Ben Moore has an eye for architecture, urban street scenes and compelling aerials that instinctively draw in the viewer and have made him a highly sought-after commercial photographer, with big brand names including Samsung, Microsoft, Sony Music, Adidas, the FA, Bombay Sapphire and Smart under his belt – and now Nikon, as he’s recently become a Nikon Z Creator.
Yet it was only a decade ago that he bought his first DSLR on a whim because it was the one gadget he didn’t have in his collection, with the simple aspiration to take decent pictures of his children. His self-taught journey from complete amateur to professional is an inspiration to anyone who dreams of ditching the day job for a life behind the lens.
What’s in your kitbag?
- Z 7
- Z 6
- NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S
- NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
- NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S
- NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4
- NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
What got you into photography?
It’s been kind of a weird journey. As a kid growing up in Peckham, southeast London, art was my passion. I was always drawing – I was the boy sitting there quietly in church every Sunday drawing away through the boring bits. My favourite subject at school was art and I never missed a lesson. I went on to college to do a BTEC in art and design with, funnily enough, GCSE photography as an add-on, but photography didn’t really interest me much at the time – it was just a tick-box extra I needed to do, and I only had to get a grade D, so that’s about the level of work I put into it as I was so busy concentrating on the art BTEC. Of course, I had no idea back then I’d ever want to become a professional photographer…
Years later, I wasn’t doing anything creative. I was stuck in a boring IT job in London and I hated it – going to work on a packed train and tube, doing the same dull things every day. I remember thinking to myself, “OK, it pays the bills, but is this everything my life is going to be?” That attitude obviously trickled into the job and I ended up getting fired in 2010. It was a shock, as I had a young family, but my main reaction was feeling relieved to be out of it at last.
Around the same time, my mate was selling a Nikon D3000 DX camera with a 50mm lens. I had lots of gadgets – anyone who knows me or watches my YouTube videos will tell you I really like my gadgets! – but I didn’t have a DSLR, so I bought it off him to take photographs of my kids. He drove a really hard bargain, too – I ended up giving him only £50 less than the retail price!
I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing with it, and every shot was terrible. All I could remember from college was “don’t bump up the ISO because it makes your pictures look too grainy”, so I was struggling with shutter speeds that were far too slow. But I started using the onboard information system, which really helped, and then one day I took a picture of my daughter at the park and that shot just changed everything. It looked so good – like something from a magazine – so I put it on Facebook and the comments came flooding in. It blew my mind, and I finally knew what I wanted to do – be a photographer.
When I make up my mind to do something, I do it, so straight off I put a website together, even though I didn’t really have any decent images to show on it. Luckily, some friends were doing a music video and needed behind-the-scenes shots taking, so I was in. I think I took 3,000 pictures that day – it was crazy. People were asking me if I was a photographer and I was saying, “Yes, I’m a photographer!” So there I was, living the lie but making it happen! Luckily, one of the models on the shoot took me under her wing and gave me some great tips for improving my pictures, which was really kind of her… and that’s the story of how I first got into photography.
How did you build up your business?
I started doing little jobs here, there and everywhere, in clubs, at weddings and taking school portraits, mostly working for small companies, doing a mixture of photography and retouching. Anywhere they needed a camera, I’d be there. Sometimes I wasn’t even getting paid, but it was all great for the experience. My mum is a primary school head teacher and helped me to get a teaching assistant’s job so I could pay the bills while building my photography up on the side.
Then one day I spotted a guy on Instagram selling street-style, moody architectural images he’d shot with a wideangle lens and I thought, “Wow, you can do that? This is actually a thing?” So I decided there and then to get myself a wideangle lens and attempt something similar, put anything good on Instagram and try to build a following. Before too long a guy in the States contacted me to buy my photo of Tate Britain for a mural in his home. He paid me a couple of hundred quid and even sent me a picture of it on his wall. My mind was blown. It was like two hands pushing me in the back and saying, this is your way in – you’ve got to do this.
From that point I was like a machine, throwing everything at it, and I started to build a massive Instagram following worldwide. I was getting out there every day, every evening, before and after work, taking long road trips in the middle of the night – totally in the mindset of putting the work in to make it happen. It could be lonely, but when I had doubts, which I often did, something positive would happen and help pull me out of my slump. Having my online support network really helped, especially when photographers with huge accounts started noticing me and telling me I was doing good stuff. So that’s how I started making my name and getting my first clients – they’d see the Instagram following and the good engagement I had in the UK, and companies just started emailing me about jobs. Samsung was the first.
How has your kitbag changed over the last decade?
After the D3000, I moved up to the Nikon D90. I really liked it, especially its digital display – that was why I bought it in the first place, but I told you I love my gadgets! My next camera was the D300S and 17-55mm f/2.8 lens, a fantastic combination which I pushed to the edge. Then I got my first full-frame camera, the D800, and my first real professional lens, the 24-70mm f/2.4. Beautiful. Most of my work until very recently was taken with that camera. I also had a D810 which I used as back-up.
When the Nikon mirrorless range came out I got the 45.7MP full-frame Z 7, and it’s now my main camera. It’s incredibly lightweight and the silent shooting mode is ideal when I’m doing weddings or just need to be really quiet – it’s the perfect camera for me. I then swapped out my D810 for the 24.5MP full-frame Z 6, which I’m using as my back-up camera and my go-to for videos.
I’m currently using three Z series lenses: the 14-24mm f/2.8 S, which is a must for any architecture and landscape photographer; the 24-70mm f/2.8 S, which I tend to use for events as it’s so versatile and lightweight when you’re carrying it around for hours; and the 70-200mm f/2.8 S, which I got recently and can’t recommend enough.
I also still have two F-mount NIKKORs – the 85mm f/1.4 and the 50mm f/1.4 – which I use on my mirrorless cameras with the FTZ lens mount adapter. I’d wanted an 85mm ever since I started taking photography seriously, and I’d been waiting for a reason to justify buying one. Finally a job came in which was mostly portraits. These days I mostly use it for street photography because it’s a bit less intrusive than the 70-200mm. The 50mm is so sharp, lightweight and compact, and it’s always worth having in the bag just in case – I always recommend one to anyone starting out.
Are you completely mirrorless now?
Yes – I’ve jumped right over and I’m really happy with my mirrorless status. It was a bit weird when I got rid of all my DSLRs, but I have absolutely no complaints about how easy it was switching systems. The menu is still essentially the same as on the DSLRs, the battery life is still great and being able to use my F-mounts via the FTZ adapter with the Z cameras makes the whole transition process pretty painless.
What I’m finding is that my mirrorless cameras make it easier to shoot. You can adjust on the fly and react faster, especially with the electronic viewfinder, so I’m more productive because I’m now catching more of the moment. In urban architectural photography in particular, there are always layers you can add to an image and micro-adjustments that can completely change the end results and create a unique image, and mirrorless gives me that bit more opportunity to make them happen.
Why have you stayed with Nikon from the start?
I’ve stayed loyal to Nikon because I love everything they do. The files that come out of the camera are so lovely to work with – I’ve tried a few other systems, but Nikon’s are far nicer. The dynamic range is great, too. I like shooting slightly underexposed as it protects the highlights – you’re less likely to blow them out, and with the RAW files you can bring them back. The fact that the menus and control layouts are similar from camera to camera is also incredibly helpful, especially when you’re learning and changing kit quite a bit.
How did you feel when you were asked to become a Nikon Z Creator?
So happy! It was awesome. I’d been talking to Nikon about kit for a while and I’d borrowed some gear through the NPS scheme. Then they started following me on Instagram and the relationship grew from there. They featured some of my work on their Instagram page and I went on a shoot with them, and then they asked me to become part of the Z Creator team. I remember when I first started out thinking how cool it would be to be working with Nikon, and now it’s happening! It feels great to be part of the team and to have the opportunity to endorse such a great camera company.
I’ve done a few projects with Nikon already, including the Z 5 launch in London early last summer. Originally I thought I was going down there just to video it myself, then they said they were videoing me and told me I was going to be the guy for the UK. I tried to keep cool! I remember having to cut my own hair beforehand because the barbers were all still in lockdown. I also did a campaign with my images advertising the entire Nikon range throughout Europe in magazines, on Instagram and YouTube. People kept coming up to me afterwards, saying, “I’ve seen you!”
You’ve recently been announced as a judge in the Environmental Photographer of the Year Awards…
Nikon put me forward as a judge after I’d judged the Create Your Light street photography category for them last year. I’ve also been a judge for the Royal Photographic Society and Photo London competition. I really enjoy judging and critiquing. When you break an image down and examine why you like it so much, it makes you think about how you can improve your own work. Surrounding yourself with great imagery keeps you on top of your game and helps you maintain your standards and keep your ideas fresh.
What’s your advice for people who want to follow their own dreams of a career in photography?
Make your photography your priority, keep learning and investing in yourself, and be true to yourself and what you want. I’m a self-taught photographer and I believe you can have what you want in this world if you’re ready to work for it and chase it. I’ve worked so hard to get my photography up to a professional standard that has allowed me to work with amazing brands like Nikon. Opportunities don’t fall into your lap – you have to make them happen, you need to have that hunger and develop that hustle mentality. When people see that you want to help yourself, they will help you. And be relentless. I was always tagging pictures in Instagram day in, day out and thinking, “Well, if they don’t see it today they’re going to see it one day!” So don’t stop. It will happen.
Entries are now open for the Environmental Photographer of the Year – for details, click here.