Hey Reddit! Benjamin Von Wong here, glad to finally be back here for another ama. Last week I dragged a model into the shark ridden sea in hopes of drawing attention towards the need for a shark sanctuary in Malaysia. The response from reddit has been pretty huge, so I wanted to answer any questions you might have about me and or life and the universe in general.

Proof: Twitter, Facebook
My site: http://vonwong.com

Edit: Alright guys, it's been super fun answering all your questions! Thank you so much for your time, it was an honor to participate in this AMA! Don't forget to consider signing the petition. Sharks need to be protected. Together we can make a difference!

Comments: 617 • Responses: 93  • Date: 

GamingForHonor740 karma

Hey Benjamin,

I'm just going to address the question most everyone is going to want to know:

How the hell did you get that model to do that photoshoot with the sharks in the first place?

Also, have you had other ideas of similar nature?

vonwong1132 karma

She understood that White-Tipped reef sharks aren't dangerous - basically like swimming with large fish.

There are 440 different known species of sharks... almost all of which aren't dangerous for humans. Knowledge is one of the best weapons against fear!

This was my first attempt shooting large fish, though I have wanted to do something with Manta Rays. Not quite sure how to engineer that one just yet though. gears spinning

jahstah8o8182 karma

Manta Rays? Shoot off the big island of Hawaii. You should get some great shots there

impresently157 karma

Last week I did a night time scuba dive with 10-15 foot manta rays off the west coast of the big island near Kona. The most surreal and magical thing I have ever experienced. The mantas approach you as the plankton they eat are attracted to your dive lights. Occasionally they get close enough to touch you. They then did this elegant dance of somersaults underneath me. It was unbelievable.

tequilajinx22 karma

I've done this dive too, we had 22 show up the night we went. Still one of the most incredible experiences in my life.

vonwong28 karma

Kinda jealous here.

vancanslam68 karma

Some guy in the original thread said that she was a some sort of well known free-diver. was this true?

vonwong182 karma


Amber Bourke is a multiple Australian freediving record holder. Ranked world #3 in 2013 and 2014 (DNF).

Does that count?

climber_g33k1 karma

I'd connect with Steve Erwin about a good place for manta rays.

vonwong3 karma

I'd love an intro :D

Scarbane123 karma

Repeat after me: "Fish are friends, not food."

gostahennin41 karma

Then why are they delicious?

Hedoin95 karma

How do you know your friends are not?

Pufflekun26 karma

Human flesh is basically like sweet pork. So yes, your friends do, in fact, taste delicious.

vonwong26 karma

Is that a fact? fascinating

Builderberg10 karma

Yep, some people believe it is one of the reasons pork is banned in certain religions... Love your work by the way!

vonwong2 karma


tgb33313 karma

Why tie her down instead of slipping her feet through a ring that is then tied down? My understanding is that the latter is standard for breath-holding competitions and similar and would be safer. Did she have a knife?

vonwong305 karma

Her leg was in a slipknot that was tied to about 10kg of lead - that way we could move the lead wherever we needed to.

She didn't have a knife but could have escaped easily if it ever became necessary.

249ba36000029bbe974970 karma

A diver can correct me if I'm wrong but I believe it would be dangerous for her if she accidentally slipped out and floated to the surface having breathed compressed air.

If she held her breath at the surface (like breath holding contests) then was pulled down then it would be OK for her to float up as fast as she wanted.

jfa_16131 karma

Diver here - You are kind of correct. The problem with breathing compressed air at depth and surfacing rapidly as that the air in you lungs at depth is compressed under the pressure of all the water above/around you. If you hold your breath and ascend, the pressure becomes less and the air in your lungs expands. You see where this is going. The air can expand to the point that you injure your lungs due to over-expansion. The way to avoid this is to exhale as you ascend. The slower the ascent, the better. In this case, if a shark were attacking her, she could exhale and bolt to the surface and probably be ok, depending on how fast she ascended and from what depth. Divers are trained to do emergency ascents while exhaling as part of SCUBA training.

vonwong177 karma

We were also not very deep so the pressure differential was not critical.

SelectedLamb210 karma

I saw this picture when it came out, and i just thought, what a good photoshop work, but knowing now that it was a real photo... Wow, how cool! Ama eh? Well here's some questions!

Was the water cold? Did you have to feed the sharks first? Was it hard to get no air bubbles in the picture? How long did it take you to shoot?

vonwong241 karma

The water wasn't too cold, I don't know the exact temperature but it did get cold over time. It was particularly bad for Amber as she would be shivering so badly after every iteration.

For the sharks, we had a small cage with dead fish in it. The marine biologist would take fish out and rub it over a rock so that the water would "smell" like food to try and attract the sharks.

We didn't really feed them because if they get full they leave!

The shoot took about 3 days of shooting + 2 days of scouting and prep (testing to see if the sharks were scared of the dress)

Amber is a world class freediver and was quite good at making sure bubbles only happened intermittently. :)

StoopTroop96 karma

I heard she is a top 10 freediver, is this true?

Source: heard about it from a top 100 freediver.

vonwong110 karma


Amber Bourke is a multiple Australian freediving record holder. Ranked world #3 in 2013 and 2014 (DNF).

karenxcheng121 karma

How long did you guys have to wait for the sharks? Once the sharks swam by, how long did you have to shoot?

vonwong175 karma

It was really temperamental - some days the sharks were particularly friendly and would come swimming by within a couple minutes, others we would spend the entire dive waiting.

I think in percentage it was maybe 90% wait time, 10% shoot.

As for "how long" you have to shoot, well, the sharks basically swim into frame for a couple seconds and are gone. Sometimes they swim back in but most of the time they just stay out !

sh_collins64 karma

Hey Benjamin,

I am a huge fan of your work! Can you talk about how you approach the start of a project? I would love to hear more about how you take a project from a creative concept to actually shooting.

vonwong71 karma

Hey hey! I spend a ton of time just casting out a wide net... talking to as many people as possible.

I always try to start off a project with a single sentence. If the project can be summarized in a single internet headline then it's probably a good one.

Doesn't mean it's going to happen but it'll at least be worth a try.

I think that with my engineering background, I'm pretty good at problem solving so more than anything I try to get all the ingredients in place first and foremost... then I can cook up something awesome from there!

csl5125 karma

What sort of engineering is your background?

vonwong14 karma

Ironically, I used to be a mining engineer.

waiting_for_rain54 karma

  1. What's a "normal" day like for you?

  2. What's the scariest situation you've been in to get a shot?

  3. How do you get your hair so awesome

vonwong86 karma

  1. Wake up - check emails, check facebook, send messages, sneak in coffee, check facebook, check emails, send messages, sneak in lunch, check facebook, check emails, go to a meeting, have a skype call, sneak in dinner, check facebook, check emails...lol. It takes 10x more time and effort to prep and market a shoot than to actually shoot it.

  2. great question. Um. Probably this one: http://www.vonwong.com/blog/reallifesuperheroes/

  3. Actually I made a video on that --> hahaa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QCppFrJLA8

SidJenkins36 karma

Hey man, as an amateur photographer I really enjoy watching the behind the scenes videos and reading your blog posts. Thanks for taking the time to also publish that sort of stuff.

great question. Um. Probably this one: http://www.vonwong.com/blog/reallifesuperheroes/

I've noticed some sort of markup code shows up on that page, you might want to get that fixed:

[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#ffffff” text=”#1c1c1c” width=”80%” height=”200px” align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”When do you actually get to see the everyday person get to be a superhero? It’s a reminder that all of us, you and I, have it within ourselves to be whoever we want to be. ” cite=”-  Benjamin Von Wong” parallax=”on” direction=”left”]

vonwong28 karma

Oh crap. thanks.

makazatra49 karma

Hey Benjamin, first of all i would like to congratulate you on using your work for a good cause! My question is, you are using your photography for awareness to sea life decay. How do you think your work could affect the awareness of this? Do you think it wil make a big diference (if yes, how big of an impact do you think it wil make?)

Also greetings from Belgium ;) hope you wil be here in the near future.

vonwong49 karma

So, the general hope is to help encourage people that are doing great work. Right now, there is a battle in Malaysia to create a shark sancturay and the minister there needs as much help as he can get.

Dollars speak, especially in a country where tourism is so important - so my idea behind this project is to use pretty photos to attract attention to transform them into signatures that can be leveraged politically in a real world situation.


I'm not sure if I'm just being sentimental here but that's the hope.

Ralod21 karma

I became aware of the issue of shark fin harvesting not too long ago, but watching this Documentary Gordon Ramsey made really opened my eyes to the utter brutality of it. They hack off the fins with the sharks still alive. The meat is of no use so in some areas they just toss them back in the ocean possibly still alive.

So brutal, so senseless for a dish that could literally contain rice noodles and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

I think this is a very noble cause, thank you for doing this. For what it is worth I did sign your petition. I was not aware of your work before, but know that you have gained at least one fan.

vonwong11 karma

Thank you man!

bobsaggot724 karma

how long can the model hold her breath for? did she ever panic?

vonwong40 karma

She has a 5 minute + static breath hold.

She never panicked. She's a world class professional!

--> https://www.facebook.com/ambernerissabourke/?fref=ts

mrorry23 karma

I'm just really curious how many of those red thongs with your name on them have sold???

vonwong30 karma

A grand total of zero unfortunately, haha. I bought one for fun though :P

Tgclark21 karma

This is not how you market things. The correct answer is "Lots! You should buy one quick before we run out!"

vonwong18 karma

The merch store was never about making money - just offering people a way to rock my name places :)

Lurker_24222 karma

Hey Ben, first of all thanks for doing this AMA :)

This question is going to sound silly because I'm actually not quite sure how to put my thoughts into words, so...

I know that you manage to gather great teams for projects all over the world by using local talent, a lot of whom are fans standing in line to assist you (slight exaggeration ^^). But how did you manage to pull in teams before you got famous? How did you start out, how did you build your career?

And what would you say was the definitive moment when you became "THE von Wong", a photography household name?

vonwong35 karma

I always find this to be an interesting question. I have 100k fans on facebook and 50k subs on youtube with 30k on instagram... In the greater scheme of things that's nothing.

As far as I'm concerned I'm still not a photography household name just yet and I'm constantly trying to improve my work and take it one step further.

Ansel Adams, Annie Liebowitz... those are household names. I'm just a 29 year old dude trying to do something cool and meaningful.

To answer your question though, it is the small successes that help build the larger ones. Start off with a talented friend( model, makeup artist, hair stylist) and keep growing that team, one step at a time.

Be sure to improve and never stop being self critical.

Rework335315 karma

When you say "dragged a model down" it sounds pretty sensational, like you did it against her will. I was slightly worried.

Great beautiful work though!

Do you plan on shooting more environmentally conscious projects do raise awareness or is this a one off?

vonwong20 karma

We dragged her through the water because she couldn't swim with the dress on.

I hope to do more environmentally conscious projects in the future - working on building more contacts in that field along with social entrepreneurs.

Russaky11 karma

Hi ben, I would really want to know what tools you are using in order to coordinate all of the people before and most importantly- During the photoshoot?

vonwong30 karma

Oh, if you're talking about the mechanics of the shoot itself well... there was nothing fancy. We'd be on the boat, the marine biologist would hop into the water to look for the sharks, wave at me when he found them. I'd find a place I wanted to shoot close to them, and then wave at the models to join us... and then off we went.

For underwater communication we used hand gestures and a little plastic pad that you could scribble on with a pencil!

Pretty low tech~

BrockThrowaway18 karma

A pencil that works underwater? That's high tech!

vonwong56 karma

regular pencils work underwater :|

vonwong12 karma

Great question but I don't have any fancy answers - I just use facebook messages, whatsapp sometimes and emails. I do create facebook groups if there are a large number of volunteers... but that's about it. No project management tools .

starfishboy12310 karma

Have you seen comedian Anthony Jeselnik's Shark Party? What's your opinion on it?

vonwong10 karma

LOL. no but i just watched it. I feel like it didn't convey the conservation message as strongly as it could have but I love the idea of using one's personal strengths to promote a good cause

z0m09 karma

I noticed you shot that with Sony gear. What attracted you to Sony over Nikon or Canon?

vonwong19 karma

The A7r-ii is the perfect hybrid system. It does photo as well as it does video... maybe neither as perfectly as a dedicated system but in this day and age, you need to do both (IMHO) to stand out.

z0m015 karma

I liked the gif in the article you linked that showed the original, lightroom, and photoshop version of the image. The original was rather dark, and I was surprised at the amount of detail you were able to pull out of the shadows. Awesome work!

vonwong13 karma

Sony makes amazing sensors that have a ridiculous amount of details in the shadows.

Nikon does great too.

Beelzebubs-Barrister9 karma

What were you trying to do with the photoshop touch-ups?

vonwong31 karma

So one of the terrible side effects of shooting underwater is that all the warm wavelengths get filtered by the water. As a result, everything looks blue/green/purple.

Humans with Blue Skin are generally not considered healthy or attractive so for me, the editing was to create healthier skin tones reminiscent of what you might expect on land.

ParaplegicPython7 karma

Where did you get your inspiration to become such an aspiring artist with an absolutely breathtaking concept such as this photoshoot that intertwines beauty with danger?

vonwong27 karma

It's a really funny question that I really struggle to answer. The sequence of how I came up with the concept was not the whimsical answer most might expect.

  • I was going to Fiji to attend a photo workshop
  • I heard that Fiji had amazing world class shark dives
  • I wanted to shoot sharks
  • I wanted to make a positive difference to help them
  • I knew pretty white dresses underwater looked good
  • I needed to be able to afford cheap mobile props that I could fly with
  • Shepherds crook seemed like a good idea to create a shark shepherd.
  • I created a shark shepherd.


MadEyeJoker3 karma

I was very intrigued when I saw that picture and learned it was shot in Fiji. I don't know what part of Fiji you were in but in Navua there is a very famous legend that the ghost of a woman in a white dress can be seen some nights on the Navua River, a massive river that runs through the village. It's one of those eerie local ghost tales and I thought your picture, even though that wasn't the intent, did a pretty great job illustrating it.

vonwong2 karma

It wasn't the intent but I love it!

We shot it around Barefoot Kuata

SuperHauge7 karma

Hey Benjamin. How did you first start out making money on photography, and at what level were you on? How much gear did you have?

/a photographer nervous about taking the next step

vonwong19 karma

I began in event photography. I really really sucked. Here's my first deviant art account: iintrigue.deviantart.com

I started off with a Pentax K100D, and swiftly moved on to a Nikon D300 once I realized that I could earn money with photography.

I think the right time to buy gear is when it is the only thing holding you back .

DayMan-FTW6 karma

Fiji is known to ecotourists around the world for its world-class shark dives


Seriously though, thank you for your creative approach to dispelling the nonsense about sharks. Here in Australia people are going fucking nuts about wanting to kill every shark they see and it disgusts me.

How do you see this campaign helping countries like Australia where the current culture is "KILL ALL SHARKS!!1!" understand that culling is not the solution? Do you have further plans for education? What can ordinary people like me do?

vonwong3 karma

Well I hope that it shows a different side to them. I'm open to collaborating with different organizations that can leverage the images to spread a message.

As for the ordinary every day person - maybe reach out to see what other likeminded individuals like yourself are around and figure out how you can assist in their efforts?

At the end of the day, a lot of it is politics. It's frustrating and I wish I was born smarter to tackle the problem better but all I can do is take pretty pictures so I try to empower those who are smarter than me to make the real difference.

Jefams5 karma

Hello mister van Wong, I want to say, you do such nice projects. My wife was shocked when she look at the video. I just thinking, besides waiting moment, everything is moving around you. How can you be that focus? Did you ever thought about combining your experience with biomimicre project. What you are doing is attached to that also. Really love your work, if you ever have projects in the Netherlands. Jeffrey www.urbanphotorace.com

vonwong3 karma

What is bio mimicre? It sounds fascinating I would love to learn more.

I think that as far as focus goes, I have the tendency to know exactly what I hope to get... or at least, I know what I don't want so I just think about how many people's time I'm wasting if I fail, and how disappointed people will be if I don't succeed and use that to help me stay focused.

Slightly negative but... very asian XD

stepstohappyness5 karma

Hey Benjamin!

I didn't find you on Reddit, but somehow I stumbled across your Superheroes on a Skyscraper last year and decided to follow you for life ever since.


What's your favorite photoshoot by far? And why?

vonwong5 karma

Whoa! My secret stalker <3 :)

My favourite photoshoot I think is this shark one - not because of the photos... but because they were not only fantastical but because they had purpose.

jackbutton244 karma

Have you done work with other animals for conservation?

vonwong8 karma

Not yet, but I would love to. The bigger challenge of putting something together like this is finding the right people and organizations to help give you access to the sets that you need.

It's easy to say "do something for tigers! or cheetahs! or Bison!" but without the proper access and animals it's basically just a pipe dream.

I am trying to get access to some Lynx close to Germany but not quite sure how that's going to pan out. Open to suggestions!

demideity3 karma

What was your favorite location to shoot at, so far?

vonwong4 karma

This Beauty And the Beast looking library in Austria was probably one of the most epic --> http://www.vonwong.com/blog/stiftadmont/

Devario3 karma

What was the budget for the whole shoot?

vonwong3 karma

I paid 1000$ for the videographer's plane ticket from New Zealand. That's about it. Amber flew herself in and the Barefoot Islands sponsored our dives, food and lodging because it was for a good cause. Nauticam provided me with an underwater housing (I didn't have one) and my flights were already paid for thanks to the workshop I was doing.

Rubius02 karma

Your work is absolutely inspiring and amazing. It is an incredible delight to explore your website and see what you have done. Personally I have been in a creative slump and I am terribly grateful to have found you and your work recently through the shark post. I particularly love the bird costume photos, they are right out of fantasy.

I work in a variety of media but lately I have been doing miniature glass sculptural work. Have you ever considered photographing glass artists or glass works? The glow of the molten glass is mesmerizing and I've often thought that it would be a great subject for photography. Working with molten glass is like painting a 3D sculpture out of light and it seems to me that the sculpting of light is similar to what you do. If you come to Vancouver, I would love to work with you.

vonwong3 karma

I would love to work with a glass artist, especially one that created large human scale works. Right now my focus is on conservation an advocacy so if we think of a project that can be simultaneously beautiful and impactful I would love to embark on that adventure.

Hit me up -> ben [at] vonwong.com

letharjic2 karma

What's your most prized piece of equipment?

vonwong2 karma

Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 is definitely the most expensive... but I'm pretty in love with my Sony A7r-ii and my Broncolor Move packs.

Actually now that I think about it, I'm pretty in love with my Para 88... if only it weren't so big.

me_moldy2 karma

where do you plan to travel to in 2016?

vonwong1 karma

I'm hoping for Bhutan, New Zealand, Nunavut and I'll also be hitting up Germany (not sure what I'm doing there yet)

abletoon2 karma

Hi Benjamin, how long did the underwater portion of the shoot take?

vonwong4 karma

I think over the course of five days we probably spent 12 hours underwater?

aeriosmedia2 karma

Hey Ben! Let me first say, you're an absolute inspiration. I love all your work! How do you manage to continually amass such a talented group of people to work with? Also, how did you start achieving such a feat?

vonwong3 karma

Hey mate! Thank you for the compliments!

I think that smaller successes build up the larger ones. It is easier to get higher quality people to trust you when you have a good track record.

I guess the best piece of advice I can give to you is: Start Small and be consistent.

I still struggle finding the right people for things, it's just that no one sees that part - they just see & remember the successes that result.

Don't be disappointed by failure, you need it to succeed. (At least that's what I pep talk myself into when sh*t hits the fan)

asabla2 karma

Hi Benjamin,

As for a start I just want to say: HOLY BUTTSNACKS! Those photographs were insanely beautiful.

And for my question: Since you always have a cool project going on , what will be your next goal/vision? And do you have any dream project that you would do in the future?

vonwong4 karma

haha buttsnacks XD Thanks!!

My next project in Feb is to go to New Zealand and help create a project that might raise awareness/funds for the Kauri Dieback Disease, a majestic tree. I don't have a tree yet, so I'm not sure if it'll happen but the flights are booked.

From there I go to Bhutan to create a project to promote cultural conservation. Where better than a country that legalized internet and television in 1997!

From there, I might go to Hawaii for a commercial job and hopefully build in a conservation element there... but then it's a project in Nunavut to speak out against Arctic Drilling.

From there it's a big question mark but I was really hoping to squeeze in a refugee project in Germany. Just not sure how to approach that one yet... but it's on the roadmap.

Tidher2 karma

I read the title as "[...] for conversation". I thought it was a bit of an extreme length to go to in order to have something to talk about...

To that end: how do you go about raising awareness of this? It seems that, short of there being some context of the image, it isn't obvious what the image is about.

vonwong3 karma

It is an experiment - I am continuously trying to explore avenues of communication. I definitely think that I failed in converting views into signatures (millions of views on these photos but only a couple thousand signatures) but it's a work in progress.

I am trying to figure out how to leverage my strengths (create fantastical imagery) into something useful and impactful. I hope that in a year it'll become a lot more obvious.

raveiskingcom2 karma

Was the guy who posted about it on Reddit really your "friend"?

vonwong6 karma

So funny story here. He's a friend of the videographer... except the videographer didn't tell me that his friend was going to post it. There's a 8h time difference between the middle east (where he's from), so he didn't see the whole reddit explosion until the morning.

OP wasn't really lying, we just all got confused

bse502 karma

Hi Benjamin, I really like your style and overall activisim. I'd like to ask you how much you think post-processing adds to your photos.
Could you have done the same in a "photoshop free" world?

vonwong2 karma

I like to think of post production as 33%.

33% pre production 33% shoot 33% postproduction

I think that I would have done fine in a world without post-production... but a world without internet would have never worked for me.

yellowm3w18s2 karma

My wife is Chinese and I've told her many time about how Chinese don't care about the sharks. How do we get this message of protecting this creature to the Chinese, a group of people who hunt sharks solely for its fins? And have you ever had sharks fin soup? Btw. Your photos are awesome.

vonwong2 karma

I think that there's a slow building of awareness. Yao Ming did a very succesful campaign against shark fining. While the older generation may be a little bit more apathetic towards the suffering of animals, the younger millennial definitely care about it.

Change comes in small steps.

I don't like fish, never have. I think I may have tried shark fin soup when I was younger but I could never even stand the smell.

It's hard to convince people to change. Just like it's hard to convince a meat eater to go vegetarian, it's hard to convince a long time shark fin eater that it's not OK.

sockalicious2 karma

So, sharks are charismatic megafauna. What do you do to advocate for endangered or other ecologically important organisms that can never capture the public interest?

vonwong2 karma

That's a great question that I've been asking myself too. As a photographer, I'm definitely limited by the subjects I can capture... but as an artist, I think it's about finding strong metaphors and getting creative.

I'm not sure that I'll ever have enough power to change the world, but at least I can help nudge it in a positive direction.

Argns2 karma

Why did you feel the need to alter the model so much in this photo? Not slim enough?

IMO, you should've stuck with only lighting-modifications. Now the model looks wonky.)

vonwong7 karma

I felt like she looked like she was falling over in the original. I didn't make her skinnier, I just "straightened her body" so it didn't look like she was falling over to camera right.

nicolattes2 karma

Hey Ben! Happy to see you doing an AMA again :)

I really love your transition into photography for a cause. Do you normally approach organizations for sponsorship? Or do they reach out to you? From your experience, is it similar to being commissioned by a company/client?

vonwong2 karma

I approach organization for collaborations. I don't really look at them as sponsorships as much as mutually beneficial opportunities.

I also have organizations that reach out to me and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't!

It's very different from being commissioned... there's always a discrepancy in power I feel when money gets involved.

ewubwubwub1 karma

Is the a7rii worth it?

vonwong2 karma

First camera I bought in the last 3 years! I think its the best hybrd system on the market right now.

Sasha_Fire1 karma

What are some unexpected hurdles you had come up while doing this shoot? And any big plans for your next one?

Great photos!

vonwong3 karma

I didn't expect the sharks to be so few and far between. I thought there would be far more of them and that they would be less scared of us!!

I'm hoping to get access to scale some Kauri trees in New Zealand. Hoping to find the right person to help make that happen right now!

SamBone1231 karma

Hey Benjamin if you had to fight 100 duck sized sharks or 1 horse sized shark which would it be?

vonwong3 karma

I'd try to befriend the 1 horse sized shark.

Sharks are predatory species and if you flee, they chase. It would be far easier to play with a single horse sized shark than be overwhelmed by 100 duck sized ones. (kinda like piranhas)

apple_kicks1 karma

how much or little control did you have with hair, make up, and costume to be just right in such a time frame to shoot?

vonwong3 karma

No hair, no makeup.

Costume came 2 days before the shoot from Indonesia from Ali Charisma. :)


Why do photographers constantly feel the need to use over-the-top language to describe everything?

vonwong6 karma

Well I think that in general we're not that great at words so we may feel the need to overcompensate. (Probably why we take photos in the first place)

I definitely overuse the words Amazing and Epic... though I would be curious how you would describe my photography?

carrierejonathan1 karma

Hi Ben which kind of c-stan did you use and does it fit in you tinktank manager 40? Thanks

vonwong1 karma

I don't travel with stands, they're too heavy. I just beg for them once I arrive in a certain country. Cstands definitely wouldn't fit in the logistics manager 40 though.... I'm sure some manfrottos could but haven't really tried. Currently, I don't own any light stands in San Francisco :/

ConquerHades1 karma

What's going to be your next project?

What's your thought on China's overfishing and destroying coral reefs around the Philippines' territory?

vonwong4 karma

I think the overfishing in general is a horrible thing.

I'm not sure my next projects will be underwater oriented as I'm interested in all advocacy efforts but I was thinking of doing something to speak out against large scale commercial fishing.

femio1 karma

Hi ben, big fan and i love that you frequently post on /r/photography

do you have any advice for a photographer that's trying to market themselves and build a brand?

vonwong2 karma

Spend more time thinking about how and why your project might be interesting to others. It's fun taking something pretty but you also need to think about how it's going to be interesting for other people.

Buzzfeed and Bored Panda are great insights into "what makes something go viral"

I like to leverage the internet, but that's not for everyone.

It's such a blanket question... if you had more precise questions I can try to answer!

Rambo1stBlood1 karma

How much do gift shops pay you to use these images on t shirts?

Follow up, Do you also take photos of wolves in front of dream catchers?

vonwong2 karma

Zero. My work is generally not for sale as most of the people that I shoot with work for free. Why should I get paid when no one else is?

-> Wolves and dream catchers. Nope but I love the theme! Know any wolves?

armaziu1 karma

Hey man, big fan of your work. Have two questions 1. How long did it take until you were able to do big projects like this one? 2. Any advice for someone who is still struggling?

vonwong2 karma

I bought my first camera from walmart in november 2007. My growth is far slower than some, and faster than others. In my eyes, I'm still struggling. :)

You can track my growth on my flickr

As far as how to build... start small, do great work, and build from there. Success breeds success. Don't get discouraged by failure.

nyfael1 karma

Hi Benjamin,

You've been my inspiration as a photographer and I love everything you post.

That being said -- do you make money with these shoots? Or how did you start off making money with these shoots? i.e. did you do other typical photographer things beforehand (weddings, headshots, event photography, etc.)?

vonwong2 karma

I don't make money with these shoots but I attract a lot of attention. The strategy that's been working so far is: Get really good at something that can draw the attention of people that commission me - get paid to do other cool things.

I did start off in event photography whilst juggling a day job as an engineer.

The thing is - if you don't love what you do, you'll never get great at it. If you don't get great at anything, no one will hirer you to do it. (And if you manage to get great at something but hate doing it, you'll still be miserable)

_coast_of_maine1 karma

Were you commissioned to do the shoot or did you do this completely on your own? And do you think it's accomplishing the mission?

vonwong3 karma

This was a personal project, so self funded and partially sponsored (food, lodging and dives were provided by The Barefoot Collection

I think that I've managed to ignite a conversation - so yes, I think it's a success in that regard.

I did not get as many signatures for the petition as I hoped for, so that, in my eyes is a little bit of a failure. Thankfully it's never too late to keep working at it.

iaccidentlytheworld1 karma

How do you keep peoples' interest after the "honeymoon" phase of an awareness campaign wears off?

vonwong2 karma

Great question. I'm not quite sure. Haven't thought that far ahead. I am hoping to make things go more "viral" in channels that it didn't go viral. Facebook video is my next target.

flamehead2k11 karma

Hi Ben,

What can we do to stop this? My understanding is that a lot of sharks get caught in fishing nets. For those of us to eat fish, is there a way to reduce the impact? For those of us who don't, what can we do?

vonwong3 karma

I'm really not sure to be honest. I wish I was born smarter, but all I can do is take photos and help raise awareness so that's what I've decided to focus on. I let the other smart politicians and advocates figure out the rest.

dopline1 karma

If the Sharks broke the cage, would they call you “Benjamin Don Wrong"?

vonwong1 karma

There were no cages, the sharks were harmless.

PETApitaS1 karma

How deep was the shoot?

vonwong2 karma

5-15 meters

Onkami1 karma

Hello Benjamin, you (and people you joined forces with, Renee Robyn, 5knightsproductions, Rebecca Bathory and others) are a huge inspiration to me.

I would like to do complex shoots. I know the planning and lighting and team coordination, so technical side is not an issue. My question is: given a location with potential (such as cool abandoned house or interesting outdoor place) - how would you approach to make it look epic on the image? What would be your ideas, what to try, to enhance the location, e.g. using some lighting approach, bringing in some props, special effects, etc?

vonwong3 karma

I love to use small practical effects like smoke grenades, flour, and water... but I think more important is to think of the story.

I imagine my photographs like movie stills and try to make it cool, without being too obvious (Oh its a photoshoot, there's a model here and a flash there etc...)

I try to make my images look like paintings with stories for people to follow and discover.

From a lighting perspective, I always go for an edgy cinematic look - I love that my characters pop out from the background and I pay a lot of attention to composition (how the models are placed in relation to the environment).

I find that details are what make a difference and can spend hours trying to capture one shot perfectly even though no one will notice the difference except me.

Photoshop is used as a refinement tool - fixing what I fail to capture in camera or just tweaking and smoothing out flaws.

X4b_Zissou1 karma

Will this same tactic work for getting me a girlfriend?

vonwong2 karma

I think it depends on how sexy you look in a scuba mask

Mort1z1 karma

Hi Ben,

I'm a friend of Kris and Rachel, two of the divers that assisted you with making this beautiful artwork.

Did you get to spend much time exploring the Yasawa Islands before/after shooting? If so what was your favourite place to go or thing to do?

vonwong2 karma

Hey man! Kris and Rachel are awesome. Couldn't have done this without them!!

Unfortunately we had no time to explore anything. We visited the surrounding islands but we were so focused on the shoot that we didn't manage to see much beyond Kuata and Manta.

The babylon caves and coral sanctuaries were really cute

someoneinsignificant1 karma

How do you do model-make-up underwater?

vonwong2 karma

We tried it before, and I came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the time and effort. Eyeliner and blush is the most you can hope for.

I_am_a_Pixel1 karma

I'm an avid photographer and love sharks and scuba diving is my favourite "hobby" (although I don't practice it as much as I'd like to) so what you did here by combining both would be a dream of mine. How would someone without a photography diploma go about making something like this his job? It's not like other trades where you can just intern for a summer or something so what would you advise? Do another job and use spare time to try and build a portfolio like this?

Anyway love your work in general, any plans to do more underwater stuff, maybe with an apnea diver like guillaume nery or something? (your picture of the man with the lantern reminded me of his cenotes video).

vonwong1 karma

I think that the best strategy is to never think of what you do as a job- just a single minded passion to do something you love... and if somehow one day it becomes sustainable, that's the most amazing situation that one can ask for.

If photography is your job, consider separating photography the job and photography the passion.

As far as more plans, I have a ton of different ideas - but I want to make sure that the shoots are not just cool, but meaningful.

Sooner or later

jenga121 karma

Have you ever farted and blamed it on the family dog?

vonwong1 karma

Nope, never had a family dog. I have tried to blame my girlfriend though, it typically backfires. Apparently girls don't fart (or so they say)

AkenflipsRODSERLING1 karma

Being a person implementing creative projects with the intention of warding off the "cold-blooded maneater" stigma that sharks are characterized under, what is your opinion on films or other creative works that propagate it? (Jaws, Deep Blue Sea etc.)

vonwong1 karma

I do not think the creators of such pieces realize the real world implications on peoples psyches and just think of creating a strong work of art.

I wish that they didn't exist... but they do, so the only way to combat that is do the same, but in a positive way. Fight hatred with love, right?

hamburger_helpster1 karma

Benjamin, thanks for doing this. What is your favorite kind of shark and why is it the hammerhead?

vonwong3 karma

haha, How did you know I was going to say hammerhead? :P

MobSpec1 karma

As someone who brought his camera into water in the hopes of getting clear shots of the sevengill sharks, how exactly did you know the visibility was going to be okay? Everyone I got close enough to an animal my flippers would cause the sand to come up and I'd lose visibility.

vonwong1 karma

I didn't know, I just tried my best.

There were many times where visibility got so bad we had to change locations!

gsxrfrost1 karma

Absolutley amazing, I am a junior photographer, I say because I am teaching myself. I am blown away by this photo shoot.

Did you have any safety procedures just in case something went wrong?

Also, my hat goes off to the model. Thats is remarkable concentration.

And, would you be willing to share any photoshop tutorials that you may have used, and if no tutorials, have you thought about giving some explanation?

vonwong1 karma

Thank you mate!

At any point the model could have resurfaced herself.. but there was always 2 people whose only job was to watch over her in the event that anything went wrong and provide oxygen. :)

As far as tutorials go, I recommend just looking things up on google but I also have a tutorial for sale. http://www.vonwong.com/blog/product/vonwongtutorial/

Thinking of releasing a 50% discount on Monday to encourage more signatures on the petition. I'll probably announce that on my facebook page! :)

The tools that I use are very simple, cloning, healing, curves, saturation, layers... More important than the tools though is looking at the image to figure out WHAT you want to do. If you can figure out what you want to do, how to do it is actually fairly easy.

NotSoSecretTrans1 karma

Hi! My question is: What would be your dream shoot? Anything that you would stare into the air and mutter "one day..."

vonwong5 karma

I've been trying to get access to space but so far no luck :(

I'd love an intro to Richard Branson though

darkshicreations1 karma

Hey Ben, So my question is something not regarding the fishies shoot. But rather something you did a while back and I've still been curious [and trying to explore]. But seriously, how do you find a talent agent who's willing to represent a photographer? It seems all agencies here don't rep photographers, or don't want to put their foot in the water to try. Any advice maybe?

vonwong2 karma

So people are under the misconception that if you have no work and get an agent, you'll get her to get you work. It doesn't work that way.

Agent's want to work for people who have so many work requests coming in that they can't handle it themselves.

See, an agent wants to earn money off her artists... and so if you can't help them earn more you're of no value.

I sorta lucked out and found someone that saw the potential of what I could be before I really had commercial clients... but in a way she lucked out finding me, since I bring the entire social aspect that she never had.

It's always a balance. You need to be something that someone wants... and that they can't find anywhere else.

It sounds vague but I hope that helps.

LimeWeavile1 karma

Was there no risk of getting eaten at all?

vonwong1 karma


EvaUnit010 karma

Hi Ben, I first heard about you from Jared Polin's podcast about 2 years ago. Props for your hard work over the last couple of years.

As an astrophotography nut, I only have one question for you: when will you take an awesome portrait of someone in front of the stars? If you don't soon I might end up beating you to it.

vonwong2 karma

Well I have this photo but I've never done anything complex yet.

When I go to Nunavut in March though I did want to capture some form of stars+norther lights+ icebergs though. Stay tuned!! :D

PS. have you seen michael shainblum's work? It's epic.

Butcherbirdsings-5 karma

Wouldn't it have been easier to create the photos digitally than to go through all that dangerous and expensive work?

vonwong4 karma

Yes. It's also easier to drive up a mountain than to hike up but some things are just worth the effort.

I don't think I would be here doing an AMA if these images were made digitally.

dear_book-5 karma

Why do you have to say you "dragged" and "tied up" a model for a shoot? I'm sure she is very aware, willing and a capable diver. Why don't you give us her name and support her as a terrific model/diver? Great photos, but your title is in very poor taste.

vonwong24 karma

Never thought of it as negative but as factual.

She had to be dragged because she couldn't swim on her own with the big dress... and she had to be tied because it was easier than having her manage her buoyancy.

Open to suggestions for next time though!