First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Can you tell us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography?
I grew up in Southern California and had some sort of camera in my hands ever since I was a child. Later I started taking pictures and filming my friends skateboarding. I ended up filming skateboarding professionally for a few years thanks to my amazingly talented friends. Later on I became more and more drawn to natural places and decided I would direct my video and photography towards that. Since then I have just been working at it full time hoping that I can inspire even just one human being in some way, so that they can reconnect with nature and fill that void that exists in so many of us today.
Your portfolio includes pictures from all over the world; from freezing Iceland to Panama. Do you prefer photographing one to the other?
One of the questions my friends and people I meet ask me the most is “What is your favorite place you have been?” To be honest the entire world is my favorite place. I have certain places higher on my list but honestly I’d like to eventually see everything possible. I am drawn to all different types of scenes, be it a rugged coastline or a peaceful, mountain meadow, there is always something that calls out to me. I don’t see myself living in one place for the rest of my life, I prefer the life of a nomad, moving to somewhere new and staying until I have created a deep connection with that area. Right now I am living in Utah because I love exploring and shooting around here in between trips. Even when I am not traveling and working there are places here that I love to photograph. I can see myself here at least for another handful of years.
One of the things that amaze me the most with your portfolio is your ability to capture unique images of heavily photographed locations such as Iceland. How do you prepare for trips like this and why do you think it’s important to find something different?
I think the main thing is to not plan too much so that you don’t limit yourself. When I go places, I try to keep my vision open to anything that I may come upon. I think most photographers are too busy chasing the “trophy” shots that they have basically already taken in their minds before they have even been there. They get so caught up in shooting that one mountain from that one angle in that certain kind of lighting, that they ignore the other weather conditions and interesting scenes around them. Instead of working with what is happening with the light and the things around them, they still try to go for that shot they have envisioned and try to force everything to work how they’ve seen it in their head, or in someone else’s shot they liked. I have spent a lot of time in one place or returned to the same places many times, and no matter what, it is always different, so there are always unique opportunities for photography. I always find myself going to famous places, because I am drawn to their beauty, but then slowly wandering around to see “what else can be found or photographed there? What unique perspective can I offer the world of this location?”
When I view your images I get a peaceful feeling, even though the landscape can be dramatic. What do you wish to convey with your photography?
This is about to get deep so I hope I can explain myself clearly. I think that nature only became something, or in other words it only has the name “nature” because in order for it to be something it has to not be something. And as the years go by our society and our race as a whole seems to be distancing itself further and further from natural things. We are basically removing ourselves from our origin, from what we came from. I feel that has a huge effect on us as human beings and we are actually beginning to become aliens to our own planet. We have to filter our water, we have to put antibiotics and hormones in our food, we have to take more and more medication. Everything has become foreign to us.
Most people don’t feel comfortable in silence, they don’t feel safe outside, alone, when really we should all feel at home. Through my photography I am trying to help reconnect people with nature so they can fill that void with what they really need. I hope to help them strengthen their relationship with Mother Earth, with this beautiful planet that we live on. There is so much to see and experience and our lives are so short, everything goes by in the blink of an eye. That’s what makes photography so special, it allows us to capture these moments that literally last for just a millisecond and to be able to enjoy them, reflect on them, and learn from them forever.
For anyone viewing your images it’s obvious that you’ve got an excellent understanding of compositions. Why do you think it’s important to have a strong composition in an image?
First you need to choose a subject in the scene. Every striking image needs a hero. This hero could be a giant mountain or even just simply a strong color. How you frame the scene all depends on the placement of the subject. Everything else you include in your frame should complement the subject and lead the viewer’s eye to it. This helps images to have a clear message and a good sense of flow.
You recently said that you’re “trying to avoid just taking pictures of places and instead learn how to create artwork with my camera”. Can you explain this further?
A picture has the power to tell 1000 words, but knowing how to take control in order to specifically choose those words in the message you wish to tell the world is what takes real talent and skill. Take writing for example, you can have beautiful handwriting, perfect grammar, an expansive vocabulary, expensive paper and pens, but that isn’t what we judge a great writer on. Of course, these things are important and can contribute to the work the writer produces, but we ultimately judge them on the stories they write with their tools and skills. Besides being surprising and entertaining, does the story have a message that inspires, motivates, and moves us? Sure, going somewhere beautiful and taking a snapshot with an expensive camera can have some shock value and be appreciated for a few seconds, but taking control of your surroundings, paying attention to every single detail so that you can manipulate what you are seeing in order to express or evoke certain feelings and emotions in the viewer, now that is art.
I want to create images that make people think, that force people to pay attention to them for more than just a few seconds before they swipe over to the next image in their feed, so that they can be inspired and see a much deeper meaning than just what is there. Edward Weston said: “This then: to photograph a rock, have it look like a rock, but be more than a rock.” The same thing applies to mountains, trees, lakes, waterfalls, etc. Are you just documenting these objects, or are you using them in a way that conveys something that goes much much deeper than what is visually represented?
What’s next for Eric Bennett?
What are your top 3 tips to someone just getting into photography?
- Make smart investments. Maybe instead of buying the latest and greatest DSLR body or lens you could use that $4000 to fund 4 or 5 trips somewhere. The experience you get while shooting in different places in all different weather conditions is going to be much more valuable to you and contribute much more to your overall skill than any gear ever could. I’ve always believed it is so much more important to invest in my content than my gear. Going places that I am drawn to so I can express myself in the images I create is going to get me a lot farther than just owning a bunch of pretty camera equipment so I can shoot the flowers and plants in my backyard. Plus, traveling is a whole lot more fun than staying at home.
- Create what you love. Don’t just try to create whatever you think others love. When we look at your work, we should see you, not just a shell filled with the opinions of the world. Don’t attempt to just please the masses and cater to everyone because you will never be able to. Instead shoot whatever subjects and places inspire you personally, so that you can create work that actually expresses something powerful and real. I guarantee there are more people like you and they will be able to deeply connect with your images and appreciate your body of work.
- Learn to understand light. Light is what has the power to bring everything to life. Pay attention to what it does and try to understand what kind of light you enjoy the most. Certain light is great for some subjects and poor for others. Don’t try to force light or fake it where it shouldn’t be because like my photographer friend David Thompson always says, “The light doesn’t lie.” It takes a lot of time and patience to know what kind of light you will need to shoot in so that you can bring your vision to life in your images, but it makes all the difference in the end.