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Photographer Profile: Ben Weller- Photographic Excellence

American photographer Ben Weller represents one of the greatest examples of an expat professor in Korea building a tremendous portfolio and blooming into a respected professional in his field.

Photographer Profile

Name: Ben Weller
Occupation: Assistant professor at Silla University/Contract lecturer at Indiana University Purdue University, Ft. Wayne/Freelance photographer
Hometown: North Manchester, IN/Burnsville, NC
University/Degree: Duke University/B.A. Political Science; Indiana University/M.A. Journalism 

When did you come to Korea and how long have you lived here?

I first came here in 2002 and I’ve sort of been back and forth between here and the US ever since. I’ve been here steadily since 2010 teaching and freelancing. My wife and I are moving to Japan later this year, but I expect we’ll be visiting Korea often. This place will always have a piece of our hearts.

How long have you been an avid photographer?

My parents ran a small town newspaper when I was a kid and I spent a lot of time there, working in the darkroom. So I’ve always appreciated photography. It wasn’t until 2007 though that I thought about it seriously as a career. A professor in grad school—a former Nat Geo photographer—took me under his wing, tutored me, and helped me get some of my first assignments.

Awards/Citations for photography?

I haven’t really entered a lot of contests. I won some energy industry awards for best photo and best photo essay for projects I shot for an electric cooperative in 2009. I was really proud of those awards because I spent a lot of time on the projects and I was covering stories that at the time were new to me. But people who were invested found the images really powerful.

Professional highlights?

The past year has been pretty exciting as I’ve been building up my industrial photography client list and portfolio. I’ve been working with AP Images and a few other photo agencies shooting shipbuilding and energy projects in Geoje, Ulsan, and Mokpo. I also joined ZUMA Press as a contract photographer so I’m getting more of my editorial work published.

What are some mistakes you have made that you could offer up as advice for amateur photographers to avoid?

That could be a long list. I’d say that in some of my early assignments, I had a fixed idea in my ahead of what I wanted to do before I started shooting. That can prevent you from really looking at a scene or a story and capturing its essence. You’ve got to come in with an open mind and open eyes. Also, it’s so easy now to over process stuff. I’ve been guilty of it and a lot of beginners lean too heavily on post processing. Photoshop and Lightroom are important tools in the photographer’s workflow, but they should be used carefully and thoughtfully. The most important aspect of an image is the subject, and no processing techniques are going to replace that.

You’ve been shooting professionally for awhile now. How would you compare your approach to photos you shoot for your own pleasure to photos you shoot professionally?

That’s an interesting question. I think each approach needs to inform the other. When I’m shooting for a client, they often have specific needs or an already well developed vision. There’s not always a lot of time or room for getting creative, but I do want my personal vision to come through. I remind myself to relax and to really see, to look for something special and something different. On the other hand, when I’m doing more personal stuff, I still approach it like a job. I want to tell a story just like I would do for a paper or magazine. I’m rarely looking for one perfect shot but rather a series of images that are tied together thematically and stylistically.

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