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No Stranger to Adventure



Ben Horton travels to some of the world’s most remote places with his Tamron 150-500mm Di III VC lens.


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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Ben Horton


The last two years haven’t been easy for photographers, especially ones who travel to work on adventure campaigns like photographer Ben Horton. The former professional snowboarder and kayaker, who got his start taking pictures for National Geographic by taking pictures of the sharks of Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, has since become accustomed to journeying to some of the most remote places in the world. “Because of my extreme sports background, I have a unique ability to insert myself in places where other people can’t,” he says.

After spending much of the pandemic working on passion projects, Ben is once more seeing his schedule fill up with client-based work—“I’m booked for most of May and June”—but he appreciates the experience and new knowledge he gained during this most unusual time. “I’ve learned how to make the most of not-perfect situations,” he says. “I mean, I’ve always thought that it’s really important to practice shooting in the worst scenarios possible. I’ve spent months in the jungle and seen all of my cameras fail. For one assignment where I was shooting an underwater story on bull sharks in freshwater rivers, the shutter button on the one camera I had would stick after every photo. And so I’d dive down, find the sharks, take one photo, come back up to the surface, take the camera out of its housing, fix the button, then dive back down. The more you take the camera in and out of the housing with wet hands, the more water gets in there. Fog seeps in. I was out there for a month shooting one frame at a time.”

Until recently, Ben didn’t shoot many images with long lenses. Then he got his hands on the Tamron 150-500mm Di III VC VXD ultra telephoto zoom. “I think there are two ways to use a long lens like this,” he says. “The first is ‘I’m not close enough and I’m lazy, so I’ll just zoom in.’ The second is: ‘How can I pull that background into the scene? How can I really isolate the subject and use the lens as an artistic tool?’ At 500mm, it’s amazing what you can blur out, what you can pull in from the background. Using this lens, I often found I’d be walking away from my subject just so I could use that longer focal length. So it’s been fun to play around with a lens like this.”

The 150-500’s compact size and light weight—just 8.3 inches long and 60.8 oz. without the tripod mount—allow Ben to easily carry the lens around in even his most far-flung destinations, where it may not be desirable to bring too much gear. Meanwhile, the proprietary Vibration Compensation (VC) feature ensures sharp images even when Ben is hand-holding.

The type of photography Ben does isn’t easy to classify. “It’s adventure storytelling,” he says. “The jobs I love most are those where I’m either working with talent in a beautiful outdoor setting that takes some kind of special skill set to get there, or those where there’s a story about wildlife in a particular place. It’s a form of conservation photography. I want to show people the beauty of the world and get them excited about it. Sometimes I do that with video, sometimes with photos—it’s just a question of the best way for each situation to get that story across.”

Looking for patterns and textures is on Ben’s radar when he’s scoping out the landscapes for possible photo ops. “Check out sand dunes, for instance, and you’ll see all of these different layers of textures,” he says. “As your eye travels to the horizon, you’ll have that texture, but also shapes and shadows. Sometimes I'll shoot the surface of water to see how the light plays on all of the little ripples, or zoom in on the bark of a tree. It’s the type of photography I could even do in my own backyard.”

Read on for behind-the-scenes snippets of some of Ben’s recent travels with the 150-500mm lens.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (270mm), F/5.6, 1/250 sec., ISO 160
Click image to view larger

I was driving down the length of Baja and had stopped at a place called Guerrero Negro, where there were 30mph winds. I walked up over this hillside and came across these sand dunes. You can see the way the wind is blowing the sand in this image. The scene has hard edges, but then this terrific element of softness with the wind and the light and shadows. It felt so well-balanced to me.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (500mm), F/6.7, 1/800 sec., ISO 80
Click image to view larger

A good photographer focuses on composition; a great photographer focuses on light. I have a really hard time making an awesome subject look great in bad light, but in good light, I can make anything look amazing. That’s what happened in this photo—I was driving down the road in central Baja and the light suddenly became perfect. I turned off onto that dirt road and reached over to get my camera, and when I looked back at the road, there was a coyote, standing right in that beam of light in the middle. He bolted when I picked up my camera to take the photo.

For me, then, this photo is the memory of that coyote. The viewer, however, may see this image as “the road into the unknown.” If you look closely, you can also see a little bird perched on top of that cactus in the middle. That makes the image extra-cool, like I found a tiny guide along the way.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (162mm), F/22, 1/25 sec., ISO 80
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When most people think of Cabo, they think of spring break, busy restaurants, and vacation. I think of it more as a city on the precipice of adventure, with diving, surfing, amazing species in the ocean, and these big, jagged rocks. I took this photo at a spot that’s actually along the most famous part of the coastline, but I cropped out the hotels and all the action to the right. Cabo itself is literally right there. The number of people who venture just beyond the sandy beach are few. I wanted to show that perspective.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (500mm), F/6.7, 1/350 sec., ISO 400
Click image to view larger

I was sitting near this tree in Cabo and kept hearing tapping. I looked up and saw a male and female bird. It was one of the first times I was using the 150-500. I zoomed in on the female and was amazed at how crisp and clear it was, showing all of the bird’s details. This lens offered me a different view of the bird than I could witness with my own eyes.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (500mm), F/6.7, 1/250 sec., ISO 80
Click image to view larger

This crab in Cabo wasn’t easy to photograph. I had to use a slow shutter speed at 500mm while the crab was on a rock with 6-foot-high waves crashing into it. Those same waves were hitting the rocks I was sitting on, so sometimes I’d have to take the picture, then turn around and quickly jump to another rock to avoid getting slammed with water. I’m really proud of capturing that photo. I don’t think most people would realize how difficult it was to shoot, but I think another photographer will look at that photo and know.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (500mm), F/7.1, 1/1250 sec., ISO 200
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One of the fastest-growing events in the sport of paragliding is called the Hike and Fly, a multiday race where you have to get from Point A to Point B, but—as the name suggests—you can only hike or fly. It takes a lot of skill: You have to know when to decide to hike up a mountain, and when to realize the wind will be coming from a certain direction and so you’d be better off flying for that stretch of the race. For this particular race, we headed up to California’s Owens Valley, one of the most amazingly dramatic landscapes in the United States. I used the 150-500mm to compress the racers up against the mountains and show the scale of the landscape they were crossing. The guy shown here had hiked something like 40 miles that day.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (215mm), F/5, 1/1000 sec., ISO 200
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The funny thing about this photo is that originally I thought I’d stumbled upon a secret hot spring as I drove across this big salt flat. I thought the dust that those bulls were kicking up was steam! I simply zoomed in a bit here to capture the bulls doing their thing. There were also other photos I took of the dirt when they were kicking it up, just to capture more of the texture.

© Ben Horton
150-500mm (150mm), F/5, 1/8000 sec., ISO 400
Click image to view larger

I have a friend who’s a professional paraglider, and we’ll often go to a place called Happy Canyon, where I’m able to get some of the best paragliding photos ever. With that 150-500mm lens, I’m able to achieve a different perspective than I have in the past, where I’d typically use a more wide-angle lens to show the vastness of the landscape. With the 150-500, however, I can push my subject into the landscape a little more and show the mountains as they fade away one by one. When you compress an image like that and you’re at eye level, it almost feels like you’re flying with him. I was talking to him recently about these photos, and he said, “It’s really hard to translate what our sport feels like to other people, but these pictures do that.”

To see more of Ben Horton’s work, check out www.benhorton.biz and his Instagram.





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