Welcome to One Camera One Len’s Photographers Spotlight Series, where we discover other photographers who you may find extremely interesting. They share their love for photography, their stories and a selection of their images. This is a regular feature, see the end of the article for details.
Ben Holbrook: Gower Peninsula Photographer Profile
I’m Ben Holbrook, a full-time travel writer/blogger, photographer and videographer. Well, I say travel, but that’s not something I’m doing an awful lot of these days. In fact, at the time of writing, I can’t even leave Swansea due to a local lockdown.
But I’m still writing, still spending time with my camera here on the Gower peninsula, where I’m from and now live again after many years away.
I began my creative career when I moved to Barcelona in 2012 and set up my blog, Driftwood Journals. It took off pretty quickly and I soon found myself being invited to work with big travel brands, jetting off around the globe on assignments for the likes of Singapore Airlines, National Geographic Traveller, Ryanair and EasyJet.
I also published two books about Barcelona – including Precincts Barcelona, which spurred me on to improve my photography skills (because suddenly my images were going to be published worldwide by a big publishing house).
My DSLR Phobia
I was scared to get into photography at first. Not because of the technicalities of shooting with a “proper camera”, but because I knew it would be a rabbit hole I’d never be able to burrow my way back out of.
I just knew that, if I bought a DSLR, it wouldn’t be long before I’d start spending all my money on lenses.
Whatever that gene is that makes people want to collect/hoard… well, I’ve got it. I’ve got it bad.
So in the interest of protecting my bank balance, I shot with my iPhone for a long time. I self-identified as a “writer” anyway, so I wasn’t overly concerned with the quality of my images. Which is funny really, because I’ve had a deep interest in photography from a young age, even studying it at A level at Gorseinon College. But I had zero interest in writing until much later in life.
Anyway, I was right to fear going “full photographer” and, when I finally did, I did indeed end up spending a ridiculous amount of money on gear.
My first “proper camera” was a Nikon D3500, which I adored, followed shortly after by a full-frame Nikon D750 (and a bunch of stupidly heavy and expensive lenses).
I still have my D750 and love it dearly, but I never fully gelled with it. It was too big and heavy and, although the image quality was incredible, I just felt too conspicuous when shooting with it. You can’t blend into an environment or “become part of the scene” with a hulking great DSLR swinging and clacking away around your neck. You just can’t. Or, at least, I can’t.
Not long after, I spent another small fortune on a Fujifilm X-T20 as a “B camera” and instantly fell in love with it. As most Fuji shooters will relate to, my Fuji quickly became my “A camera” and my Nikon started spending an awful lot of time sitting on a shelf along with all the stupidly heavy and expensive lenses I’d picked up for it.
And so that’s how I would try to describe my photography, as a sort of blend of honest documentary, artsy street photography and story-led travel reportage.
Developing My Own Photographic Style
By the time I’d become an avid Fuji X photographer, shooting my photos (and videos) almost exclusively with my Fuji X-T3, I was living in Barcelona with a few years of professional experience under my belt.
Driftwood Journals was frequently cited as one of the best travel blogs about Barcelona, and Spain in general, and I was regularly jetting off to foreign lands. I felt like I’d “made it”, but the more I shot the less happy I was with my images.
I view photography as a vehicle for seeing beauty in the ordinariness of everyday life, for meditating on the mundane. That naturally endears me to more of a candid documentary/street photography style of shooting than the “instagram bangers” typically associated with contemporary travel photography.
And so that’s how I would try to describe my photography, as a sort of blend of honest documentary, artsy street photography and honest travel reportage.
You won’t arrive at a destination I have photographed and think, “Christ, it looks nothing like it did in his photos!”.
My Photography Loves
I found that moving home to the Gower peninsula in Wales after many years in Spain, with the mindset of a writer and photographer, allowed me to see it in a whole new light. Photography gives you the gift of being able to really look at a place and its people and way of life. It’s a real blessing to be from such a ridiculously wild and beautiful place, and I’m excited to share it with the world through my photography, films and written travel guides.
Check out my recent guide to the “Best Beaches on the Gower Peninsula ~ A Local’s Guide” for an example of the sort of content I’m creating.
Old Photography Books
So many photographers spend all their money on gear, but I think it’s better to invest in experiences (that you can photograph) and education. Unlike Instagram, photo books are complete works of art and tell a story from start to finish.
I can’t remember where, but I read somewhere about a photographer saying: “I don’t need to upgrade my camera, I need to upgrade my skills. My camera is already too good for me – I am limiting it, not the other way around.” Or something to that effect…
I adore the work of Steve McCurry for straight travel photography, and also recommend any books by Saul Leiter, Martin Parr, Vivian Maeir and Christopher Anderson for very different takes on the art form. I mean, I could go on and on and on, but as somewhere to start…
Books, study, travel, shooting daily… that’s what will make you a better photographer, not another damn camera!
I take a lot of photographs. I am definitely an over-shooter. And I take many of them of things I know hold no real value or interest right now.
But I don’t really believe you can judge or predict how a photo will age, how valuable a photo can or could become given the chance to exist through a couple of decades.
Even a boring photo of your street or house/apartment will be interesting to people – including yourself – in 20, 30, 40 years’ time.
My Photography Hates
I think there’s a huge difference in being an “Instagrammer” and a photographer. I’m not saying I haven’t discovered a ton of great work on there, and found new heroes, but I don’t honestly feel that Instagram is the best place to share my work (or for others to discover it) – though admittedly I still do use it, as (sadly) it’s one of the main ways people consume photography these days.
The General Public’s Misconception of What Photography is
“Wow, your camera must be really great.”
“That’s a beautiful photo – what lens did you use?”
“Great shot! What did you use to edit it?”
We’ve all heard it, and possibly even said it ourselves, and it drives me crazy. Of course it’s a good thing that everyone is a photographer these days, but not everyone is an artist, and certainly not everyone understands what really makes a good photo. One thing’s for damn sure, it’s about more than just having a fancy camera.
Form Over Substance
I suppose you could include this as part of my comment above… These days I feel like too many people confuse image quality with quality images.
Just because a photo is technically correct doesn’t mean it is a good photo. Sharpness does not necessarily maketh a beautiful photo. Dynamic range doth not an iconic image guarantee.
In a Nutshell
I think of photography as an art form, not a technology-based vocation. I appreciate we’re all on our own journeys with regards to finding the right camera for our styles, but ultimately I think we should be focusing on the craft more than the gear. Even in lockdown, there is still more out there in the world to photograph than we could ever manage in one lifetime, so let’s get out there and indulge in this unique and beautiful form of self-expression.
All you need is one camera, and one lens.
We’re always looking for photographers to share their stories, websites, social media and more. Please contact me if you would like to contribute! People always enjoy reading about others. Get yourself seen today