BEAMAN – Ben Neff, a 2014 BCLUW high school graduate who lives on his family’s farm near Beaman, gets pretty busy during the day at John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group in Urbandale, but in his spare time, you might catch him walking around central Iowa with his camera and looking up. Look for the next great shot of a wild turkey, fox, deer, or whatever other creature he can find.
Neff said he first began to discover his passion in high school when he participated in a Virtual Reality Education Program (VREP), and although he’s always had an artistic side, in his words, “he couldn’t draw to save his life.” Photography was his next thing. The best, but as a college student, he wasn’t able to afford a high-quality camera that he really needed to take high-level photos.
Having mostly used his cell phone during his years at Iowa State, where he graduated with degrees in Agricultural Systems Technology and Industrial Technology, Neff found a practical reason to invest in some new equipment. He was doing some videography and photography of his family’s farms around Beaman near the Marshall/Grundy County line, so he bought a camera in 2020.
Eventually he acquired a wildlife lens and has worked with it ever since. For the past six months, he’s been pursuing it “seriously” and plans to compete at this year’s Iowa State Fair while also selling prints through his social media pages and a still-developing website.
His parents, Scott and Mary Beth, were nothing but supportive of the new endeavor, and Scott said it was something Ben and his wife, Susan, could enjoy together.
“He blends his love of technology with all the benefits that come from being out in nature, uses his love of technology and stimulates his creative side as well – using his left and right brain,” said Scott.
While Iowa isn’t often seen as a haven of natural beauty, Neff has found it all around him—without even leaving his family’s property.
“There’s a lot of it in our woods and lands. My parents have about 60 acres of old woods, and then we plant fields around that, too.” “And then my uncle lives nearby with pastures and fields around his house as well, so I get a lot of my photos there.”
Some other sites within relatively close driving distance include Lake Union Grove between Gladbrook and Garwin and the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge south of Altoona. So far, his personal favorite shot taken has been of a wild turkey in the rain — the photo accompanies this story — especially because those particular animals are skittish and quick to run away when they notice humans.
“I got really lucky one day and they were in the field next to the road while I was pulling, and I was able to stop quickly and take a bunch of photos in five seconds before they took off into the woods,” Neff said.
Along with making some extra money to help fund his hobby, Neff wants to boost conservation efforts, and the Iowa DNR has already used some of the screenshots in its social media posts. He’d also like to see his photos end up in magazines like Iowa Outdoors and Our Iowa, but whether or not that pursuit leads to fortune and fame, it’s a safe bet he’ll be out and about with his camera and monopod while hunting for the next great photo.
“A lot of the Instagram reels and photo posts are all from photographers in like Yellowstone or Alaska or wherever, and not a lot of posts are from Iowa,” he said. “There are a few good photographers I also follow in Iowa and everything, but it’s not quite as popular as a bear photo in Minnesota. So I’m just trying to share some of the great wildlife here so people can see that you don’t have to be in one of those spots to go out and see it. Or trying to take pictures or anything like that.”
In addition to his passion and skills in the profession, Neff, a former high school basketball center for the Comets, has a practical advantage over other photographers. Standing at 6’9″, he admitted that some of his shorter colleagues often express jealousy over his height.
“I can still bend over or lie on the floor to get those angles,” he said, “but they have no way of getting some of the angles I get.”
Samples of Neff’s work can be found on his Facebook page called Ben Neff Photography or his Instagram @themrneffels. He’s still finishing his website, which hasn’t gone live yet, but he plans to announce when it will be up.
Contact Robert Mahary
at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.