Third-generation multimedia student learns on the cheap

In an industry where the flashiest cameras and the most expensive editing software distinguishes professionals from pipe dreamers, Beni Marquez is determined to beat the best of the best photographers — but on a budget.

A love for photography and film has been with Beni, 16, for his entire life. His grandfather enjoyed photography as a hobby, and his father attended film school.

The spark that truly lit the fuse, though, was the pandemic.

“There wasn’t much to do,” he said, so he turned to cameras and post-production software as the world was locking down.

That boredom eventually turned into a passion for photographing wildlife and street scenes, creating video effects and editing together music and video. More recently, he’s become interested in developing film photos.

The skills required to create works like these come from knowledge gained through hours of online research along with trial and error. Without any real-life mentors, he’s left to puzzle out issues himself, which can be time consuming and difficult.

His father, who moved on from filmmaking and camera techniques long ago, gives him his thoughts here and there. He already knows a lot of what the multimedia program at Ida B. Wells High School teaches, he said.

“OK, this is kinda easy,” the sophomore said, recalling a photography class at his Portland school.

So Beni, who also works at an ice cream store, has had to make his own opportunities to pursue his passions.

School does offer access to a darkroom for developing film. But with school out for the summer, Beni and classmate Zoe Toperosky lost access to it for three months, and they weren’t able to develop the film photos they’d recently shot.

However, ambition doesn’t wait for school to start. They MacGyvered their own darkroom in Zoe’s bathroom.

With the budget of a part-time ice cream scooper and the determination of a kid with a dream, Beni teamed with Zoe to buy the necessary chemicals and equipment, telling Zoe’s family that “they absolutely may not come in” to their bathroom while the two were working or risk ruining the film, Zoe said.

After hunching over a bathtub for an hour, cramped and in the dark, Beni and Zoe emerged with 36 film pictures that both agreed were worth the time and effort.

It’s an impressive feat of engineering — but not an endeavor that a serious photographer can afford to take on every day.

Beni plans to study a multimedia-related field in college and hopes that the instruction there will take a “deep dive” into the camera techniques and post-production sides of photography and videography in a way that his own current self-education can’t provide.

– Ellen Dong, McMinnville High School

This story was produced as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration among The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. For more information or to support the program, go to

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