Photographer Benjamin Von Wong Creates Breathtaking Images With Only a Smartphone

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong Creates Breathtaking Images With Only a Smartphone

Benjamin Von Wong has never been one to turn down a challenge. He consistently creates mind-blowing images in some of the most desolate of places under extreme conditions. This recent venture for Huawei's new smartphone, the P8, is no exception!

I was first introduced to Von Wong's work a few years back while researching how to photograph fire for a project I was working on. After looking at his portfolio, there was no denying that this guy knew the ins and outs of shooting fire. It's no surprise he jumped at the opportunity to work on this campaign when his agent, Suzy Johnston, presented him with the job. "This is the perfect job, the one that you’ve been waiting for. They want you to create the craziest photograph you possibly can using their upcoming telephone, the Huawei P8 for their global launch campaign," said Johnston, "Oh, and it gets better. They want you to use fire!"

As exciting of an endeavor this campaign was going to be, it presented new challenges that Von Wong had not yet faced. Aside from the fact that he wasn't going to be shooting the campaign with an actual camera, rather a smartphone, he also had to follow three very specific rules: use the phone's light painting feature, the model must be surrounded by fire, and he couldn't use Photoshop.

Could it work? That was the first question I had to answer, and the only way to do that especially on an unreleased phone was to actually do them in person. We invited fire performance team Starlight Alchemy to assist us with some critical tests one cold evening off in Shanghai and prepare for the ultimate test: Was it even possible to capture the fiery images we had in our minds using just a smartphone?

After about an hour of testing using some of the original P8 engineers as stand-in models, and some simple ND filters, I felt confident. Yes, this was going to be possible.

How did it work? Traditionally, smaller sensors can’t take long exposures without introducing an ungodly amount of noise into an image. The P8 found a way around that. To minimize noise, it would capture multiple images over an unlimited amount of time that it would then compare, stack, and blend; all on its own. Basically the same idea as how star trails are made, except without the need of a computer!

Once Von Wong worked out the details and logistics of the shoot, the lighting was then set.

Continuous lighting was used on the pillars. The model was lit by a single Broncolor flash with barn doors.

The final piece of the puzzle was added by Starlight Alchemy to create the beautiful fiery shapes.

I can't imagine the amount of pressure that comes with taking on a task that has never been done before, especially when it is for a client. I asked Von Wong if he felt more pressure when he is working on commissioned work than he does working on personal projects. "I wouldn't necessarily say that there was more pressure on a personal project that a commissioned piece but the pressure is definitely different. Suddenly there are a lot more people to satisfy, a lot more politics involved and a lot more dollars at risk than when you do a personal project," said Von Wong.

I was also curious what his advice would be if someone offered him a job that he wasn't sure he could pull off. Would he take the job and figure it out as he went, or turn it down? In response he said, "I think that part of the job of a professional is to know what your limits are and to be realistic about setting expectations. No one wants to work with someone that’s unable to deliver and consequently I never overpromise. If something is complicated and I cannot guarantee results, I let people know exactly what they can expect and what are the best case scenarios so that we can plan for contingencies!"

Von Wong has this amazing ability of creating beautiful works of art in situations where many people would just throw in the towel. I am always inspired when he releases something new, and I'm greatly honored to be able to share this one with all of you. I hope you are able to be inspired as well!

You can see Von Wong's original post here.

All images used with permission

Brandon Cawood's picture

Brandon Cawood is an internationally recognized and published photographer known for his highly detailed composite photography and retouching work. He has a distinctive style that sets his images apart and offers a branding solution to set his clients to distinguishing their identity. He also has a background in video production and editing.

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Is there anything Von Wong can't do? Amazing photos!!! And with a phone? Get the heck out of here!!!

Thanks dude! I do screw up here and there but everyone seems to ignore and forget about those :)

That's because everyone makes mistakes but despite those you consistently make amazing images.

Geez he's just taunting us now lol

XD that wasn't the intention! sorry!

All good! Your work and process is inspirational and it's good for us to remind ourselves the time, preparation, and execution that needs to take place for creative ideas to flourish.

Btw, thanks for letting me try out your X100S last year at Imaging Conference.

Ben is amazing at what he does! He constantly inspires me! I have been honestly thinking of stopping with weddings and such because while they aren't horrible... It's not what I want to do entirely.. Stuff like what Ben shoots is nothing short of astonishing!

I actually began as an event and wedding photographer believe it or not. No reason why you can't start and keep the money flowing :)

Von kills it again as usual. Last time I had fire on a shoot I incinerated my left shoe while it was still on my foot. Didn't even know it was on fire til someone else yelled at me.

Hard to pick one, but I'll pick the second one as my favorite. The one with the fire encircling the model. Awesome shot!

OMG ... what a talent :-) Amazing shots with a phone. Shows that the photographer will still be important in the future ( ok ... it will make it simpler with all these advances in technology BUT: Light, planning and mostly the ideas, direction and creativity are so important. Well done Benjamin Von Wong.

Great photos indeed. Also noticed a few other things...

The big (parobolic?) umbrella for proper lighting. More lights I could see in on the models faces me thinks. The fire is also a lot of extra light as well.

All this is to say what I would no doubt that Von Wong already knows, is that without proper lighting the camera phone sensor of any phone would normally never compare to anything great. Most cameras as well. Big difference is that cameras with a bigger sensor could capture a lot more detail without so much light.

As a student myself, am I incorrect? Not trying to take away from the great photos but the "hype" about these new camera phones doing these great photos and not giving credit to expensive lighting being the true reason? The title "...Only a Smartphone" is very misleading.

I'm not after debate, just searching for knowledge.

Von Wong = Amazing!

Awesome stuff... a ton of equipment and production behind it. I wouldn't have bothered with a cellphone with all that, but hey.

Someone else willing to use a cellphone will probably be on a 2 year contract, be doing more like 99 cent sparklers and lighting themselves on fire by accident and ignorance kind of thing.