Fstoppers Interviews Conceptual Photographer Benjamin Von Wong
If you’re familiar with Fstoppers, you’ll know our love for Benjamin Von Wong. We’ve featured him so many times over the past couple of years on our site. We just can’t help ourselves! With his equally educational and entertaining BTS videos, everyone seems to love them. I decided that it would be a great time to take a moment and look into his world to learn more about him and what keeps him going.
Not only is he quickly growing to be one of the best conceptual photographers, he also has a great persona about him that really captures everyone’s attention. I really wanted to see what inspired him and understand more about how his concepts came about. Being fortunate enough to visit him a couple of years ago, I saw the essence of what made him tick and wanted to share that with our readers.
Aside from his website, he also has a really great blog that stays updated regularly with a BTS look at many of his shoots. He also puts on many photography workshops, with his latest one being in London (with just one spot left, too!). If you want to also keep posted on his future workshops, let him know!
Fstoppers: As you’re based in Montreal, is there something about that city in particular that inspires you to be as creative as you are? Would you see yourself moving to any other city?
Montreal is a city of creatives. I’m not sure why, perhaps it is the low cost of living or the numerous government grants available but there are tons of people that strive (and struggle) to create, stand out, and make themselves seen. Finding talented people to collaborate with in Montreal is not hard at all. Finding the higher end clients on the other hand is a challenging process, especially for the high end productions that I like to create. Personally, I’m quite intrigued with the idea of moving to LA – Hollywood, special effects, a city which lives and breathes film, advertising and production. Not to mention the thriving creative industry as well as the “make it or break it” mentality. I think it can be a place of broken dreams but most importantly a place where everybody is trying.
That being said, I’m really not attached to any single place in particular. I’m open to whatever opportunities come my way. Who knows what the future will bring :).
Fstoppers: Why do you prefer doing conceptual photography over other genres?
From a personal project standpoint, conceptual photography is the single genre that really allows you to push your creativity to the max to tell a story. You are given the opportunity to create whatever your mind can imagine, to bend and twist reality to transport people into another world. It gives the photograph meaning and purpose when otherwise it would be nothing more than a pretty image. You are given the chance to touch peoples hearts and souls in a ways that you would never have otherwise.
From a professional standpoint, I find that it is the only field that really has no boundaries or limits. I enjoy the challenge of taking a companies vision, product or creations and showcasing them in a unique and engaging manner with a little of the Von Wong twist. As a photographer, it is the one field that people will actually hire you because they want to have your creative input and not just your “look and style”, because it is your creativity on which the style is based.
Fstoppers: How do your concepts come into thought?
There are a variety of ways a concept falls into place, most often it starts with a spark of inspiration
and grows from there – whether it is a person, design, story that needs to be told, product that needs to be sold, regardless, it all starts with a single point. From there it becomes simple problem solving. For example: Got the story and budget? Fabulous! Let me find the models, location, makeup, hair, horses and explosions… one at a time. :)
Fstoppers: What sources of inspiration do you look at to get your creative juices going?
To be honest I don’t spend very much time looking at what other people are doing. I like to stay aware and connected to what others are doing by following sites such as DIYPhotography, Fstoppers and PetaPixel but beyond that, I spend the rest of my time traveling, meeting people, creating, and really just living life. I think the best way to being inspired is not to just try to emulate others, but to find what inspires you in life and trying to capture and share it.
I find that the problem most people have is not that they lack inspiration, but rather the conviction to actually set their minds to DOING. Everyone is inspired. A lot of people are also lazy.
Fstoppers: Once you get a concept together, how do you find the people to be a part of it?
The best way to get people engaged when money isn’t on the table is to find out what people are looking for and offer it to them. Think about why you would accept to work for free, whether you’re being offered visibility, a gift card, or perhaps a critical networking opportunity and reverse engineer that to apply it to others.
“I noticed that you have no SFX makeup shots in your portfolio, would you like to participate in this project… here is my portfolio”
“I have 16,000 fans on facebook and 6,000 subscribers on youtube as well as a blog that gets approx. 30,000 hits a month. I would love to feature your product, would you please send one in for review?”
“Your website is really missing some nice photographs of that amazing ranch of yours. Here’s my work, would you be interested in an exchange?”
For paid shoots, it’s a question of finding the best talent that fits the budget. In larger commercial photoshoots, production is usually covered by a separate entity and all you need to do is request or recommend and approve. In smaller shoots though, you are a lot more engaged in the production side of things. This is also your chance to remember all those that worked for you for free and give them a chance to earn some money!
Fstoppers: You do quite a few workshops now, how are those going for you and what do they entail?
Workshops are something that I’ve started giving because I want to be able to share more than simple behind the scene videos. I want to give people the opportunity not only to learn, but to be able to create portfolio worthy images of their own. Rather than do a simple studio shoot and teach the technical, I put all the resources that I normally have at my disposal to the workshop participants.
For example, in my upcoming London Workshop (with one spot remaining!), we found this 500 year old Tavern and brought in dancers and models and combined with three high end designers to give people the chance to really create their own stories. Participants get two days to shoot and edit while being mentored by myself ensuring that there is ample time for each person to get the full experience.
For more information on upcoming workshops in London, Vancouver, Kelowna and Detroit, check it out here:
Fstoppers: Some of your concepts are grand. Do you end up having to spend a portion of the planning stages with a lot of scouting? Is there a method to going about scouting or do you just hit the road and keep your eyes open?
It depends on the scale of the photoshoot. I’m very good at improvising but I have been trying to plan my shoots out more and more particularly because shooting with higher end clients requires you to have great planning skills. You need to be able to know exactly what the final product you’re delivering is going to look like. What you need to keep in mind is that no matter how much you plan, things will always change the day of so those improv skills remain invaluable.
As for scouting methodology, usually you scout with a concept/storyboard in mind already so you’re simply running through scenarios in your mind to see if the location will work for your shot. I like to draw little doodles out on a piece of paper, others like to shoot actual stills with the camera. Whatever you do – recording things as much as possible is absolutely critical!
Fstoppers: You always have amazing BTS videos with each shoot you do, tell us a little more about getting someone to do a BTS video for you. Do you have a go-to person? How involved are you in the post production on the video end?
Finding people to do Behind the Scenes video is a constant challenge. I shoot so much that people aren’t always available to come and help out even if the will is there. The good side is that I’m able to bring a certain amount of visibility to almost any BTS video created so it’s not too hard to find people. Of course, I have some go-to favorites like Claudel Désir from Headbox Media in Montreal, Niko Sarkisian from EyeMooV, Erwan Cloarec in Paris, and Sebastien Roignant in Rennes.
The way video production usually works is that they submit a couple drafts and I send back periodic revisions and we ramp things up and tweak slowly but surely. Depending on the vibe of the video, I’ll try to slap an educational outro at the end using my brand new fancy Teleprompter.
Fstoppers: Your shoots always seem to be grand. Have any of your shoots ever not turned out as epic as you imagined them to be?
Absolutely… but you don’t need to know which ones =P
No but seriously, I think that its easy to get caught up in how outrageously crazy a shoot can be when you don’t set any limits to yourselves. Your imagination can run wild until reality kicks in – weather, people, situations all change and those will affect your shoot.
At the stage of photography I’m at, I can’t fail. I’m not really allowed to so anytime a photoshoot didn’t turn out as epic as possible, I try to compensate with Photoshop. If you don’t know which shoots “screwed up” well, then I’ve done a great job :)
Fstoppers: With the gear you use on a regular basis, do you have a preference in brand names?
On the camera end of things I use the Nikon D800E and couldn’t be happier. I love the direction that Nikon is going with creating “dedicated specialty cameras” without worrying about cannibalizing of sales. Though they release cameras less frequently than Canon, any time they have, it’s turned out to be camera of the year.
As for lighting, I have continuously used Paul C Buff’s Einsteins and White Lightnings… but have recently began to try out the brand new Elinchrom Ranger Quadras sponsored by Vistek. I currently have my entire life in two bag and managed to fit in a Deep Octa and softbox along with two heads and battery. No other brand is as compact!
Fstoppers: You have an amazing following, a great blog, and great marketing skills. Do you have tips for someone to market themselves better?
Work hard, believe in yourself.
Don’t just talk about what you do, talk about why you do it.
Be generous and kind to those around you. What goes around, comes around.
Failure is part of the journey. Expect and embrace it.
Surround yourself with like minded individuals.
Go to trade shows, see what’s happening around the world.
Can’t sell yourself? Find an agent. Not good enough for an agent? Get better, then find an agent.
Asking never killed anyone. Ask for help. Ask for support. But be sure to give back.
Do what you love. The money will come.
Yes. You need Facebook. And no, that doesn’t mean just making an account and updating it once a month.
Fstoppers: On the business end, how do you end up turning a profit as a conceptual photographer?
By finding the clients that can and want to pay you because of who you are and what you do. Sounds stupid but there’s not really any other way around it!
Thank you to Ben for shedding some light into his world! Be sure to visit his website for much more work, along with his other social media accounts: