RMSP Graduate Profile: Ben Reed

This is a post by contributing author and RMSP Career Training graduate Charlie Bulla

It’s always exciting to chat and visit with RMSP folks, whether that means staff, instructors, your classmates or other alum. So, does that make hanging out with multiple RMSP’ers in Hawaii extra special? It sure did for me!

The RMSP family is strong, and part of that family made my amazing trip to the islands possible. It all began with an invite from graduate and former teaching assistant of the Career Training Program, Ben Reed and his girlfriend and my fellow classmate Robin, who are now living on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I was also blown away with the amazing hospitality of another fellow classmate, Jen and her husband Aaron who made an incredible visit to Maui possible for me. Many thanks to all of them for making an amazing trip extra special and for sharing the Aloha spirit!

While visiting with Ben and Robin, just out their front door, I would take daily walks along the beaches of famous surf breaks. Beaches such as Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Pipeline. As a young kid learning to surf in North Carolina, I was always stoked to pick up magazines and dream of being right there. Now, I was there! And, I quickly realized that I was witnessing a good friend follow a dream and doing so by taking risk, utilizing an education, maximizing relationships and remaining passionate about the future. This made me think about how Ben’s story and his path could be shared with others who have an adventurous and creative path.

Ben was kind enough to spend some time with me chatting about his photographic path, his decisions, his bag of gear, and the idea of motion from an RMSP graduate’s perspective. Here is the conversation I had with Ben during my incredible trip to Hawaii:

 

CB: So Ben, how long has photography been a part of your life and how did it all start for you?

My story is both similar and very different from most attendees of RMSP. The road to RMSP was a bit rocky. I had attended college, graduated, and was working in the so-called “real world” selling rebar. I’ve always had the desire to create, but I felt like I was wasting away and not creating anything. Then, several unfortunate events took the lives of half a dozen friends within a two-week period. It was a wake-up call and I needed to make a change. Thus began a year-long self evaluation of what I wanted out of life. I had taken several surf trips to Nicaragua and Costa Rica and having experienced different cultures, I knew I wanted to travel more than anything. I knew there is a lot more to this world than what I was currently experiencing.

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I looked into options, which included grad school, marine biology, Coast Guard and the Peace Corps. I was open to just about anything, but nothing really felt right. Photography never played a large part in my life. I didn’t have the experience of having a father or mother handing down their camera when I was a youngster and I’d never really had a desire to pick up a camera. A photographic career was not on my mind. It really boils down to one fateful night. It hit me, suddenly and abruptly. While reading my monthly issue of Surfing Magazine, I thought,

“Someone has to be taking these pictures.
If someone else is doing it, there’s no reason why I can’t be.”

Within a month, I was signed up for Career Training at RMSP. Within three months I was there. I’m pretty sure it was a shock to my parents when I informed them of my plans!

Photography truly started for me on the second day of the 2010 Summer Intensive program at RMSP. That was the first time I’d picked up a camera with true intent. People seem to be pretty baffled when I tell them this. I knew nothing. I’d never even heard of aperture, shutter speed or ISO. I didn’t know the difference between a full-frame and crop sensor. I look back now and laugh at how little I actually knew. I bought my camera five days before attending RMSP. The first pictures I took were with my mother on our cross-country drive to Montana. They were complete crap!

 

CB: How did you first hear about RMSP and what was your process like in deciding to attend a photography school in Montana? Quite a difference from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, right?

Reed_Ben_Reed_03525You know, I almost missed out on RMSP altogether. Seriously, it was super close to not happening. I had several criteria for what I wanted out of a photography program. I knew I wanted a program that’s focus was solely photography. I didn’t want to go back to a college and have to spend four more years in school. Nor did I have the desire to be in a class that didn’t pertain to photography skills. I was determined and focused on photography and photography only. I was looking at schools from Maine to California. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to go west of the Mississippi, to experience a part of the country I hadn’t spent much time in.

Originally, the winner was The Brooks Institute in California. I had reservations about Brooks though. With Brooks, you took classes three times a week. To me I didn’t feel like that was enough. I wanted to immerse myself in photography, and to me that wasn’t immersion. But, at the time, it was the only real option that I could find. Then, a friend of a friend, Perri Shelat told me about her experience and RMSP. She told me to give them a call before I fully committed to The Brooks Institute. What she didn’t know was that I was already a registered student at The Brooks Institute. Perri had so many good things to say about RMSP. She promised it would change my life. To me that’s a pretty strong statement. I felt like it was deserving of at least a call.

After doing a little research on RMSP and looking at the website, I realized that it offered the same content I was looking for as Brooks, and RMSP solved all my issues I had with Brooks. So, I figured, what the hell, I should give them a call. Within minutes of talking to Bob McGowan, I knew RMSP was where I was going. There wasn’t a school that could compare to the friendliness and knowledge that I received from Bob. I remember it like it was yesterday. After that phone call, I knew I was going to RMSP and I had a gut feeling, it was going to be something special.

 

CB: After finishing up as a student of RMSP, you returned to become a teaching assistant. Can you share a bit on your experience as an assistant and how it’s helped with your path?

Reed_Ben_Reed_04727-EditHaha, yes, that’s correct. As a student, I actually told my peers and instructors in my final presentation that I was coming back as a teaching assistant the following year. It got quite a few laughs. At that time, it was wishful thinking and more of a joke. However, before I left Missoula, I made sure I went to visit with every faculty member at RMSP and let them know that if there was any chance of coming back as an assistant that I really wanted the opportunity. For me, it really felt like the next step in achieving my goals. It was a long shot. I lobbied the hell out of myself for that spot!

Becoming an assistant helped me in so many different ways. It’s almost like attending RMSP for two more years, but better in some ways. I met so many wonderful people and some of my best friends while assisting. I take yearly trips with Jimmy White and Dan Doran, both RMSP graduates and fellow assistants. I still do a lot of work with fellow assistants, and assisting at RMSP is 100% the reason I am where I am today.

I knew my stuff coming into the assistant position, but I still questioned my abilities. It helped solidify everything I learned as a student. I was receiving the information again and this time I had a foundation to build on. Coming back as an assistant really made me believe that I knew more than what I gave myself credit for. It was a huge building block and confidence builder.

It also allowed me to build relationships with individuals in the photo industry outside of RMSP. This was absolutely vital to my success. Connections are everything in this world. I asked the pros as many questions as possible. I made it my mission to find out how the pros became successful. Every pro told me that they shared their goals with others. It’s so important to openly share what you want out of life and your career. It’s all about how your connections can help you achieve your goal. You can’t expect others to help you in your journey if others don’t know what you’re after. That sounds a bit self-centered and selfish, but it’s true. I ease my conscience by trying to help others as much as possible. Looking at it this way really helps me to justify asking others for help. It’s full circle and you have to keep it turning. I really do owe my surf photography career to assisting at RMSP. I was assisting RMSP graduate, Mike Tittel during the Adventure Photography Pro Studies course when he asked me what I wanted to do after I left RMSP. Little did I know, his question and my answer would change my life. I was open with Mike about wanting to be a surf photographer. He introduced me to his good friend Michael Clark who was teaching a surf photography workshop with Brian Bielmann. Michael told me I needed to attend this workshop and that it could possibly lead to a job working with Brian.

It was the break I needed!

 

CB: Now you’re living on the north shore of Oahu! Can you share a bit about your decision on moving to Hawaii and your relationship with Brian and the doors that are opening because of your move?

You know, things came so close to not working out that it’s not even funny. I met Brian through the surf photography workshop he and Michael Clark held in February 2013. We hit it off the first day during introductions, when we realized we grew up in the same geographic location. After that, I drifted a bit from the group and Brian. I really had the desire to create images that were a little bit different from the rest of the group. At one point during the workshop, I remember Michael Clark encouraging me to spend more time getting to know Brian. I wasn’t spending enough time building that relationship. It wasn’t until the last night of the workshop that I actually went up to Brian and asked if I could work for him. I remember him chuckling and saying “Sure, why not?” We had a brief conversation about me moving out to Hawaii in October of 2013. That was the extent of the conversation. That was it. I started looking for rentals on the North Shore later that summer. It quickly became apparent that it was ridiculously expensive and there were very few places to rent. I had reached out to Brian multiple times and hadn’t received a response. A couple months went by and still no response. I was getting a bit worried. The winter season was approaching fast and I hadn’t found a place to live or even knew if Brian was serious about me working for him. I had to make a decision soon.

Brian Bielmann is considered one of the greatest surf photographers of all time. At the time he was senior staff photographer for Transworld Surf Magazine and was a staff photographer for Volcom. The surf industry is all about who you know and it can make you or break you. This guy knows everybody. He’s been a surf photographer for 40 years. Very few surf photographers, if any, can claim that. So, I knew I had to go.

Without any response from Brian, I signed a 6-month lease on the North Shore. Within hours of signing that lease and faxing it to the landlord, Transworld Surf announced they were closing their doors effective immediately.

Panic set in.

How am I going to survive in Hawaii if Brian doesn’t have a job and there’s nothing for me do? I remember thinking at that point that it was over and Hawaii wasn’t going to happen. That afternoon I sent Brian an urgent message asking what to do. He finally responded with a short but deliberate note, “Need you now more than ever.” I still had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. I’m glad I decided to go. It’s been one of the best decisions of my life. Brian is one of the most humble and kind human beings out there. Not only has he been a great mentor but he’s become a great friend. I feel incredibly honored and lucky to be in the position I find myself in.

As for doors being opened, I credit a lot of my success to Brian. He has relentlessly advocated for me and my work. Since moving to Hawaii, I’ve worked with him on most of his jobs and on many occasions he’s split his check down the middle with me. What photographer does that? It’s amazing. Jobs that he hasn’t been able to do for various reasons, he’s made sure I got them. I think he advocates more for me than he does himself. As a budding photographer it’s essential to have someone like Brian. I’ve gained so much so quickly because of him. It’s unbelievable. I’ve accomplished a lot in under two years because of my connection with him. I’m eternally thankful for all the opportunity he’s given me. It wasn’t that long ago, I would’ve never been able to imagine my life the way it is now. There was little back then I was excited about and I never imagined I’d be living on the North Shore of Oahu. We recently attended a private Volcom party and I was pinching myself. I was always a Volcom fan. As a kid, I worked in a surf shop and I’d always try to push their clothing on unsuspecting mothers. I never imagined years later I would be invited to a small private function attended by all the top guys at Volcom. It was an honor and I think that’s when it started to sink in. I’m actually making this whole thing happen!

 

CB: It’s pretty obvious hanging around you nowadays that your focus has switched to motion. What’s the mindset you have for your motion work and have there been certain factors that led you to video?

Reed_Ben_Reed_09095I think for me, one of the important things in life is being able to recognize opportunity when it arises and being able to make adjustments to take advantage of those opportunities. It sounds like such an easy concept, but I think most people struggle with this. Not being afraid to change is essential. Producing photographic work with Brian is an unbelievable experience and in the long run I’d eventually have to break away and focus on my own work.

We travel together and it’s really not a great business model to have two photographers shooting the same subject at the same time. We work so well together that I felt it would be advantageous for both of us to figure out a way to continue the relationship. There had to be an option that would allow me to continue working with Brian and still be successful in the surf industry. Shortly after coming to this realization, I was slapped in the face with an opportunity. It was one of those situations of being in the right place at the right time.

Brian and I were shooting stills for a film John John Florence was working on. Hurley had hired a production company from outside the surf industry to produce the film. There were some issues with the production; the hired company didn’t understand surfing, and it hit me that there was a need for a high-end production company that understands surfing. There are definitely other cinematographers out there doing amazing work and I feel like I can bring something else to the table. I know with bringing Brian on board for large projects we will have a one-two punch that nobody will be able to offer. I think Brian is so unique and my desire to succeed and produce something different will help set us apart.

 

CB: I see the new gear. Can you tell us about the setup you’re using today and what cool stuff it enables you to do?

Ahh, yes. I invested in a RED Dragon made by Red Digital Cinema. This camera is pretty damn incredible. It has a dynamic range of 16 or 18 stops and can actually shoot video in HDR, giving even more dynamic range. It’s also the first digital video camera that shoots in 6k. I can actually pull still frames from the video that are print quality. There are many magazine covers out there shot with a RED that had a still frame pulled to be included in print. It’s been used for a plethora of major motion pictures including but not limited to The Hunger Games, House of Cards, Jurassic World, Chappie, Marvel Avengers, Star Trek Into Darkness — you get the idea. It’s a very powerful tool and we’re very excited about the future. I can easily go from shooting an interview on location, to shooting surf from the beach, to shooting underwater in my CMT waterhousing. It’s impressive. It’s opening a whole new world of possibilities. Now I just have to learn how to use it! Hahaha.

 

CB: What’s next for Ben Reed? Any new projects or big plans on the horizon?

Haha, that’s such as loaded question. Immediately speaking, I just signed a deal with ISA (International Surfing Association) to shoot their contests for 2015. I’m so pumped because they’re sending Brian and I to Mexico, Nicaragua, California, the Canary Islands, China and Chile.

The entire reason for leaving the 9-5 job was to travel more and it’s really cool that’s starting to happen.

 

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I can’t wait to see what other doors this opens as well. That’s huge in itself. I’m also planning on traveling to Teahupo’o in mid-summer to film surfing and underwater scenes. The water there is incredibly clear. It should be an amazing experience. I’d have to say that I’m most excited about starting our production company. I have a lot of ideas, projects and collaborations that I’d like to shoot. I definitely want to spend some time documenting stories that need to be told. I have a strong desire to share stories with others and I feel like motion gives me more opportunity to tell those stories. I definitely want to start submitting to film festivals, but that’s a couple years off. I’m still learning Adobe Premiere and how to properly use the RED. Ultimately, I want to produce work that’s important to me and hopefully strikes an emotional connection with others. I’d like our work to help motivate people to change their lives if that’s what they wish to do.

I definitely have a vision of where I want to be in the future, but I’m also keeping it really open. I don’t want to be so focused on one thing that I miss an opportunity somewhere else. Again, I think it’s important to be flexible and not be afraid to change. So, who knows what the future holds. I’m just excited about everything. I’m so thankful for what I’ve already been able to accomplish and excited about all the potential of the future.

 

CB: While spending time around Ben and Brian during my visit in Hawaii, the strength of their relationship stood out. When I asked Brian to share his thoughts about Ben, he had a few things to say …. 

“I’ve got to say one thing about Ben. He is the smartest, coolest, and the most honest guy I have ever had the pleasure to work with and be friends with. That’s more than one, I guess. The point is, I have never wanted to help anyone or see someone succeed as much as I do Ben. He came to Hawaii a couple years ago to assist me and has been the most helpful person in my whole photography career. I don’t think of Ben as an assistant anymore. He is a partner now and some of the stuff we have accomplished because of that partnership has been some of the coolest stuff of my career. Thank you, Ben. Sounds like a man crush, huh? Well, Ben is like Sam from Lord of the Rings. Frodo could not have done it without Sam. Ben is my Sam…”

 

Thanks for sharing the update with us, Ben.

Keep going after it!

And thank you so much Charlie for helping to share Ben’s story.

 

You can view a few of Ben’s images in the gallery below or in his portfolio at www.benreedphoto.com and on Instagram at @benreedphoto.
Click the image below to check out his video reel on Vimeo.

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3 thoughts on “RMSP Graduate Profile: Ben Reed

Sherry Malotte

This is awesome! Thanks for the great read, Charlie and the inspiration, Ben!

Rhonda

Ben is truly one of the nicest and talented people, I loved him as TA and no I love following his photography path. Thanks Charlie for sharing.

Sue LaRose

Go Ben, GO!!!

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