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G&E Magazine aims to deconstruct the journey that golfers and entrepreneurs alike take on their road to success in the world. Their achievements, as well as their trials and tribulations, serve to inspire us. Our goal is to pass that inspiration along to our readers.
We hope you enjoy our latest feature with golfer, photographer, and entrepreneur, Channing Benjamin!
Great to meet you, Channing. To kick things off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background?
Absolutely! Well, I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. I went to Hampton University, which is a small school in Virginia, but I graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in Indianapolis. First real “job” was media director for Light of the World Christian Church – also in Indianapolis and one of the greatest churches in America. In this role, I produced and directed the church’s weekly national television broadcast as well as produced and edited a show for a local ABC affiliate. That really led to me doing a lot of outside work as a video director, and I ended up doing the in-house television production for the Indiana Pacers as well as the concert video director for Deer Creek music in Noblesville, Indiana.
That is quite the background you have there. So now that we’ve got some good background, let’s shift gears to golf. When did you first start playing? What made you pick it up?
I started playing in 1997… got introduced to the game by a couple of really good friends. What really drew me to the game was the peace and serenity of playing golf outdoors. My career path forced me to spend a fair amount of time indoors editing or directing, so having the opportunity to be one with nature was amazing. I also picked up the game for the camaraderie – it’s a great way to just hang out with friends and build relationships. In fact, I got very close with the guys I played with. Unfortunately, I lost one of my friends who introduced me to the game about seven years ago to a brain tumor. He was one of the main reasons I got into the game, so you can imagine I was pretty devastated by his passing…
I’m sorry to hear that. Sounds like a true friend to introduce you to such an incredible game. But let’s talk a little about how you have managed to intermingle your passion for photography with golf.
Well, I got into photography because I needed to feed my creative side after taking years off from television production. The production world was a grind. I moved from Indiana to Los Angeles as the video director for NSYNC and Britney Spears. I was their concert video director, and we traveled all over the world. Fortunately, we would play golf on our days off – a few of us. But the road gets old quickly, so I took a break and decided to look for something that I could do at my own pace. Since I spent so much time on the golf course already, I started taking pictures. You know, I have been fortunate enough to play some beautiful courses, so I try to capture those moments and scenery. A lot of my friends encourage me to get in to printing or selling the images…
And we appreciate those images you’ve put out there for us to enjoy! So, what was it that made you specialize in golf photography in particular?
People just really seemed to respond well to my images. It was also a personal thing for me – I enjoyed coming home after a round and checking out the pictures I took. Everything looks a little bit different on film than it does in real life. I guess you could say I found my niche and just ran with it.
So outside of selling your images, have you engaged in any other entrepreneurial ventures prior to Channing Benjamin Photography?
Yes. Prior to Channing Benjamin Photography, I did start my own business back in Indiana doing freelance work and independent concert video directing. I produced and directed many gospel concert videos, Nordstrom Fashion Shows, and a lot of other side projects.
You are a true entrepreneur. Have any other doors opened as a result of your art?
I wouldn’t necessarily say many doors have opened as a result of my photography, but I would say that I have noticed more respect for what it is I am able to do with the camera. Most people don’t really know my history. They don’t know me as a video director. So people can be curious about how I come up with certain images or why I see things differently than most other people. I like to think that I am blessed with a good eye and am able to transfer my vision into photos.
What is your vision for yourself and your photography in the future?
My vision for myself and my photography is always to be the best that I can be and offer the best product possible. I would love to do it full-time. There are so many golf courses and so many beautiful venues around the world that I haven’t visited and could benefit from my work. In the perfect world, I’d love to travel internationally to shoot, edit and eventually open a gallery where I can show and sell my work.
That sounds ideal. What have you learned most from your photography and starting a business around it?
I’ve learned that no one is going to give you anything. I don’t know if I really learned that or have just been reminded of it – nothing is free. And no one ever puts anything in your lap. I’ve had to go out and hustle to network and sell myself and my abilities. I have a nice resume and a great referral base, but it’s always a grind. I never want to undersell myself. I’m constantly reminded that whatever you think you’re worth is what you should charge. Don’t undersell yourself – ever. If someone doesn’t want to pay it, someone else may. But the bottom line is, I will not work for free. I put my heart and soul into what I do. People who do that should be rewarded for it. There’s some personal gratification that comes along with my work, and I did it without being paid at one point. But every year, I seem to take it to the next level, and I like to think people appreciate it.
That’s that attitude to have. So, how do you engage with the community?
I’ve tried engaging the community as much as possible by attending seminars and workshops in the Coachella Valley. One of the most engaging things I’ve done was actually doing an interview for the local golf news magazine where they deemed me the most interesting man in the Coachella Valley. It was a two-part publication that came out last year. It was pretty nice, and I got a lot of good feedback from that.
Interesting! So of all the places you’ve shot, which has been your favorite? Probably not an easy one to answer…
My favorite place to shoot has probably been Tradition Golf Club. That’s in the California desert, and it was Arnold Palmer’s home course. There are a couple reason’s why it’s my favorite. First, it’s both a golfer’s and a photographer’s paradise. The surrounding mountains and the course conditions are unmatched. The place is eye candy. Every time I’m on the property, I get a heightened sense of awareness of where I am and how beautiful it is. Secondly, Arnold Palmer was the King of Golf. It’s a nice feather in my cap to be able to have produced some awesome images representing his home course in California. And lastly, Tradition is one of my favorites because of the people. They really appreciate me and what I’ve done for them. They’re extremely accommodating and treat me with love and respect. That’s important. It’s not everything, but it’s definitely important when the client shows you respect and value your time and your art.
That sounds amazing. So, do you do anything unique or different than most photographers that would set you apart?
I’m not sure that I do anything differently from most photographers… But I definitely have a different eye. One of the coolest things for me is when people say to me: “I know that was your photo because I know your style.” I love that because for some reason people see my images a little bit differently. I guess that could be because I shoot them a little bit differently. I also edit but am sure to not over-enhance or over-saturate images. I try to keep them as natural looking as possible. I guess technically, if there were one thing that sets me apart from a lot of photographers, it’s that I also do aerial photography which some people aren’t as familiar with. I think it’s a game-changer. It totally changes the perspective. There’s a certain way I do it which is unlike most because I don’t think people really want to see a Google Earth photo… They’d rather just see a whole or fairway at a different perspective from slightly above.
It sounds like you certainly set yourself apart. Do you have a favorite photo?
One of my favorite photographs has nothing to do with golf at all. It’s a photo that NASA released last year of the earth. It was a super clean image – one that I haven’t seen before. Just jaw-dropping to see how minute we actually are in the whole scheme of things. I like to be reminded of that often because when you start to think you’re all that, you start to get a big head or think you’re better than someone else. But when you really look at it, we’re nothing but weird ants out in the middle of space! It’s just a nice awareness image.
[Laughter] Very true… So Channing, before we get into some rapid-fire questions, is there anything else you’d like to add about your background… life… anything?
I guess the only other thing I’d add is that I’m really blessed, and I thank God for everything I have in my life. I don’t take anything for granted. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of people and create great relationships. It has served me well over the years. One of the most important things to me is to treat other people the way I want to be treated, and I think it has paid off. It’s a lesson that I give to my children who are both young and growing, but I know that in life you get what you give.
Great words to live by. So let’s hit some rapid fire questions. Who/What is your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration has always been my dad, Dr. T. Garrett Benjamin, Jr. He was a pastor of a church for over forty years and has always set a great example for his family and community in Indiana. Leading by example, he has taught me to do the same. In a world where there are so many phony people, it’s good to have near you people who are real and people who lead by example. My dad is always my greatest inspiration.
I’m sure there are others who can relate… What’s your favorite time of year to play a round? Time of day?
Favorite time of year would be summer. For whatever reason, I get my groove on. Truthfully, I play golf year-round because the California desert only has an off-season, but it’s not unplayable. But during summertime, I like to travel and not play golf in the desert. I also just seem to play some of my best golf in the summer.
If you could play 18 with anyone, who would it be?
Tiger. That would fulfill my golf fantasy. I attribute a lot of my interest in the game to his play in the ’90’s and early 2000’s… even the late 2000’s. I was a big fan and still am even though I think he has some personal issues to work out. But as far as what he’s done on the golf course, I can relate to and remember all his shots. So playing with Tiger would be a bit more memorable for me than playing with someone like a Ben Hogan or someone who I never really saw playing.
Thanks so much for your time, Channing. It was a pleasure.