Thursday, December 17, 2009

I had the privilege to interview Ben Harrison. He is a professional portrait/wedding photographer based in the Grand Rapids, MI area. I highly recommend checking out his website and following his blog.


What did you major in while you were at Taylor? "I majored in Computer Graphic Arts with a minor in photography"

Have you used the "extra" classes that Taylor requires us all to take? If so, how? "I believe the ‘gen-ed’ classes have helped me after college by providing a more well-rounded education. In today's world where there is a lot of competition for every job, the broad education that a liberal arts college provides is a definite advantage. I feel as though the really successful businesses in today's economy are the ones who hire people with multiple talents and an education that is not limited merely by their ‘trade.’"

What is your favorite photographic subject, and how did that effect your decision to go into portrait/wedding photography? "People are definitely my favorite subject to photography because every person brings something new to the photograph. You can photograph two different people in front of the same plain white background (Richard Avadon) and the two photographs will have a completely different feel and story."

What is something that you did while at Taylor (or wish you did) that you think is important for aspiring photographers? "The courses I took relating to web design and development as well as graphic design are a definite advantage in the creative industry. Every photographer today needs to have a great website, web presence, and branding. My abilities in these areas have saved our business a lot of time and energy and helped our business grow quickly."

Do you remember the first photograph you made that made you think, "Wow, that's good!"? "I took a mission’s trip to Trinidad my sophomore year at Taylor and though many of the images stood out, there was one in particular that showed me the emotional power of photography. It was an image of two children hugging each other looking up at the camera ... it's hard to describe without seeing the image, but there was something in their eyes that was very moving and I'll never forget that image.

Are you a more technical or artistic photographer, how does that affect your business? "I definitely started more technical, but with experience and additional schooling I have become more of an artistic photographer. You definitely need the technical background to achieve the images you are wanting, but you also need the artistic side to have a really successful business. With technology becoming cheaper and more and more people becoming "photographers" (i.e. soccer moms!) ... your artistic eye and unique style is what separates you in the industry. Take Apple verses PC for example, there are hundreds of computer companies out there, but Apple is the one everyone knows of and is hugely successful because they have focused on great design, doing things their own way, and always focusing on the creativity as opposed to the technical components. Apple focuses on creative new ways to do things and then builds the technology to turn it into reality ... just as in photography, you should focus on creative new ways to take photographs and know the technology well enough to achieve it."

Where do you find your inspiration? "We look at a lot of magazines relating to photograph and fashion as well as overall design (i.e. architecture, interior design etc). We also have found some other photographers that produce similar work to ours which in turn inspires us."

Many times when someone turns a hobby into a profession, the passion dies out. Has this affected you at all? "We find just as much joy in being entrepreneurs and running a successful business as we do in the actual product we deliver. If we didn't have the drive to be self-employed and create our own business we would definitely get burnt out in doing photography day in and day out. If someone doesn't feel a strong desire or drive to be self-employed, then I would not recommend turning a hobby into a profession ... the photography can only get you so far, but being a smart business person determines how successful you are."

What is your favorite project that you have photographed? "My MFA thesis was a project I worked on for over a year and it dealt with the juxtaposition of humans desire to grow and expand and conscience or sub conscience concern for the health of the environment. I traveled around the U.S. and photographed subjects that I felt demonstrated this awkward interaction of man-made structures in natural settings."