Benj Villena weaves stories from the streets

Published January 14, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Rom Mallick

Honing his art at a time when taking photos has become easy

A photographer, essentially, is a storyteller. Instead of using words, however, a photographer uses images—or, if you want to be specific about it, the images created by capturing light through one lens or another. 

This is all the more true for photographers like Benj Villena. Every image, every photograph he captures is an episode of a TV series or a moment in a film, set in the everyday hustle and bustle of the streets. It is not surprising, therefore, that Benj’s photos have that cinematic feel, that look like it was a screenshot from an art film you are watching over some streaming service. 

Benj Villena

A lover of film, Benj explains that this look, this flavor in his photos is something he has been working out to develop and perfect for years. In an interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, he explains this and much more about taking photos, capturing stories, and hoping that the images he takes are not blurred. 

When did you start your career in photography? What was the first ‘serious’ photo you took?

As a career it started about five years ago but it’s been a long time hobby. Right after college, I tried to get a job as a photographer in a photo studio but, unfortunately, I failed. So I decided to pursue graphic designing and landed a job as an art director in a broadcasting company in Quezon City. There, I was exposed in film production which fueled my passion in photography and cinematography,

Fast forward, my first “serious” shoot was for a makeup company in Singapore. But before that, I’ve [had] a few gigs as a backup shooter for weddings.

How did you develop this unique look, the almost film noir feel of your photos? Was this always your style?

I love film. And I love to watch movies. So I always try to emulate that “cinematic look” that I’ve always loved. It’s always been my style since college.

Taking photos has become ‘easy’ with a lot of today’s gadgets. What do you think makes for a good photographer and a good photograph these days?

Composition, lighting, story, and, to be honest, skills in post-processing is a must for me as well.

What goes through your mind before you take a photograph?

Composition, lighting, timing, and the correct camera settings. “Sana hindi blurred, sana hindi blurred” (laughs).

What’s your favorite subject? Which of your photos is the one you like the most?

My favorite amongst all photography genres is street—specifically, street portraiture. There is a certain thrill that you don’t get in other types of photography that only this genre can give. Well, at least, for me. I’m always more excited in the streets than in a studio.

If you weren’t a photographer, what do you think would you be doing instead?

If I’m not a photographer, I’ll be a full time animator (smiles). Or maybe a sound designer too.

Any advice to aspiring photographers?

Always bring your camera. I always tell myself that there is always something nice to capture. And I don’t want to miss it.

Practice. If you have a camera, use it. See the beauty in the mundane and make something extraordinary out of the ordinary. Not to please the people around you, but just yourself. Remember that you are your number one audience and your most dangerous critic.

Practice. Practice. Accept criticism. Practice. 

FB: Benj Villena Photography | IG: @benjvillena