I'm Ben Horne, ask me anything!

Hi everyone! My name is Ben Horne and I’m a landscape photographer from San Diego, California. For eleven years, I balanced my full-time job with my landscape photography business—but that all changed at the start of the pandemic. In March of 2020, I quit my job to pursue landscape photography full-time.

I’m extremely well versed in both film and digital, though I prefer to work exclusively with a traditional 8x10 view camera. The process-oriented approach of large format instills a sense of calm and patience within me—which is often reflected in my work. I’m drawn most to smaller scenes, with most of my work created in the American southwest.

My video journals on YouTube document my solo landscape photography adventures to Death Valley, Zion, and my solo backpacking trips to the canyons of southern Utah. On average, I spend just 3 weeks in the field each year—and although this doesn’t sound like much, my trips are highly immersive, allowing me to produce a significant amount of work in a short period of time.

In addition to the YouTube channel, I co-host a weekly photography podcast with Cody Schultz called Creative Banter. This podcast gives a wonderful opportunity to discuss life experiences, art, and photography through long-format conversation.

If you have any questions about me, my work, my photography business, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you.

Website: https://www.benhorne.com
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/benhorne
Twitter: @benhorne https://twitter.com/benhorne
Instagram: @benhorne https://www.instagram.com/benhorne/

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Hello. Since I am new in this network I’ll start. As you were contemplating leaving your job to take your landscape photography full time, how hard was that decision and what decision points did you contemplate to help you make the decision? Love your work. thanks

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Thank you Ben for this AMA session. I’ve been following your great work for some time. Always inspired by it. I wanted to ask you about your approach to printing your work, specifically how important is the final print to you and your process for selecting which images to print.

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Ben, I have enjoyed your YouTube channel for several years. I would be interested to understand the various sources of income and their relative percentages that make up your landscape photography business. YouTube ads, video sponsorships, print sales, workshops, merchandise (calendars, etc.) sales, patrons, and so on. I am a full-time photographic artist (mainly landscape and Nature inspired work) and I am still working to build up a sufficient income mix to sustain things long term. Best of luck and thank you for your contributions to the field of landscape photography.

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I’d also love to know how you made the transition. Are you currently just selling your work or do you substitute your income by offering workshops / tuition, etc. Also, love your work.

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Hey Ben, you already know my question as we’ve talked quite a bit on your fine Youtube channel updates in the past.
As all of us Large Format folks are faced with the same upcoming loss of Fuji Velvia 50 I was curious of your thoughts going forward on using and supporting a product leading into the future. I know you have a lot of Velvia 50 & Provia 100 usage, but have you compared those to the later Kodak Ektachrome 100 or a.k.a. E-100 ? As we know all transparencies have a color lean and / or a reciprocity issues . The V-50 red / magenta and Provia 100 blue / cyan. Provia 100 has a better reciprocity factor over the V-50. I’ve used V-50 for so long I know the time adds off the top of my head. Again, how does the E-100 work comparatively to others in those areas?
Thank you in advance for your response.

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Hi Ben: Thank you for your willingness to participate in this AMA. I am looking forward to your responses to everyone’s questions. I am curious about your experience in publishing your book a few years ago. If you had one piece of advice for a photographer working on their first book, or something that you wish you knew when you started your own project, what would you tell them?

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That’s an excellent question David, and welcome to NPN! My decision to pursue landscape photography as a career was many years in the making. Just after graduating college in 2004, I was hired by a local camera store here in San Diego. This was long before social media or youtube, and although I was very much interested in photography, somehow support myself through landscape photography was unimaginable. It was then that I made myself a simple promise. If I were to ever pursue photography as a career, I would never want it to become work, and that simple promise has shaped my business to this very day.

My photography business started as a side business alongside my full-time day job at the camera store. It wasn’t until 2017 or so that I first saw the potential of pursuing photography as my full-time career—all while maintaining that promise to myself.

My employer was very flexible with scheduling, and many people at the camera store were already working part-time, so I decided to shave one work day off the work week each year until I was doing photography full-time. One year I was working 5 days a week, the next I was working 4 days a week, and so on. The added time allowed me to work on other projects at home. When The pandemic hit, I was only 1 year away from achieving my goal, so I made the early leap.

By then, all the infrastructure was in place and I was able to generate enough income to support myself. The most difficult part was actually the years leading up to the pandemic when I saw my income drop significantly each year. This led to significant levels of anxiety on my photography trips. I now needed to lean on photography for my income and that all replied upon producing imagery I was satisfied with. I was worried that if I couldn’t produce the images, I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, and this put a lot of pressure on me. But as it turns out, this was a non-issue. After making the transition, nearly all of that anxiety disappeared, and I’m incredibly grateful to be doing this for a living.

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That’s a great question Alfredo! I absolutely love the process of printing my work, and it shapes so much of the process. It’s not until I see an image on paper that I notice aspects of the image (both positive and negative) that weren’t apparent on a monitor. Ever since I’ve placed more emphasis on printing, I’ve found it makes me a better photographer and also better in photoshop.

As much as I love making prints, it’s a tricky subject when shooting large format transparency film. The original transparency is the true original, and any other viewing experience—whether it’s a drum scan on a monitor or a print—will always lose a little something in translation. In that sense, I try to do the best I can to replicate the experience of viewing the original film on a light box with my prints, but that in itself is an impossible feat.

When choosing which images to print, much of that is based on my self-imposed requirement of placing 10 images each year in my annual portfolios. I make proof prints for any image that has potential before making the final selection. This forces me to see many of my images on paper in a way that I might not otherwise do, and I believe it has been beneficial for my process.

Also on the topic of prints, if you were to go to the print section of my website, you’ll see that I offer an EXTREMELY wide variety of images as prints. I know some photographers curate a small list of images available for print, but my philosophy has been to offer nearly everything. Interestingly enough, the selection of images people purchase is quite diverse.

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Hi Ben! Great to have you here on NPN and thank you so much for taking the time for this AMA session. I know folks will appreciate it.

My question is simple and I’m pretty sure I know the answer - at least I can speculate. :wink: :grin:

I’ll preface the question by saying that I shot 4x5 for over 25 years and loved the entire process, especially the time in the field with the camera and creating images. It was a very practical decision, but inevitably I finally sold everything in 2015. I sure miss that period of my photograhic life - but of course I’m still here and will continue regardless of what equipment is in my hands…

So, the simple question. Why do you continue to shoot the large format and film?

Thanks for your time! Continued success!

Lon

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Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to do this! I love your work! My question is what is the best way to get your images noticed, is social media really important?

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Hi Ben. While the question has been asked about the loss of Velvia, on a broader view, how will the apparent withdrawal of Fuji from the market affect your work? There is much interest in new emulsions, but only with 35mm and 120. I do not see anything in E-6 on the horizon, let alone LF.

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Hi Chip! Welcome to NPN and thanks for the question! My approach to income through landscape photography is different than most. I’ve chosen not to lead workshops, my youtube channel is ad-free, and only under extremely rare circumstances have I accepted any sponsorships. On the outward appearance, it would appear I’m allergic to money. :wink:

Many years ago—long before my decision to pursue photography as a career—I promised myself that if I would ever pursue photography as a career, I would never want photography to become “work”. I’ve seen other photographers go down that path, thus transforming something they love into something they resent. I wanted to avoid that at all costs.

I’m very introverted by nature, so workshops were an immediate no-go, and my decision not to run ads on my youtube channel was because they reward clickbait and attention-seeking videos—neither of which are anything I was interested in. By shutting off the ads, I can remain true to myself, away from that influence. This is also why I don’t like the idea of sponsorships. It changes the dynamics of a relationship with the viewer, and they rightfully begin to question the motivation behind the work.

This is why I adopted a system of voluntary contributions. I put the videos out there for free with no ads, no sponsorships, and no ulterior motives. In the process of doing so, I’ve found it attracts a wonderful audience that feels even more connected with my work. It’s extremely rare for me to receive any sort of negative youtube, and I’m able to produce images and videos I’m satisfied with without it becoming “work.”

So, with all that being said, here’s a breakdown of my income percentages from 2021:

Annual Portfolios: 39%
My Book with Kozu: 21%
Voluntary Contributions: 19%
Prints: 14%
eBooks: 4%
Affiliate Links: 3%

The voluntary contributions, eBooks, and Affiliate Links represent passive income that helps weather any storms on the horizon. The portfolios are a ton of work, but they represent my largest income source, print orders are always an unexpected bonus, and the book with Kozu was a one-time thing so those numbers will shift around a bit for 2022. Thanks again for the question Chip, and I hope this helps!

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Hi Sarah! Great question! My transition was quite methodical, and although it was hastened by the pandemic, the framework was already in place to make it possible. After graduating from college in 2004, I worked at a camera shop while steadily building my photography business. This was before social media and before youtube when it was especially difficult to earn an income with landscape photography.

In 2017, I reached the point where if I could dedicate more time to my photography business, I might be able to earn the additional income to make it work. I had all sorts of projects I wanted to work on (eBooks, videos, etc), but there was no way I could do all of that while working full time.

My employer was quite flexible with scheduling, and since many of the employees were working part-time anyway, so I decided to reduce my hours to only a four-day work week. The following year I would drop to three days a week, and then two days a week until eventually I was doing photography full time. The pandemic cut my transition short, but by then I knew I could make it work.

I’ve chosen not to do workshops because I would probably die a little bit inside with each one (big introvert here), so I lean heavily on passive income from photography (outlined below), combined with income from print sales and my annual portfolios. The voluntary contributions are income through my youtube channel directly from viewers in return for the ad-free videos, and the book with Kozu was a one-time thing for 2021, so those percentages will jump around a bit this year.

Annual Portfolios: 39%
My Book with Kozu: 21%
Voluntary Contributions: 19% (Passive Income)
Prints: 14%
eBooks: 4% (Passive Income)
Affiliate Links: 3% (Passive Income)

If I were to start over, I’m not sure the path I took would still be viable. The market is saturated with so many talented photographers and it’s incredibly difficult to stand out from the crowd without shouting louder than everyone else. Thanks again for the question Sarah, and I hope I answered it well enough!

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Hi Paul! The future sure looks bleak doesn’t it? I honestly don’t mind all the price increases through the years, just so long as the film remains available. I had three boxes of Velvia 50 left, and I traded those to my friend in exchange for some boxes of Provia 100.

Sure, I could sit on those boxes in the freezer and eventually sell it, but I’d rather have something I can use. The truth is that I have grown disenchanted with Velvia 50 for quite some time—so in that sense, its departure from the large format market isn’t a big deal for me. I love how resilient and graceful Provia 100 is, and it’s a proven film so I’m actively buying quite a bit of it.

E100 is an interesting film, and I know Alex Burke has been absolutely loving it. I’ve heard from another photographer friend that he felt it had a bit less dynamic range than Provia, which was interesting to hear. Not that that stuff matters much.

I was very generously gifted a box of E100 and have exposed just a single sheet so far. For that particular scene, it appeared quite similar to Provia, though I need to experiment more with it alongside Provia on my upcoming trip. I suspect I will be purchasing a decent amount of it in the near future to help support Kodak, but also to cover my bases since Provia is tough to find at the moment.

So in short, I don’t really have a great answer on E100, but it is nice to see a great option from a company that seems interested in keeping this art form alive rather than killing it off one by one.

I also recently purchased some B&W film so I can do some experimenting with that in the months to come. In some ways, perhaps that is the way forward. Thanks for your excellent question Paul!

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Ben, as always thank you for your response. My trip to the field today is delayed due to a tripod on order. So, I was glad I got to follow up on the question I left over from your latest Youtube post.
Yes, I’m sure Ilford and a couple other B&W films will go on forever… :sunglasses:

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Hi Sarah! So great to hear from you, and that’s a great question. It sure is an intimidating process, especially with the costs and the logistics involved. I’ve learned so much by producing my book with Kozu, and that will help guide me on future book projects.

Back in December of 2019, just after Adam Gibbs released his book with Kozu, they reached out and asked if I was interested in making a book. It was something I had been considering for quite some time, and after seeing Adam’s book, I was quite excited about the process.

I have a degree in design and am extremely detail-oriented when it comes to typography and design in general, so handing over the reigns to Kozu was honestly quite difficult. That being said, they have far more experience than me when it comes to book design, and I appreciated their insight on what makes for a good book. They simplified the design process, selecting the size of the book, the number of pages, and the materials throughout. I don’t think I would have thought to go with a vertical book on my own, but as it turns out, that format is quite flattering for images with a 4:5 aspect ratio. Vertical images fill the pages nicely, and horizontals can span across double page spreads with just the right amount of space for type.

Kozu handled the design, proofing, production, and distribution, all of which are monumental tasks. The profits were split in an extremely fair manner considering the massive amount of work involved on their part.

They proposed the idea for the book just before the pandemic and our preorder process began a week or two before everything began to shut down. We started work on the contents of the book at the very moment the pandemic hit. It was a stressful time for me since this was also the moment I made the decision to quit my job and pursue photography full time.

I’m extremely grateful for the process of working with Kozu, and how they helped guide me through the process, especially at a time with so much change.

With that experience under my belt, I suspect my next book will be self published. After seeing Andrew Baruffi and Eric Bennett’s books, both of which were orchestrated by Jerry Greer of Platanus Editions, I look forward to the process of self-publishing my next book and taking full control of the reigns—including making enemies at the local post office by self-fulfilling the resulting orders. It will take me quite some time to build up enough work for another book, but I foresee doing another one within 5 years or so. Thanks so much for your question Sarah!

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Hi Lon! Great to hear from you! Often times the simplest questions are the most difficult to answer—especially when you have a cat sitting dangerously close to the keyboard while typing, but that’s an entirely different matter.

Toward the middle of 2020 I felt as though something was missing from my work, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I began to wonder if shooting film was holding me back.

I went so far as to purchase a Sony A7r4, a 24-70mm, and a 100-400mm to experiment with. I’ve used a Sony mirrorless for video since 2018 and I’m very familiar with that system, so it seemed like a good match. My goal was to carry the Sony kit while scouting and use it to photograph subjects in rapidly changing conditions—the sort of subjects that are a nightmare for large format. It would also allow me to experiment with photography in ways that are cost prohibitive with film. The long lens in particular was a blast to work with, and I really did enjoy the process—though earlier this year I decided to sell the entire kit. To quote Marie Kondo, it didn’t bring me joy.

Yes, the digital kit made photography easier, but that didn’t seem to matter. I thought I would experiment more—but even when I tried, I was drawn to the same sort of subjects that large format works so very well for. Owning the digital kit for a year and a half served only to reaffirm my love for the process of working with film. Sure, it’s a more difficult way of doing things, but that also builds a stronger sense of satisfaction with my own work.

Also, working with the digital kit made me feel so much less involved in the process. As you very much know, there’s something so very intimate about crafting a composition under a dark cloth. Measuring distances with your fingers, debating minute changes in the composition, and walking away from a scene feeling so much more involved in the process. With digital, even though I was very familiar with the camera itself, I always felt like it stood between me and the subject. With large format, it’s as though the camera itself disappears and it’s just me and the subject.

With the proceeds from my sale of the A7r4 and the two lenses, I purchased a new Chamonix Alpinist X 8x10 camera for backpacking. It’s such a beautiful camera and so very lightweight. I plan to work with film as long as I can. If the day were to come when color slide film disappears, I’d be happy enough switching to B&W. Thanks so much for the wonderful question Lon!

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Hi Vanessa! That sure is a tough one and I’ll do my best to answer it based on my experience.

I’ve always been one to value slow and steady long-term growth over short-term gains. With time and hard work, we build consistency in our work, and that’s one of the things people are quick to notice regardless of where we display our work.

Social media is tricky indeed. In many ways, it embodies so much of what’s wrong with our society, yet it’s also a gateway to following our dreams. If not for social media, I’d still be working retail—but in some ways—I also yearn for the days before social media when things seemed simpler. I believe it’s important to have a presence on social media—especially for the network aspects and the sense of community—but it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of mindless doom scrolling that fuels division.

I post images on Instagram out of obligation more than anything. I’ve shut off all notifications, deleted the IG and Twitter apps from my phone, and access them through my phone’s browser or my computer. They’re a lot less addictive that way.

So in short, social media truly is important, but mostly when used for slow and steady long-term growth rather than short-term gains. That’s my view at least. Thanks for the great question Vanessa!

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