Alicia Bonterre: Photographer, Trinidad and Tobago
Alicia Bonterre started with P52 about two years ago. She wanted to up her game, create images outside of her comfort zone, and become better at commercial photography.
She just won two ADDY’s – A GOLD and a SILVER … so, we can safely agree she has indeed upped her game. The entire P52 gang are so very proud of Alicia’s progress and it is nice to see heer talent recognized in the ad agency world.
(The ADDY is the ad world’s version of the Academy Award, or the Grammy. It is one of the most prestigious awards a commercial photographer can receive.)
In Alicia’s own words:
To photograph 12 images for a 2015 calendar for a local chain of supermarkets. The title of the calendar was “Grandma’s Remedies” and was to feature local herbs and “bush medicine.” The Ad agency gave me the list of herbs and the methods for their use, and I was asked to source, style and shoot. I met with the AD, the graphic artist and Account Executive to discuss the concept, layout, budget etc. Originally I was to shoot 8 of the 12 images with the other 4 to be sourced from stock, but after seeing the first set of images I delivered, they asked me to do all 12. I did up the story and mood boards for each and they were all approved.
The first challenge was sourcing the items as many of these, although common, just weren’t readily available in my area or at the time. Because most of these were plants, wilting was a major problem as I could only get some of these from people’s yards and keeping the plant fresh after picking was a major challenge. In addition, I was only given this assignment a month before Christmas with the calendar needing to be in stores two weeks before then, so time was of the essence.
I spent 4 days sourcing which meant visiting the shops, my mom’s collection of antiques and novelties, friends’ cupboards, plant nurseries and the gardens of friends and their neighbors. Due to wilting some of the plants need to be collected just hours before they were to be shot.
Another challenge was that I don’t have a studio so I removed as much furniture from my moderately sized living room as I could and used there. This room is also very open with large windows on every side which is lovely for some images but for others it required a lot of flagging to shape the light.
The shoot was completed over 3 days. I started with the items that I had on hand most likely to wilt. I shot tethered using Lightroom and would scale to view for accuracy of layout as the format was 9” by 12”. I had to make sure that everything would fit including a space for the fairly large date pad (approx. 25%) and the copy of the description and method of use for the herbs with a little breathing room for good measure.
Starting early, I would set up, shoot, edit,resize, and e-mail to A.D. for approval before breaking down the set. While waiting for approval I would set up and do another shoot, I would keep rotating like that averaging about 4 images a day. Some shots used natural light but I love the control I get from my strobes and flashes and often would bounce light off a large foam core board to create soft natural looking light so I could keep my ISO low while shaping the light.
This was my first proper commercial job, but thanks to all the similar exercises done in Project 52, it was not new to me. I felt confident in accepting the job and felt I did a good job and the client was pleased. We are taught to shoot for our portfolios every assignment and this habit is now ingrained in me, so having to deliver that level of quality was not daunting.
That being said, I was very surprised to learn that my work gained the Ad agency Gold and Silver awards for Photography Campaign in the 2015 Caribbean ADDY. Up till then I had only a vague knowledge even of the existence of these awards so it was difficult for me to understand the importance of it. This has given me the encouragement to push further, learn more, want more, do more, be more. As a wonderful saying goes “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough!”
Keep dreaming those big dreams, Alicia… they are working well for you.
The award winning images below:
Last summer I wrote four articles based on the five scariest words a beginning photographer can hear…
“What do you charge for…”
It ended up being nearly 20 pages, and it can definitely help you work through some of the myriad questions that haunt us when we don’t know the territory.
I invite you to download it here, my compliments.
The “Protectionist” Attitude Among Photographers
Well, not all photographers, but a considerable few. Enough that they can make a lot of noise and bluster.
I don’t suffer that attitude well, never have. The whining about how there are too many photographers and how we should NOT be helping them enter the business or ‘feeding them dreams’ or whatever, is simply a lame, self-serving sort of sod that never sits well with the facts.
Here are Five Myths of Protectionism in Photography.
If we do not teach the young photographers entering the market, they will flounder and get out.
Wanna bet. You cannot keep people from doing what they want to do. Not yet, anyway. And many people want to be photographers. They crave the craft and live every moment thinking about making images. Not teaching them the correct way to enter the market, and compete fairly, is folly beyond imagination. They will enter anyway, and have more chance to screw it all up than if they KNOW what they are doing.
And when did we photographers become so, well, mean. I have no appetite for watching people flounder and fail. I love it when they succeed and win. Creating winners amongst us is exactly what we ALL should be doing. To turn from that path is petty… and pathetic as well.
Training more people will hurt the industry because it will create a glut.
Wrong. There is and has always been a glut. Simply stated, that argument doesn’t work because it is putting a false parameter on something that has no parameters. There is no finite amount of work to be divided equally among the anointed players. Each photographer gets the work they get. It is either enough to sustain them or not. Artificially stating that there is some sort of ceiling is not logical.
There isn’t enough work to go around.
Well, maybe not for you. Or her or that guy over there. But there is a lot of work to be had out there. We know and follow too many successful photographers to even think that there is not ‘enough’ work out there. And even if that were true, and it is not, who is to say that the same shooters who are working now wouldn’t have those jobs all to themselves. The market picks winners and losers, not artificial quotas and protected participants.
Prices are plummeting because of the influx of talented photographers.
Yeah… so? Why would photography escape market forces. I paid $2500 for my Mac Classic in 1986. In today’s dollars that would be about $9,000. Anyone complaining about computer prices? Or memory? Or music? A single song on a 45 RPM record was a buck (I say single cause the other side was likely crap). And today at Amazon that single song is.. a buck.
However, I will say this. In 1984 I was getting day rates of $1500 – $2000 and those day rates have not gone up in any significant way since. (No, I usually do not charge day rate these days, but many do and I am pointing out the stagnation, not the method.) Was it because of digital?
Hardly. It was because things were changing and lots of photographers were entering the market. The market I wanted to be involved in. I had the choice to do that or get a job that no one wanted. I briefly thought about being the conductor for the New York Philharmonic… but the competition for that single position was pretty stiff… So I opted for competing for a lot of jobs instead of just one.
If we could somehow keep the beginners out, there would be more work for us.
No. There would be more for the folks that are already working. If you are not working and blaming it on the newbies, you will still not be working when the newbies are actually thrown under the bus.
Talent always wins when it is bundled with good business skills, marketing plans and a driven, nothings gonna stop me mentality. Thinking that somehow shutting off the spigot would stop those for whom photography is a calling, not just something fun to do would make ones life easier is simply looking past the problem into the face of a cure that has no merit.
I tell photographers who are complaining about how tough it is and how they can’t get work because of all the other photographers out there to take a look at the real culprit. Look right there…
In the mirror.
Protectionism, unions, state licenses and such are simply ways to garner income and keep out the competition, whether or not the competition has the talent to actually compete.
A photographer told me on twitter once that he was comfortable and loving being a photographer, but didn’t want any more people in the business because it was cutting down on his ability to get work. They were “talentless hacks” or something like that.
So what he told me in essence is that his work is so lame that talentless hacks were beating him out at his game and he didn’t want to actually have to improve above the level of talentless hack himself.
That was simply sad. I thought his work was pretty good, and that he should be doing well. Unfortunately, people with that mindset are usually not excited by the mornings, driven to make new work, striving to become better and better with all they create. Instead they brood and whine and look for people to blame for their own intransigence.
I love working with new photographers. After forty years in the business, I know I have stuff that can help, knowledge from the trenches that can answer questions – or even cause questions to be answered in the new world we find ourselves.
Be a mentor. If you can help a struggling photographer, do so.
What you give is so much more powerful than what you hold back.
This past week we looked at the work of Yousef Karsh. The students in the 8 Week Portrait Workshop are learning a ton and putting it to practical use. Here are their images from last weeks assignment.
“What makes a photograph “Portfolio Worthy”
I want to talk about what makes an image worthy of your portfolio today, and have you think about your work in possibly a different sort of way.
What is your portfolio, anyway?
It is the repository of the work you have made, and limited to be the outstanding pieces from the volume of work created. It is the instrument you use to say “this is what I do.”
Whether it is a printed book, a ‘traditional portfolio’, an online gallery or your website, your portfolio is a collection of your best work. And hopefully one can see a style emerging from that collection.
A portfolio is not a congregation of your most popular shots, nor is it the ones your mom or boyfriend think ‘rock’. Those are great compliments of course, but the portfolio images should show more of another viewpoint.
The images should be chosen with care and the knowledge that they reflect your sensibilities, with your unique vision stamped across them clearly.
In fact, they may not be the most popular shots in your collections. They may be a bit on the obtuse side, or more challenging in composition and design. They may show your more experimental choices or they may be the quiet nature of simplicity that you love so much. They can range from mild to wild, black and white to HDR, people to landscapes to interiors to food.
But they are yours. They represent the images you want to make, how you want to make them and with all of the parts genuinely yours.
Why? Because that ‘genuinely yours’ approach will help you as you begin to develop a style, a vision and a body of work that you will be proud of.
Shooting what other people like will make you madder than the proverbial hatter. There is no style in the world that will satisfy everyone. No matter what you shoot, someone is not going to like it. Changing your work to match their needs only means you will alienate someone else.
So don’t bother.
Shoot your work. Shoot it your way.
Find out what the images you love have in common.
Here’s a little assignment for you;
Put 20 of your favorite images onto a single large image… a collage. Photoshop can do that for you now (again) with a tool under the File menu.
File/Automate/Contact Sheet II
Put the twenty images into a single folder and run the Contact Sheet II script. Choose the largest paper size you can print (or take to Costco/Sams Club/Walmart… whatever) so that all of the images are displayed together on one sheet.
This one is done on 8.5 x 11 and I used a setting of 12 images per page.
Now take that sheet and look at it closely, with the intent of really seeing each image.
What are the similarities between your images?
What are the differences that jump out at you?
Which images, if any, look out of place in the selection?
Which images, if any, look wrong or not as good as the others that are similar?
Show the sheet of images to people you trust to give honest feedback. Even your mom, BFF, buds, and the guys you hang out with and discuss photography. As long as it is honest, it will be good feedback.
It is not a good critique, however. Critiques are done with intentions in mind, goals determined, and a frank discussion of what the images were created to do.
But feedback is good, and if you don’t know anyone who can give a good critique (yet) they are a good place to start.
The last thing to do is to analyze the ways the feedback made you feel about your work. Do you agree with their assessments? Do you believe they see what you shot the way you see what you shot? Does an image still stand up in your mind as being a strong image even if others say it was not their favorite?
Do this repeatedly with 20 images at a time. Find the ones that really resonate with you. The ones you want to show to everybody, everywhere, every day.
I’ll close with this quote by Photographer Bela Borsodi:
“If it touches you, if it excites you, if it makes you cry, if it makes you smile. A good photograph is something you cannot resist looking at. There might be a sense of surprise or discovery. something pleasant or painful. There is this quote by Oscar Wilde: “I can resist everything except temptation” In a way a good photograph is what you can’t resist and want to engage with. It doesn’t matter if you take photographs of your dog, or girlfriend, or whether you’re in a big studio with supermodels in it. If it speaks to you, then that’s when you know you have a good photograph.”
(Thanks to Hiram Chee for finding this great quote.)
Distractions, Discontent, and Disruption
The three “D’s” of the new daily discomforts. Wait, is that a fourth?
We are constantly being distracted from our work, made to feel discontent at every turn and facing disruption in our business like never before.
Distraction comes from every side. From Facebook and email to the web and other forms of entertainment. It comes from politics and social events. It comes from the manufacturers of commercial culture who want us distracted and hooked on their latest gizmo/whachathingy.
And it is damned difficult to keep our heads down and do the work with all that clamoring for our attention. Go to this webinar and that web page – they have all the answers. Listen to this guru or that guru or some rockstar who has all the answers – they will help make it easier. All ya gotta do is pay attention.
We have learned that we ‘must’ spend hours a day on Facebook, ‘connecting’ with our fans and followers and possible clients. We have to ‘pin’ and blog and tweet and twerk.
OK, we don’t really have to twerk. Seriously.
But we can spend so much time on the other crap that nothing of real value gets done.
Camera companies compete for our attention by dribbling out shiny new cameras with cutting edge features that we of course MUST have now, because our competitors have it. And it is awesome – that guru guy said it was, and there is a webinar that shows how lame last months new camera is compared to yesterdays new camera.
And a big time internet photographer just “Pinned” it… so it must be awesome.
We become unhappy with what we have, and what we don’t have becomes even more of a sore spot. Even to an open wound.
“When I get the Nicanon Mark 9, DE7000 X, I will finally be able to create my vision.”
But that never happens because as soon as you get it, Sonlympus comes out with a “Nicanon Killer” and some “awesome” internet guru has just declared it the most awesomest camera since last March.
We can sink into the pits of despair, the fire swamps of sadness, and simply believe that without this new or shiny or awesome thingy, we simply cannot continue on.
The funk continues when we read about a new photographer making a lot of waves, and getting a ton of attention. “Brooklynneshannadale Smith, 13, is shooting the new Audi campaign for a gazillion dollars after taking the commercial photography world by storm when her captivating, slightly misogynistic iPhone images on Instagram caught the eye of Dorkus McStoopeed, a big time ad agency owner in Manhattan…” (We call that a PR stunt. Learn to see them for what they are.)
And we try to measure this new work to our own, and try to figure out what the commercial world is really wanting anyway? We start to complain about clients, and the industry, and the totally screwed way it is going and how it is ruining the business… yadda – yadda – yadda.
Too many begin living their creative lives between distraction and discontent. They post memes on Facebook about how no one wants to pay them for their work. They go on forums and discuss how stupid and screwed up clients are. They fall farther and farther away from the center of their own world.
And while they are focused on all this negative distraction and discontent, along comes good old “Disruption”. It is quiet and insidious and if we are not vigilant, it will catch us looking away and – bang – we are watching our business from the sidelines.
Things change. It all changes. Some changes took a long time to occur, like continental drift. Others took a small amount of time to change… like the time my Tower records went all CD over night on a weekend. No more vinyl – overnight.
Photography has seen plenty of disruption before. The invention of the Brownie camera that allowed anyone to make a photograph. The addition of meters in cameras, faster ISO films, auto-focus, and digital are the highlights.
Now we are seeing disruption in the publication industry that is affecting the commercial photography business as well. Things are changing. Print magazines are flooded with promotions from thousands of photographers. There is a glut of shooters it seems.
But there are also more ways to find work. From web sites to web magazines, Kindle books to iBooks to eBooks, there are more and more ways to create images for publication. Kickstarter projects, self assigned projects, galleries and print sales.
Disruption can be bad for some, but it always opens doors for others.
Seven years ago there was no such thing as an App Developer. Disruption changed that, and tens of thousands of new jobs opened up where none existed before.
Ten years ago a photographer who wanted to do their own high quality coffee table book had to first find a publisher, then negotiate and get a lawyer and lots of crappola to just get to the point of getting it to print.
Today, a photographer can produce their own coffee table book and offer it for sale on Amazon – reaching millions and millions of people worldwide.
“Local” may not mean what it meant 20 years ago.
- Maybe, but I am not going to offer you the tired old “get off Facebook” stuff you get everywhere, I will simply offer some ideas:
- Self Assignments: Personal work is the key to keeping creative and moving forward. If you do not have a personal project, start one as soon as possible.
- Create a schedule for your work. Follow that schedule. Call it your creativity plan or productivity mantra or whatever. Instead of being distracted by all the silliness all day, find a great time to go on, engage, have fun and then be done with it.
- Find a disruptive agent and make some effort to understand it, what it means for your work and how you can use it to advantage. Instagram is a disruptor… what can you do with it to help your work get known and seen? Or is it not worth the effort for you?
- Analyze the distractions you see around you. Are you sure the camera companies have your best interests at heart? Are you sure the gurus with millions of followers have your best interest at heart. (Some do, some don’t… look carefully and you can tell who does.)
- Stop comparing your work to others. Period. Follow YOUR vision, follow YOUR style, follow YOUR path to image creation.
- Become insulated against the distractions and discontent that is so pervasive on the internet and social media. Remember that most of those discontented, unhappy ‘photographers’ have not been in the trenches, they are simply spouting what they read other people say.
At the end of the day, you are your own advocate, your own critic, your own worst enemy.
And identifying the distractions, discontents, and disruptions around you is important for us all. Once identified, they are easier to leave behind, ignore or actively engage.