How former Sheffield student is flying high as a drone cameraman - and has worked with Liverpool star Diogo Jota among other celebrities
Drone footage opens up a new world.
And this is a world Ben Illingsworth wants to conquer.
He’s a camera operator and licensed drone pilot, who is racking up an impressive CV.
The ex-Hallam University student is 23 and his CV includes a shoot with £41 million Liverpool star Diogo Jota, climbing up Malham Tarn with a drum kit to film and working on a feature with Hollyoaks star Quentin Jones.
Not bad for a lad who lives with his parents David and Cathryn in Hemingfield, Barnsley.
Born in the village he still calls home, Ben went to St Michael’s Primary in Wombwell before moving to secondary school at St Pius in Wath. He got interested in cameras when the digital revolution made them more affordable.
“I was at secondary school and I got a digital single-lens reflex camera,” says Ben. “They were affordable, which is a good thing because it gets more people involved in the industry.”
He started at 13 with a GH3, a digital mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. “I didn’t see it as a career, but when I started to study Media at St Pius I had a go on one of the cameras and it was really cool.
“We made a short horror film, like an experiment, and it really kicked off when I went to Barnsley College.”
Ben did a Btec in creative media production film and Tv. He loved it and it showed as he won two awards for top student.
“I was creating short films, making quite a few mistakes but loving to do it.”
Wherever he went, he took a camera and recommends the same to any would-be photographer. “It’s a great opportunity to experiment because if you make a mistake it doesn’t matter.”
Ben then went to Hallam University and got a First in Film and Media Production, picking up more film and TV awards while studying. “I really enjoyed my time there. We had all the latest equipment and I worked on a shoot with Liverpool FC recently using that same equipment.”
The shoot featured the aforementioned Mr Jota, who Liverpool had signed a few months earlier for £41 million. Ben was gaffer on the job and managed to get a selfie with the Portugese striker. A nice name for his CV and a reminder of those Hallam days.
“It was a great learning experience, increased my network of contacts and if you made a mistake it wasn’t the end of the world. It’s different working for a client!”
So at 21 he had a good degree but no clue what to do. “What next was the question,” Ben says. He took a chance and went freelancing while getting some income from an IT job. “It was quite a challenge because you can wait for years to build up the right contacts.”
But Ben got a break when he applied for football work with Birmingham-based 247.tv, a live streaming company.
He didn’t get that job but was offered the chance to shoot snooker in Manchester and swimming at Ponds Forge.
“It was really fun at Ponds Forge. We were doing it live so couldn’t edit, no room for mistakes, which makes quite a pressure environment but I really enjoyed working with them.”
He’s also worked at motorsport championships at Donington Park and Snetterton circuit.
“Donington was my best job, there were classic cars, sports cars, such excitement, noise and speed. We had a talkback system where the director was telling us what to get and it was really difficult to hear them as these massive cars whizzed past.”
Ben has also worked with Talking Lens Productions on a feature film called Awful Silence, directed by Raza Mallal, with Hollyoaks and Dark Knight actor Quentin Jones.
But what he really wanted was to work with drone cameras. The cost kept putting him off - it can be £7,000 for a decent one, according to Ben. But lockdown gave him time and he saw a second hand drone for £1,300 and took a chance. “I just decided to go for it.”
But to do it commercially is more complicated than just flying the thing. You need the relevant insurance, the appropriate permissions and even a risk assessment.
He is a licensed drone pilot and the work is beginning to come. He shot the Birmingham International Dance Festival and when we spoke, was due to film a postponed nature show in Huddersfield.
“I want to specialise in drone work. Some people in the industry are a Jack-of-all-trades, I want to specialise because I’m not good at everything and if there’s a budget I’ll bring in people who are better. If I could work for Adidas, Nike, Gymshark that would be the dream.”
He used a drone to film a drummer playing in Malham Cove. So what was that about?
“When producing video or photographic content it can be difficult to think of a creative or a new idea which has yet to be done,” says Ben.
“I was on Social Media one day and came across a post from one of my favourite bands Sum 41, which showed imagery of their drummer Frank Zummo. I thought the idea of filming a music video on the top of a mountain was an exciting idea, especially with a drone to show the stunning landscape. I initially considered Snowdon but when looking at the logistics and the current climate the idea was quickly dismissed but who knows for the future.
“I had previously visited Malham Cove and thought the area could look very cinematic. One of the biggest film productions to happen there was Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, which was partly filmed at the top of the Cove. Who knows how all of the actors got to the top, most likely by helicopter as climbing the 400 irregular stone steps or 260 foot can be tiring, let alone with a drum kit and the filming and lighting kit.”
He took drummer Sam Ashton and they had a ball. “One of the exciting aspects about the video was the opportunity to use the GoPro Max. It is a 360 degree camera which records in 5.6k. The field of view and high resolution allows you to select multiple angles of the action which is useful for all kinds of filming particularly action sport, music videos and travel videos.
“The post production of the video was fairly straight forward, one of the key factors to the video's look was the use of sky replacements. It's a fairly simple and effective way to up the production value of a production and in most cases it can be done straight in Adobe Premiere and if the scene is more complex using the motion tracking tools in Adobe After Effects.
“Waking up early and getting on set for 7am was well worth it when looking back as it allowed for amazing sunrise shots and shooting in Blackmagic RAW enabled the shadow and highlight information to be captured.
"I want to say thank you for everybody who helped in the production and got involved in the project in particular Neil Taylor, who kindly assisted and lent his GoPro MAX.”
To contact Ben visit his website benillingsworth.com or Email [email protected]