Ben Horton


Young Explorers Grantee, National Geographic Society/Waitt Grantee

Photo: Climber in Ellesmere Island

Photograph by Ben Horton

Photo: Ben Horton gets ready for horse race

Photograph by Luke Barrington

Birthplace: Bermuda

Current City: Edwards, Colorado

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I always knew that I'd be in the business of telling stories. Of course I had the same dreams as other kids, to be a pro athlete or fireman or something, but inside I knew that storytelling, through photography or writing, was in my future in some way.

How did you get started in your field of work?

My mother was always the photographer in the family; I'd constantly bug her until she'd let me take a few frames on her camera. My interest in photography extended into my teen years, and I'd always have a camera nearby. It was a natural progression to start using photography to earn a living at that point; getting involved in conservation photography and photojournalism was simply a matter of choosing to photograph what I love.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to photography?

We all have a photograph that we can't forget, either because it inspired us, brought us to tears, reminded us of something, or moved us to take some form of action. Knowing that photography has that kind of power has moved me to make images that might change the outcome of stories that I have a passion for. Stories like ocean conservation, disappearing cultures, and simply bringing the far-off reaches of an amazing planet into the reach of people who may never get to see these places on their own. Getting people to fall in love with our world is the first step to getting them to protect it. Photography is how I can help that happen.

What's a normal day like for you?

When I'm not on a project, I try to do something active every day, to get outdoors and burn off some energy. I try to do a photo shoot or personal project every week, just to keep myself learning about my art, and often times I try to incorporate something new in each shoot. Of course, there's plenty of the boring stuff that people don't realize photographers do, but being a night owl I do most of that late into the evening.

When I'm on an expedition, it's a completely different world. I am totally immersed in the project at hand, and rarely am not working on getting the next shot. Often my shoots last for a month at a time or more, and all of my usual need for physical activity is replaced with hiking out to set up a camera trap, swimming out to photograph sharks, or simply trying to find what it is I'm trying to photograph.

Do you have a hero?

A hero to me is someone who will help others with no thought about how it will benefit themselves. My parents fit that description all too well, and I constantly try to live up to the standard that they have set. When my dad was alive, he supported me wholeheartedly even when it seemed there was no future for me in my chosen career path. Now that he's gone, a large part of why I continue is because of the sacrifices that he and my mother made to get me where I am.

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

My favorite experiences are when I have spent long enough in a place that I start to really connect with my subject. One that stands out to me is this: After a month in the Arctic, I was sitting writing in my journal and seven wolves approached me. When I sat still, they came right up to me and started sniffing me up and down. It was easy to see they weren't being aggressive, but it was still a thrilling experience. The challenge is staying at it long enough to get these types of experiences. Saying that though, it's the challenges that give me the most pride.

What are your other passions?

I love art, music, and culture just like the next person, and I really love using my talents to create work that is a world apart from the work I do for National Geographic. Photojournalism is very particular about not changing the reality of an image, but commercial, fashion, and fine art photography allows me to learn so much about what I can do with a camera, and lets me express my artistic side. I'm also getting very involved in videography, which, although it's similar in many ways, is a new challenge. My dream is to find ways to combine all of my passions, to tell the stories that I've been privileged enough to live through my art, and to create change in the process.

What do you do in your free time?

Between my expeditions I often will work on a gallery show, as a commercial photographer, on stock photography, and I'm even learning how to produce music and DJ a little. Most of the time though I'm outside doing something active. Surfing and climbing are two of my favorite pastimes, and they only make me more capable when I'm in the field. I always have a camera close by, though you never know when an amazing opportunity will present itself.

If you could have people do one thing to help bring awareness about global warming what would it be?

The world is connected in ways that we can't even begin to understand yet. To think that what we do 1,000 miles from the ocean will have no affect on it, or that how we live in the warm climates won't affect the Poles is false and a dangerous way to see our world. Every little thing that we do is important when we understand how connected we all are. In that light, I always try to convince people to use their skills, whatever they are into; whether that's art, music, computers, or sports they can use it to inspire people to make the small changes that will affect our world for the better.

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In Their Words

Getting people to fall in love with our world is the first step to getting them to protect it. Photography is how I can help that happen.

—Ben Horton


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