Benjamin Lee on the lifestyle photography business



All pictures by Benjamin Lee. Used with permission.

Lifestyle photography is a relatively new genre, and a lot of it has to do with a specific look and how you market it. Photographer Benjamin Lee has been a full-time professional lifestyle shooter for about a year now, but he tells us most of his work doesn’t involve shooting.

He says: “… I spend very little time filming. If I had to give it a number, it would probably only be 10-15% of the process, which would sound crazy to non-photographers.

We spoke to Ben about the lifestyle photography business and his own creative vision.

Phoblographer: Tell us how you got into photography.

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Ben: I first realized that I had developed an interest in photography a few years ago when I joined Instagram in its early days. Thanks to Instagram, I had discovered some incredibly talented photographers whose work really marked me. Appreciating only remote photography, I decided it was time to give it a try myself. I’ve been shooting more seriously for a little over a year now.

As a digital content creator, I guess it was a natural transition as the two skills go hand in hand.

Phoblographer: What attracted you to the lifestyle job?

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Ben: I have always been drawn to the authenticity and frankness of lifestyle photography. Photography has always been for me a complementary means of documenting life without hampering the appreciation of each moment. This kind of photography fits my personality well because it captures the spontaneity of moments in the natural flow of things.

Phoblographer: When working with new products, where do you usually get your inspiration from? Do you have a process?

Ben: I try not to plan my shoots too much because I feel like it gets in the way of my creative process. The only real planning I will do is come up with a general idea or theme that I want to convey for the shoot, as well as finding a good location. The theme and usability depend on the product and generally revolve around the use cases for that product. For example, during a recent shoot for a sportswear brand specializing in quality hoodies, I shot an urban skateboard theme under an overpass (see attached photos).

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Beyond that, I’ll just show up to the location and the freestyler from there. I think this approach goes well with lifestyle photography because it helps convey authenticity. Shooting in this way also makes it more fun and makes it less like you’re at work.

Outside of filming, I spend a lot of time taking photos, websites, social media, magazines, etc. because I think the secret to creating great content is developing great taste.

Phoblographer: You are very precise about your framing as your subjects are mostly concentrated around the center, but this always leads to effective images. Where do you get your sense of composition?

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Ben: I like the feel, the strength and the simplicity that the centered compositions convey. There is no ambiguity as to the subject of the photo or where your eye should be looking. It helps get the message across, which is particularly effective when shooting products / brands.

A good chunk of my photos are taken specifically for Instagram and mobile campaigns which are usually in a 1: 1 square format. Shooting with the subject in or near the center of the frame allows me more freedom to crop the 1: 1 photos in post. There’s nothing worse than taking a great shot and then realizing after the fact that it doesn’t look great when cropped at 1: 1. When shooting for Instagram, I highly recommend taking wide photos and cropping them later so that you have more to work on in post.

Phoblographer: Let’s Talk Business: How much time do you actually spend photographing compared to other tasks like travel, marketing, negotiations, etc?

Ben: Compared to the whole process, I spend very little time filming. If I had to give it a number, it would probably only be 10-15% of the process, which would sound crazy to non-photographers.

The rest of my time is spent on the following four activities (in no particular order):

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Editing / Post-Processing: My photography style often requires a fair amount of post-processing and editing.

Traveling: I like to shoot in different and exciting places, so it varies a lot depending on how far I have to travel. For a more extreme example, once I drove 2 hours (each way), walked for a good hour (each way), and only spent about 25 minutes filming at the actual location .

Management of all social networks and platforms on which I am. It takes longer than people think. I guess you could call it “new age marketing”. It is important to develop and maintain the social presence of your personal brand. As best I can, I try to keep an open dialogue with my audience because I think they are the main reason I have been successful to date.

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Note: Snapchat that I have found is an emerging new platform for photographers to connect with their audiences. Myself included, I have noticed that more and more photographers are joining in using it as a platform to share ‘behind the scenes’ moments of their shots and their daily lives. So far, I have found it to be incredibly engaging and allows the photographer to step out from behind the lens and connect on a personal level with their audience.

You can publicly share video clips and photos which are automatically deleted after 24 hours. It’s a lot of work though, given its fleeting 24-hour half-life (but it relieves the perfection and formality of what you’re sharing). It’s incredibly powerful because now photographers can become more than just a signature under a photo.

Respond to customers / emails.

Personally, I think being a great photographer is only half of what it takes to be successful in this business. It’s no secret that everyone is a photographer these days, so being able to excel at all of the other required tasks is what will help you stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Phoblographer: Each photographer has their own trademarks which they need in their images to make them their own. What do you think yours are?

Ben: Considering that I’ve only really been shooting for a little over a year, I think it’s too early in my photography career to have any definitive hallmarks and it’s not something I’ve given too much thought to. . I think this is something that will come naturally over time.

Currently, I like stronger contrasts and tend to look for textures and tones in my image. Apart from that, I try to capture the mood and the presence of every moment in my photographs.

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