Interview with Ben Jacobsen – Photographer, Blogger, Forum Owner

Today I am interviewing Ben Jacobsen of benjacobsenphoto.com. He is also the founder of the photography forum, newschoolofphotography.com amongst a few other websites.
I have been a member of NSOP for a couple years now and recently became a moderator. Ben is a pretty humble guy with a boat load (pun intended) of skills. It’s a honor to be interviewing him today.

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1. Ben, why did you decide to start NewSchoolofPhotography.com?

I broke my pelvis back in early 2006. I was stuck on the couch during the winter and had nothing to do, so I was on a forum (NASIOC.com) I was a member of a lot. I was in the off topic section mostly and started sharing some of my photos in the “photography” thread. I also started a “gear” thread there as well. Soon that wasn’t enough, so I joined PotN… While PotN is a good resource, it wasn’t really a good fit for me for anything other than the technical end. After about a year of photography posting online between those 2 sites I asked if NASIOC could do a photography section. It was turned down (understandably) so I started NSOP… That was in June 2007.

2. Aside from running an online photo forum and personal website, what do you do for a living?

I am a costing manager at a jewelry contract manufacturer.

3. Do you run any other websites and if so can you talk a bit about it/them?

Yes, I get volunteered to make sites for side projects all the time. I run the following:

surfacehoar.com
Surface hoar is a sailing blog I made to support the sportboat spreadsheet. That was a project that came about from sailinganarchy.com. I had a spreadsheet with the specs of a bunch of boats on it, some other people wanted access and then kept asking me to add things. So I setup a site that lets anyone DL the sheet and or add new boats to it. It’s also a blog for me to write about boats I like and don’t like.

newportsportboats.com
Newportsportboats.com is a site for the fleet I race in on Monday nights. It’s basically results more than anything else but someone had to set it up…

sharewhereyoushoot.com
This is my newest pet project… It’s not really taken off yet, but it’s meant to be a great resource for photographers to share where they shoot, but also find new places to go shoot.

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4. How many years have you been capturing images?

Wow, I’m 32, I’d say 22 years? Somewhere around there. I started in grade school with a fischer price 110 camera. In HS I was loaned my parents pentax 35mm cameras. I was also given a olympus stylus 35mm P&S in HS as a present from my Aunt (who had a B&W darkroom and taught me a TON about photography). I’ve been seriously shooting since 1994 though, somewhere around there (in high school).

5. What would you say drives you to take photos?

I like to share things with people they don’t normally see. When I started it was all about sports and landscapes and sharing what I get to do with people who can’t for whatever reason. Since becoming a father it’s also about sharing shots of my son growing up with those who live across the country.

6. What camera gear did you start with and what does your gear collection look like today?

That’s a bit of a loaded question now isn’t it Shawn!
110 -> 35mm pentax -> pentax 35mm -> canon rebel -> A2e -> 1Nrs -> 10D -> 1Dii -> 5D -> 5Dii -> D700 -> 7D&5D
there’s a bronica 645 in there with the A2 and 1N as well which I still have.
lens wise I’ve been all over the place. I started with normal old (slow) zooms, went to 2.8 zooms but have since settled on f/4 zooms for most of my “work” shooting (arch, landscapes and sports) and fast primes for my PJ type shooting around the house. My favorite combo is one of two, either a FF body with a fast wide lens (5D and 24) or anything with a UWA zoom. The wider the better. If it’s too wide, you’re not close enough!

7. What are some of your favorite places to capture images and how did you come across them?

Mountains. I Found them while either hiking them for fun or skiing down them for fun.
Second to that would be the ocean. My ocean spots are all either shared from friends (see SWYS above!) or places I’ve stumbled upon looking for access to shoot.

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8. If you had all the time and money to do what you wanted, what would your photography look like? In other words, what would you be shooting and where would you be shooting it?

I’d be a landscape shooter spending much more time not at home, finding awesome locations that fit the season. I’d also love to have access to more sports shooting which would mean living near pros with better scenery (ie out west in the winter).

9. When you go out shooting are you shooting solo or in groups most often and why?

It’s actually a lot of both for me… Because I run the forum we have a weekly meet that we do every weekend. It’s been a ton of fun and it’s got me out shooting a lot more than I would otherwise (I shoot EVERY single weekend). But sometimes I’m the only guy, sometimes there’s one or two others and we’ve had as many as seven guys shooting at once? I don’t really prefer alone or a group honestly, they’re just different. Some mornings it’s nice to be alone to think about things and work an area more freely (w/o worrying about getting into someone’s shot or getting their tripod out of mine). Some mornings it’s nice to have someone there to talk to (about politics, coffee, gear, whatever). Other times I’m in an area where I don’t feel comfortable shooting alone for safety reasons (falling and getting hurt). It’s a funny dynamic because heading out the door I rarely know who will be there to shoot with.

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10. Name me three pieces of photo gear (excluding your camera) that you must have at all times?

Lens battery and CF card?
OK, seriously, a GREAT bag, my boots and clothes to keep me comfortable. This depends on where and what you’re shooting, but I’ve found a good pair of boots is key for landscape photography. I always wear long sleeves for landscaping too. They keep the bugs off, but long sleeves also means I don’t have to remember sunscreen super early in the morning. I wear a pair of cargo pants for the pockets, my filters go in one as soon as they’re out of the bag, my headlamp in the other. Bags are almost a obsession of mine? I’ve been searching for my perfect bag for a few years now and have yet to find it, but I have found a few bags that work really well for me in certain situations. It’s important for me to not have to fight my gear to get a shot. Some of those mornings the light is changing so fast 30 seconds could mean you get or miss the one good shot of the day.

11. A lot of people change tripod setups many times throughout their lives because they don’t spend the money on their last tripod first, what is your current tripod/head setup and is it your last setup?

I’ve learned one thing in the last few years about gear… NEVER say anything is your last….
but I’ve been using the same tripod setup now for 4 years I think? Gitzo GT3530S w/ Acratech GV2 & B2 LR II (I had to look that up!). It’s been amazing. The only part I might upgrade is adding the center column as it could be a bit taller sometimes. I’ve had a few other heads but I like the GV2 a lot. I bought it w/o a clamp and added a RRS lever clamp to it and have LOVED this setup since. Once you go L-bracket you never go back, they’re that good. I have zero complaints. I still have my original tripod. It’s been assigned to “trunk pod” status which is brilliant… Someone suggested that to me (maybe you Shawn?) and it’s saved me a few times when I left my good setup at home….

Ben at work – photo credit: Brian Harrington

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12. Talk about your processing a bit, how far do you take it? What software do you use and prefer and what sort of adjustments do you make?

I used to consider myself a purist… I never cropped anything in my film days. I even ground out my own film carriers to “show off” the edge of the frame. I kept that attitude for a long time even with digital. I shoot chromes in my film days, so JPEGs were my natural progression. A lot of people think that’s crazy because of the lesser information available, but they’re similar if you think about it. Blow it in camera with either and you might as well throw it out. Get it right in camera and you’re done, no processing needed. I loved that. But the more I shot people the more I realize you really need to make adjustments in post to fix things. I now shoot RAW and use presets (that I’ve made myself) in LR. I’m big on efficiency (you could also say I’m lazy) so I use LR to import and tag and then apply a preset. I then do very minor editing there (crop/straighten and WB adjustments) and then batch to PS for my border. I’m a huge fan of LR even though it took a long time to convert me, I was stuck on Bridge -> ACR -> PS for a long time because I didn’t think LR gave me anything I didn’t already have. It really didn’t, it’s just that it combines all those steps into one and saves me a ton of time. PS has only been used for limited plugin use and with LR3’s new noise handling I really don’t need PS anymore but I haven’t had time to adjust me export process yet.

When I process an image, my presets are based off applying the camera profile (thank you adobe) first, then the lens correction. From there I tweak the exposure if need, then fill lights or recovery. Then I adjust my black point. Then some clarity (dangerously fun tool!) and then vibrance and saturation (almost all of that is done with a preset these days, then some minor tweaks after). Then I tweak the WB.

13. Finally, what advice would you give photographers who are just starting out that you wish a seasoned photographer had given you at that time in your life?

Shoot a lot. Share a lot. Ask a lot of questions. Granted I started on film, so each shot was expensive, but I didn’t shoot enough when I was starting. My entire film “career” fits in 3 boxes. I now shoot well over 10k images a year. Digital has opened the door to experimenting and learning at a much faster pace. As for the sharing part, START A BLOG IMMEDIATELY! Facebook and flickr are great, they really are, but having all three, but I have all three and my blog is the one that means the most to me. It’s like a digital diary and an excellent form of tracking things these days. I can tell you what I shot when and what gear I used thanks to my blog. I also use flickr to get more exposure and facebook is a great way to get more/new clients once it becomes a business, but I love having my own site.

phew! I think that’s it…

If you would like to see more of Ben’s photos, click HERE.


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One Comment

  1. Andrew Vick 12/13/2010 at 6:10 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Ben’s work with me! I just left you a message as well. Thanks for inspiring.

    Andrew

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