’t make a lot of exposures, the price is quite reasonable.
A little while back, I did a comparison of the cost of digital and film based photography. If someone buys a very good digital camera, uses it for a few years, then sells it and buys the updated version when it becomes available, they end up spending about $1000 or so a year. That’s very similar to my running cost of shooting 8×10 color transparency film on 4 shooting trips each year.
The cost of shooting 4×5 would be considerably less, likely about 1/4 of the price depending on the amount of film exposed. Those who shoot black and white benefit the most because the film is significantly cheaper, and B&W is much easier to develop at home than slide film.
How would you encourage someone who has only ever taken digital pictures to get involved with film photography, and especially large format?
It depends on how you learn best, but for me it was to buy a camera and get hands-on!
I learn best when I can make my own mistakes and learn first hand what NOT to do. Even though I’ve already made most of the large format rookie mistakes, I still find ways to mess things up from time to time. If you don’t cook a sheet of Velvia every now and then by not having your aperture set properly or leaving the lens open, you’re not living life.
In addition to that style of learning, there are a lot of great online resources out there as well including both YouTube, and various internet forums that specialize in large format and film based photography.
How do you see the future of film photography, especially large format? Do you think you will still be using film in 20 years?
I sure hope so, but I fear for the future of color slide film – especially Fuji Velvia 50.
Since Fujifilm USA has elected not to distribute this film to the USA, the demise of color slide film might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m sure that Fujifilm USA cites declining sales as a reason for not distributing it to the USA, but how can the sales ever increase if they don’t allow us to buy the product?
I encourage all of the readers who are interested in large format landscape photography to reach out to Fujifilm USA’s twitter account (@FujifilmUS) and tell them that you would like the opportunity to buy Velvia 50 and Acros 100 in 4×5 or 8×10 in the USA.
I’ve suggested a model similar to Ilford where there is a 1 month window each year where you can pre-order speciality film. The pre-sold Ilford film is then produced, and shipped out a couple months later. Fujifilm could easily do this with large format Velvia 50 and Acros 100 in the USA. Photographers would have a once-a-year window to order as much as they need, and retailers wouldn’t need to worry about inventory expiring on the shelves.
How can someone (like me) with only a mobile phone to record video on, get started with YouTube?
A cell phone is a very good start, but you’ll run into two hurdles.
The first is storage. If you’re just recording a handful of video clips, phones are great, but like most people these days I find that my phone’s memory is quickly consumed by other things. When I go on my shooting trips, I often shoot a combined 100GB of video with my Nikon D750 and my Sony Action Cam. I would never be able to do that with my phone. Having a camera that takes memory cards makes life much easier.
The second hurdle is audio. Your video is only as good as your audio, and that has proven to be a big learning curve for me over the years. The great thing is that there are some very good audio solutions for smart phones. Rode makes a directional microphone (complete with deadcat) that plugs directly into most smartphones.
For my video setup, I currently use a Nikon D750 along with a Nikon 20mm 1.8 lens, and a Rode Stereo Videomic X. It’s not an inexpensive setup, but I’ve built it up over time and I absolutely love both the video and audio quality.
How are you finding the Ad-Free journey?
It seems that I’ve always preferred the road less traveled. I look at how other people do things, and often try to go a different direction. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with what’s popular — more so that when you’re trying to carve out a piece of the pie, it’s a bit easier to find your place in the world when it’s a much smaller pie. If 10 million people are posting their landscape photos online, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, but if there are only a few hundred people shooting large format color landscapes, it’s easier to be noticed.
When I first started posting video journals in late 2009, I didn’t view them as a potential source of income to support myself. I simply saw it as a way of sharing my experiences and perhaps inspiring others to find their own path.
I knew that my YouTube channel would never become mainstream because, at first glance, many people probably wouldn’t think it’s relevant in a digital world. It seems that we have a very short attention span these days, and the channels that grow the fastest are very fast paced with quick cuts of the video.
My channel is slow paced with a more relaxed long-format style. It’s easy to throw together a video with a bunch of quick cuts set to music to make the mundane seem extravagant, but I think it’s more difficult to tell the true story behind a trip, and really try to convey the feeling of being in some of these places that I go.
Not everything needs to be “epic,” so that’s why I try to be a bit more honest with the video editing. I often use some music to help convey the emotion of the day, but some of my best videos are ones with no music at all. That’s when you know it was a good day.
What I’ve learned is that having such a niche YouTube channel has attracted an incredibly talented group of viewers — many of whom are very well established photographers (both digital and film) that produce amazing work. In many ways, I’m glad that my YouTube channel isn’t mainstream because that might attract the wrong crowd.
Getting back to the question, I’ve found that with a relatively small viewership (compared to other YouTube channels), The ad-based revenue model just doesn’t work very well for what I do. I’ve always found ads to be annoying, and they don’t generate much income for me anyway, so I shut them off and went the viewer-supported-video route.
Having the support of loyal viewers makes me feel great about what I do. Though it’s not enough income to do this full time, I would love for that to be the case some day. I have no plans to turn the ads back on, and hope to continue the direction I’ve been going.
I completely agree regarding the adverts. I accept that they are a really important source of income for a whole horde of people out there, but it is so refreshing to not have to either wait through it, or hit that button exactly 5.1 seconds in!
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