Alister Benn / Member Interview

Alister Benn was born and raised in Scotland and coming from an outdoor family grew up with a profound interest and respect for the natural world and the environments around him. He purchased his first camera, a little Olympus OM10, as a teenager and carried it with him during his mountain adventures. He was always drawn to the remote and the abstract, making intimate images of puddle reflections, moving colors and grand vistas.

A international corporate career led him to China in 2000, where by pure chance he met his wife Juanli Sun. Since then she has joined Alister in their extensive travels. For 7 years, they lived and worked in the Tibetan Region and dedicated the majority of their time to extensive exploration of the Himalaya. Returning to Europe in 2011 to live on the north coast of Spain, they finally moved to Scotland in 2013 and now live full-time on the Isle of Skye. From here they run Available Light Images Ltd, which provides both private and Fixed Date Tours & Workshops in the North-West Highlands of Scotland, Iceland, Tibet and Spain.


Isle Of, Skye

What inspired you to become a photographer?

I think all of us have a creative side, and I feel it took me a long time to find my ideal outlet for that. I’ve been into music for a long time, especially guitars, but never progressed beyond “ok.” I can’t paint, but I did feel the need to be expressive about my time in the countryside. It was initially my love of birds that made me pick up a camera when we were living in Malaysia. Photographing the tropical birds in the forests and wetlands became a real passion.

Tell us about your first photo that really validated your interest as a photographer.

The one that created the first real paradigm shift for me was a shot taken in Banff National Park in the fall of 2004. Until then I was exclusively a bird photographer, but while visiting friends I decided to buy a landscape lens and some filters. We shot that evening at the nearby lakes and there were about 50 other photographers. After a late dinner, I looked out the window and the full moon was flooding the valley in great light. Completely on the spur of the moment my wife and I drove down to the lakes again and started making images by moonlight.

I made loads of mistakes, but that first image at midnight opened my mind to amazing opportunities and my first footsteps towards my current career.

3. Back when you were just starting out, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome that?

Back when you were just starting out, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome that?

I run a lot of workshops in Scotland, Spain, Iceland and also Tibet. That sums up very much what I like to shoot. Mountains, Seascapes, Ice, Aurora, Forests, Waterfalls, Abstracts! I’m pretty diverse and tend to respond to bot visual and emotional stimuli. I make images when the subjects or scenes compel me to.

What do you enjoy photographing the most?

Honestly, I’m not really one for pride, as I was told as a kid it comes before a fall! Any image I make represents me at a moment in time and I put them out there to share my expressive intention. Awards don’t mean much to me, nor likes on social media. I take great satisfaction when a client tells me what a huge impact I have had on their development - that’s as close as I’ll get to feeling proud - a job well done.

How do you feel photography has impacted the way you see the world?

My relationship with photography is completely symbiotic. My changing perspectives and life experiences shape my images and my images and perspectives as an artist allow me to make life changes also. I have encouraged myself over the years not to see things, but instead look on the landscape in a more geometric fashion. Shapes, lines, textures, curves, lines etc. I look for the underlying emotional impact of form as the primary trigger for making images, not subjects.

What is your best photography related tip?

Have a message in mind. What are you trying to say with this photograph. Simply, I call it our Intention. You have to decide what you want to say with your images. An image is a visual message - we say things without words. If we don’t know what we want to say, what chance does the viewer have interpreting our intent?

What would you like for people take away from your work?

I would hope my work not only tells you about a place at a moment in time, but how I felt about it. I’d like to think I put a lot of myself in my work, shades of my personality and changing perspective. my aim is for my work to trigger an emotional impact in the viewers. Hopefully my work inspires people to have a more active, healthy life and an appreciation of what this fragile world of ours has offer.

What are some ‘must have’ items in your camera bag?

I am not much of a gear head, and my equipment has to be functional beyond anything else. Something I would never leave the house without though would be a 6 and a 10 stop ND. I use them very often as they allow me to abstract the landscape regardless of the time of day.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is the ONE photography book you would want to have with you?

I’m going to cheat and give two answers! More than a Rock by Guy Tal and Iceland Above and Below by Hans Strand.

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