We interviewed Sam Bénard – Spotlight Awards 2018 Winner in Sports Category, who has always been immersed in the world of photography. Read the interview below to learn about the inspiration and process of creating the winning image, Sam’s career turns and more.
Production Paradise: Tell us about the winning image – the idea behind it, how was it shot?
Sam Bénard: My winning image is part of a series which aims to do justice to the greyhound, and it’s embodiment of pure power and elegance. The series also examines a technical exercise; to freeze a precise moment, capturing it with 3 cameras at the same time with alternative angles from above and head on. I wanted the style of the image to be dark and moody, yet powerful, making the greyhound the dominant element in the frame, with its surroundings containing subtle detail and fading off to black.
I drew inspiration for the project from many avenues such as Eadweard Muybridge’s running horse, whilst trying to stamp on my own style and personality. Initially, the plan was to use a laser trigger to sync the firing of cameras and flash, but due to an unforeseen technical malfunction, and extremely foggy weather conditions, I had to completely change my approach on the day and shoot in pitch darkness in order to capture the set of images.
Finding a suitable location for the shoot was one of the hardest tasks. Unable to use an actual greyhound racing track like Wimbledon, I had to liaise with the GBGB (Greyhound Board of Great Britain) to find an approved trainer who was willing to work with me. Through them, I was able to find a suitable trainer with his own track and dogs, and one that also met my own ethical standards around the wellbeing of the dogs.
Production Paradise: How would you describe your style?
Sam Bénard: I would describe my style as clean, considered and stylised. A style that has evolved out of roots in documentary photography. The observational and storytelling elements that underpin documentary and reportage are still present in my work but elevated to a more conceptual standard. I also use grading and retouching as part of the whole creative process that defines my style.
Production Paradise: How did you end up behind the lens? Tell us about your career path.
Sam Bénard: I have always been immersed in the world of photography. My dad was a car photographer, meaning he often spent months away from home shooting on location. As a result, we would often spend family holidays close to where he was shooting so that we could have holidays without him completely missing out on precious family time. From a very young age, I would tag along, helping where I could, assisting his assistants. Usually set to work with laborious menial tasks like re-ordering the hundreds of filters. Which I now see were most likely a way of keeping me out of trouble or breaking something more valuable. I loved being on set, feeling like I was part of the crew and hanging out with the car technicians who often had some sort of remote control car or helicopter to keep me entertained.
Growing older, inevitably I often found myself with a camera in hand. I got my first DSLR just before traveling the world for a year at the age of 19. This built a strong documentary style in street photography. From here I went on to study Art & Design at the University of Leeds. At that point I was adamant I wouldn’t follow in my father’s footsteps, merely following my creative interests. As part of my course, I studied for a year at the University of Fine Art in Valencia, Spain. Here I studied film photography which opened my eye to the beauty of film and processing/printing one’s own images. That was the turning point, at which I realised this was something I was good at and a career I could see myself perusing.
Straight out of university I began assisting, finding work with as many photographers as possible, and eager to learn. Instantly loving the daily diversity, travel and all the unique experiences that come with working in this unique industry. Assisting has taken me around the world from Scotland to Afghanistan, so I am indebted to all the photographers who put their trust in me, allowing me to join the team and for teaching me what they knew. During my time assisting, I was always shooting my own personal projects on the side and exploring ways to progress my own skills and style. It was after roughly 5 years of assisting that I focused my energy on getting commissioned as a professional photographer in my own right.
Production Paradise: What do you think is necessary to become a successful commercial photographer?
Sam Bénard: The world of commercial photography is evolving faster every day. Therefore I think one of the most crucial requirements for photographers these days is to be flexible, having the ability to adapt to whatever is thrown at you, while maintaining a positive outlook and delivering what’s required with your own personal stamp. That said I think it is also important to stay strong and stick to your values when tested.
Production Paradise: We believe you are not resting on your laurels – what are you working on now?
Sam Bénard: I too like to think I’m not resting on my laurels. I have many personal projects and ideas running around my head, it’s finding the time to execute them is the tough part. Right now I’m working towards a big project that will hopefully take me to Japan early next year to explore certain traditional sports. In the meantime, I have several smaller automotive and sports projects running more locally in the UK. That’s all I will say for now, so you’ll have to watch this space to see.
Production Paradise: The Spotlight awards had a judge’s panel composed of potential clients for commercial photographers – did that influence your choice of image(s) selected for your entry?
Sam Bénard: No, I don’t think it did. Obviously, it ramps up the pressure as you really want to impress, but I think it’s important to stick to what defines you as a person. This greyhound project is one that I hold dearest to me. I’m extremely proud of that set of images, which I feel comes across to the viewer. Had I submitted a commercial image that I thought the judges would want to see, I don’t think I would have been shortlisted in two categories and won one of them. If you look at both images you can see they’re not your typical commercial photograph, although they definitely have transferable commercial attributes.
Production Paradise: What made you want to participate in these Awards?
Sam Bénard: If I’m honest I wasn’t planning on participating. It had been several years since I last submitted an image to a competition. I randomly saw a post from Production Paradise stating the deadline for entries was approaching. Knowing how important exposure is for photographers these days and how useful competitions can be in getting that exposure, coupled with the caliber of the judges, I figured it was a good business move and decided to enter. Never expecting to win I actually forgot I had entered, so was completely shocked and delighted when I got the shortlist email.
We would like to thank Sam for taking the time to share his journey with us! To see more of his work, visit Member’s portfolio or website. If you wish to become a Production Paradise Member, click here for more details.
Production Paradise will issue a special edition of Spotlight Magazine featuring all the winners. Make sure you subscribe to our blog and Spotlight Magazine to stay connected with top creative talents and services in the international commercial photo and film industry!