Luminar and Aurora HDR artist Ben Kepka shared his photography story with us. Read on to learn about the best photography spots in New Zealand, travel photography tips and get inspired!
Ben Kepka is a travel photographer and filmmaker from New Zealand. Now living in the UK, his time is divided between working as an engineer, designing the facades of the London skyline and traveling. Follow Ben's work at culturedkiwi.com, Instagram, and Twitter.
When did you first get interested in photography?
I first got interested in photography when my friends and I would head into the backcountry in New Zealand on hunting and fishing expeditions. Some of the places we were traveling to were only seldom seen by a handful of people.
So I picked up my first camera and started shooting. I believe back then it was a Canon AE-1 film camera, but that was quickly replaced by a digital camera shortly afterward. We started taking turns photographing and filming in between our fishing spots and documenting the journey. We continued shooting photos and film making until my move away from New Zealand.
I moved to Switzerland around 10 years ago from New Zealand and found that fishing and hunting wasn't really an option, but photography was. So I poured all my time into taking workshops and developing my technique then quickly began teaching others and that's when Cultured Kiwi began.
Now you’re an owner of Cultured Kiwi - a website dedicated to New Zealand photographers. When did you start it?
Cultured Kiwi began as a blog to show my photography to the world. I would have small meetups for all the creative Kiwi ex-pats I could find over here in Europe. Then I began teaching tips to the readers and very quickly began to grow the site into what it is today.
Who are the top 3 New Zealand photographers everyone should know about?
There are some fantastic kiwi creators out there, I think that my favorite would have to be (in no specific order):
Amanda shoots primarily in black and white and has an incredible knack for catching those special moments. When you put a person with these skills in front of some of the most famous musicians in the world, then magic happens.
Although actually Australian, Jackie lives in NZ now so we've claimed her as our own. Jackie is a master of photography and her work really does speak for itself. It's breathtaking.
Daniel has a very similar story to me. Falling in love with photography and spending a lot of his waking moments out in nature capturing the best of it.
What are the top places to photograph in New Zealand?
New Zealand is famous for its stunning natural beauty. You can more-or-less drop your camera on the ground and get an amazing photo. But, if you were to plan a trip there specifically for photos, I would say:
- Coromandel: Isolated beach scenes
- Turangi: Volcanoes
- Wellington: Arty Capital City (world-class on a fine day, the fact that I have to say that means that it's mostly not fine days)
- Moeraki Boulders: Amazing beach covered in perfectly spherical boulders.
- Franz Joseph Glacier: Our best glacier.
- Te Anau: A must see!
How much time do you spend on post-processing?
I go through phases with post-processing. As a photographer, I would say it's much better to do as much as possible in-camera before getting back home to edit. But as a creative, I think that the limitless potential of digital photos really inspires me to spend more time in post-processing that I'd like to admit. Especially now with some of the 'one-click' options that Skylum now offers, you can see how the image would look in so many ways so quickly it's staggering. This is really great for quickly editing analog photography especially Photolemur.
When did you first hear about our software?
A couple of years ago we were looking into Lightroom alternatives and downloaded all the alternatives on the market. After a short amount of time, we realized that Luminar was by far the most powerful competitor out there. The AI edits are a great way to quickly get adjustments done and out the door.
We then incorporated Aurora into our workflows too for quick HDR editing and Photolemur for quickly processing raw scans of film photos that I take for all my personal projects. Skylum really has a fantastic portfolio of apps nowadays.
How often do you go out to take photos?
Initially, I found that the only way to drastically improve my photography was to shoot a minimum of 50 photos per day. They didn't have to be good, I would just go for one walk with the camera every day and take those shots, then go home and edit them. As you could imagine this was pretty time consuming and not always able to be achieved.
As I began to get success with my techniques I started to take on client work. Once this started to take off, I found that my love for photography was slowly decreasing and I needed a way to get the creative spark back. So I started shooting film.
Nowadays I carry a film camera everywhere and shoot when inspiration strikes. I make sure that I am shooting at least a roll per week, and at the end of the month, I get them all developed. For some reason, separating the shooting and editing really keeps me inspired.
How do you choose what you are going to shoot?
Aside from just taking photos of "things that interest me" which is generally what I do, I will look at what is happening with the light that day. If the light is interesting, then I will start taking photos of how the light is interacting with the environment. This is always a great place to start when looking at what to photograph.
If the weather is dull (which it is a lot here in London) then looking at textures or patterns or shapes is the next thing I will focus on. But if shooting film has helped me improve my photography in any way, it's been that light (and the interplay with the world) is the key to a good photo.
Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why?
Any of the photos where there was some hard work behind them and a good adventure. One of my favorite photo trips was in Austria where I woke up in the dark and drove to a fairly random spot on google maps that had some walking trails. I then set off alone to walk one of the trails, that took me pretty much to the top of the mountain. When I started, the backdrop was autumnal leaves and fog, then before I knew it I was knee-deep in the snow climbing a full-on mountain. With photos, all you really see is the end product, when I like to think about what the photographer was doing for the hour before and after each photo you look at. That's where the story it!
Which are the top locations that you’ve photographed and why do you love them?
The top locations that I've photographed would be Chernobyl, Morocco and the Castles in Southern France. Each one of those journeys was tied to an amazing adventure.
Some friends and I spent Christmas in Chernobyl one year as we were all away from our families back in NZ. It was haunting, eerie and pretty much everything you imagine. You do need to see it to believe it.
In Morocco, I drove across the width of the country for over 5 days. It's truly an amazing country, you can go from the heat of the desert to the top of the Atlas mountains in around half a day of driving.
What advice would you give to anyone new to photography?
The gear ultimately doesn't matter. I see so many photographers agonizing over lenses and camera bodies when they start out. 95% of photography is what you put in front of the lens and how you edit that picture when you get home.
To start off I always recommend people pick up a second-hand camera with a couple of lenses off eBay or from your local camera store. Used cameras hold their value so you can always re-sell if you change your mind. Spend your time experimenting with it and finding the limitations of the camera. Spend any additional money on courses from photographers you like or some of the big creative education companies.
Chances are if you're not happy with the images, then you need to start putting better things in front of the lens or learn how to use your camera properly. You don't need to upgrade the camera!