How does lifestyle and wedding photographer Ben Sasso keep his work exciting and new? Experimentation. This California photographer believes that the key to evolving as an artist is stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things. Sasso’s warm and vibrant images are a testament to the success of his theory. Whether he’s shooting through shards of glass to add visual interest, or using his iPhone 4s to record his trip to Iceland, Ben Sasso seems to be constantly pushing himself and growing as a photographer. Sasso also has a love for teaching, offering mentoring opportunities on his website and teaching classes at The Define School.

Did you study photography or are you self-taught?

I actually am self-taught, and to me that means I learn from reading other photographers blogs, learning from my mistakes and pretty much doing everything offline I could that related to photography. I’m kind of a self-motivated person so I took a couple photo classes and that just wasn’t for me. From there I just decided to learn what I wanted to learn, which made me a little bit more invested instead of focusing on assignments that were given to me.

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© Ben Sasso

When did your photographs begin to gain popularity? How did you get your name out there?

It definitely took a while.  My first couple shoots I did I don’t know if anyone even saw them.  I posted them on my blog but there’s a good chance that maybe my mom and dad saw them and that’s about it. But since then I’ve been kind of putting more emphasis into focusing on a target market, specifically through the way I speak, the work I show, my branding, how my website looks, how my blog looks and what I share in social media. Since I’ve done that I’ve noticed a huge difference not only in numbers of followers but the kind of engagement those followers have with my work. They’re asking more questions or commenting on my work, and I do notice a lot of them are the same people that come back which is great too because now I have a very steady output of work. I think people are more invested in it and they see me more as a human instead of just a branded thing that pops up on their social news networks.

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© Ben Sasso

What is your favorite thing to shoot?

Definitely people, and definitely people in nature.  I’m just super inspired by any kind of natural landscape whether it be trees, mountains or deserts. So whatever it is that’s just the kind of stuff I love to shoot, and I love to shoot stuff that seems a little bit more real and candid as opposed to making very posed and conceptual fashion styles.

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© Ben Sasso

If you’re feeling uninspired how do you get excited and find inspiration again?

I have a bookmarked tab on my computer that has tons of different photographers websites and photo blogs, and I just dig through them until I get out of whatever rut I’m in. it does happen fairly often, especially if I’m getting super busy with work. Sometimes I’ll find myself in a rut, in terms of I want to shoot something new but I cant figure out what I want to shoot. I think that just comes from a matter of my brain being tired from all the work and I can’t come up with anything new. So I start looking through that bookmarked tab, just finding other work that inspires me and then taking it from that.

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© Ben Sasso

You talk about the importance of experimentation in your blog, can you give us an example of your most recent experiment?

Absolutely.  One of my recent experiments involved shooting through broken pieces of glass. The reason I believe so much in experimenting is because obviously having a well designed style is super important, but if you stick with only that style and don’t ever try to push yourself forward you’re never going to evolve as an artist. You’re going to become bored with your work and that’s going to transfer over and potential clients are going to be bored with your work. So one of those recent experiments I did was shooting through broken glass. I obviously took a couple of cups out of my cabinet with my wife’s permission and smashed them on the sidewalk. And then from there I just found shards that played with light the way that I wanted it to, and I basically just held it up in front of my lens and I shot through that. It kind of just gave a really beautiful dreamy kind of blur that accompanied the lens and made the shoot have that dreamy feel that I was hoping for.

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© Ben Sasso

Do you have a favorite location that you’ve shot at?

Yes I have two. One of them was Iceland, I’ve been there twice, but the most recent time it was basically a two-week camping trip with my wife and two of our best friends, so obviously that was pretty amazing. As far as landscape wise, Joshua Tree National Park in California is one of my absolute favorite places. My brother has described it to me as an alien playground; it just looks like the gods dropped huge rocks over there. It’s just totally weird and beautiful, and it’s a great landscape to shoot.

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© Ben Sasso

Is it sometimes difficult to direct people in front of the camera? Do you have a method that gets camera-shy subjects to warm up to the camera?

Yes I do.  I actually have mentor sessions pretty often about this, people are usually surprised by my answer, I don’t tell them “on shoot day, this is what you do” I tell them that once [clients] initially get in touch with you this is how you talk to them. Because really it’s a matter of they either don’t trust you or don’t know you well enough to be comfortable around you, so your job before the shoot comes is to get them comfortable and get them to know you better. When people first get in touch with me I make sure that they know that I’m not a traditional kind of photographer who doesn’t want to know anything about them until I show up on shoot day. I ask them about what’s going on in their lives, what they’re most excited about coming up in their lives, all that kind of stuff, that way they know that I’m someone who its okay to open up to and connect to. So when they show up on the shoot day I can say “oh you just got your masters degree that’s so exciting,” or whatever it is that’s happening with them, and they kind of loosen up and feel a little bit more comfortable. The shoot just goes so much easier that way.

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© Ben Sasso

Do you have a favorite image or shoot that you’ve done? If so why is it your favorite?

Oh gosh, [laughs] that’s a tough one! I think my favorite image that I have, well one of ten maybe since I cant pick one, but one of the favorites that I have is a film shot that I have actually as my facebook profile picture. It’s of a girl in a floral head wreath, and the reason I like it so much is because this image is one that I saw in my head exactly as it came out. I wanted something super soft and delicate and everything just came together. I had a great team that day I had one of my favorite makeup and hair stylists, Rachel Burney, and then The Conservatorie are my friends that made the floral head wreath, and the model, Megan, is one of my favorite models. Everything just came together really well and turned out exactly how I saw it before I even took the picture.

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© Ben Sasso

Which do you prefer, working on wedding photography or lifestyle photography?

Wow that’s difficult too! [laughs]  I absolutely love them both but eventually I want to phase out of weddings and more into lifestyle work. The reason isn’t because I don’t like shooting weddings as much, it’s because they stress me out much more than lifestyle work does, obviously for the fact that you have that one chance to get [the shot]. It doesn’t really hinder my wedding work but I don’t think it really helps it. I think I excel a lot more at lifestyle photography because I have the freedom to really relax and get as creative as I want without having to worry about getting those specific shots.

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© Ben Sasso

Do you find your lifestyle clients or do they find you?

Typically I find them, but recently its been switching up. I have a couple of different magazines that have been getting in touch with me to either purchase older shoots to publish, or hiring me to shoot something new for them.  I think that’s just what tends to happen. Like before, even for weddings, it involved me going on wherever I needed to to find wedding clients and now that I’ve been doing it for five or six years I don’t really have to search much, it’s just old word of mouth and they come back to me.

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© Ben Sasso

What equipment do you use?

Typically I have two 5D2’s and my favorite lenses are the 35L, that’s on my camera almost all the time, actually I can’t remember the last time I took that lens off for any reason. My other two favorite lenses are the 50L and 85L, all for different reasons, obviously different lenses give different moods but those are for sure my favorites.

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© Ben Sasso

You’re a teacher at The Define School and you offer mentoring opportunities on your website, bensasso.com, can you talk a little bit about both of these projects?

So the define school is an online school, and I actually found them through another photographer, Logan Cole, who teaches there as well. I really liked what they were doing so I emailed them and I said “hey I really love your school and I would love to teach a class” and Jessica Cudzilo, who is the founder, was really on board with it so my first semester, which was over the summer, I taught two classes and it went super well. I’m on their teaching roster now so ill be teaching there for a while. So my own personal mentor sessions, I basically just opened an educational website, it talks about all the different sessions that I offer and its awesome because I get to work with photographers from all over the world. The sessions are online so just recently I’ve talked to photographers from Norway, I’ve had one from Switzerland, another’s from Australia and they’re doing things like editing sessions and portfolio reviews. It’s been a really awesome experience for me to be able to talk to so many other photographers and kind of help them along in the way I wish I was helped in the beginning. I just never thought to look around and find someone to do a mentor session with, so I wanted to put that out there and show that was an option.

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© Ben Sasso

How did you realize that you love teaching?

I think I’ve always loved it. When I was growing up my dad was super helpful, but the way he was helpful was if we had a problem he would make us fix it on our own, in a loving way obviously not like “you have to take care of that.” He would tell us, “you can fix this” and he’d help us along. Through that learning process it kind of taught me how to teach myself to do certain things, so before I would even be able to teach anyone else I was teaching myself.  So when I got older I started to actually help coach my high school wrestling team, which most people don’t know. I actually still coach a high school wrestling team in Saint Augustine, which pretty much nobody knows, but through that I’ve had a passion for teaching. I think even more so than teaching I love sharing and fostering a closer-knit photo community.  I want people to come into the photo community and not have to worry about people being stingy with information, or viewing new photographers as competition. I want people to be very open and share information because truthfully, were only going to get better at what we do if we work together, and if we don’t work together we’re probably not going to get much better as we go on.

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© Ben Sasso