With the help of his Fujifilm X-Pro3, Ben Yan collaborated with friends to turn photography into a source of positive energy during the pandemic.
During March 2020, as lockdowns rolled out across the country and the novel coronavirus pandemic upended life as we knew it, Ben Yan started thinking about a new photo project. “One of the things that really helped me get through things and stay calm and kind of positive was just getting out and shooting,” he says. An undergraduate at Penn State studying organizational psychology, Yan had always loved exploring with a camera. In the midst of the crisis, he learned that his photo habit could serve a sustaining meditative purpose. It was a discovery he wanted to share. “I knew that I wanted to show other people how you can use photography to look at the world in a different way that helps you be really present and super focused,” he says.
Yan honed his concept into a collaborative summer project as one of Fujifilm’s 2020 Students of Storytelling, taking a friend and a FUJIFILM X-Pro3 mirrorless camera along on photo excursions to create complex, contemplative images together. “I’m very interested in layers of an image,” he says. “I like to make pictures that people can look at for at least a minute or two and take out different elements and make different connections across the frame.”
The casual feel of his street scene of a young woman in front of a window—one of his collaborators—belies its meticulous attention to detail. “There are a lot of different ways to look at this image,” Yan explains. “If you look at her on the left, I think you’ll imagine one thing, and if you look at just her reflection . . . you interpret something different about what she’s thinking or feeling or doing. And then if you look at the shadow, it gives a different perspective on who you think that person is or what she’s doing.” After they worked the scene together for half an hour or so, Yan shot the final image with an FUJINON XF16mm F2.8 R WR lens set at f/8 to keep the multiple layers of the image sharp. “I wanted everything to be in focus,” he says. “Just because everything mattered.” Yan photographed most of his collaborative series at f/8 and ISO 800, varying his shutter speed to fine-tune exposure. He favors the X-Pro3’s higher ISOs because they enable its DR400% setting. The expanded dynamic range option helps him capture nuances that bring layers of meaning to his images. Experience has taught him to operate the camera controls by touch, so he can keep his eye on the details of composition and release the shutter at the optimal moment. “The physical manual control is what does it for me,” he says. “I don’t think I could ever shoot with another digital camera that didn’t have physical shutter speed dials or aperture dials.”
He does, however, look forward to doing more shooting with other people. While photography had been a solitary pursuit for him in the past, sharing his photographic practice brought him a new pleasure in creative collaboration. “It’s nice to work with other creatives,” he says. “Working with people that are interested in the same thing makes the experience really fun.” Yan plans to continue shooting with friends while he finishes his degree and mulls over the possibility of pursuing an MFA—“just as an excuse to do more photography.”
“I knew that I wanted to show other people how you can use photography to look at the world in a different way that helps you be really present and super focused.”
As a Fujifilm Student of Storytelling, Ben Yan got advice from a team of mentors including photographers Miles Witt Boyer, Tony Corbell, and Tom Maddrey; Fujifilm technical expert Michael Bulbenko; and Muse Storytelling pros Varina Hart Shaughnessy and Leah Judson while working on his project. Here are some of the tips he found helpful:
Storytelling is like baking a cookie: You need all the integral parts that go into it (flour, eggs, oil, sugar), or else you won’t have a cookie that is crispy on the edges and chewy on the inside. The four key ingredients of storytelling are people, purpose, plot and place.
To obtain full copyright protection on your images, you must register them at copyright.gov.
For photographers looking to freelance, become an LLC. This way, the company carries the liability rather than you personally.
When posing, try to create S curves and C curves with every part of the body to make the image look both natural and pronounced.
FUJIFILM X-Pro3 mirrorless
camera and FUJINON
XF16mm F2.8 R WR lens.
ABOUT: Fujifilm created the Students of Storytelling to identify the next generation of U.S. storytellers, and to provide them with Fujifilm X Series or GFX System gear to bring their vision to life. Visit the official Fujifilm Students of Storytelling site for more information about the complete program.
Follow @benonthestreet to stay up to date with Ben Yan.
Pandemic Inspires Creative
PHOTOGRAPHER Ben Yan
Photo © Ben Yan