Juan Shot Photos Amazes Parents and Athletes

October 24, 2012, 7:22 AM HST
* Updated October 24, 6:44 PM
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Ben Juan stares at an image of himself while working at home in Wailuku. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

By Rodney S. Yap

In a span of two football seasons, he has managed to elevate his status from ordinary to rock star.

Ben Juan used to be able to walk into a stadium or gymnasium in a nondescript fashion, unmemorable to others in attendance. Now they whisper — or yell out — his name when he enters, armed with his signature tool — a Cannon DSLR  camera  — responsible for his transformation.

An artist with a creative edge, self-taught and passionate about Maui interscholastic sports, this is a story about the Maui sports photographer who has the talent and the eye for telling stories through his unique digital imagery. Wearing “Juan Shot Photos” watermarks, the one-of-a-kind collages and original posters currently feature student-athletes playing MIL football, girls volleyball, or cheerleading.

“Now when I go to games, they yell my name from the stands,” said the 40-year-old Juan, who played football and baseball at Baldwin. “Parents come up to me and thank me for what I do, not just the kids.”

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The compliment brings a smile to Juan’s face and makes him feel good inside — the same feelings he stirs in an athlete seeing his or hers customized Juan photo for the first time on Facebook.

Photo by Juan Shot Photos.

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“It’s an awesome feeling. If I can put a smile on their face I know I did good. Not just the kids, but the parents, too. I don’t know these people, but they have seen my photo on Facebook, so they come up and say, ‘Hey, thanks eh, I like your work. Thanks for taking pictures of my kid.’ ”

Juan has been triggering responses of appreciation since he first started uploading pictures of his nephew, Jordan Villanueva, a former guard on the Baldwin basketball team in 2009-2010.

At the time, Ben had just bought a Cannon SLR from a friend for $450.

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“So I started shooting my nephew’s games and then afterwards I would post the pictures on Facebook for him to see.”

Villanueva’s teammates, and other players from other teams began to “Like” the photos and left thank you messages for Juan.

“Generally, they are in awe when I first post it. Their comments are like, ‘Wow’ and “‘Amazing.'”

As Juan continued to take pictures, he learned more and more about his camera.

“I knew I had Photoshop, and I knew that Photoshop was for photos so I started trying new things.”

Photo by Juan Shot Photos.

A weigh and balance agent at Hawaiian Airlines since 1992, Juan’s job is to dispatch aircraft and he works 10-hour shifts, which means he’s on-duty for four days, and off the next three. Because of those hours, Juan said he has the time to do what it is he does.

“I had the (Photoshop) software on my laptop, but didn’t know how to use it,” said Juan, who attended the International Air Academy in Vancouver, Wash. after graduation in 1990. “So I did some research and watched “how to” videos on YouTube for the basics.”

Soon after, Juan realized he needed to upgrade his equipment, staying with the same brand but choosing to shoot what the semipros shoot, in the Cannon 7D. The body of the camera alone cost $1,600 and Ben had to fly to Oahu to get it.

As Juan’s  post-production skills developed, his posters and collages became more sophisticated — resembling artwork similar to paintings.

One of his breakthrough designs last year — “The Boyz of The MIL” — pictured all five starting varsity quarterbacks in an action pose with their respective names in script font across each individual image. It remains one of Juan’s favorites.

“At that time, whatever looked good I was just putting it together,” Juan said. “But when Tupo (Kupono Cabanas) got hurt, that’s when I started doing more.”

Juan said he looked at his photos as a way of sharing a story about that person.

“Of all the stuff I’ve done, one of my favorite ones is of Cabanas. Two of the three pictures I used in that one is from the game he got hurt in. . . . Only he and I know what that photo means,” said Juan, who will go to great lengths to personalize each collage or poster. Some, he says, have hidden messages or pictures in the finished product.

Photo by Juan Shot Photos.

“I don’t just shoot random photos anymore,” he said. “There is a purpose behind each collage and If I know what I’m going to do with the picture I can start setting up the shots.”

For instance, Juan said, he did a special photo for Baldwin’s backup quarterback Ryan Graham, a senior who left Kamehameha Maui over the summer and transferred to Baldwin.

“I tried to show the transition. He came from Kamehameha and transferred to Baldwin, ended up being a starter at the beginning of the season when Ewaliko got hurt. These are not just pictures thrown together, there’s a story behind it.”

Although Juan is a loyal Baldwin supporter he does players from all the schools.

Since he started doing this his Juan Shot Photos page on Facebook went from 500 friends to 2,600.

“Every day I get a friend request . . . and it’s beginning to be more parents now. I didn’t have any Hana friends before I went to a Hana game and then the following day I got five or six request from Hana people.”

Juan said he gets a lot of special photo requests, particularly during the holiday season and graduation. When Kamehameha Maui went to him last year, requesting personal trading cards of each player, Juan delivered before it was due at the Warriors’ football banquet.

“It’s not so much about the business, it’s more about the passion and a labor of love,” he said. “If I get a special request, I’ll say we’ll work something out.”

Photo by Juan Shot Photos.

In the meantime, Juan said his wife, the former Lori Sanchez, supports what he does. “She’s terrific, she’s behind me 100%.”

Ben has been married to Lori, his high school sweetheart, since 1995. They reside in Wailuku with their two daughters, Ashley, who is a freshman at Oregon State University, and Kaitlyn, a sophomore cheerleader at Baldwin.

As for the immediate future, Juan said he has something in the works for homecoming (against Maui High) on Saturday.

“At this point I don’t see it stopping. Because it’s not always the same pictures. And as far as the creativity, I’m always thinking of new things to put together. But I am going wherever it goes and wherever it stops. And if it keeps on going then I’ll keep on going as well.”

For Ben Juan’s favorites, click here.

For Juan Shot Photos on Facebook, click here.

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