It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Ben Willmore!

Next Chapters

I’d like to show you how two events helped to propel me into changing my thinking and improving both my life and my photography.

Here’s what I looked like as a young tyke

On Valentines Day of 1984, my mother passed away. I was in high school at the time and lived with her and my brother, as our parents were divorced. That day I was forced to start a new chapter in my life. I suddenly started to think a little more independently and started to focus a bit more on how my future might unfold.

Multiple exposure light painting lit using flashlights and sparklers

After high school, I enrolled in college where I tried to conform to the expectations that I receive an official education (since I didn’t have an obvious alternate path), find a reliable job and build my career. Near the end of my college experience, my live-in girlfriend decided to leave me and move in with my best friend, which was quite a shocker. That was the second jolt that caused me to re-evaluate my life and correct course. At the time, I was planning to become a graphic designer and continue on a traditional trajectory toward career success. That’s when I decided to start another new chapter in my life.

I’ve followed the full length of Route 66 many times. Here is one image of a series I hope to one day publish in a book on the subject

At that time, I stopped focusing on using design to make a living and started focusing on how I could design my life. I realized that I was in the driver’s seat of my own life, and should be steering it in the direction of my liking, regardless of what other people thought was the right thing to do.

Stitched panorama of waterfall in Iceland

That’s when I quit my job and started teaching Photoshop full-time. I designed a brochure, rented the Adobe mailing list, did a mailing and waited to see if people would sign up for my seminar. I had no idea if anyone would show up, but was happy to see that dozens of people decided to give the seminar a try.

Two monks at a temple in Burma

After being jolted twice, I didn’t need any more external motivation to get me to design my own lifestyle and start a never-ending quest to optimize my life. Back then, I would read at least 52 books a year (one a week) in an attempt to feed my never-ending thirst for knowledge.

Northern Lights shot in Iceland

I’ve shifted enough that I now make creating new chapters a regular part of my thinking. Here are a few other the other chapters I’ve designed over the last few decades:

1) Moved from Minnesota to Colorado to enjoy the mountains and get to a mellower climate and great views, even though I didn’t know anyone in the area.
2) Moved into the mountains of Colorado to escape the city (which I was visiting three times a month with my seminars).
3) Moved onto a tour bus so that I could explore America and photograph all the areas that I’d been dreaming about.
4) Found a special woman to share my life with and began to adapt in an attempt to create an optimal lifestyle for both of us.

Packed all my possessions into a tiny trailer and went off to live full-time in a tour bus

My next chapters will include restoring and then living on a vintage bus (details at and eventually living on a yacht that is capable of taking us around the world.

1963 Flxible Starliner that’s being restored and will eventually become our new home

I would have never imagined that I could design my own lifestyle as much as I’ve been able to, but it all came down to having the desire and not being afraid of taking chances.

Photographically, I’ve had many chapters, all that seem to overlap, and I’m constantly searching for my next chapter. Some of the things that I’d consider to be photographic chapters include: experimenting with light painting, exploring HDR photography, following the full length of Route 66 multiple times, developing unique panorama techniques, and using Photoshop to help direct a viewer’s eye through my images.

The above video is of a 14-shot stitched panorama that was created in Bagan, Burma.

I’ve found this “next chapter” mindset to be one of the most life-altering things that has ever influenced me and I think that adopting it has the potential to radically transform your life. What’s it going to take for you to start designing the next chapter of your life?

What is calling for the largest change in your life? Your mind, your relationships, your finances, your body, your photography? How important is that compared to watching TV or playing X-box games, or doing whatever you do to merely fill your time?

Canons in Moscow

Here are a few books that have been essential in my process of taking control over my destiny: Linchpin by Seth Goden, The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez

Birds at Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

-Ben Willmore

vintage bus restoration:

  1. Thanks for an enlightening blog, Ben! Interesting to read where your life has experienced different twists and turns. I’ll have to look up the books you mentioned. Always looking for a good read. I missed going to one of your classes at PSW, but I’ll make sure to catch one the next time I go.

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Thanks for the post, Ben.
    It’s funny when a blog post almost directly relates to my current situation. A superstitious person might think it’s the universe letting me know I’m on the right path…
    It was nice meeting you at PSW, I was the guy with the tattoos sitting with Rick Sammon. I downloaded HDRexpress, but I haven’t had the chance to sink my teeth into it yet. Looks promising so far. Thanks for the tip.

    Take care,

  3. Ben, it takes a lot of courage to break away from the ordinary “safe” life, to pursue your dreams; you’re a brave man. You’ll have great opportunity to take great photos in your travels and meet different people.
    Wishing you the best of luck in your search.

  4. Ben, I had the pleasure a few years back to attend your presentation in Vancouver. I appreciated your style very much but even more so now after having read your Guest Post and story of your bus conversion project. I am a retiree and find myself somewhat envious of you for having the sensibility, as a young man, to not only appreciate the “big picture” in its’ entirety but to do something about it.
    Well done and thank you for having shared your vision and quest to fulfill it.

  5. Great post, Ben. I’ve enjoyed reading about your travels. I admire people who are willing to make that change out of their safe/dependable life, into something they really want to do. Wish I was that brave!

  6. Hey Ben,

    Reading your Guest Blog right now just gave me goosebumps. My last day at my current job is on Friday, and I begin a new one on Monday. Your article is so timely and exactly what I needed to hear. It was as if you were speaking directly to me. Best wishes on your next chapter.

  7. Enjoyed ‘meeting’ you in San Jose couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed that day. What a great story about courage and that whole ‘…your own drummer…’ thang… Appreciate you’re letting us see some of the intimate details of your life – quite inspiring! Thanks, Ben!

  8. Ben, I would like to thank you for this post. I’ve had to start over a few times too, and it helps seeing I’m not alone.

    My life started with serious bullying through the first 12 years in school. Beatings twice a week, frozen out, ignored unless people wanted “some fun”. I barely made it through school without flunking, and was left with serious angst when it comes to exams. Needless to say, I didn’t get any exams during my 5 years at the university due to this. The worst part was that I couldn’t bring myself to tell anybody about this, so I lied to my friends and family, telling them I did great. Until my mom found out. My wife left me, I had to move back to my parents, and I spent 2,5 years rebuilding my life. The money my parents spent sending me to a shrink are the best gift ever!

    New chapter: I met a girl, took up photography, and decided I wanted to pursue this as a career. I’ve bent to seminars, I’ve got access to a studio, and I have a couple of Pentax K20’s. Trouble is, my girlfriend is sick, so I have to support her by doing a boring security job, and have to do the photography on the side – if she feel well enough for me to be away from her.

    I wish for her to get better, and I wish for a “break”. That I get a name within photography, and are able to live from it. I am almost there: I just need to work the social media a bit more. Indominable spirit! (Not sure I spelled that right..)

    I’ve got four years to make it according to my plan, and by the love of God, I’ll do it!

    Looking forward to hear about your bus!

    Cheers, Kristian

  9. Great post, Ben. This is one of my favorite Guests blogs. Coming from someone who’s always looking to begin new “chapters” with a constant thirst for knowledge, this is very inspiring. Thanks and good luck on your journey of life.

  10. Often I hear of people designing their own life, and wonder what has been behind the scenes of my own life… It is wonderful to see someone who is out there creating his own life and adventures… Thank you for sharing!

  11. Ben,

    We are close to the same age. You were the first serious Photoshop teacher I began learning from way back in… Holy smokes, Dude, we’re getting old! :-) I’ve had a few life wrecks too and I’ve always come out of them stronger, hungrier, more clearly focused and determined to transform myself and my career for the better. Your post today is so timely as I’m in the midst of pulling all of my architecture, photography, art, speaking, and design experience together for a strong push in yet another new direction – Ironically enough, teaching Photoshop and photography. You’ve been a solid influence in the past phases of my artistic life and you remain an inspiration for the phases yet to come. I hope to meet you on the open road some day to thank you in person – Cheers!

  12. Thank you for this story. I don’t often comment but was moved by your honesty. We have things happen in our lives that are out of our control but I try to think that ‘Its all going perfectly to plan’ not sure who’s plan :-)
    I will certainly look at the books you mention – my library of books have taught me so much over the years. Onwards and upwards

  13. You’re going to love it. I lived in a motor home for almost 5 years and loved every minute of it. We went to places and saw things we’d never have noticed driving through in a car.

    It’s a great way to travel, enjoy yourself.

  14. Ben, this was one of the best blog postings I’ve read in a long while. Thank you for stepping away from the technical and commercial side of the business. Photography is a spiritual and emotional journey for me brought on by pivotal life events as well. Thank you for sharing your story. Enjoy the ride!

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