The last thing Ben Chan Hoi-tat expected, when he sat under a tree on a school trip in Taiwan one day, was to snap an award-winning photo. When a dog and a piglet ran past his resting spot, though, that is exactly what happened.
The Australian Shepherd chased the pig around in little circles until the piglet abruptly turned to face his furry friend snout-to-muzzle. The dog moved closer to the pig, and the two gazed at one another in something akin to wonder.
Ben, who has lived all his life in Hong Kong (where it would be nigh-impossible to witness something like this), immediately pulled out his camera to capture the tender moment. That adorable encounter would go on to be selected as an Honourable Mention in the Youth Category of the 2018 National Geographic International Photo Contest (Taiwan) two weeks ago.
Ben says it was the second time he had been awarded anything from a contest from a notable, international organisation.
“It has made me want to continue to developing my [photography] skills,” he says.
The 17-year-old Form Six student, who goes to the Hong Kong Management Association K S Lo Secondary School, says he discovered his love for photography when he was 14. Ben had not able to afford a camera, so he would borrow one from the community centre near his home in Tin Shui Wai. Even now, had his school not helped to fund his trip to Taiwain, he would not have had the opportunity to snap his award-winning photo.
The community centre was more than just a place where he could pick up equipment, though. It was the place where he learned the basics of photography, too – thanks to a class that he was able to take there. It took him two years to start producing what he considered good quality photos, including one that would go on to place second in the Youth Category in the 2016 CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year competition.
“It was definitely a life-changing moment. [Winning second place] was proof of my hard work. I felt a sense of accomplishment.”
Ben says that, before he discovered his love for being behind the lens, he had felt like there was little purpose in his life. His grades were often low, and he suffered from low self-esteem. There was, he thought, nothing that he was good at. With a camera in his hand, though, Ben is a more confident individual.
“At first, my parents were worried I was spending too much time on photography,” he admits. “Then, they saw that I had started to approach everything with a better attitude.”
For Ben, winning the National Geographic photo competition was more than just proof of his abilities; the cash prize, on top of the money he’s been saving up from freelance photography, has allowed him to buy a camera and additional gear for himself.
He stresses, however, that it’s a photographer’s skills that really sets them apart from the rest, not their tools.
Ben doesn’t take the sort of photos you find on Instagram – the same locations that you see time and time again. He believes that great shots can be taken in the most common of settings. Smart photographers, he says, usually keep the best locations secret to prevent it from becoming too popular. (Check out Ben's Instagram here.)
For all the budding photographers out there, Ben says they ought to try to find a spot that few have discovered yet. Finding the beauty in something new is more fulfilling than something others have already seen.
Edited by Nicole Moraleda