... are the words of photographer Justin Bonaparte, who is the photographer of our cover photo this month. He is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. We had the pleasure to get an interview with him and can show you some more of his impressive pictures.
I'm a software engineer originally from Detroit, MI, but I've been living in Charlotte, NC for the past 17 years with my wife and four children. I'm 42 years old. Besides photography, my other passion is basketball.
Have you been involved in the arts in some form other than photography?
No, photography has been my focus for a number of years.
Seeing your remarkable work, I am curious where your creativity comes from?
I love seeing beauty throughout the world. I'm a very visual person, and I like to share things that I think are beautiful with other people, and also I like to see beauty that others have created.
Could you share with us how you first became interested in photography?
Like many others, I started with photographing friends and family in casual settings. I decided that I really liked making images of people, and when I had free time, began to do a lot of street photography and street portraits. As I continued to make images, I gravitated towards portraiture, and it's been my focus for the past seven years.
What equipment are you using now and with what did you get started? what is your favorite lens?
I started out with Olympus DSLRs, the E-500 and E-330. I had used film beforehand, but was never attracted to it in the way that I was when digital arrived. I moved onto the mirrorless platform in 2013 with the Olympus E-M5 and subsequently the E-M5 mkII. As I'm a location shooter, the size and weight of my kit is important, since I often find myself clamboring up and down hills, over rocks and through brush. I don't have any assistants to carry gear, and so the m4/3 platform works really well for me with it's lightweight cameras and lenses. I shoot fast primes for portraiture, including the Nocticron 42.5/1.2 and Oly 75/1.8. I have a few manual legacy lenses for fun and variation, including a Nikon 135/2, Rokinon 85/1.4 and Olympus 100/2.
Can you tell us about your work flow from the point you first step onto the street until you showcase the developed picture?
My sessions usually last 2-3 hours on location. I like to incorporate some natural light and some off camera flash shots. I love to use the background and environment to lend a sense of time/place/season/weather to the images to add interest. I like to get in 2-3 looks on a shoot, so I usually have the models bring lots of options and we make wardrobe decisions on site. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual, with me directing posing and placement, unless the model is more experienced and has their own ideasl/movements. Once the shoot is done, I import the images to the desktop. I shoot RAW and develop using Olympus Viewer, I really like the skin tones and colors the Oly software produces. From there, it's into Photoshop for cropping, color/contrast and touchup. For fun, I sometimes use Nik software to add effects or layers to images. Once the image is to my liking, I have a few actions that run to resize, add IPTC info and a border to the image. People seem to either love or hate the borders, lol. I've removed the borders at various times, but I keep coming back to it, it really doesn't even feel like my image unless it's there!
Do you see a particular influence, be it a photographer or school on your work? Any subject that attracts you?
I think I'm very much influenced by my earlier work in street photography, and that carries over into my portraiture. My street photography was very much people-focused, and I find that I like scenes with people in them much more so than say, empty architecture studies. So generally my images have a prominent background or sense of location to put the viewer into the image. My subjects are usually women, 18-35 years old, although I do enjoy shooting men as well. I've actually found it rather difficult to find male models with the particular look you're going for in a city as small as Charlotte, so I don't shoot them as often.
What would you say characterizes your work in comparison to other photographers?
Probably 75-80% of my portraiture is full length. I love to position and pose the entire body, and I'm not entirely comfortable with anything less. On rare occasion I will shot 1/2 body or 3/4 length if I think the image works. Most people think my work is very fashion oriented, as I do like to incorporate some challenging poses into the session. I'm a fan of poses that lengthen and flatter the body, and I usually shoot from lower positions to give the model the 'hero' perspective. I also do some headshot portraiture, and it's a passion of mine, but I still think I have much to learn about that particular subject.
Among your works, which is your favorite and why?
Oh wow, you may as well ask who's my favorite child! OK, if I have to choose one, I have an image of Breona in my modelmayhem portfolio, where she is wrapped in a purple fabric that is being blown by the wind. It's one of my favorites because it was one of the first images that was moderately complex and came out as beautifully as I imagined. It was a cool, rainy day, and Breona withstood the elements like a champ. I was still getting used to off camera flash, and I had a friend that day hold the fabric out of frame and fling it. The wind, the rain, the flash and the beautiful model worked together perfectly, and the image helped me realize that I could get great results with a little hard work. I may never remove it from the portfolio, even though it's now seven years old! grin emoticon
Tell us your funniest or most awkward photography story.
Haha, well, my first time shooting on a beach, I had gone close to the water, while the model was further back on the beach, as the sun was coming in over the water. I was snapping away happily and then saw the models face change to a look of shock in the viewfinder. In the next instant a rogue wave crashed into me and almost soaked about $3000 in gear! I was drenched, but happily, the only damage was to my ego, the equipment escaped unscathed!
What would you tell a newcomer who asks for your advice on how to start?
My advice would be to shoot, shoot, then shoot some more! It's the best way to become familiar with your gear, learn composition and framing, and most of all, it's fun!