From Photographing Friends to Shooting for Big Sports Brands: Matt Ben Stone
Establishing a freelance career in the creative sector of sports photography takes great discipline and dedication to the craft. Particularly, in a space that’s become increasingly competitive and saturated in recent years. Someone who knows all about this is commercial photographer, Matt Ben Stone. Fine Art Photography graduate from The Arts University Bournemouth back in 2012, fast forward to this year’s Creative Review Photography Annual winner, it’s safe to say that Matt has made his mark on this industry. From brand campaigns to editorials for independent magazines, he’s had his teeth in a wide variety of creative photography work. We caught up with Matt to find out a bit more about where it all began for him, how he maintains a steady stream of commissions, and the type of projects he would like to work on in the future.
“I’m a very visual person. But quite mechanically minded,” says Matt, when asked about how his path to cycling photography first manifested. “When fixed geared bikes were just becoming popular and I really wanted to build my own,” he tells us. Matt explains how, in building his own bike and cycling with others, he found a group of mates at university who shared the same love of cycling. “I would take pictures of my friends cycling and having a good time and it evolved from there really. First it was just my friends who would ask me to take photos but then some small brands would be like, hey, could you do us some photos?” And as a few photographs for small cycling brands grew into bigger brands asking him for assets, the building blocks for Matt’s creative career began to form. “Eventually I realised that this wasn’t just for fun... I’m being paid for this!”
Matt admits, however, that upon leaving university there was never a grand strategic plan to making a freelance career for himself. But that’s not to say the now internationally acclaimed photographer didn’t have to grind in order to ensure a consistent stream of work kept flooding his way after university. Matt affirms that it took a lot of hard work, knocking on people’s doors, and putting himself out there in order to get any commissions. “There is no magic answer. The simple matter of fact is that you just have to keep working. You have to keep pushing your creative practice, meeting people, and making yourself known.‘’ But the multi-faceted photographer confesses, that after a few years of capturing cyclists, he was keen to expand his portfolio and worked hard to get commissioned on various different sports projects.
"Shooting for editorial allows you to really push your practice and produce the type of work that you want to be affiliated with in the future.”
Matt tells us how shooting editorial opened a lot of doors to bigger and more varied commercial work for him. But it’s not just the pathway to bigger commercial work for which he finds appeal in doing editorial work. “It allows more freedom,” Matt says. “Shooting for editorial allows you to really push your practice and produce the type of work that you want to be affiliated with in the future.” For a couple of years now, Matt has shot numerous editorials and content for indie-sports magazines, including The Domestique. Matt tells us how helping behind the scenes and working closely with editors and art directors for sports lifestyle publications is one way which has really allowed him to demonstrate new ideas and build more connections within the world of sport and photography.
And whilst travelling to different locations, working with new people, and capturing beautiful moments in sport all sounds very exciting, the life of a commercial photographer is by no means an easy feat. With quick turn around times, pressurising deadlines, unreliable weather conditions for shoots, and often only a few chances to get ‘the shot’, it can be a very stressful job. When asked how he maintains a cool and focused head on shoot, Matt made the point, “Always make sure you’re prepared. May that be simply preparing your equipment or speaking with your client about any significant flags. It always feels amazing when a commission comes in that feels specific to you. It's so cool to get them in the first place so I make sure every commission is filled with the same passion, diligence and respect - just like sport,” he says. ‘’And that’s why I do it.”
"There is no magic answer. The simple matter of fact is that you just have to keep working."
With regards to what the future of his career looks like, he's currently working on a few DOP roles in moving image, but doesn’t give us a clear forecast of whats in store ahead. But that’s not to say he isn’t ambitious. “Something sexy within the automotive industry,” he says, when poked for an answer as to who/what would be a dream project for the photographer. “I’m a big fan of the motorsport, but also just the shear graphic sensibility of it all. From the track, to the rumble strips, to the race cars, the potential you could create would be unbelievable, I’m sure! Yeah, for me that would be pretty huge.”
Check out Matt's work here.