The PRO EDU Podcast Season 3 Episode 26 | Ben Von Wong w/ hosts Gary Martin & Rob Grimm

The PRO EDU Podcast Season 3 Episode 26 | Ben Von Wong w/ hosts Gary Martin & Rob Grimm


– [Narrator] Welcome
to the RGG EDU podcast, where they talk a little photography and drink a lot of whiskey. – Season three of the RGG EDU podcast is brought to you by SmugMug. Yeah, they’ve got a ridiculous
grin and the name is funny, but SmugMug is serious about photography. If you’re ready to upgrade
your photo game online, get your ass over to SmugMug.com to see where the pros are storing, showing, and selling their images. – In this episode, we’re
joined with the one and only, Ben Von Wong. And, alongside Robertus Grimus. – I’m always by your side Gary Morton. – Ben, you’re my favorite Canadian, I’m just gonna go out and say it. – Oh, Renee’s gonna be pissed. – That’s alright, that’s okay. She can be pissed. – Wow, you just bummed out Renee Robbie. – You know what? That’s fine. That’s kind of our relationship, she’s always somehow mad at something. It’s better to keep her on her toes. Ben, thank you so much for
hopping on season three. – Thank you for having me. – At the podcast we’re just
joyous that you’re here. Just joyous. – Ecstatic. That we are. – That we are. – We’re joyous. – So, for our audience,
who might not understand what you do, like, how
would you describe yourself? – Both of them, the two
people that don’t understand. – How, what would you say you do here? – Didn’t we go over this? (laughing) – [Gary] This is a whole new thing. New format, new thing. – [Rob] The final time. – What do I do? Ah, I think that I’m best
described as a campaign creator. Most people know me as a photographer, but I design campaigns
from start to finish. From the conceptualization
to the shooting, video, photo, blog post,
marketing campaigns. So I think campaign
creator sort of sums it up. And I’m currently focused
on social entrepreneurship and any form of that, making
the world a better place. – Campaign creator is a
completely unique position. Because in many ways,
you’re taking the position of the creative director,
the executive producer, the, you’re like the ad
agency and the photographer, all rolled into one. Which is an unusual place to be. – Should be charging
five times the amount. (laughing) – Well, right now I’m having
a great time working for free, but when I do charge, it goes pretty high. So it works out,
equalizes itself, I think. – Can we back up a little bit and discover your pathway, like, what
was your early work like? And when you talk about being, you know, the creative or the content maker now, that you are, where were you initially? – Yeah, so I’ve had numerous phases within my photography career. It started off with, like most people, just learning how the tools
work, the photography, learning how to use a camera,
learning how to use lights. I started off doing a lot of events, weddings, all that stuff, ah, and then over time, I
realized that photography had become a job, and I
didn’t want that to happen. I had, I was still an
engineer at the time, and so I quit the event and business side of photography and just
focused on creativity, and doing cool projects, experimenting, pushing the limits of what I normally did. And along with that, I learned
that if I shared the process of what I did, the creative
side of photography, I would generate
significantly more traction within the viewership of my
content, and so over time, I became a little bit of an educator. And when I quit my job,
I just started traveling around the world and I
teach a workshop somewhere, get a free plane ticket somewhere, and then create something
new while I was there. And just keep on hopping
from one place to the other, until I reached a point
where I was eventually able to get work that I wanted to do. To the point where I eventually
got my first global campaign with a huge corporation,
got paid a lot of money, and realized that wasn’t what
I was really after anymore. And so I took a step back,
almost quit photography, actually, and moved off
into video, only to realize that I wasn’t that great of
a videographer. (laughing) And I decided to refocus
on social entrepreneurship, which is where I’m at today,
and looking to convince corporations that their campaigns can be even more awesome if they took the time to find the right social angle to it. – What was the ah-ha moment that said, okay, I really need to
kind of pull back the veil and share this stuff? Was that a conclusion that you came to, or were you inspired by
some other photographers that were kind of sharing? – Oh, it was a total mistake,
or just an experiment. My girlfriend at the time was like: hey, we should totally make
videos of you doing your shoots. And I’m like: why would I do that? No one would ever watch me. And ah, and we didn’t have
money for a camera at the time, so she, we bought a camera,
and you got a 15-day return policy, so she
dropped in, bought a camera, made a video, we returned the camera, put it up online, and
it was like: oh my gosh, this same exact photoshoot
that I would have done got 10X the number of views than
it ever would have gotten. And this was in the glory days
of behind the scenes videos where very few people were doing it. It was like when Chase Drivers was totally leading the charge on that
and you had Joe MacDonnelly and Zack Harris and all these other guys, and F-Stoppers was putting
out one video a day, so if you got featured on
F-Stoppers, it was like: woo! – It was gold. – Awesome, and well, those
days are gone now, but. (laughing) – Now it’s multiple videos a day. A barrage. – If you’re not doing 10
videos a day, you suck. – But the idea of sharing is
still incredibly important. I mean, it hasn’t
diminished in any stretch. – I think sharing with intent is probably the big differentiator,
because you can’t just create content and expect
people to watch it. You have to be delivering
something of value, that is either providing entertainment, education, inspiration,
whatever that thing is that you wanna be known
for, you have to know why you’re creating it;
you can’t just create random things and hope
that people share it, because it’s out there. – So, what images do you
think you’re best known for? Is it stuff from the early days? Is it the most recent stuff? – I think I’m best known for
my underwater photography. It, I think when I first tied models underwater in a shipwreck,
30 meters under, it was like the first
time I truly went far, that was featured in tons of places. But I never even heard
about, and to the point where I was trending on Facebook, and I haven’t necessarily
been able to replicate that success, even with,
even though I’ve tied more people underwater, (laughing) and I did, you know, my project when I put a mermaid on 10,000 plastic bottles has 30 million views, but
I feel like that currency of 30 million views today
was maybe worth less than the 1.5 million
that I got a while back. – You know, a lot of people, I think, even before that you were
kind of known as the fire guy. How did that come about? – I’m known as the fire
guy within the photography community so it never
really transcended that. Like, I’ve never really
gotten out of, like, my fire work hasn’t really gone
international, if you will. It’s really mainly known within
the photography community, because I was the only one
that was doing it consistently, and interestingly using
fire not as an effect, but a tool to tell a story. So, the fire would imply
movement, it would imply, you know, some kind of
emotion or sense of, ah, you know, danger within the image. And so I was using it as a
storytelling device that, ah, somehow I did fairly interestingly. I think I got bored of it
after about a year and a half, but for a while I was
doing a lot of fire work. – You still breathing fire? – Still, I teach people
how to breathe fire from time to time, if
you guys wanna do that. – Let’s get a bottle of Everclear. What do we need to do that
right now, on this podcast? – Ah, classically you
would use liquid parafin. – But can we do Everclear? – We have a ton of booze here. – What can we do? I wanna see Rob breathe fire. – Oh, god no. I’m risk-averse; I’m not gonna do that. (laughing) – I’ll do it. – Yeah, you’ll do it? Awesome, awesome. We can just drop by a
hardware store after this and you’ll probably light on
fire just by going outside. (laughing) It’s so hot. – You don’t seem to be very risk-averse. Like, taking models down 30
feet underwater and tying them– – 100 feet. It was 30 meters, yeah. – Yeah, that’s a risky proposition. So how are you finding the
people that are willing to do that, and quite honestly,
from like a risk management point of view, how do you handle like, the insurance issues, or do you? I mean, is this just: everybody come together
like, let’s try it? – Yeah, well I always work
with, ah, people who know way more than I do, so
it’s basically you work with people who are smarter than you are, who’ve done it before. And so, basically, all these,
any project that involves dangling someone off a cliff
or lighting a person on fire– – So you have someone
to point the finger at? I like that. – There’s someone else
that’s responsible for the, the execution, but they
get to call the shots. So they get to say, you
know, if they say: it’s over. Like yeah, it’s not, it’s
not my shot at that point. – Have you had that happen? Like, your idea couldn’t come to fruition because it was too dangerous? Or they’re like: no, I don’t
wanna be a part of this. – No, it’s not usually like that. It’s more along the lines of:
these are the constraints. These are the parameters
that you have to work under. These are my rules. – Sounds too safe. Sounds like you’re not
pushing the limits, Ben. Sounds like you could go further. – Dude, have you watched
some of his videos? They’re crazy. – That’s why it’s funny, Rob. That’s how humor works. (laughing) You should try it out sometime. – He needs to drink more. If he drank more, it’d be more funny. – So we spent the day kinda going through a lot of what you’re
doing now, but I wanna, I wanna hop into your Instagram feed– – Can I take off my glasses? – Oh yeah, sure. You recently dangled a woman off of a cliff that’s in a wheelchair. Talk to me about that story. That’s a really cool– – That’s a cool story. – Well, so, Estree is a mother with a, ah, a son right now, who’s, I
think he’s seven right now, but she used to be like
a full-on adventurer, travel professional, and
she’d go around and abseil and teach people how to climb mountains and dangle off of them, and
then she went in one day for a routine shoulder surgery that went wrong and woke up paralyzed. And for like, I think, two years, they just kept saying that
things might get better. Just need to go through rehab,
hoping things would work out. And I think they’ve reached a point where it’s just like not gonna happen. And that was how she was
connecting with her son. Like, they’d go on adventures together. That was what they would do, as like, you know, mother/son bonding time. – Yeah. – And when we stumbled
across the story, we’re like: oh, man, you know, she’s
someone who’s managed to push through it, despite it all, and you know, is still
fighting to make the best of her life and wanted to share her story. Help her get some
visibility for the things that she was fighting for,
and to help her reconnect with her son, so we did the photoshoot. It was mostly organized,
logistically, by Karen Alsop, who’s a photographer out of Australia. She reached out to me and
said: hey, you’re in Australia. We should do something together. I have Adobe onboard, and
they’d love to support a, ah, a great cause; do you
have anything in mind? And so I ran through a
rolodex of different people, trying to find a good
story, and Estree really stood out to us and we’re like:
hey, let’s give this woman an opportunity to, you know,
put her in the limelight. She’s gotten on the, ah,
Good Morning Australia, I think it’s Good Morning Australia, the equivalent of it,
and gotten quite a lot of national attention as
a result of the shoot. So I did the dangling off the cliff part. Karen did the Photoshopping
of making her walk again, sort of a thing, so we teamed up and, you know, made a difference through art, which is the one thing that
we sort of know how to do. – How did Estree’s story come
to you in the first place? How did you hear about her? – I was, you know, through Facebook, looking for a good story
of someone inspirational who had a great story to tell, and, ah, found a photographer who knew
of a rock climbing company who knew of Estree. – So are you taking time
and digging for stories, or now that you have this reputation, are people just submitting stuff to you and throwing ideas at you? – Yeah, it’s ridiculously
hard to find great stories, actually, just because
you’re, ah, you know, I have maybe half a
million followers across social platforms, it
doesn’t mean that people actually get what makes a good story. So I do get a lot of
inquiries and proposals, if you will, but it’s quite rare that those actually translate
into any meaningful project. I think there’s this misconception that I can make anyone awesome, or I can make any story great, or viral, and it’s just not the case. So you know, I’ll always try to help people when they reach out. – So what are the
parameters for a good story? I mean, obviously, you
can tell by a proposal that it’s not gonna work. What are you seeing that is like: that’s a story that I can run with. – Well, first and foremost,
I’m a photographer. So, if, ah, if the person
has a non-visible disability, let’s say, or an invisible
problem that needs to be, is just incapable of being represented, that’s a huge thing that
needs to be worked through. It’s not impossible, but sometimes
you just get stuck there. A lot of the projects
that I do require access to certain things, and
so that’s another place where we get stuck. Some people never think
about how much work it takes to pull these things
together, and incidentally, are unwilling or uninterested
in putting in the legwork necessary to bring something together. So if I, if they send
in a story and I say: hey, sounds great, can you
get me this, this and that? And I’ll see what I can do. I, more often than not, never get a reply. Or it’s just an incomplete
one that can’t be actioned. And I think, really, it boils down to, so, the easiest metric
for whether or not a story is shareable to me is
whether or not it can be summarized in a single sentence. So if you can’t summarize
something in a single sentence to someone you’ve never
met before that sounds interesting enough to click on,
the chances of your campaign getting picked up
anywhere is close to zero. – Yeah, that’s an important element. You have to be able to take your concept and keep breaking it
down and breaking it down so that it is a very
small, concise message. Once you do that, then you can actually, really expand on the creativity. – Yeah, people have no
attention span, these days. It’s so short. – But you do take on things,
like the microfiber thing. In many ways, like that,
you can’t actually see those microfibers that you
were talking about earlier. Right? But you do find a way to illustrate a lot of things like that. – I do, but, so with
the microfiber campaign, which is to raise awareness
for these microscopic fibers within our clothes,
nylon, polyester, spandex, anything that’s plastic and synthetic, that as we wash release
plastic fibers into the ocean that can’t be filtered out by
wastewater treatment centers. The story there wasn’t
just the microfibers. The story there is a
human story of three kids stumbling across an enormous problem that no one is trying to solve. And that’s the real story. – Three kids discovered this? – No, they didn’t discover it. Well, they stumbled across the
research done by someone else and they decided they were
gonna make a solution. So they designed a bag that
can capture microfibers, and you know, they’re
just university kids. And that’s the real story is this, you know, this David versus Goliath story. And I’m just enhancing
their story by giving them, giving people an excuse
to click and learn more, and I’m enhancing their story. But I think, alone, just my campaign wouldn’t nearly have the same effect. And we’ll see if I’m right or wrong. I mean, it hasn’t gone live yet. It’ll go live in August. – Did you find them, or did they find you? – So, they found me through
a professor that I met at a retreat organized by the
National Academy of Sciences, which brought together 10
creatives and 10 scientists together to synergize and see
what could come out of it. – So when are those images going live? Like, when will people get to see that? We’re talking about it,
but they can’t see it yet. – Yeah, we’re aiming for August. And what we’re hoping to do is
call out a large corporation. GE is the current target. (laughing) – You just called ’em out, then. – Yeah, and just say like: hey, guys! Look at this amazing work
that these kids are doing. You guys have a proud
history of innovation. You invented the first
fully-automatic washing machine, in the 1950s, you designed the first ever, self-contained filtration
system within a refrigerator, why don’t you guys take
on this huge challenge and just, you know,
jumpstart the conversation and show that you do care? Because they actually have
an amazing green initiative, so we know that they’re
a great company to push, because they already have
these programs in place to support initiatives like these. We just need them to say: sure. – So, what would be the,
what’s the best-case scenario? If you had your way and GE responded, like, what would that look like? What would you expect then to happen? – Well, the best-case scenario would be that they would admit that
there’s a problem and say that they’re going to solve
it, within a certain deadline. And work towards it and actually reach the point of designing something that can be brought to market. I mean, it’s a long battle, but I think, with microfibers, just like
with most problems in the world, the biggest battle is awareness, and if consumers start demanding something and there’s enough market interest, then the companies build it, so that, you know, they can generate sales. It’s just the way the world works, so. – And competition, too. If you get a corporate giant
like that to innovate something then everybody who is
competing with them is gonna have to follow suit, they’re
gonna jump on the bandwagon. – In some ways, it creates a revolution. So, I don’t know the
actual mechanics of this, but when there was this
whole battle going on for microbeads, those
little pieces of plastic inside soaps that they
were fighting against, I think that the biggest
chunk of the battle, so it first started off
as a battle for awareness by all these environmental groups, but then it eventually
scaled commercially, where it was like: hey, buy our product. It doesn’t have microbeads. And that just creates this
great battle to save the planet, under the guise of capitalism, which is really what we operate under. – It’s kind of like the, ah, have you guys seen the
documentary on the story of the guy that invented the Segway? He’s kind of an amazing kind of scientist, and he puts on a lot of, ah, United States, like,
nationwide workshops for, you know, science conventions, but, he had a problem where he
wanted to produce a machine, and get this machine that
produced medical-grade, pure water to all the places in the world that don’t have access to water. And he spent years trying to figure out, he built the machine and
it was just impossible, logistically, to get this
machine to the right people. So then finally one day
it clicked with him, and he was like, okay, I’m
gonna contact Coca-Cola, because Coca-Cola, if you think about it, is in more nations than, in more countries than the United Nations,
and if you think about it, they have the exact
logistical distribution setup for getting liquids. And they, they have a problem, actually, Coca-Cola is hated in a lot of countries, because they use so much
of the water to create the Coca-Cola locally,
so Coca-Cola said this: we will get your water filtration systems distributed throughout the
countries that you need them to be distributed to,
but we want you to invent a better way, a better soda machine. So now, if you go to the movies, you see those soda machines
where you put your, instead of the traditional,
like, 12 faucet sodas, you have a button. So this guy, the inventor of the Segway, who many people actually think is dead, and died off of a cliff on a Segway, it’s just this terrible article that went, most people think he’s dead,
been and died, but he’s not. – He did a Thelma and Louise on a Segway? That’s the story? – But anyway, he made that
promise and invented that, in agreement, I think
by 2020, that Coca-Cola would have a net-zero, I guess,
usage of water in that area, because they’re using so much. So they would, by 2020 in
all of, I think globally, they will produce as much
water as they’re using, and they’re distributing
his invention to create medical-grade water for all the places that don’t have water. – [Rob] That’s amazing. – That is so cool, that is so cool. I wish I was an inventor. – You don’t think you are? You don’t think, I mean,
you’re an engineer? Like, didn’t you go to
school for engineering? – I’m a failed engineer. That’s why I’m a photographer. (laughing) I mean, I worked three and a
half years and it was fine. I was never fired. – And you didn’t like it? Did you quit because you hated it, or? – I quit because I woke up one morning and I couldn’t figure out
why I was going to work. I mean, I had savings, I was still living at home with my parents, and, ah, I just didn’t wanna do
the same job in 10 years. And so it was like: why am I
climbing the corporate ladder? What am I hoping to achieve? Where is this going to bring me? – Were you wearing a suit at this time? Did you go to, wearing a suit? – No, no, I never went through
that phase of evolution. – [Rob] Never wear a suit? – No, no, even– – What do you wear to weddings? – A Von Wong shirt. – Yeah, a Von Wong shirt. (laughing) Is that not what you’re supposed to wear? I mean, I have a blazer
on top of this shirt. – I need my own Von Wong tank top. Just saying, you know? – I need to actually
re-run this iteration, because these all have
synthetic fibers in them, so. – Oh, man, you’re
contributing to the problem. – I am, I am, and it’s only
gonna get worse over time. – Alright, so before that
shoot on Instagram, currently, there’s another one that is
post-apocalyptic, in Germany. I’m working on my words,
I’m working on my words. – Say it with a German
accent; that’ll be easier. – So, let’s talk about, let’s go back to the creative process. When was that idea planted into your head, and how long did it take
to come to fruition? Like, how long did you stew
over that before you were like: you know what, I gotta make this happen. – Yeah, so my girlfriend
was going to Germany in, what are we, 2017? So, in 2016 in May, she had
to go to Germany to shoot a wedding, and we have a
long-distance relationship. She lives in Australia and I was like: gosh, I need to figure
out how to get to Germany, and how to justify six weeks of time that I’m gonna hang out
there and do nothing. So I started looking around
for interesting things to do, and a group that I had
spoken to in the past, and collaborated with, were
called the Wasteland Warriors, and they make these ridiculously cool, post-apocalyptic, Mad
Max costumes and stuff. And I was like: hey guys, I’m, like, not doing the whole, you know,
randomly cool photoshoots, but I’m trying to save the world. You guys interested in, like,
an environmental project? And it turns out, Germans
as a nation are all super, I think they’re the
country with the highest number of members in Greenpeace. – So that was your one-sentence pitch? – Yeah, it was like: hey,
help me save the world. And these guys were down to it, so I pitched them this idea
of planting the last tree, or some kind of
post-apocalyptic vision of, you know, a group of guys
in masks, planting a tree. And that concept slowly evolved over the course of a few weeks. I started asking around
for different locations, different recommendations, and ah, and they told me of this,
you know, mining museum that existed in Leipzig. It was like an eight hour
drive from where they were, and they, you know, I was,
saw the photos of the place and I’m like: damn, this is amazing. Full-on mining machines
that are three, four, five stories tall, sounded
like the perfect location. And so they found their
entire crew of people, brought them over, who
didn’t really know that much about the concept, they
just knew it was gonna be an environmental one, and on our end, we designed a bunch of
props that we thought could just help convey the story, and you know, shot over
the course of two days. And when I originally created the series, it was only meant to be kind
of an anti-coal mining project. But it took us so long
to edit the final video, that by the time we released it, or I was gonna release it in
like, November or December, it was right when the
elections were happening, with Mr. Donald Trump, and, ah– – Who’s bringing back the coal mines. – [Ben] He’s bringing back the coal mines. – Rolling us back. – This is, this is so coincidental. And it just so happens
that one of the models, who was a businessman,
buying and selling oxygen, happened to be bald,
and I think I was joking with my girlfriend one day, and was like: what happens if I stick Donald
Trump’s hair on to this guy? What would it look like? And I just Photoshopped that,
and it was like: oh, my god. This looks exactly like him. So I had a little bit of an
internal debate for a while on whether or not it
was a good idea to start involving politics in
my work, and I figured: what the heck, let’s give it a shot. So, launched that campaign the
week after his inauguration. – What sort of backlash was there? – Any visa problems since then? (laughing) – Been audited yet? – We’ll find out when I put in my application for a green card. I mean, I did actually, before the launch, sent the post to Donald Trump fans. Like, someone who had actually
run his election campaign, amongst others, because
I wanted to make sure that what I wrote was not inflammatory. It was built on personal experience, and it was an opinion piece, of course. But I didn’t wanna shut
out the very people I wanted to communicate with. So I tried to make it as
non-partisan as possible. And I mean, I’m Canadian, too. – You got that going for you. – I mean, I’m Canadian, I’m not, ah, I’m not American, so
really I have no place in American politics, but
did really try to make the best out of the experience. And not be too inflammatory. – I think it’s interesting that, let me see if I can word this right, the people you’re almost fighting. It’s not really that
you’re fighting with them, but you wanna engage with them. They’re probably more
important to you, in many ways, because that’s who you wanna
have the conversation with. – Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I wanna have a conversation with them, and that’s sort of what my work is about. It’s about the photography
starting a conversation. I want people to look
at it and be like: huh. What am I looking at? Is this real, is this fake? Tell me more about it. And then I can actually drag them in onto this little adventure, tell them the amazing
constructions and projects that have come out of it, and as a result, talk about why I did
it in the first place. Whether or not they agree
with me at that point is fine, but at least I’ve had the
chance to express myself. – How much composite
work or Photoshop heavy do you put into your photos? Do you try and get everything
in-camera and make it as almost editorial, as
it’s happening, as possible? – Yeah, I try to do everything in-camera, but I’m not against Photoshop. That means that, at the end of the day, my ultimate goal is to
create a great final result. And if that requires Photoshop, sure. But I’m gonna try my best
to get it right, in-camera. – What’s been your journey to, are you someone that
naturally gravitates towards post-production, and you
really enjoy doing it? Or is that kind of the worst part of the whole process for you? – Yeah, I started off doing
a lot of fantasy work, right? And so, at some stage in my life, I had gone down the composite route, and I realized that spending
40 hours in front of, 40-odd hours in front
of a computer screen, trying to edit the crap out of a photo that I did a really bad job
creating in the first place, which is why I was editing it, was just a really, really
bad way to live my life. And so, ever since then I
just said: hey, you know, what do I love about the
projects that I’m doing? I love traveling, I love meeting people, I like the randomness of life, I love discovering new things, and none of that involves sitting in front of a computer, editing. Let’s see where that goes. And then, along with
those initial experiences, I just, I came to the realization that, you know, we live in a digital culture, where everything can be
done, almost everything can be done better in post,
and so people have this really real appreciation for people who put the effort to
do things in reality. It lends itself to a
sense of authenticity, and the ability for
people to connect to it. You know, I think one of
the things that’s most, ah, hourly-challenging about
your work, or appears to be, is the production quality
that you put into it. Do you, and I’m a big
believer that the things that we’ve experienced in the past really influence what we do. Do you think that the engineering mindset that you have has lent itself
to the production that you do? – Yeah, I definitely think that, ah, problem solving is one
of my greatest skillsets. I mean, I take big problems
and I just boil them down to little problems and I’m able to predict where are the bottlenecks,
and how to anticipate for them and solve them and
improvise along the way, and figuring out which are
the critical constraints to move forward, and I mean,
those things come naturally to me, whether or not that’s a result of my engineering background or not is something I wouldn’t be able to answer. – I just figured out who you are. You ready for it? – [Ben] Yeah, bring it. – You are the combination
if MacGyver and Bob Ross got together and had an
offspring, that would be you. I don’t know a better way to describe, like, ultimate problem
solver, can use a snorkel and some duct tape to
make anything happen. – Or kill anybody, yeah. – And then Bob Ross is just
like, creating awesome content that everyone wants to share and watch. – Except I don’t actually
solve the problems, I just find more awesome
people to work with. – [Rob] Actually, Gary, I think that’s one of the more brilliant
things you’ve ever said. – I think that might be the most brilliant thing I’ve ever said,
first of all. (laughing) But MacGyver, no matter what, would find the tools perfect for that job. – Oh, absolutely. – So that snorkel and
the duct tape are your, you know, the guy that’s
certifying you in Bali, boom. We need to somehow get his
DNA and Bob Ross’s DNA and– – Test them? – Yeah, someone. – There’s 43 in me. Just swab of saliva and
boom, you can find out. – Damn. – 23 in me. – [Ben] Oh, 23 in me. – Is it, yeah?
– Yeah, it’s 23 in me, sorry. Not 43, sorry, my bad. (laughing) – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 43. – There are not 43 chromosomes, right? (laughing) – Hopefully not in us. Maybe in somebody else, but not us. So I wanna talk about
something that you touched on earlier today, in a totally
separate conversation. And that was the fact that you
make everything with intent to be shared, which I
find really interesting. Because when I look at your work, I think: this guy’s making images
that he just wants to make. That he loves, period. So, in that sense it looks effortless, from my point of view. Not effortless in the fact that you, there’s a ton that went into it, but it seems like it’s
coming from some place inside of you that you have
to create these images. But there’s a component to it
where you’re creating images that you’re not gonna make
’em unless you can really share them and they have some
sort of viability, socially. Right? – I think there’s a
burn in there somewhere, on what you’re doing. He just– – No, not at all! (laughing) Actually, I think it’s
really pretty amazing. I was really surprised when you said that. – Calm down, stop yelling. – You know how defensive I am.
– Stop yelling. (laughing) – I think there are two
types of creatives, right? There are the creatives that
create because they have to, and then the creatives that
create because they want to. And in my case, like, I
want things to be seen, because without an audience to create for, I don’t see the purpose of creating. So, I like to think that, if
the internet didn’t exist, so for 30 years back, not only would I not be able to create the way I do, because I wouldn’t have
access to the audience that I do, I wouldn’t create, period. Because there’d be no point to it. Like, no one would see the photos. And I guess, in some sense,
so if we go back in time to my upbringing, where I
traveled to 13 different schools in two different countries,
I was always the random Asian kid in the class, or
the random Canadian kid, when I was in China, you know, I’d always like, just sort of blended in. I’d never been like, really,
the cool kid or the reject. Sort of like this
invisible thing in between, and always just struggled to
stand out and be a somebody. And so you read all these
books and fantasy novels and science fiction novels,
and there’s always a hero and a protagonist in
it, and it was never me. Because I was never great at anything. And I think, in some
respects, creating a story and championing a cause and being there has this sort of a hero complex
that sort of shines through. And so, so I’m not passionate
about any particular thing. I care a lot about all
the different causes that I try to support, and
it’s not that I, it’s not a, I would never say something
that I didn’t believe in, but at the same time,
I’m not as hyper-focused on a singular problem that I want solved, as the greatest people are. And so, what I tend to do
instead is just find people who are doing great things
and try to support them with what I do, and if
I’m not able to contribute visibility to what they’re doing, because I really fall into the
category of a communicator. I’m marketing and communications, right? That’s like my singular
purpose in what I do is marketing and communications. If I create a piece of
art that they can’t use to say anything, then it’s useless. So I need to help them communicate whatever it is that they’re
doing to a wider audience, about the things that they care about. And that’s the role I fulfill. – Right, sorry, I get, didn’t
mean to interrupt you there. I guess why it struck me so much, because I’ve been in the world
of commercial photography for so long, like, everything that I do is an intent to sell, right? I peddle food and booze. So it’s an intent to
sell my client’s product. And when you were speaking about this, I thought it was really interesting, because you have an intent
to have it shareable, to raise awareness, and that gets backed in to your creative
process, that gets backed in to your production process, which is kind of, it’s different from what a lot of fine art
photographers do, obviously. It’s different from what a lot of people who just are
driven to create do. I think it’s a different mindset, and I was surprised to hear that that was a big part of your platform. – Yeah, and I guess it
maybe boils down to the fact that I’m not really a photographer. I’m just a guy who knows
how to use a camera and tell a story. – So you define yourself as
not really a photographer? – Not really, because I don’t take, you know, I walk around with
photographers, you know, we go on these photo walks and stuff, and they just walk around
with a camera all the time, they take pictures of everything. I take pictures with my phone, and I use them mainly
to document a process, or to give someone a gift. And in that sense, it fulfills
a purpose, once again. I don’t actually take
pictures for the joy of it. The rare instances where I
take photos for the joy of it and with no intent of marketing anything is when I use someone else’s camera. And then I will shoot a bajillion photos and never need to look at them ever again. I’m very happy doing that. – Well, I think you’ve
found some secret sauce, because somehow, your images
look like it’s something that you’re so driven to do, personally, that it doesn’t come off as this, you know, I’m just gonna do it. – Well, I think it’s because
I enjoy the adventure. The process of it, right? It’s everything in between,
not the actual photography. So in some senses, I’m the
MC of my own photoshoots. Right, I’m just guiding people
through this fun experience and photography is the
excuse to talk about it. It’s like: hey, no one wants
to talk about this problem. It sucks, but hey, let me give
you like a really cool thing to like, anchor you in and draw you in. – So do you enjoy the sharing part more than the production part? If you’re someone that
wouldn’t create these images if you didn’t have that platform? – I wouldn’t say I enjoy the sharing part. But I will, I would define
the success of the project based on how shareable it was. – So, 15 years ago, let’s
say, same circumstances, but there’s no internet, what
would you be doing right now? Clearly not an engineer,
so where do you think you would have gone if
there wasn’t the ability to share so easily? – I don’t know, what was
happening 15 years ago? 15 years ago, I was 15. – But, no, imagine
you’re 30, 15 years ago. – First of all, Al Gore
invented the internet more than 15 years ago. – The internet as we know it today, Rob. (laughing) – 15 years ago, I made
my first Hotmail account. (laughing) – [Gary] So, 15 years ago, you’re 30. – [Rob] Hotmail! – You’re 30, alright,
let’s call it 10 years ago. When you were maybe, you’re
the young, ambitious, confused Ben Von Wong that doesn’t want to go back to engineering school. What do you think you’d be doing now? That’s not shareable? Because, like you said, like, if you didn’t have the
ability to share something– – I think the desire to make a difference came with the fact that
I developed a voice. And so, if I had never
managed to develop a voice, it wouldn’t have mattered if I had something to share or not. It’s sort of this idea that
now suddenly there’s a few thousand people, tens of
thousands, hundreds of thousands of people looking at you as a role model, you’d better figure out
something useful to say. Or else you become a, I don’t know, a Kardashian or something. (laughing) – A has-been. – But you just become like a
person who’s an entertainer, and so, you know, that’s something that, you know, it just doesn’t
strike me as very valuable. And so, you know, when
you realize that you have a responsibility to the
people that look up to you, that gives you a reason to
pursue purpose and intent, a lot further than you
would normally have to. – What impression do you
think most people have of you, today, like, how do you
think you’re viewed? – Oh, god. – [Rob] Oh, tough question. – Yeah, definitely a tough question. You know, I think it’s a little bit split. There are the people
who have taken the time to do the research, who know
a little bit of my background. I definitely know that
there are a few people who look at what I do and be like: man, I wish I had access to that cash. And you know, I wish
I was born in a family that I could be privileged
enough to do all these things. You know, which is not the case. You know, I have been
lucky in that I’ve been able to create, but I
don’t think I’m necessarily super-privileged; my parents
are first-generation immigrants and you know, they put me through school, but beyond that, it’s been
just the general support a family would offer,
so I have the advantage of a stable family, but not beyond that. So, a little bit of
defensiveness there, but ah, what do people see in me? I hope, I really hope that
the thing that they see is just a guy trying to
make a positive difference in the world, and you
know, they can extrapolate all they want from that point forward. It’s fine. But that’s the one thing
I hope that they see. – Why do you think some would have that, a wrong impression of you? – Well, I mean, I play
around with these sets that look like they’re
produced with hundreds of thousands of dollars, right? I mean, it’s not accessible to get a crew to tie someone down underwater, with underwater housings and everything. But you know, the fact
that I can reach out to a company like Nauticam and say: hey, will you lend me a housing for free? Is a byproduct of because I’ve cultivated an audience of a few
hundred thousand followers with the ability to make things go viral that was cultivated through, you know, hundreds of YouTube videos
and marketing hours. Like, nothing is truly free, but when you look at it
from an outside perspective, and you don’t take the time to see: how did this person get
to where they are today? I mean, it definitely looks like I lead a super-privileged life, and ah, and I can see how that’s hard. And really, their opinion of me doesn’t make a huge difference, but, but what I hope people come out with, and this is why I try so hard
to make my work accessible, in the process, so I talk
about how I use volunteers, how I try my best to do the most with consumer-grade equipment, you know? In the plastic bottle
photoshoot, for example, we borrowed a 52-inch
television from Costco, we dangled the camera over– – [Rob] Borrowed, borrowed. – I didn’t know they had a
borrowing program at Costco. (laughing) – What are you talking about? We use it all the time. – Rob, shh! You just heard him say “shh”! (shushing) God, read between the lines. (laughing) – And we put a camera, we dangled it off, but instead of using some, you know, higher-end, you know, a
jib or anything fancy, like a cherry-picker, we used
two-by-fours and pulleys. And so, you know, and I use a Sony A7R2, I don’t use a $50,000
medium format camera. Not because I don’t have access to it, but because I want it
to still stay accessible to people; I want people to realize that if they put in the
time, effort and intent, they can do that, and
I can’t remember where I was going with this. (laughing) But yeah, so much of
what I do and what I hope to achieve is to empower people to believe that they can do whatever
it is they wanna do with what they have accessible to them. And it’s so easy to say:
well, I can’t do this. Because this guy has
that and I don’t have it. But, you know, you’re giving
away power by doing that. You’re saying, like:
oh, well, in my country, people don’t pay for art. And great, you’ve removed
all responsibility. You never need to try again. Because it doesn’t matter what you do, in your country, no one’s
ever gonna pay for art. Or you can be like: well, in my country, it’s really hard to get
people to pay for art, but I think I can change that. And then you set your mind
to it and you work at it. – So it’s outlook? – Just maybe you’d make
a difference, yeah. And so, there’s this
like tendency for people to offload responsibility
on the circumstances of their lives, and by no
means do I disagree that, you know, I’m lucky. But we’re all born into
X or Y circumstances, and those are the cards
that we’ve been dealt. Now, what you do with those cards is where we’re truly empowered or not. And that’s what I hope people
will remember and think about. – So before we get too far off the topic, I wanna bring up the topic of gear. – Oh, that’s way off the topic. (laughter) – Well, we talked about some gear and we dropped a few names. I’m gonna dive in there,
Rob, and I’m gonna get into this question.
– Let’s talk about gear. – So, how has your gear evolved, and what does your gear
closet look like today? What are you using for most shoots? When do you borrow, when do you rent? What are you doing? What are you, also, shooting video on? – Yeah, so gear is a
really interesting journey. So, you know, I’m a dude, and I think– – Oh, no shit? – A lot of dudes with gear out there, who have gear envy and you
know, total gear acquisition syndrome and just want to
get as much gear as possible, and so I went through
that phase, no doubt. – Rob’s still in that phase. He loves buying gear. – I have way backed off. I went from Hasselblad to a Sony, come on. – That’s true. – Oh, well then we have
something in common, right? – [Rob] Absolutely. – So, I started off, you
know, with a Pentax K-100D, worked my way to the
D-300, got up to the D-800, and then went up to,
graduated to medium format, had an 80 megapixel
Mamiya Leaf, sponsored, and that was glamorous, and then I came to the realization, you
know, same with my lighting, so I started off with speed lights, I was using Nikon speed lights, and then I expanded to like,
the third-party speed lights, just to have as many as I could, and then upgraded to Elincrom, and then moved on to Braun Color, thanks again to a sponsorship, both at Elinchrom and Braun Color, and then I was doing these photoshoots where I had like, $100,000 of gear. $120,000 of gear, you know? And it was so inaccessible to people, that at the end of the
day, people attributed the success of a photograph to the gear, not to the process or the
work that went behind it. – And that’s a problem. – So frustrating. Nice picture; you must
have a great camera. – And so, that would be fine
if I was in the fine art world, because that’s the whole
deal with the fine art world is to make your work as
inaccessible as possible, so it’s worth a shit-ton of money. So it’s worth a lot of money. (laughing) And in my case, because my
primary goal is to inspire others to fulfill their fullest potential and to make a difference in their world, that was almost like antithesis
to where I was trying to go. It wasn’t about just
creating something great that no one else could ever reproduce. It was about creating something
great that other people felt inspired to do further. And so I kind of reached
this conclusion that, at the end of the day,
I really wanted to bring things back down to a
more accessible level, so I still use my Braun Colors, but I’ve left behind the medium format, shooting with a Sony A7R2, and you know, Sony doesn’t sponsor me. We have a friendship and
all, but it doesn’t really, you know, it just boils down
to the most convenient tool. So we’re living in a world, right now, where it’s not just about
the stills, it’s about the stories, and the stories
involve movement, too. And so Sony, as a brand
to me, works really well, because they can do simultaneously photo and video just as well, one another. And I have 42 megapixels and a tiny body, I can bring two bodies, just
in case one breaks down. Which they do break. They’re not weather-sealed,
they’re not the most durable of systems, but they
deliver a great result. So now I can have multiple systems. I can have tiny lenses,
I can do both photo and video equivalently
well, I’ve just basically scaled down to the most
portable kit possible that fits within a single backpack. Toss on some lighting there,
and then whatever happens, happens, and you know, I go to shoot like, the one that we’re talking about earlier, with microfibers, and I brought, ah, I brought two lights, my lens kits, that was divided between
myself and the videographer, because he needed an extra camera. And I just said: who’s got speed lights? Who’s got stands? I have no stands with me, can
you guys donate some stuff? And I ended up with whatever
gear, whoever brought, and that was what I used
to create what I do. And you realize that you
can create amazing things with anything, and this is
sort of the side benefit of creating with a strong concept, is that the gear is just a bonus. You don’t need, you don’t need it. – The gear almost goes hand
in hand with the statement that if you can take your
concept down to one sentence, if you can take your gear down
to the most simplistic tools that you only need, the shoot gets better. – It does, it does, because– – You don’t get caught up in
all the technological issues and you don’t get caught up
in, oh, I have all this gear, I have to somehow employ it on this set. It’s good to be stripped down. And that’s coming from,
I mean, Gary’s right. I was definitely– – Until he met me. – A gear junkie. – Now you’ve got all this. – Well, this, I had a studio in Chicago, two fully outfitted studios, and you know, I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I was able to amass a
lot of stuff over time, but I got to the point,
too, where I’m like: why am I doing this? Yes, I can buy this camera body, but for the price of this camera body, I can buy two Sony systems
with duplicate sets of lenses. Why do I wanna go down this road? – But don’t you guys
think that Braun Color and ProPhoto, which have always been kind of the two pinnacles of lighting right? Those companies, I feel,
are starting to recognize that we are not gonna survive unless we make lights affordable. So like, you know, when
Braun Color came out with the Ceros– – Yeah, absolutely, I was gonna say that. – Those, to me, are accessible. Those are on the same level as the A7R2, in terms of like, quality for the price. – Yeah, I would agree completely. I’ve been a Braun Color guy for so long, and the packs are so
incredibly expensive, you know? A studio pack, you’re
talking eight to 12 grand, bare minimum, right? That’s a lot of money. Ceros, it’s an amazing product. It’s very portable, yet you
can use ’em in the studio. I mean, we put them on booms
and fly them in on every set. It’s a total, it’s a
total game-changer for me. – That always blew my
mind, when I first met you and saw all the Braun Color power packs that were still, like, you know, eight to 10 years old,
or 15 or whatever it was. – They don’t die. – Yeah, they don’t die. And then I asked you, you know, like: how much is one of these? And you’re like: oh, what
are they, 10 grand each? And I was like: are you kidding me? You have 15 of these, like,
how, how are you possibly, like that overhead is ridiculous. – I was making a lot of money. (laughing) It was good. – Teach me your ways,
Rob, teach me your ways. – I’m trying to, trying to. That’s what we’re doing
with EDU is teaching people, you know, what we do, but doing
it in a stripped-down way. Because you don’t, it’s
a very different world. 20 years ago, 15 years ago, you needed those Braun Color packs. – Well, you couldn’t make mistakes, right? Now you can. – You couldn’t make mistakes
and you couldn’t composite. You know, retouching didn’t
exist at all, when I started. Except for literally on
black and white prints, with spot toner, that was retouching. So you had to have good
amount of equipment, because everything, you
had to attack little pieces of the picture in order
to create the picture. Now, you can paint with
much broader brushes and you can do this
section and that section and put them together in post, and you couldn’t do that before. I mean, it’s given, in
many ways I love it now, because I have such freedom to really dive into the details of my client’s product, and really highlight everything
that I never could have done before, when I would
have 12 lights on the set. And there were times when I had 12 lights and nine packs on a single set. And it would take two days to build. And that same set now can
be done with three lights and a fifth at a time. You know, it’s just, it’s amazing. – Yeah, I lucked out. I didn’t have to be that
good to get where I am. – So you mentioned earlier
that a decent amount of your work is coming from doing video. How did you, what was
your pathway into video, like, and talk to me about
the times where you’re like: man, that sucked. Like: I messed that up. If there were; not
implying that there were. – No, my videos are extremely
fluctuating quality. If you go on my YouTube channel, and this is one of the
things I like to do, is I keep all my failures online. Like, you can go into my Flickr account and go all the way back to 2008, and look at everything
that I’ve shot since then. You can go into my YouTube
channel and look at all the videos, 130-some videos
that I’ve shot, since 2008. And see, like, where they started out and where they’ve ended up. And the crux of, like, why
my brand is so scattered is because I rely so much
on volunteers to come in and join the adventure, to
do whatever they want to do, and empower them to do that. And you know, I’m a small
portion of their journey, and they’re a small portion of mine, and together we help build each other up. And so, videos for me have
always been, I suppose, a stepping stone; it’s
never been this, ah, I never had the privilege of, ah, designing the video experience
that I really wanted. And I’m only just getting
started to reach that stage, where I’ve started finally
meeting amazing videographers who have the same vision as me, who can tell the story in
a way that I would like to, and I’m just kinda starting
to touch on that, right now. But it’s been a really
hard process to do that. So, you know, there
have been tons of times where I’ve had to edit my
own behind-the-scenes videos. The mermaid piece, I edited, I
did the video editing myself. And you know, we collaborated
with a video editor who did a long cut, like 20 minutes long, and I took whatever was
there and I sliced it down. And there have been
different instances of that. And it’s because I work with
people who work for free. Everyone can only allocate a
certain amount of resources, and we make the best of
what we have available. And from an outside perspective,
it always looks amazing. But part of the reason is
because only the amazing stuff surfaces to the top, and all
of the intermediate failures in between are never remembered. Which I have tons of. I have so many odd failures of videos that were never produced,
of videos that were pretty mediocre that
could have been wonderful, should they have had
a better person there, and I don’t really wanna call
out any of my video projects, because it has a person behind it, but you can look at my
behind-the-scenes videos and just run through
them, dive into the past and just click on any
random one and you’ll see that they’re extremely random. There’s some that are great,
I have some that are mediocre, but ultimately, behind
each one is a great story. And that’s the most important part, because success of failure, they were great stories,
and I think that’s probably the greatest takeaway, is that ultimately. Learning how to tell a really good story is gonna be probably the
most important skillset that we encounter in the future. So let’s take a second
and project to the future, with robotics and AI. – I’m gonna close my eyes. I’m gonna close my eyes. Close your eyes, Rob, close your eyes. – Robotics and AI occupying the future in which all the technical is gonna be– – I knew you weren’t closing your eyes. – I did it and then I
looked at the camera, and I like, had one closed. (laughing) – But, robotics and AI occupying
where all the technical becomes automated, virtually automated, with a little bit of direction. So, technically, everyone will be equal. What really matters? What really matters is the
ability to tell a great story. – [Rob] Critical thinking. – Because telling a good
story requires connecting various domains, various analogies, various different
intersections of industries into a singular track that makes sense. – That’s critical thinking. – And that requires, so far, anyways, at least a little bit
further down the track, the human component, so that’s probably the track that’s going to
have the most longevity. So, projecting to the
future, where the computer can probably take a
better photo than you can, because it’ll just amass a database of every single Nat Geo photo
and actually tell you what, where to frame your shot. – It’s like everything,
the Lytro should have been. (laughing) – [Ben] It’s not a horrible
fact, it’s actually– – Remember the Lytro? – Oh, yeah I remember it, absolutely. – That had such potential. – Man, what has happened to that company? They went into 3D? – They’re great. They’ve moved away from
the consumer market and gone straight to a B-to-B model. They’re offering their
services with, like, a bajillion dollar camera that, ah, they will rent out that
can autofocus itself at super-high resolutions. They just created like, one camera, one, epic camera, like a super-cool camera that can focus, at will, at any distance, at like, a super-high resolution. I don’t know if it’s
4K or 8K or something. – All of the K’s, all the K’s. – I don’t know what the
numbers are, but it’s something like $150,000 to rent it
for a day or something. – To rent it for a day, it’s 150? – Something like that,
yeah, because focus in post, so you basically go in, point your camera in the direction you want it to, and then you can fix everything in post. – Is that needed, though? Like, what are we missing out now, by like a good team and a good, you know, does it matter if it’s
the stuff that we use, which is like Canon C-100, C-300s? Or like a Red? Like, really, what is
that camera doing now that a great team couldn’t? – Honestly, I’m not
gonna buy into the fact that it’s gonna give you what you want, because it’s creating everything in post. You’re not gonna get the same quality of a shallow depth of
field with a good lens, if, I, there’s no way. – But I think it does go down to like– – You can simulate everything,
because it’s a depth-map. It’s a depth-map, applied to anything. So you can create– – [Rob] That’s just science. – [Gary] That’s just science. – It’s science, so I actually believe, and if you wanna still
play in the future realm. – [Rob] Yeah, we’re gonna
be here for a minute. – Computational photography,
versus optical photography. Why is no one talking about that? – Because no one knows
what the hell it is. What are you talking about? – You have, well, everyone has an iPhone. You have an iPhone, do you
have an iPhone seven-plus? – No. – [Ben] Have you tried
the depth-map feature? – No, I’m still on the
iPhone three, I’m an old guy. – Rob can’t figure out his
password for the iPhone six, so we can’t get him the iPhone seven-plus. (laughing) – I have a six-plus, come on. – I think that within the next, like, three to five years, there
will be this point in time where the phones we have in our pockets can do things that our
professional cameras can’t do. – That’s true right now. – The phone that’s in my
pocket way outpaces the, you know, the Nikon D-1
that was my first camera. – No, no, no, I’m talking
about equivalent level. I’m saying the professional
camera you buy in a store, today, versus the phone that
you buy on a shelf today. Within the next three to five years, will be able to outperform
the device, in some ways. Not all ways, but in some ways. And so there becomes this
interesting moment in time where the phone in every person’s pocket can do something that a
professional cannot do, because they don’t possess the technology. And there’s not a single
major camera company that’s focused on computational
photography right now. The only people focusing on that are the cellphone companies. Yeah, the phone companies. – Yeah, but they’re not
a photography company. That’s the point. – They’re not, so what
happens when a consumer can do something a professional can’t? What kind of markets do that open up? So here, project into the
future, a virtual reality future, where I’m able to take
a photo with my phone, that has multiple lenses
and multiple sensors, so it’s able to calculate,
based on the multiple lenses, the entire depth map of
this room, right now. So I know how far you are from Rob, you know, and because I can
upload this to the cloud, I can apply, say, a Google
image deep-learning search onto it, I can guess what the
back of your head looks like, what the back of his head looks like, what his right ear and left
ear actually look like, and I can actually develop a 3D model. – I’m an elf; I’m actually an elf. – I can develop a 3D model
from a singular photograph. Just because it’s connected to the cloud, and it’s got more information
than you ever could. So that means I can take
a photograph of you guys, that can be uploaded
straight to VR experience, that I can walk around in. So I could walk between the two of you and still see the
automatically-computed frames. But a camera can’t do that,
because it’s not connected. Nor does it generate the
information required, and so every single
VR-based company right now is focused on video, because
that’s where the market happens to be, but it requires such a high throughput of data, et
cetera, et cetera, et cetera, so no one’s really focused on that space. And the camera companies
are just trying to survive, because they’re dying. And that just leaves
this huge void where the cellphone companies, who have
a massive consumer market, massive amounts of data,
massive amounts of cashflow, can innovate significantly faster. And if every single
person is a photographer who owns a smartphone– – Which they are. – Which they are, yeah, ah, there will be a point in
time where these devices will exceed the capabilities
of a professional camera. And so where does that leave
a creative like you and me? – Retired. – I don’t think so, no, it
just means that the market is going to shift, there’s
gonna be this shift. – No, I’m retiring. (laughing) – [Ben] You’re retiring? – So, do you think,
going back to something you just mentioned, do you
think the camera companies are dying because they’re
making, or one of the reasons, because they’re making 40
different types of cameras that all do, like, one thing differently? Like, why would I need
Canon to make 30 different types of cameras, both
point and shoot and DSLR? Like, the options are ridiculous. Why would you make that many
different types of cameras? Any thoughts on that? – Cameras are sort of like fashion. You’re like, driven by the market, where every X number of years or months, you need to come up
with a Y different model to appeal to the masses, to stay relevant. And then those sales dictate
whether or not shareholders have faith in a company, so
basically, I think the market, in essence, is a little bit broken. And we can see that sort of play out, say, with the Apple computers, where, ah, you know that the consumer market is significantly bigger
than the pro market, and so if the company,
with intent of generating the most sales to increase the evaluation of their corporation,
is trying to generate the most sales possible, to
reach a large demographic, they’re going to design
a product that will fit that demographic, so we
have the MacBook Pro. – Don’t get me started on
that MacBook Pro. (laughing) Oh, my goodness. – Which is a device that is designed, it’s like, legitimately a
high-performing fashion icon. – More like the MacBook “No”. – We’re left behind because
we don’t fit into the market, the way the market is evolving. Well, a huge problem is also risk. Because, you know, think
back to the age-old adage in the business: there’s
no one perfect camera. Right, there’s not one perfect
camera that does anything, and for a company to
shift gears, to create, to put so much into developing a camera that would do everything, that’s a huge, huge amount of money and it’s a huge risk. Which is why they offer so many
different types of cameras. – Yeah, sure thing, but
then the thing is, like, great innovation is what
drives a company’s reputation. So like, when a company like
Apple starts to flounder a little bit on the innovation side, because you’re developing
greatly the consumer side, then you have Microsoft going: hey, look, we got a Surface Book,
we have a Surface Studio. You know, there are things
like, frankly speaking, they’re probably not selling
that many Surface Studios. Right, but everyone knows about it. And they’re looking,
and they’re wondering, because they’re inspired,
and so I think it’s still important to create
those conversations from an inspirational perspective, and I feel like camera companies, I mean, I think Sony’s probably the closest one to coming up with a
conversation-worthy camera. You’ve never seen
something like this before. I mean, their marketing is
really old-school Japanese. – They’re also a totally
different type of company. They are a true electronics company. They make headphones,
they make televisions, if you look at, you know, the
amount of consumer product that Sony puts out versus
Hasselblad or Canon, I mean, Hasselblad, Canon, Nikon, they’re very one-tracked when compared to somebody like Sony, who has their hands in all consumer goods,
and they’ve been making the guts of the big cameras
for a very, very long time. So, Sony’s probably in a
better position than anybody to have that marriage between consumer and professional in the way we live, to kind of meld all that
technology together. – Absolutely, yeah, hands down. Totally agree. – They’re in the sensor game. – Buy stock in Sony, I guess,
that’s what I’m thinking. Yeah. – So, DJI, thoughts on that? Bought Hasselblad? Rob, you’re a Hasse shooter turned Sony. Let’s get into it. Maybe let’s even bring up H-265. – I think that DJI, it’s a good move. I think, I really do, because
DJI has a huge amount of cash. Hasselblad has a storied– – First of all, it’s pronounced “yuge”. Yuge. – Oh, I’m, yeah, I apologize. Yuge. – Yuge amount of cash,
yeah, okay, continue. – They have an amazing amount of cash, and then when you can
marry that with a brand that not only is storied,
but is so integral to the entirety of photography. I mean, Hasselblad has made a huge impact on photography, as a whole. By the cameras that they invented and the, the products that they put out. So I think it’s actually
a very, very good thing for Hasselblad, and I’m
actually really encouraged where they’re going, and you can
see it in their new products. I mean, they had a rough
go for a few years. They made some big
mistakes with some products that absolutely did not work, and they had some leadership that was, well, they’re leadership
was a revolving door for about a decade. I think now they’ve got a real opportunity to do some very unique things, where they’re combining
cutting-edge technology with a company that has
a huge amount of cash. Yuge. – Yuge. – With a storied brand. To me, that’s a great marriage, and I am honestly very
hopeful for the future of Hasselblad; I think it’s great. – What do you think about that? You use the drones? – I do use the drones. I mean, DJI has done a phenomenal job of penetrating the market, I mean, they’ve killed everyone
in the drone market. – [Rob] Yeah, they pretty much did. – Demolished every single
piece of competition, and it wasn’t through, like,
sneaky marketing or anything. I mean, they have great marketing,
they have great products, they have great everything,
and innovation cycles. Like, I feel like they just
didn’t make any mistakes along the way, I mean,
they just killed it. And you know, I think
they suffer a little bit on the engagement front
with their fans and whatnot, but you know, there are companies that reach the point where
they just don’t need to. You know, when you reach
a point where everyone loves your products
and will rave about it, why would you ever try to
run the influencer game? – And I think that’s
actually probably the biggest pitfall for the merger
between the two companies, because DJI doesn’t have to do
it and Hasselblad needs that. Like, they need a way
to reach new audiences. They need hype, they need conversation, they need content that’s gonna
connect with people, right? – But I think DJI can help
that happen, absolutely. – [Rob] Yeah, they can. – I would have said that
Hasselblad would have been dead, minus that happening. Without that. – Quite possibly. Quite possibly. – But DJI, with DJI
innovation, I think something really awesome can come out of it. So I’m excited to see where that goes. – Alright, I wanna walk
this back to something that you said earlier, and you
kinda keep touching on this, and I think one of the reasons why you’re finding the success
that you are is because of the way you approach projects. And you said that, you
know, your approach is that you’re the MC of your own photoshoot. You get all these other
people to get involved in it and really participate. They’re not, it’s not just
like they’re a hired gun. They’re really part of the
project, they’re investing in the project, which is why you wind up with a production that would cost $300,000 and you do it for about
20 bucks and the catering. – A pack of Skittles. – Yeah, catering. (laughing) Don’t you think that’s gotta be, ah, kind of the foundation
of why you’re gaining so much traction right
now, because your approach to photography is very different because of the way you run the set? – I mean, I don’t know
if I’m unique in the way I run my sets and collaborations. I think I’m high-profiled in how I do it, because I spend so much time
on the marketing side of it. But I know tons of people who
do these trade for prints, trade for anything, that are
able to bring people together who are passionate about the same things to make a difference. I think, you know, there are
like two ways to measure, or two ways to get someone involved. You either, so let’s say you’re moving and you want someone to help you bring your sofa down 17 flights of floors. – You buy a lot of beer. – You either offer them beer and pizza, or you pay them, you know, 100 bucks. And most people just go for, like, well, I might as well just pay someone. Or, oh gosh, I can’t pay someone so my sofa’s gonna stay up here. And I’m just gonna give it
away, or abandon it here. But I’m of the, like, pizza side. I’m just like: hey, you have
nothing better to do today, or I don’t think you do,
have you ever brought a sofa down 17 flights of stairs? Guys, it’s gonna be amazing. We’re gonna come up with
all these different ways we’re gonna try, we’re gonna have like, three different strategies. We’re gonna use cardboard,
we’re gonna use, like, a track, we’re
gonna try to like ride it down the stairs and then
we can make a video out of it. It’s gonna be really cool,
we’re gonna have a blast, and there’s gonna be pizza and beer in it. – And at one point, you’re
gonna be yelling “pivot” like Ross from Friends. You know that episode? Do you know that episode? Rob, you know that episode. Our audio guy’s nodding;
he knows that episode. Camera B knows that episode. Oh yeah. (laughing) – So like, yeah, I just really think, I just really think it
comes down to communication. And you know, you can convince people to, like, we live in a
capitalist world, right? So, yeah, by default, money
makes the world go round, in some way, shape, and
form, but ultimately what do you do with the
money once you get it? You spend it on experiences. And so what I try to do is
just circumvent the money part and just say: hey, let’s have
a unique experience together that you would never have, otherwise. And it’s gonna be awesome. – Experiences, college tuition,
you call it what you want. – You kind of remind me of the story of the man that, he’s a fisherman, and someone comes up to
him and he’s not really interested in working all that hard, and he enjoys what he does,
and at the end of the day, he comes to his family and
friends and has all these experiences, then versus,
you look at someone that works hard all their
life to get to the end of their life, and then
just get to that family and friends experiences, and it’s like, well, what did you gain from
working hard all of your life and missing out on all those experiences, of what you just talked about. It’s like, that fisherman, did he live a lesser-enriched life because he didn’t have as much money, or make as much money? And he basically lived a
life of, like, enjoyment, versus getting to the end of his life, and then being able to be like: alright, you know, now I’m old, I’m tired. I’m not even able to
have those experiences. You know what I mean, Rob? – I do. I think it depends on what you catch. – What would you catch
if you were a fisherman? What would you fish for? – What would I fish for? – You seem like a
smallmouth bass kind of guy. (laughing) Am I right? Am I right? – You nailed it. – Yeah, I nailed it right on the head. But I wanna go back to AI. You talk, you seem like
someone who’s a little more hip than I am, on like what’s coming with AI. So like, lay it down for me. In the next 10 to 15 years,
what are we gonna be doing? – Oh, god, 10 to 15, I
think people are trying to guess the next three,
let alone the next 10 to 15. Probably not gonna drive anymore. We’re gonna have smart cities
that are interconnected and interweaved, and we’re gonna have, ah, I mean, there are these charts online that show the number of
jobs that will disappear as the result of artificial
intelligence taking over. – Does that matter, though? Don’t we have the ability
to create other jobs? To make things more
enriched with those people? – I mean, I think you can infinitely scale into the digital space, but
within the physical world, there are very few things that can’t be fully automated, and it really depends on, I mean, I think there’s a lot of like, really cool, jazzy talk about
how fast AI is developing and everything, but we’re still
pretty far away from like, full conscious, you know, what’s that Terminator,
Skynet thing going on? I think we’re still pretty
far away from Skynet, in terms of full consciousness, but there are some really, really crazy, interesting innovations
that are developing that ultimately the creative
is super well-poised to, to capitalize on, and
we can already see it, in that, in the increased
power of a creative to market themselves,
because how do people share content, on like
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s like, photos,
videos, clever text bits. I mean, it’s the creative
that is really driving all the visibility and
traffic that’s happening, and that’s only going to be enhanced as more things become automated. More of the mechanics
become automated and more of the standard becomes
automated and be expected. And anything that’s expected
leaves no room for innovation. And it’s a really great
time to be a creative, and if you don’t feel creative, or you don’t know if you’re creative, I think it’s just time to
learn and time to get into it. And there are always people
who are more or less creative. I don’t consider myself
particularly creative. – What, get out. Get out, get out. – I don’t I’m not creative. I’m a good problem-solver. So I’m really good at connecting– – Isn’t that part of creativity, though? – It’s a component of creativity, but there are people that
you meet who are inherently super-creative, and I don’t
consider myself one of those. I just, I live in the
logical and rational world, and I’m able to connect
different things together to make interesting combinations. And so, I guess what I’m
trying to get at there, I’m not trying to be self-deprecating, I’m just trying to be extremely pragmatic about my skillsets, and
that you have to look at what the components of
what makes you human are to figure out how you
fit into this future, and not just be resigned to go, like: hey, this is the way the world’s going, and I don’t have any place in it. And if you do that, then you
won’t have any place in it. But if you look and you’re like: oh, wow, the world’s kind of shifting really fast. I’d better start paying a
little bit more attention and seeing where it’s gonna head of, and see what I can bring
that’s new and innovative, and hey, I happen to
be great at, you know, the color theory and,
you know, watercolor. Maybe there’s something there, and there is definitely something there. There’s something in every
odd, awkward combination that exists in the world,
that a machine can’t be programmed to do, that
you can fill the void in. – So when do you think
we’re gonna cure cancer? How long? Let’s call it right now, official, let’s put it, set in stone. – I think that, within our lifetime, the first amortal human
will be a total thing. – What do you mean by “amortal”? – Amortal is like immortal,
except that you can be killed. Like, with an accident. Like, if you get exploded in an explosion, but you would not die of old age. You would not die of– – You are definitely a futurist. We’ve interviewed a futurist before, and you guys are on the exact same page. That, within our lifetime,
maybe your lifetime, because I’m older, people
will live for a very, very long time. – Yeah, someone our age, essentially, who’s, he’s actually in season four. We’ve already recorded season four, and he’s saying that, in our lifetime, someone, we might not live to see them, but in our lifetime, someone
will live to see 130, 140, 150. – Oh, absolutely. I think you’re being too conservative. – [Gary] Really? – I mean, we’re at 110 now. How can we possibly within, before the end of your life, not reach 150? – That makes me feel so good, though. – We’re living in
America, we’re going back to the coal mines and
we’re gonna prosecute anybody that’s got a dimebag on ’em. We’re going backwards;
we’re going to 1950. – Alright, so going back today, like, your portfolio online,
like what are you looking to add to your portfolio
to make it more robust or more appealable to,
whether it’s a company that’s hiring you or a nonprofit you wanna work with, like,
do you even put much, much effort into, like,
your online portfolio. – Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, our online portfolios
are our digital passports. I mean, they’re the portal
for someone to see who you are in an instant; to grasp
a sense of who you are, what you stand for, what you do, and you know, we have
so many websites online that are like, you know,
I’ll go up to you and say: hey, can you show me your work? And you’ll be like: oh yeah, here it is, but I haven’t updated it in
like, two years or three years. I’m like: then what’s the
point of your portfolio? You actually, you have
this useless portfolio that doesn’t showcase what you do, that doesn’t represent how you are, why are you not updating it? And so, you know, I think
it’s super-important to stay on top of it, to update it, and to me, the best platform, as someone who’s not
super-technologically savvy, is to go with a portfolio-based website. You know, a site that,
ah, that will keep up with the times, because they’re
just designing templates for you, and making it
super-easy to update. So, every time I launch a new project, I can go straight into my
website, update my homepage. Boom, there’s like a
new video, ready to go. And it takes me three minutes. Takes me less time to update
that than a Facebook post. And that’s something that’s
super-important to me, so I mean, I’m a
photographer, I use SmugMug. I have this, like, awesome
photography app on my phone so that, you know, if you tell me like: hey Ben, can you show me the
last project that you did? Or like: tell me more
about the Hunger Project, do you have any behind the scenes? I can load all the galleries
of every single project that I’ve ever done, from
the past to the future, archive, unlimited, on my
phone, with or without internet, is something that I
think is super-valuable. And I think everyone should
really consider that. – Ah, offline viewing, that’s nice. – [Ben] Oh, offline viewing is a godsend. – Critical, and I’ve never even thought, I’ve never even thought of
that as a website feature. – Me either, that’s never occurred to me. – Yeah, so it’s not, I don’t think it’s on their actual website, website,
but on the SmugMug app, it’s got offline viewing. It’s also got upload. So I can upload, so, I
don’t know about you guys, but the best camera is
the one you have on you, so I take so many photos,
I take more photos with my iPhone than I do with my Sony. And it’s because I’m at an event, something really cool is happening, and I wanna help people
out and capture the moment. I’ll take 300 photos, I’ll
edit it on Lightroom Mobile and I’ll just upload
them straight to SmugMug and now I’ve got a gallery ready to share, just the same way you would
to a client delivery network. And I can do that straight from my phone. And I think just staying
connected and being available is just huge, huge these days. – Would you discourage people
from using just social media sites as their representation
of who they are? – I think it’s all like, it’s
not that social media sites are bad; you just need everything. You need to be a complete creative, and no one’s gonna take you seriously if the only thing you have is like: oh, go check out my Instagram. Actually, that’s not true. If you’re good enough, it
doesn’t matter what you have, even if you have no website,
people will still come to you. – But that’s one percent of one percent. – Yeah, that’s just like,
a tiny, tiny fraction. I mean, I know somebody
that are not even connected to the web and they’re amazing,
but that’s just so rare. – I always cringe a
little bit when I hear: I only do Instagram, I
don’t have a website. And I’m thinking to myself, like: you’re not thinking about SEO, you’re not thinking
about Instagram, itself, isn’t searchable online. They rename all your photos. So, like, what is your
more strategic approach to, like, when you upload
something, are you naming it? When you upload a video
and you’re embedding it, are you naming it, like,
H-one, H-two, tags, like the body text, like, a website itself is like a living organism,
and you need to keep pumping keywords into
it to fuel its ability to like, register with Google
and be like: I’m relevant. I’m relevant. If you only invest in
something like Facebook or Instagram, which is
actually really easy to do, because it’s, how many
platforms do you really wanna be updating, you know what I mean? Like, I think the people out
there, if you’re listening and you only have social media, consider, consider updating and
making your portfolio online your own website, your own domain. Something like you really start with. – And SmugMug, SmugMug’s
like five dollars a month. That’s like, not expensive to get started. And it’s, just, just do it. And take a day, and I have a website. – Just upload it. – Just do it.
– Oh, that’s Nike. – I think we should wrap up, boys. – Should you? Is it past your bedtime, Rob? You’ve gotta pee, don’t you? – No, no, no, no, no, it’s just hot and I think, ah– – It’s a little hot; it’s 100 degrees. – I’m looking at Ben and I’m
thinking: Ben needs a break. – It’s 100 degrees outside
and it’s 80 in here. – Yeah, we’ve reached out– – This is the last podcast
we’re doing without the Dyson, super-quiet air-conditioner. – That’s because Elaina’s
gonna go out and get us, like, 10 of them and it’s
gonna be this, like– – This is the sauna episode. – Fabulous windy spot here with no noise. – How does it feel to be
the last hot guest on? (laughing) – Very wet, right now. – I know, I’m schvitzy, I’m schvitzy. – Well let’s wrap it up. Let’s say thank you and then we can turn the air conditioners back on. So Ben, thank you so much
for spending time with us. – Thanks for swinging by,
thanks for stopping by. Should we make up an
outtro song real quick? – An outtro song, sure. (vocalizing) (drumming) – Ben, to you. – Music is not one of my strong suits. (laughing) – Alright, we’ve never
done that; that was good. – To download this episode
and the entire season three, you can go to RGGEDUPodcast.com, and also subscribe for free on iTunes. We’re on Stitcher, we’re on Google, and what’s that other one? – Myspace, baby! (laughing) – No, Rob, it’s not, Rob, it is not Myspace. – I thought you said you were
gonna get us back on Myspace, because Myspace is making a comeback? – It is, and we’re gonna
be behind it. (laughing) We’re gonna bring Myspace back. – Yes! – Yes! – Myspace Tom, he’s got
a great Instagram page. – Yeah, he does, cool. – Does he? – Yeah, he does. He’s a really good photographer. – Is it @MyspaceTom? – @MyspaceTom. – Look at that. – Let’s check it out. I’m telling you, Myspace is coming back. – On that note, check that out. (laughing) – [Narrator] Okay, the podcast is over, but before you go, I
wanted to let you know that I always take a
penny from the penny tray at the gas station, but I never leave one.

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