Photographer of the Month Interview: Michael Bonocore | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, August 2013:   Michael Bonocore

This month, our featured guest photographer is the esteemed Michael Bonocore of SmugMug fame! We greatly appreciate that he took the time to answer our questions and give us this interview! Please visit his links to see his incredible work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: Your bio reads that you were initially drawn into photography by the HDR side of it. Now that you've logged in many hours behind the lens, do you still feel the same about HDR methods, or have you altered your approaches with experience?

I did indeed get into photography after I found an old HDR photo from Trey Ratcliff on Flickr. I still remember the date. January 11, 2007. My first HDR photo was taken that night using a Canon Powershot SD600. My first HDR subject? A bobble head of ex Giants Shortstop, Omar Vizquel. And it was horrible. Once I got my first DSLR and improved my HDR skill set, they were still horrible, but improving. Eventually I started getting some good stuff. I don't really do HDR in the traditional, tone mapping sense anymore. I create 32 Bit TIFF files using Photomatix, and edit that file, which contains a lot more light information than one single RAW.

:: You shoot all kinds of different genres; is there one in particular that draws you in the most? Is there one that you’re not the fondest of?

I absolutely love traveling the world with The Giving Lens, working as the in-house photographer and occasional workshop leader. These trips have introduced me to street and humanitarian photography. I love documenting the daily lives of a culture that is not one that I am accustomed to.

As for genre I am not fond of? Weddings. I have shot a lot of weddings for a lot of wonderful couples, but they are stressful and REALLY hard work. I am now semi-retired from the wedding photography business.

:: You mention on your website that you did a lot of real estate photography. Do you still do a lot of this type of work? What challenges you with photographing real estate?

When I started working at SmugMug in December 2012, I lost most of my weekday free time, which is when most real estate agents need to have photos of their listings taken, so I don't really shoot homes anymore. The biggest challenge? Messy, cluttered houses! You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still going to be a pig. I am not a magician!

:: When I look through your portfolio, what I’m drawn to most are your shots of people. I think you’ve got a really great way of connecting to them. What about people photography do you enjoy most, and what challenges do you find connecting with people from foreign countries to get them to open up and be natural with you shooting them?

I love the emotion you can capture in faces around the world. Whether they are posing for the portrait or if it is a candid shot, the subject always tells a story with their face and body languge. I love that I captured a moment in that person's life that will NEVER happen again, and the viewer of the photo is left to wonder what is happening in that person’s head and life.

:: You do a lot of work with The Giving Lens. Would you tell us about this program, what it is, how you got involved with it, and lastly, why it means so much to you?

The Giving Lens was founded by my good friend Colby Brown, and the daily operations are run by Kate Siobhan Havercroft. We aim to bring the three things we love most together for a greater good: our love of travel, our passion for photography, and our deep desire to give back to those in need. We partner with a non profit in each country during our photography workshops and work closely with them over the course of the trip. We have donated cameras and taught photography to children in Nicaragua, Peru, Cambodia, and Tanzania. We have documented the lives of the women in the Iraq al Amir Women’s Co-Operative in Amman Jordan. The participants love the “Giving Back” aspect of the trips, as well as the endless adventures! We have a very high satisfaction rate. In fact, more than one third of the 19 participants currently in Tanzania are returning participants.

:: You work for SmugMug as well. Can you tell people what this company offers photographers? What your role is there and how it has helped shape your photography?

SmugMug, at its core, is a photo sharing website. We allow you to upload your full resolution photos, easily sort them into public and private galleries, and sell them to your customers through four print labs in the United States and Europe. A recent overhaul to our site now allows anyone to create a stunning photo website within minutes using an easy drag and drop interface. Using these tools, it’s easy to make a complete website in no time.

I am the Community Manager, which means I am responsible for managing our presence on the photography forums, running our Google+ Page, attending tradeshows, and leading photowalks all around the world! Meeting such amazing photographers and people from this job has opened my eyes to the different types of photographers we cater to.

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photographic equipment?

My Passport. Without it, I wouldn’t have experienced this incredible world.

:: What do you find is currently the most challenging aspect of photography for you?

Organizing. I am a terrible organizer. I have no problem getting out and taking photos, but If you asked me right now to find my photos from December 2012, I would have no clue where to start. Which external hard drive? Which LR catalog? Is that hard drive even operational? I have a thing with breaking hard drives, before I backed them up. I have thousands of travel images, that I know are great, just sitting, unedited, somewhere around my home office. Quite depressing now that I think about it!

:: You’ve been to a lot of really amazing locations, which has been your favorite and why? Which locations are topping your bucket list?

Oh, wow. Really REALLY hard to say. Every location has such different and unique qualities that are perfect for all different types of photography. Iceland is a landscape photographer’s paradise. Cambodia is filled with beautiful temples that look incredible in early morning light. Nicaragua streets are filled with colorful doors and buildings and bustling life. Peru has beautiful mountains and country side.

:: During your many travels for photography, what has been the scariest thing that has occurred?

In the tail end of my trip to Jordan, our tour guide offered to take me out far away from Amman to this amazing old castle. The scenery was beautiful. While walking around on the roof of the castle we heard very loud explosions coming from the distance. Hesitant, my guide told me that we were by the Syrian border and those were mortars exploding. I was amazed at how such a peaceful, friendly country could border such a terrible war zone. It was definitely juxtaposition.

:: When you were learning, what was the best piece of advice given to you by other photographers?

Thomas Hawk - "Who cares if others like your work. It only matters if YOU like your work."

:: When you’re working with children for the Giving Lens, how do you teach them photography, and what kind of advice do you give these kids?

Teaching photography to students who don’t speak the same language as you is hard. Even with translators, it is remarkably hard. There is a certain tone that is conveyed when teaching that helps get lessons across in a simple way. That is completley lost when you don’t speak the same language. Time is key. The more time you spend with the children, the more you bond, and the more you start to understand each other's mannerisms, which helps with making the teacher/student relationship succesful.

:: You wear a lot of hats with photography, how do you plan and organize yourself to stay on top of things?

See Question 8 :) This was definitely my biggest struggle when i was a full time photographer. I tried to be everywhere, to do everything. The same is true with my job at SmugMug. I am always quick to offer up assistance, even though my plate is full. The key is to be realistic about how much you can do. Can you really shoot four weddings in one weekend? Sure. Is it good for your bank account? You betcha! Is it good for the poor bride and groom for the fourth and last wedding of the weekend? Nope. They get the tired, overworked photographer, and their photo quality may suffer because of it.

:: How has social media played a part in your photography, as well as the medium in general? Where do you see it progressing in the future?

Social media helped me get some exposure with my photography that, of course, I never would have had otherwise. While it led to many commercial and wedding photography opportunities, the best thing to ever happen to me (thanks to social media) was when I got hired to my dream job at SmugMug. My now boss, Katherine Cheng, had found me on Facebook and identified me as a SmugMug customer and invited me in for lunch. Well, apparently the lunch went well, as they invited me back for a job interview. During the interview, they offered me a job on the spot. That scenario, that changed my life forever, and would have never happened without Social Media.

:: You’re a Bay area sports fan, so here’s a tough choice question. You have the opportunity to see the Giants or 49ers win the championship, or photograph the place of your dreams with perfect conditions...which do you choose?

Funny, did you already know my 2010 World Series story? You must have, just to rub salt in the wound. Well, let me tell you about it. I am a die hard Giants fan. Season tickets since 2002, 60 games a year. Well, 2010 came around and it was announced that the San Francisco 49ers would be playing the Denver Broncos in London on Halloween. At the point in time when we booked the tickets to Europe, the Giants were 7.5 games out in July. Out of it right? Apparently not. We planned a 3 week jaunt across Europe (you know, since we were already there). Well, to make a long story short, I watched the Giants close out the Rangers in game 5 from a hotel room in Killarney, Ireland. I didn’t sleep or eat for the next three days.

So my choice? Most likely sports. The location isn’t going anywhere. Although, I was in Cambodia when the Giants won the NLCS in 2012...but perfect planning. I was home by Game 1 of the World Series.

:: Do you have any current projects you’re excited about that you’d like to discuss?

I will be leading The Giving Lens India workshop in November. India has long been on my bucket list, and I look forward to immersing myself in that culture.

:: What goals do you have set for yourself over the next couple of years?

To be honest, none. My life is pretty damn amazing. I have the two best jobs in the world -- full time at SmugMug, with a little The Giving Lens on the side. So I guess, my goal is to not lose either of those.

:: Last question, what’s up with that pose you’ve created? “The Bonocore.” I think it’s hilarious, and it seems to have taken on a life of its even sell undies with it on them. First, has anyone purchased any of these Bonocore undies? Secondly, I assume it started out as a funny thing to do, but it seems to actually have gotten legs and become somewhat marketable. While it’s not quite the Jordan Jumpman, is it something you’re seriously trying to market?

Ha! The funny thing is, I did NOT start that store. My coworkers at SmugMug, Ivan Makarov and Kevin Harrington, started that as an April Fools Day joke. I said, anything I sell I will gladly donate to charity. But sadly, I have not sold anything.

It started in May 2012, when Vincent McMillen took a test photo of me, where I did the pose. It came out cool, so I used it as my Facebook and Google+ Profile photo. Then I just randomly started doing it during photowalks, etc. It quickly morphed into its own entity, and it was really cool seeing people all around the world doing it and showing me on Google+. While I don’t do it much anymore, I may have to stop by Aperture Academy and break #TheBonocore out of retirement.

Michael Bonocore

"My life is pretty damn amazing. I have the two best jobs in the world -- full time at SmugMug, with a little The Giving Lens on the side."

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