Culture March 9th, 2017

Behind The Lens Of A Smartphone Photographer

Richard Benham is an extraordinary photographer. He also works here at Zappos. Aside from his day-to-day work, he heads out to parts unknown and takes stunning pictures … with his iPhone 6s. Yup. His cell phone.

It was in Texas in the mid-'90s when Richard was hit by the photography bug. The first picture he ever took was on the family farm in Poolville. Fascinated by thunderstorms, Richard purchased disposable cameras just to quench his thirst for the art. He joined the Navy in 1999 and focused on other things, but photography was never far from his mind or his heart.

When Richard's mom became ill in 2008 and passed away in 2009, he started going outside with his camera to take photos just to calm his soul and clear his mind. That tragedy reminded him that pictures truly are worth a thousand words.

“Hundreds of photos need to be taken before you can find that perfect shot and the one that speaks to you,” says Richard.

I think it's safe to say each of these photos speaks to all of us.

Content With Silence

Richard Benham

Richard put the timer on his cell phone, ran out into the road with his Nikon and VOILA! Genius. He used various phone apps to change the color to black and white, darken the sky and add in the quote. His biggest difficulties on this photo were propping up his cell phone correctly and taking several stances to see which one he liked the best. The monochromatic image includes an Ansel Adams quote, a well-famed photographer who’s known for his black and white images.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Richard Benham

Photographed here is an abandoned general store in Poolville, TX. Richard grew up in Poolville and went back to visit the old town. This store was a thriving business when he was a kid. Back in 1996, the store was even featured in a Texas Lottery Commercial.

For this shot, Richard got out of his car and circled the building to find that perfect angle. Later that evening, he went through the photos and deleted the ones he didn’t like. Then he put the images he kept and used the Camera+ and Color Splash editing apps to see what filters worked best in creating a story.


Richard Benham

Taken at the International Car Forest in Goldfield, Nevada. “I wanted to keep the colors of the car in the foreground, yet illustrate the desolation of the desert in black and white. I wanted to show the beauty of the abandonment.”

Richard flipped the picture to black and white using the Color Splash app and then changed what he wanted back to color. Then he saved the image, went back into Camera+ and redefined the lighting, the composition and clarity of the photo.

The Forest For The Trees

Richard Benham

Almost at the top of Mount Charleston, Nevada hiking trail. Richard and a friend were coming back down from the mountain. He noticed the setting sun was at the perfect angle and he could see the rays beaming through the trees. He stopped, took out his phone, snapped ONE SHOT and continued down the mountain.

There are no filter enhancements on this beautiful piece. He only had to hold the phone at the right angle so the sun didn’t overpower the picture. Using his phone’s settings, Richard sharpened the image for clarity.

Keep Out

Richard Benham

Driving down the highway between Las Vegas and Beatty, Nevada, Richard saw a building on the side of the road in disarray and abandonment. “I am fascinated with abandoned buildings and the stories they hold … secrets that are untold; lives that were once lived.” Respecting the warning on the fence rail, Richard kept his distance; but he did walk around the property taking photos at different angles to get the one you see above. He used the Camera+ app to change the photo to black and white, sharpen the clarity and remove noise.

School’s Out Forever

Richard Benham

This was another abandoned building on the side of the road. This time there were no signs to keep Richard from taking a closer look. He didn’t go inside for safety reasons but took this photo from the entrance looking in. This hallway is located in an old school on an Indian reservation just south of the Grand Canyon. Richard’s obsession of desolate spaces helped him create this amazing black and white photo.

House Wins

Richard Benham

This pool table has seen better days! Taken between Tonopah and Ely, Nevada this was part of an old hot spring resort. The springs are still active and although it’s no longer a paid attraction, they drew him in. It was a popular resort spot from the ‘70s thru early ‘90s.

There were several discarded buildings surrounding the spring, so Richard went around taking pictures. This structure was wide open and seemed safe enough to venture in. From the hundreds of photos he took, this was one of his favorites. He used the Camera+ app and found a filter that mimicked what he saw in his mind. Richard decided not to change this photo to black and white. He wanted the decaying color to capture the essence of what it used to be before time took over.

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