Neff discovers passion for wildlife photography
BEAMAN — Ben Neff, a 2014 BCLUW High School graduate who lives on his family’s farm near Beaman, stays plenty busy during the day working for the John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group in Urbandale, but in his free time, you might catch him prowling central Iowa with his camera and searching for the next great shot of a wild turkey, a fox, a deer or whatever other creature he can find.
Neff said he first began to discover his passion in high school when he participated in the Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders (VREP) program, and although he’s always had an artistic side, in his own words, he “can’t draw to save his life.” Photography was the next best thing, but as a college student, he couldn’t afford a high-quality camera that he would need to truly take top-level pictures.
After mostly using his cell phone through 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 going to do some video and photography of his family’s farms around Beaman near the Marshall/Grundy County line, so he bought a camera in 2020.
He eventually acquired a lens for wildlife and has run with it ever since then. For the last 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 website that is still in development.
His parents, Scott and Mary Beth, have been nothing but supportive of the new endeavor, and Scott said it’s something Ben and his wife Suzanne can enjoy together.
“It blends his love for technology with all the benefits that come from being out in nature, and it uses his love for technology and stimulates creative side as well — using his left and right brain,” Scott said.
While Iowa isn’t often thought of as a haven of natural beauty, Neff has found it all around him — even without leaving his family’s property.
“A lot of it is just in our woods and acreage. My parents have about 60 acres of old growth timber, and then we farm the fields around it also,” he said. “And then my uncle lives nearby with pastures and fields around his house too, so I get a lot of my photos there.”
Some of his other spots within relatively close driving distance include the Union Grove Lake between Gladbrook and Garwin and the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge south of Altoona. So far, his personal favorite shot that he’s captured was a wild turkey in the rain — the photo accompanies this story — especially because those specific animals are skittish and quick to run away when they notice humans.
“I got really lucky one day and they were just in the field beside the road as I was pulling up, and I was able to stop quickly and get a burst of photos in the five seconds before they took off into the woods,” Neff said.
Along with hopefully making some extra money to help fund his hobby, Neff wants to promote conservation efforts, and the Iowa DNR has already utilized some of his shots in their social media posts. He’d also like to see his photos wind up in magazines like Iowa Outdoors and Our Iowa, but whether this pursuit leads to fortune and fame or not, it’s a safe bet he’ll be outside with his camera and his monopod on the hunt for the next great portrait.
“A lot of the Instagram reels and photo posts are all stuff of photographers in like, Yellowstone or Alaska or wherever, and there’s not a ton of the posts from Iowa,” he said. “There is a small number of really good photographers that I also follow in Iowa and everything, but it’s not quite as popular as the bear photo in Minnesota. So I just try to share some cool wildlife here so that people can see that you don’t have to be in one of those locations to go out and see it or try to take photos or anything like that.”
Beyond his passion and skill for the craft, Neff, a former high school basketball center for the Comets, enjoys a practical advantage over other photographers. He stands a towering 6’9″, and he admitted that some of his shorter colleagues often express jealousy over his height.
“I can still crouch down or lay on the ground to get those angles, but they have no way of getting some of the angles that I get,” he said.
Samples of Neff’s work can be found on his Facebook page called Ben Neff Photography or his Instagram page @themrneffels. He’s still finishing up his website, which is not live yet, but he plans to announce when it is up and running.
Contact Robert Maharry
at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or email@example.com.