Ben Von Wong is redefining epic photography. Blending the surreal with the natural – from fire-kicking martial artists to air-defying street performers, he brings vivid dreams to life in his personal and professional projects. But how much does it cost the young photographer to make his extravagant images? Practically nothing. “What you truly need to make an epic photograph is an epic story,” says Ben. During Anatomy of an Epic Photograph on creativeLIVE, Ben explained the five elements of an epic photo and how to achieve them without breaking the bank on expensive gear or styling.
When you don’t have a whole lot of money, and you want to find a truly unique location to shoot in, start by taking the same action you would take to research just about anything – use the Internet. A simple web search for “urban exploring” will uncover abandoned or scarcely-used locations in your area. These obscure locations are great, as they provide an undisturbed place to work, in addition to an epic setting.
You should also think about what Internet groups and sites that can help you on your quest. Scour Flickr and Facebook for places that pique your interest. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your community and ask them for advice. “Social media is the most powerful of tools for location scouting,” says Ben. Never underestimate your friends and the power of community.
If you find a location that needs a permit or other legal paperwork, put in the effort to find out what it will take to make it happen. Ben explains, “It’s about not giving up and working towards [your idea] and making it come to life.”
Finding the right talent is never easy. Although Ben acknowledges that there is “nothing very secretive about selecting models,” here are a few of his tried-and-true ways for finding quality talent:
Model Mayhem: If you haven’t hear of model mayhem, you should stop reading this article and visit their site right now. It’s not the sleekest of websites, but it’s the best portfolio website for professional models and photographers out there. Ben uses or consults MM for the majority of his shoots. Although most models are looking for paying work, some are just looking to build their portfolios.
MeetUp Groups: In every area, there are Meetup groups for everything from language exchanges to live action warfare events.
Facebook Groups: similar to Meetup groups, Facebook groups are an easy way to find people interested in specific activities.
Speciality Organizations: If you know what type of model you want to feature, don’t be afraid to contact speciality groups. If you need a victorian model, why not contact your local theatre theatre group? “I’ve found that I only need to find 1 person and then that one person asks a friend and that friend another, and before you know it, you as many models as you need.” According to Ben, most organizations want photos and videos of what they do. They want their hard work documented and are willing to donate their time and resources to get their hands on quality images and film footage.
The great thing about working with speciality organizations and niché interest groups is that you rarely have to worry about costumes because they can provide everything you need. If they don’t match up or you end up finding a model a different way, try using the same methods to find your models for finding your clothing and props. Just as a theatre group has a Facebook group, so do handmade crafters who make anything from medieval armour to cupcake decorations. All you have to do is find them and reach out.
What really sets Ben’s approach to photo and video shoots apart from others is his take on concept. Many photographers like to have the concept in mind first, but Ben believes that the concept can be driven by location, a simple emotion, model, technique or even the clothing used for a shoot. In Ben’s words, “You don’t need fire; what you need is a story. What story are you going to tell the audience? How are you going to take it to the next level?” For example, in the image below, Ben based the entire shoot around the mechanical wooden birds. The models, location and mood of the image were dictated by a set of props.
In contrast, this photo (below) is based off of the models. Ben found this group at a Victorian event in Montreal, Canada. Once he had the models, he knew what techniques to use and how to tell their story through the lens
He also frequents photography blogs for inspiration and bases some of his work off of his own personal experiences.
Although having a particular technique in mind is a great way to help you formulate ideas, Ben warns against using technique as the sole driver of a concept. That said, whether it’s light painting with a sparkler or using a density filter, a unique technique is an easy way to add effect to your epic photo.