One On One - Ted's Master Ben Connolly
Ted's is happy to welcome Ben Connolly to the Ted's Masters team!
Ben is an award-winning wedding photographer and educator based on the Sunshine Coast, this is his story...
My name is Ben Connolly, I’m a wedding and portrait photographer and perhaps the only professional photographer you know with a Marine Engineering Degree. My journey in photography started back in 1998, almost out of necessity. I was a full time serving member of the Australian Military working as a Marine Technician during the week and a skydiving adrenalin junkie on the weekends.
As my weekend skydiving habit became more expensive I took up shooting video and photos of our Tandem customers and the “Photography Bug” was then firmly implanted in me. After leaving the military in 2000 skydiving became my full-time job as an instructor and freefall camera man.
Utilising a specially designed helmet I jumped with a Sony PC3 digital video camera (one of the first series of digital video cameras to ever hit the market) mounted on the side and my trusty Canon EOS 600N SLR mounted to the top of the helmet. Each jump I would press record on the PC3 prior to exiting the plane and I would take photos using a shutter release cable that fed through my helmet to a tongue depressor button in the face of the helmet, so each time I poked my tongue out and hit the button I could capture the image where ever my head was facing.
Sounds pretty simple right? Well now combine that with jumping out of a plane, falling at 176 feet per second and all the other sensory inputs happening and you have a skill that took me many jumps to get right.
After hundreds of videos and almost 3000 jumps I had a skydiving accident on the 26th may 2002 that nearly cost me my life and very dramatically changed my career path.
After exiting the plane miles off target through no fault of my own I was faced with the situation trying to land a small parachute with the performance of a Ferrari either on a busy main road or in a very small retirement village along side that main road, so as not to land on a car or get run over I opted for the retirement village. After coming in very high to avoid trees and power lines I made my final turn to land but as I did I got pushed the wrong way by a freak gust of wind that resulted in me hitting the ground at about a 45 degree angle at a speed of approximately 90km hour.
Needless to say the results of that impact were catastrophic, I had a broken right femur, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, I had almost bitten the end off my own tongue and I was drifting in and out of consciousness. My life as I knew it was never going to be the same!
Fast forward 18 months of hospital stays, surgeries and many hours of rehabilitation, I was now looking for something new to fill that photography and video void as my skydiving days were now sadly over.
I started in the wedding industry in 2004 with no formal training shooting wedding videos then in 2010 made a complete transition to photography and I’ve thrived as a professional wedding and portrait photographer ever since.
My style of photography has been described as modern glamour meets “light & bright”. I’m a purist photographer choosing to amplify the many natural elements of an image as opposed to creating or adding them in after. I love bright contrasting vibrant colours combined with beautiful timeless black & whites. I choose to stay away from the fads and the hours of editing in favour of beautiful, well lit, well posed, crafted images that will remain in style and timeless so my work can be appreciated for years to come.
In developing my style and my skills I found that the best investments I ever made were not in equipment and software but in fact investments in me. Over the last 6 years I’ve spent over $10,000 in training me, everything from business, sales to creative skills behind the camera but I feel the most valuable part of any photographers development is the development of your own personality. Whether you believe it or not your personality and the way you interact with your clients and just people in general is a massive contributor to your success in photography.
As a wedding photographer I’ve had to learn how to effectively and creatively use a whole range of different lighting scenarios. I most commonly look for and use window light when I’m photographing brides or grooms getting ready as window light offers such a wide range of options for me. I can face my subject into light to soften bad skin or to make a thin subject look fuller, I can turn my subject side on to the window to amplify texture in a dress or suit or even to sculpt the body to make it look more sexy.
Light of any kind is an amazing thing and understanding that light is actually tangible and understanding that you can manipulate it to help you convey a message or flatter your subject is a very valuable skill to learn and practice.
Understanding lighting and posing is a must for all photographers as to is software like Lightroom or Photoshop. I personally use both and love what I can do with both programs. As I said previously I am a purist photographer, which means really understanding your camera and your craft, and with that understanding I always try to get my images as perfect as possible in camera. Sometimes however, that’s not always possible and that’s where Photoshop comes in. When it comes to post processing I’m a huge believer in what I call “Invisible Photoshop” that means working your images to get the best out of them without going overboard so they look unrealistic. As amazing as these programs are I take so much more pleasure in capturing a gem then polishing it in Photoshop as opposed to using it to fix problems that could have easily been avoided with correct use of light and direction.
When it comes to operating a successful photography business in today’s marketplace great lighting, directing and personality just isn’t enough, you also have to be a great business person and marketer. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest are your best form of marketing for getting your product and indeed yourself to your prospective clients. I personally have all of these accounts and post items and images to them on a weekly basis.
Over the past few years my leads from social media platforms have grown to almost 50% of my total leads, that’s a big reason to post your amazing photos. My clients regularly wait for a sneak peek from their weddings on my social media pages then share it with all their friends, all those beautiful images, great comments and excitement just serves to generate more and more leads to my business.
After getting posing and lighting right, another big aspect to offering both a professional service and quality is having the right equipment on hand. While I’ve seen an industry pro receive an unofficial WPPI 4th place for a full wedding album shot with an iPhone I don’t recommend it.
I shoot with two Canon 5D Mark III’s, one body has my favourite lens on it at all times, 70-200mm f2.8 II and my other body is used for the rest of my collection 24-70mm f2.8, 50mm, 17-40mm & 100mm macro. I carry three 580EX II flash heads, Yongnuo remote triggers and finally a Nikon AW-1 as a backup/waterproof point and shoot option. I generally try to upgrade my bodies every 3 – 4 years so this year I’m planning to invest in two of Canon’s awesome 1DX Mark II’s and also the addition of a new 85mm f1.2 prime to my lens lineup. Just this week I’ve received my long awaited Pixel Stick for some really creative long exposures so I’m really looking forward to getting out on the town with that.
Although having no real formal training I’ve worked hard to establish myself and my business with success and some awards. Between the years 2007 -2013 I received the following awards for my video work.
- 2007 Finalist - Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2008 Finalist - Australian Bridal Industry Awards 2009 Winner - Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2010 Winner - Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2011 Runner-up - Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2011 TOP 5 – Australian Designer of Dreams Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2012 Finalist - Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2012 TOP 3 – Australian Designer of Dreams Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2013 TOP 10 – Australian Designer of Dreams Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- I shifted my focus to photography in early 2010 and received the follow awards since.
- 2012 Finalist - Australian Bridal Industry Awards
- 2015 Silver Award – In Camera Artistry - WPPI Annual Print & Filmmaking Competition Las Vegas
- 2016 Silver Award – In Camera Artistry - WPPI Annual Print & Filmmaking Competition Las Vegas
- 2016 Silver Award – Wedding Contemporary Category - WPPI First Half Competition Las Vegas
- 2016 3rd Overall – Wedding Contemporary Category - WPPI First Half Competition Las Vegas
I am particularly excited about the WPPI Competition as this is a worldwide competition and offers photographers competition, growth & recognition for their work on a world stage.
This year for the annual competition I have a number of new images ready to enter as well as 2 entries for the wedding album of year, but between now and December ill be trying to shoot many more images to enter.
Along with WPPI this year I’ve embarked on another path in the photography education field holding speaking engagements about wedding and portrait photography as well as 1 on 1 single day intensive courses and 3 day workshops all aimed at educating, inspiring and empowering other photographers to be successful & creative in their businesses and improving their work life balance though sales, knowledge and outsourcing.
I hope that something in this 1 on 1 has struck a chord with you or perhaps challenged you to push a little harder to reach the level you truly desire.
If I can offer one small piece of advice for photographers starting out in the industry it would be this:
You’ll never be the best in a creative environment, so all you need to be is better than your last shoot.
Step out of your comfort zone and push yourself to try something new every shoot, it may not always work but a failure is just another step forward in getting it right next time.
Your comfort zone is nice place to be, but nothing really grows there, challenge yourself everyday and you will absolutely thrive.
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