Hi Beno! Tell us about yourself
I’m originally from tiny Slovenia and I’m 48 years old.
I moved to Abu Dhabi in the UAE back in 1991 and in 2014, I’ve relocated to Dubai. I’m a multi-specialist artist. Among the art forms I practice on a regular basis is photography, cinematography, specialized filming techniques such as time-lapse, slow motion, aerial photography as well as conceptual art and 3D computer generated graphics.
My studies were in completely unrelated field of micro-electronics engineering but professionally, I worked in the architectural field for nearly 2 decades. It’s a mess but it worked out for me quite well.
You’ve captured some amazing angles and terrific heights… were these tricky to film?
Sure, these are the challenges. Access to the rooftops in the UAE or anywhere is hard and it takes a lot of research, planning and logistics before you can shoot from up there. Same goes for aerial shoots with the helicopters. It takes up to 1 month of planning before you can fly for 1 hour to take a dozen good shots. But it’s all worth it. When you see those crazy, vertigo inducing angles of the world’s most amazing structures, deserts, mountains and forests, you know why you’re doing it. The rewards far outweigh the pain.
There’s also a very personal angle to shooting from heights. Fear can be exciting. When I’m up there, I feel a sense of freedom and a rush of adrenaline. It’s hard to put it into words. Roofs and the skies are my sanctuary, a place where I can be one with myself.
Please tell us about your award-winning film ‘The Voyage’ which features Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
‘THE VOYAGE’ started out as a collage of disjointed timelapse sequences, shot over several months in early 2015. I was teaching myself new ways to move the camera with some proprietary motion control systems. Once I had enough material, I decided to create a short film. I always aim to create a more immersive, intimate way of experiencing the scene as it unfolds in front of the camera’s lens. Instead of entertaining the viewer with high-impact, dynamic and highly stylized scene transitions, I prefer a calmer, linear approach to visual storytelling.
I’m a great fan of David Lean’s and Stanley Kubrick’s films. The works of these two filmmakers have had a profound influence on my appreciation of film. I was particularly fascinated with the precision of composition and framing of each scene in all the movies they ever made. I admired the way they crafted and shaped the light, like classic painters on canvas. Both filmmakers were known for their patience and waited for the moment to happen spontaneously, and then they would let it linger and play out on the screen. Their philosophy, where nothing is rushed, resonates very well with the way I frame and time my scenes.
‘THE VOYAGE’ is infused with a re-discovered appreciation for my filmmaking idols, my love for architecture and timelapse cinematography. It represents my coming of age as a filmmaker with a profound passion for the craft.
‘THE VOYAGE’ won 1st place winner in the Time Lapse Category at the 5th Season of the ‘Spaces of Light’ Photography Award in Abu Dhabi as well as 1st place in the Moving Images category of the Moscow International Foto Awards.
What is your upcoming project?
I’ve more than one. I’m committed to several ongoing filming projects commissioned by the various branches of the UAE government and film production companies. These projects cover a wide range of specialities from direction, editing, cinematography, time-lapse photography and corporate still photography. I like such challenges because they stretch my abilities and push me to be a better craftsman.
I’m also very active in the field of promoting the art of photography through workshops, seminars and inspirational speeches throughout the Middle East. It’s an exciting new phase for me as an artist and a scholar.
Tell us about the moment that you decided to become a professional photographer.
My passion for creation of visuals goes all the way back to my early childhood. What preceded my discovery of photography were the influences drawn from conventional fine arts such as paintings, poetry, scale models, film, illustrations, architecture as well as music and theatre. My art was my need for personal expression and the medium to achieve it was a mere tool. For these reason, my fascination about photography was never about the camera or about capturing images. Photography was, and is, my inner voice. In fact, if it hadn’t been photography, I probably would have dwelled somewhere else, but always within the realm of art. Creating visuals is the one thing that makes me truly happy and it comes from deep within.
I was 23 years old when I took my first photograph with a film camera but photography didn’t grab me at that time. My life took me on a ride of many adventures before it crossed my path with a camera again. I consider 2011 to be to be the turning point in my career. This is when I got my hands onto the first serious DSLR camera and soon after, I executed my first professional shoot for a client.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
That was unquestionably my first assignment which came just 2 weeks after I put my hands on my very first DSLR camera. How this happened is a funny story too. Back in 2011, I wasn’t a photographer yet. I was a digital artist, working with 3D graphic workstations. Then one day, I received an email from an ad agency who was looking for photographers who could create ‘light art’ photos. I checked out the attached images and what I saw looked very interesting and unusual, if not borderline magical. Light Art Performance Photography (LAPP) is a very cool and very specialized branch of photography in which various light sources are moved in front of the camera which is fixed on the tripod and set to a long exposure. Light Art photos are usually captured in dark places, in most cases outdoors and at night. The result of such photography are light paintings which look very cool when done creatively by a skilled Light Art photographer. Of course, at that time, I had no idea what a DSLR even looked like, let alone understood the concept of long exposure or light painting. But I’m curious by nature and not afraid of new challenges. I picked up a small compact Canon camera (PowerShot G9) which my girlfriend bought me as a Christmas present and put myself on a 2 week crash course of photography. This got me confident enough to create a few light art test shots. I decided to meet the client and show them the samples. To my big surprise, they liked them and commissioned me for this assignment! This was an incredible moment for me. I was both happy to have landed an actual photography assignment so quickly as well as scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it because of my non-existent photography skills. But I gathered my courage and decided to proceed. I bought the Canon 5D Mk 2, lenses and a tripod with the client’s advance payment. Then I purchased all needed electronic components and lights. I did a lot of research online about LAPP photography, I built a series of light source fixtures which would be used in this LAPP project. My prior knowledge of electronic engineering was essential! Then I set up a pitch-black studio and over the next 5 days, I created a series of Light Art photos which would end up on the product packaging of a major brand, distributed worldwide. The project was a success, client happy and I never looked back at my previous career. Just like that, I became a photographer.
What made you start cinematography and time lapse?
It was a set of circumstances. My background is architectural visualization and illustration. I practiced this craft for 18 years. I produced highly realistic 3D computer generated renderings and computer animations of architectural projects during their design phase. It was 2010 when one of my clients, a real-estate developer commissioned me to create a fly-through animation of a mixed-use development. Aside from the 3D animation, the client’s brief called for a short introduction film, featuring Abu Dhabi, where the project was located. My budget was very limited so I couldn’t afford to pay someone to shoot it for me. It was at that time that I began experimenting with photography with my first digital camera ever; a Canon PowerShot G9. I decided to shoot that intro myself. I wasn’t quite sure how to do it, but after some inspirational research on YouTube, I came across a few time lapse films. They mesmerized me. I was determined to try this technique and after some experimenting, I shot 3 time lapse sequences of Abu Dhabi which ended up in the animation intro. The client was very happy with the result which encouraged me to continue practicing. I learned two things at the same time; photography and time lapse photography. A few months later, I shot my very first time lapse film titled ‘Abu Dhabi 2011’ which became a big hit in the area and got me on the radar in this industry almost overnight. Things sort of progressed exponentially from that point. It’s safe to say that it changed my life.
Are you a self-taught Photographer? Who has been your favorite mentor? Tell us about the difficulties you faced in establishing a name in Photography Industry?
I don’t have any formal photography education. I never attended any classes or workshops. What I know about photography, I learned on my own, mainly through trials and errors.
So yes, I’m completely self-taught when it comes to handling the camera, but my eye was trained during the 2 decades I worked as a conceptual visualisation artist. Having rendered thousands of visuals of buildings, towers, developments and interiors as an architectural visualisation specialist during the 90s and 00s, I was left with a ‘professional deformation’. My eye is always on the lookout for lines, compositional relationships, lights and shadows, colour contrasts, architectural details, patterns, textures and design aesthetics. This is the major reason why my transition from a virtual to real-world photography was rather seamless and this fast. But my previous career left another deep ‘scar’ on my current one. It’s reflected in the way I see the world around me. As a visualization artist, I created the world and the subjects inside the computer from nothing, using nothing but my own imagination. This is a lot harder than grabbing your camera and stepping outside to shoot a building. In the virtual world, the building needs to be built by the artist before he can photograph it. This ability to pre-visualize and to create stuff out of nothing is how I approach photography today. I’m not bound by limitations of reality. I see the world around me as a playground for my imagination in which subjects, as well as the world they inhabit can be created, manipulated, bent, warped all removed altogether, without any restrictions.
The scenes I capture communicate a narrative which reflect and idealized, heightened state of reality. It’s my inner world, externalized for the viewers’ eyes. If you’re looking at my work from a purist perspective, you may be disappointed and confused. My images are made in accordance with my own vision. This, I believe, is one way you could describe fine art photography.
The hardest thing for any photographer is finding his or her unique voice, that special style which doesn’t need to be watermarked because it’s a watermark itself. You know what I’m talking about. To stand a head above the rest, where everyone can see you. This is hard to achieve for any photographer, even a seasoned one, let alone a newcomer. It takes a lot of hard work, lots and lots of practice and the will to keep on learning through experimentation.
I didn’t have any mentors, but I studied the work of a lot of photographers and filmmakers: Ansel Adams, Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, Julius Shulman, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Ron Fricke and many others.
What is your take on post processing in photography? How important is it? What software do you use for the same?
I get this question a lot. It’s a very controversial subject for some reason and I don’t understand why. Photographers have been re-touching, enhancing and manipulating photographs in the darkroom from the day photography became a word, nearly 180 years ago! Camera is where light is captured but darkroom, analogue or digital, is where image is created. These two processes are equal and can never be separated.
Photography legend Ansel Adams said: “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.”
He couldn’t be more right. If I gave my Canon RAW file to 10 different photographers and asked them to develop it into a photograph best then can, I would get back 10 completely different looking photographs. In fact, I have done this test one time and the results were surprising, as well as amusing. It was incredible to see how we all ‘see’ and visualize things differently. You can’t control how your camera forms the pictures on its sensor. But you absolutely can control how this image becomes your own vision.
Of course there are ethics and certain lines which should not be crossed for photojournalists, wedding photographers, street photographers or sports photographers where the authenticity and integrity of the photograph is sacred. But for everyone else, there’s no right or wrong in photography. It’s a creative art form which is expressed from deep within. There’s only you and your vision. Each time you capture and process a scene, you tell a bit of your personal story. Don’t listen to naysayers. Post-processing always was and will be the other side of photography. They can’t exist without each other. I would encourage everyone to practice post-processing techniques in order to maximize the potential of their captures by taking them to another, very personal level of expression. My weapons of choice are Adobe Photoshop CC 2017, Lightroom 2015 and NIK collection suite. It’s a very powerful combination of tools in the right hands.
What gear and software do you use?
I use primarily Canon equipment. I have several Canon 5DsR, 5D MK 4 / Mk 3 / Mk 2 bodies with battery grips. They are great cameras and proven workhorses, tested in freezing temperatures, sizzling hot climates and wet conditions.
I use tripods from Gitzo, Manfrotto, Benro and Feisol. My tripod heads are from Really Right Stuff and Manfrotto.
I work with time-lapse motion control equipment from CamBLOCK, Syrp and Promote Remote Systems. My Neutral Density filters are from LEE and Formatt. My preferred memory cards are from SanDisk, the Extreme Pro series. They are fast and very, very reliable. I use several computers where I process my images; a custom-built PC and a custom built mobile workstation from Origin PC. They are very, very fast! My operating system of choice is Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. It’s very stable, fast and perfect for this type of work.
Finally, the software – for me, that’s Adobe Suite, NIK Collection of plugins, Red Giant, LR Timelapse and others.
Any piece of advice you would like to give to our readers and aspiring photographers?
My advice would be to forget comparing brands and trying to figure out which camera is better by reading online reviews. This won’t make you a better photographer; shooting will. If you’re starting out, any camera with manual settings will do. My advice is to buy whatever camera you can afford and stop wasting time looking at tools and hardware. All it matters is to train your eye and this takes practice. Lots and lots of it. Shoot thousands of photos, every month, for several years and you’ll become a photographer. There’s no shortcut. There’s no camera brand that will make this task any easier for you. I promise you.
See more photos below to treat your eyes.