He'd worked as a photographer on cruise ships and made documentaries in Thailand and Vietnam – but then local photographer Ben Fiore turned his lens skywards to record the stars over Guernsey. The results are dazzling. Shaun Shackleton found out how he does it
‘PEOPLE don’t believe that they’re real,’ said Ben Fiore of his ‘Galactic Guernsey’ photographs.
The 24-year-old photographer has a point. His atmospheric nightscapes of well-known Guernsey landmarks, overseen by a dizzying vortex of stars, are so striking you could be forgiven for assuming they’d been created on a computer. But they are all real.
‘There are only certain times you can do them, once every couple of months,’ said Ben. ‘These eight photographs have taken me two years to capture.’
Ben studied photography at Elizabeth College, during which time he got in some work experience with the Guernsey Press photography team. Then he went on to take a degree in commercial photography at the Arts University of Bournemouth.
‘When I was at Elizabeth College I did a lot of landscapes and also a photo-documentary of Guernsey’s fishing industry. I wanted people to know how labour-intensive fishing was and how hard it was for fishermen to get a fair price.
‘For my final at uni I did a documentary on farming and agriculture.’
After graduating from Bournemouth he started work as a professional photographer on Princess cruise ships, shooting on-board portraits during working hours and following his passion as a documentary photographer when and wherever the ship docked.
‘I’ve documented the tuk-tuk drivers of Bangkok – tuk-tuks are scooter-style auto rickshaws that run on two-stroke engines which make a puttering sound, hence the name.
‘The drivers don’t mind having their photos taken, so long as you pay them for their time. I started doing documentary photos of ladyboys but I saw that things could have got a bit dangerous.’
He has also documented stallholders in the Vietnamese city of Hoi An.
Back in Guernsey, Ben works as a photographer and photo lab assistant.
‘I first had the idea for the Galactic Guernsey photographs after shooting a sunset. I noticed the stars coming out, so I started staying out later, after the sun set. I’d never seen the stars through my camera before.
‘Luckily, at weekends, I’m practically nocturnal – loads of coffee helps.’
Many factors contribute to Ben getting a decent star shot.
‘Normally I have to wait for the right weather. Also, it’s best if there is no moon out. The moon lights up a landscape at night as the sun does during the day. Also, no clouds. Winter is best as it gets darker sooner. I actually use an app which tells me the best time to take photos of the Milky Way, it judges the distance and the estimated place it will be.’
Ben uses a super-wide-angle lens and a tripod with a panoramic head.
‘That way I can take multiple images and stitch them together. As for exposures, my rule of thumb is 60 seconds and no longer. Any longer and you start to record the star trails.’
To juxtapose our tiny island with the vastness of the galaxy, Ben always tries to photograph the stars with a recognisable piece of local landscape.
‘I always try getting in a Guernsey scene – it puts the island in the universe. Even if it’s Albecq.
‘My favourite shot is the one taken at Grande Havre next to Ladies’ Bay of the local fishing boat. The stars and Milky Way were clearly visible around 3am. I had seen the boat out at sea and tried lighting it up with a torch but wasn’t getting great results. I grabbed a light stand and flashgun from my car and waited for the tide to go down so that the boat would hit the sand and be close enough. I exposed my camera to the background and filled in light for the foreground with an external flash on the far side.’
The results, as with all his photos, are stunning.
Ben will carry on his galactic shoots and other documentaries.
‘I would really like to do a book one day. And I’m in discussion with the Digital Greenhouse about an exhibition.’
To see more of Ben’s work, visit www.benfiorephotography.com