Benjamin von Wong

From Fear to Success

Oh. My God. Those clothes are absolutely phenomenal. How did you find that amazing costume?!

In this case, it all began with me posting out a call on Facebook: “Anyone cool I should work with in San Francisco while I’m here?”

I got a bunch of responses but the one that stood out was a lady that replied: “You should check out my daughter’s work! I think you’ll like it!: www.serpentfeathers.com

I did, and she was right. I LOVED it.

Though they don’t get enough credit for it, our families are quite often our biggest fans and supporters. Even when no one else believes in us, they do. And while we may not always see eye to eye, it’s good to know someone always has our back. This week’s BTS video is dedicated to all the mothers and fathers out there with crazy artsy children without whom we wouldn’t be where we are today.

I got a bunch of responses but the one that stood out was a lady that replied: “You should check out my daughter’s work! I think you’ll like it!: www.serpentfeathers.com

I did, and she was right. I LOVED it.

Though they don’t get enough credit for it, our families are quite often our biggest fans and supporters. Even when no one else believes in us, they do. And while we may not always see eye to eye, it’s good to know someone always has our back. This week’s BTS video is dedicated to all the mothers and fathers out there with crazy artsy children without whom we wouldn’t be where we are today.

A couple months back, I found myself in San Francisco for a couple assignments. I had scheduled extra time to hang out with my buddies from SmugMug so I found myself with a couple free days. Rather than take the time to explore the city and be a good tourist, I turned to Facebook and asked if there was something interesting to shoot with the couple free days I had remaining.

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Discovering Ka’s work was a journey on it’s own. I was immediately enthralled by her amazing feather costumes and was even more impressed to learn that she had hand made each and every one of them on her own. After only 30 seconds on her site, I knew I had to work with her. I reached out to her on Facebook crossing my fingers that she would be available the few days I had remaining in San Francisco.

It’s always an interesting thing to reach out to someone that you admire. You never quite know what the feedback is going to be. Though I am fairly comfortable with my portfolio I have a massive respect for talented artists. That fear of maybe being turned down never truly leaves, but I learned a long time ago that you missed a 100% of the shots you didn’t take. Taking a deep breath, I introduced myself.

“Hi, my name is Benjamin Von Wong and I am a photographer…”

After only a couple hours of waiting impatiently, the answer came: she was excited and down for it!

I was exhilarated. Mind racing, I started running through all the things I would need to lock down. Dates. Location. Talent. Assistants. All the typical variables that would be needed. Things I knew that I could figure out fairly quickly. Yet somehow, with that exhilaration also came a familiar underlying layer of stress. I was going to be working with someone amazingly talented who was going to give me her time and trust. what if I didn’t get the shots? What if she was disappointed?

Despite the years of experience I’ve accumulated shooting, and the amazing equipment I had access to (A brand new Leaf Credo 80 to try out with my Broncolor Move kits coming up at almost 50k worth of gear) the tension and that glimmer of self-doubt still hovered.

Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to invest in worrying and as I started to focus on all the things that needed to get done the worrying got kicked into the back seat and excitement settled in.

Finding the right location was quite a challenge – not only did it have to be exotic, it also had to be accessible. I reached out to my fans in California asking them for suggestions for a location that would be rocky with dramatic cliffs and while they had some amazing suggestions, a lot of them were extremely hard to come by. We eventually decided, the day before the shoot, that the Sutro Baths was going to be the perfect place to pull the shoot off with a nice combination of rocks, water and trees despite a ridiculously steep climb. It would give us the variety needed for the three different outfits that Ka was going to be bringing.

My team of assistants, makeup artist Dinah Raphaelle, as well as the video crew from Empty Duck Digital, showed up a good 2 hours early in order to get our scouting in. Since things had been pulled together so last minute, there had been no chance to get any scouting done so I made sure to get there bright and early in order to check out the location and see which locations would be the best to pull off the shot.

As it so happens, the place I was most excited about shooting also happened to be the most treacherous to get to.

Unwilling to be deterred, we picked up stray bits of metal that were lying around in order to dig a series of footholds so that we could lug 80 pounds of gear across the side of the cliff.

All so that I could shoot from one end of a cliff… all the way to another.

All that hard work though, was completely worth it when we managed to capture the perfect wave that just swept in looking like a water horse or dragon. Hands down, my favourite frame of the day.

And just like that, I finally had something tangible within my grasp that Ka & Dinah were happy with, all the initial unspoken dread and worry that I had accumulated within me that was carefully hidden all throughout the day vanished within me.

It was back to directing, having fun and experimenting now that I was certain I had at least one amazing piece in my grasp.

This was my first outdoor photoshoot where I was going to be using the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 and the fact that I could get my ISO as low as 35 and my shutter speed as high as 1/1600th was something I had never experienced before. Combining that with 1200 watts of power out of my Move packs meant that I could have an unprecedented level of control that I never had in the past – No need to hypersync, no need to jerry rig up some bedsheets for shade, and no need to worry about the sun not playing nice.

This meant that I could focus on other things such as figuring out how to get my lights from one edge of the rocks to another, having Brandon and Paul struggle to not fall over as they balanced precariously on the rocks and having Ka Amorastreya balance from one challenging location to the next while making sure to not get any feathers wet.

All the fun and excitement finally began to come to an end as the sun inevitably began it’s final descent and so with the last little bit of battery remaining, I captured the final frame for the day, with my camera plugged into the laptop so that it could charge on the go.

And only then, as the shutter clicked for the final time did I finally feel a sense of accomplishment and safety. There was no turning the clock back now, and I had done the best that I possibly could have. That regardless of how the images turned out, everyone had given it their all and that no matter what happened, we all had… at the very least… a great experience.

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Credits

Model, Designer, Stylist: Ka Amorastreya – www.serpentfeathers.com

Makeup: Dinah Raphaelle – dinahraphaelle.com

Video: Josh Rottman – www.emptyduckdigital.com ,Greg Arch

Assistants:
Brandon Lee Wells, Paul Goodsin, Chrysta Bell, Christine Beggs, Carmine Di Donato, Mikka D. Pineda, Michael Bonocore, Tessa Kit Zawadzki, Katrina Curry

Photo: Von Wong

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