Discussing the joys and challenges of photography with people and lifestyle photographer Hollis Bennett
By Emily Lucas
In this interview, Hollis explains the rewards of working in the toughest of environments and the excitement that comes from shooting in those difficult locations, harsh weather conditions and long days.
Learn more about Hollis’s background and what motivates him to tell stories through a photograph below!
Production Paradise: Hi Hollis, to begin with, could you tell us a little bit about your background and where your passion for photography came from?
Hollis: I think what it all comes back to is just being curious – I love seeing what’s around the next corner, what the next day holds. Photography is an excellent way to try and fulfill that curiosity since every day is different and you never really know what’s next – it keeps you on your toes.
Production Paradise: You spend a lot of your free time outdoors – whether it be playing rugby, fishing, hunting or traveling. How has this shaped your perspective on capturing natural and vibrant lifestyle imagery?
Hollis: When you spend a lot of time outdoors you become attuned to the natural rhythms of the seasons and the weather. You spend a lot of time consciously and subconsciously observing the light and how it changes and falls on your surroundings. It really helps influence the image making and giving you a knack for subtlety.
Production Paradise: Some of your photographs appear to be taken in treacherous conditions. Is this something that makes a photograph more exciting for you?
Hollis: I don’t know if it makes it more exciting – I don’t go out of my way to put myself in treacherous situations but sometimes that happens. Actually, I wouldn’t say that the situations we find ourselves in are truly treacherous or dangerous – they just appear that way. I and my team have a lot of experience in these sorts of places and we know how to mitigate any sort of real danger. Injuries and death are not allowed on my set – does no one any good.
Production Paradise: How do you ensure that weather conditions, long days and difficult locations do not detract from the creative process of photography?
Hollis: You just deal with it and get to the task at hand. Really though it comes to planning and understanding your challenges and communicating them to everyone involved. If you go into a shoot telling everyone that it will be easy and relaxing, and rainbows and lollipops, and then it turns and actually becomes work – then you’ll have issues. Folks will complain, attitudes get negative and then you have a toxic work/creative environment.
The flip side of this is that when you let folks know that its going to be hot/cold/wet/dusty/early call time/late wrap etc. etc. etc. people can plan for it, dress accordingly and when it turns out that the reality isn’t as bad as you planned for, everyone is on cloud nine. Cold beer on set after wrap also helps!
Production Paradise: You have also directed short films. Was this interest in directing a natural process that followed after having done photography for some time?
Hollis: Being curious and a natural story-teller I feel that it was for sure a natural progression to move from stills to motion. I made a conscious effort to not just immediately dive in when technology came about that made it more accessible. I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough – just because your camera can shoot moving pictures doesn’t mean that you know what you are doing. There was a whole crop of photographers who jumped into it and kind of fell on their face – you learn a lot from that.
Directing motion is in a lot of ways similar to still photography – you try to fill up your frame in a creative, interesting way, make sure the light looks nice and then get your story or project from A to B. Where it differs is how you get from A to B. You need a solid team of professionals to collaborate with, you need patience and a little extra budget helps.
I can say without a doubt that moving into more of a directing role has made me an immeasurably better photographer, that’s for sure.
Production Paradise: You mentioned you have some agricultural projects coming up. Could you tell us a little bit about this and what agricultural photography entails?
Hollis: Well, there always seems to be some agriculture work on the horizon and this is the time of year where clients start getting ramped up to produce some late-season growing images as well as harvest. Agriculture work is its own fickle beast and the crops will wait for no man, so scheduling and being proactive is even more important in this niche. You might have time in May to go out and shoot but an empty field isn’t that compelling. Wait until August and then you have 7’ tall corn to play with – that’s something.
Aside from the natural schedule of seasons and agriculture, you have to be able to relate with the farmers and just be a ‘real’ person. We don’t ever come in with a ton of production – we keep the circus at home and try and have as minimal a footprint as possible. We can move faster, cover more ground and get a better, more honest response from our talent who, at the end of the day, are farmers and not models.
Production Paradise: With climate and sustainability prominent global topics, what are some of the messages you intend to portray when shooting agriculture?
Hollis: A lot of what we get called for with agriculture shooting has many elements of sustainability as well as technology rolled in. The more that technology finds a home out in the fields, the higher yields get, which leads to higher efficiencies. Things like more accurate GPS and better panting methods save fuel, which not only is great for the environment but also the bottom line. Anyone who hasn’t been on a working farm in the last 10 years would be shocked to see the sorts of technology that is at play. The inside of the machines look like NASA, everyone has a smartphone or tablet that can view every metric you can imagine, in real time and more and more you’re seeing drones buzz about over the fields gathering data. Its an exciting field (pun intended) to work in right now.
Production Paradise: You have an impressive client list – from National Geographic to Land Rover. What would you say has been your most enjoyable project so far?
Hollis: There are a few stand-outs so far but for different reasons. First to mind is a recent campaign we did for Cub Cadet off road. Not only were the locations great and the agency and talent a joy to work with but we worked really hard for that one – tons of challenges, tons of on the spot decisions and we left it all out on the field and the work shows – we poured our souls into that one.
More recently I shot at a very secure, high-security national defense site that has some pretty crazy stuff going on. I can’t say much more about it but one day I’ll be able to release the images.
Most of my shoots are memorable for one reason or another – its always a big problem-solving exercise and the payoff is when you catch a glance over to the client watching the monitor and they are grinning ear to ear and you can see them getting excited about what you are shooting. That’s what it’s all about.
Production Paradise: Do you have any exciting campaigns in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Hollis: I have a big state-wide tourism campaign that kicks off here in a few days that will be amazing – tons of cool locations, lots of creative freedom, real people in their environment and stills and motion. Cannot wait. I get to work with some of my favorite people in the industry as well so, should be a lot of laughs and lots of great content!
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