Radio Interview Transcripts

MorePhotosRadio - Dona Kopol Bonick of Kopol Bonick Studio


ANNOUNCER:  Welcome to the More Photos’ Radio Photography Spotlight brought to you by helping professional photographers with all their internet needs. Also brought to you by Finally, an e-commerce solution for professional photo labs that makes sense. Now here is your host, Damien Allen. 
DAMIEN: Good afternoon and welcome to More Photos Radio. My name is Damien Allen, and joining me today is Donna Kopol Bonick with the Kopol Bonick Studio in Napa, California. Good afternoon, Donna, welcome to the program.
DONNA: Thank you. Glad to be talking with you today.
DAMIEN: It’s a pleasure to have you with us today. How did you get started in photography, Donna?
DONNA: Well I’ve been in professional photography for close to 20 years. Like many photographers out there I've always loved photography when I was younger, but when I moved to Napa Valley, I had already taken a couple of classes at the University of Illinois, and I moved to Napa Valley in 1989, and I started taking some more classes. While I was in my first class, someone had approached me about possibly doing a shoot of a GM at Round Hill Winery, and I didn’t feel I was experienced enough, and my photography instructor, Ron Zach, at the time was like, “Why not, what have you got to lose? Go for it.” So even though I did not have any professional experience, and I even told the potential clients, she was like, “Great, let’s give it a shot.” So my first professional photos got published in Wine Spectator, and from there I was like, “Wow, this is great.” Immediate reinforcement. So somebody had seen those pictures that I had done for Round Hill Winery, and they asked who did them, because they were different. I didn’t know all the rules of the game of what people like to see and so I did things a little bit differently, and I guess it was refreshing to some people, and the business kept going just word of mouth. I have been pretty much word of mouth for almost 20 years.
DAMIEN: Now you’re located in Napa. That’s pretty much the heart of wine country. Is that the type of photography you are specializing in? Is that type of photography the wine set?
DONNA: Well you know, because it is Napa, I’m not in a major city like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. I consider myself a generalist so I do a little bit of everything. I other words, I love photographing weddings. I love photographing special events. As you can imagine there are some amazing special events here in wine country. I do corporate portraiture. I do editorials, you know, just a little bit of everything. Right now I am in talks with an art broker for some of my fine art work possibly going to a hotel. So I am all across the board and I think it is because I am in a smaller area. Somebody comes to me and asks me just to do portraits or just to do product shots. For instance, tomorrow we are shooting a complete library for one of the wineries from all the portraits to the building shots, interiors, exteriors, vineyards, landscapes, and that’s generally the way it happens around here. Once you form a relationship with the clients, they kind of look to you for all aspects.
DAMIEN: You’ve had some amazing clients from the Kennedy Center to Universal Studio. Why are these big names calling you, Donna?
DONNA: Once again, I think it’s because of the location I am in, and Napa, it’s a little bit more, for a lack of a better word, it’s a comfortable environment here. You become friends with people and your clients. For instance, my first commercial clients, I’m still friends with her 20 years later. Just a more friendly environment. You run into your clients constantly in restaurants or just at events and because of that there is a trust that gets established pretty quickly. It’s not so much a straight business client relationship, a friendship usually develops because of the small town. Even though Napa Valley has an international address, it really is a small town community.
DAMIEN: Now your passion for photography shows in all your images looking at the portfolio on the website. What initially interests you in getting into photography in the first place?
DONNA : I always loved the photography of the older film making photographers, Perell, Irving Penn. I thought it was amazing how a person that was a movie star that we’ve seen on the screen could be transformed to such a glamorous, interesting, mysterious look just by these photographers, and I was always just so intrigued by how it happened. I didn’t know how it happened, obviously, when I first looked at it. It was intriguing to me. Just the drama that was being created with the shadows and the lights and the angles, so I just started picking up books and looking at books relating to the approach. I always wanted to be involved in something that was creative, but I really like being behind the scenes. I never felt the need to be in front of the scenes. I like being behind the scenes, and I like being on the side of the camera that I’m at.
DAMIEN: Do you think that’s what attribute to your success?
DONNA: I think a lot of hard work attributes to the success. I didn’t get into photography really until my 30s professionally, and I realized that because I was starting what I consider a little bit later in life versus somebody who is coming straight from one of the beautiful photography schools that are out there, you know, Santa Barbara or the East Coast, I knew I had to play catch up a little bit. I decided at that point I had to do something photographically related every single day whether it was going to a photo museum, reading books, taking pictures, being in a dark room. I just devoted myself to being involved with photography every single day, and I still have. I think a lot of hard work has worked toward my success as well as compassion for my clients. I've always approached it that I’m on their team, and I’m there to help them and make their lives easier and also to show them that they can have beautiful pictures. I really think approaching a client with empathy and understanding that they don’t always know what they want and trying to help them get the best product they can get has really helped me, and it’s also helped those relationships, because we know in business relationships really is what it is all about.
DAMIEN: As you strive to have that relationship with these clients, doing the large amount and vast amount of event and commercial photography that you do, what is the best piece of advice you can give to that client who is looking to hire a photographer for their shoot?
DONNA: Great question. Obviously, the first thing is you have to look at the pictures and you have to connect with the pictures. Just because somebody has a great reputation, if their style of photography doesn’t ring in your heart that isn’t the right photographer for you. The person really has to meet with the photographer, have a connection with a photographer most importantly. And second is just being able to get along with that person and also get everything in writing. Many times whenever I’ve had people call me up after a failed shoot, they have called me to have me redo a shoot. They said this didn’t happen and that didn’t happen and that didn’t happen, and I ask them, “Was it all put in writing?” And they say, “No, because it was a friend. We discussed it.” Even a friend who could be a friend who is an excellent photographer everything needs to be put in writing and not because somebody is trying to do something sneaky or many times things get lost in translation. And when it’s put down on paper, that’s when you say, “Oh, you know, I don’t think we had that communication clear. Let’s go over it a little bit clearer and get it down in writing.”
DAMIEN: You have a road map for it. It’s a little hard to get away from a shot that was wanted if it was written down?
DONNA: Exactly. For instance, tomorrow I’m going to be shooting all day. I’m creating  library for one of the larger wineries. We are going to start early in the morning and even though this person is a friend of mine, I have socialized with this person quite a bit, she happens to be the GM of the winery, I’m putting everything in writing. It just keeps everything clear, and like you said, “It’s a road map of how the shoot is going to progress from morning till night.” Who is going to be in what location, what I’m going to be providing to them. I just keeps things clear and communication open and so if there is a misunderstanding it happens before the shoot, because it’s so much easier to clear things up before a shoot versus after a shoot has taken place. Nobody wants to have to go back and do a reshoot. And no client wants to have to ask for a reshoot. So the more communication in the beginning, the better.
DAMIEN: Now you do a lot of weddings. Do you have a specific philosophy for how you approach your weddings?
DONNA: Yes, I do absolutely. When I approach a wedding, I think to myself, “This bride and groom have had to put a lot of time, money, energy, and thought into creating this day and first of all it’s an honor to be selected for somebody’s wedding day, because it’s a day they obviously will remember forever. So I feel it is my job to come there with a completely positive attitude knowing it is 100% about them. It has nothing to do with me. I have been hired to create their images for them and it’s my job to create and capture every single thing they have had to think about, invest time, money and energy into, and I want to wow them. Just like they’ve worked so hard on that day, it’s my job to put everything I can into that day for them. I never book anything on a wedding day except their wedding. I want to come there with my full energy and attention and be there for them 100%.
DAMIEN: Now we’ve talked about some of the types of photography that you do. I also notice you do fine art work and it’s absolutely amazing. Do you have upcoming exhibitions for your fine art work, or is that something you do?
DONNA: I do. I just finished a fine art exhibition at Mum Winery which Mum Winery is known for their photography collection and their support of photography. They have a private gallery right on the premises that has a very large collection of Ansell Adams and so they have always been supportive of the photography community. So I just finished a fine art exhibit in October which was a great exhibit, great to be participating in that. Where I was photographing creative people that live in the Napa Valley and once again we are very fortunate to have a large collection of incredibly creative people. I was able to include Eleanor Kopola who we know is a film maker, author; Rainman Zerick who is the keyboardist for the Doors; John Bonick, who is my husband, but also has a show running right now in Andrea Swartz Gallery in San Francisco, and he has just been picked up by a gallery in Los Angeles; Rich Vonsal who is a reclaimed metal and wood artist who is doing incredible work all over the country. So just a large collection of creative people I have got to work with one on one for the photo session for each person, I went in without any studio lighting. I wanted it to be as natural and comfortable for each person as possible so they would feel very open and be able to talk about themselves without feeling like they were in a big dog and pony show.  I wanted to really connect with that person one on one and it really worked beautifully. If there happened to be a lamp, I would use the lamp for lighting. So we did what I call gorilla lighting and the only time that I did bring an assistant with me was when I did photograph Rainman Zerick, because I wasn’t sure what the situation would be or how big his house was or any of the elements so I did want to bring an assistant, because I wanted to be very prepared for him. But everybody else I just went solo.
DAMIEN: With so many types of photography and so many projects available, are there types of packages that you offer for your clients?
DONNA: The only type of packages that I offer are for wedding clients, because it’s a traditional approach to wedding photography. For my wedding clients I do offer ala cart. The world of wedding photography is changing very rapidly from what it was many years ago. Most people want CDs. Most of my clients are very digitally savvy anymore. In the past many photographers would never relinquish negatives. Now it’s almost a given that the client wants a CD. So we do offer ala cart services where we will just come in, shoot the event. I always do an edit. It’s very important that people see themselves in their best light and I will not give away unedited CDs. Whether I’m giving them images or just the CD, I want them to be wowed and have a very positive experience, but we also do offer packages for weddings with an album included along with the CD, second photographer, engagement shoots, from a smaller package to a larger package. For some people it really works well, because they do want to just come in and say, “I want the photographer. I want everything taken care of. I want an album. I want a CD.” And they don’t want to have to go through the separate items, and I do reduce the cost of the package when they do get all the items. If it was to be itemized individually, the price would be higher as an incentive for them to go with the package.
DAMIEN: What type of equipment do you shoot with, Donna? Are you using film at all? Do you shoot digital? What kind of set up do you use?
DONNA: I’m 100% digital now. I used to be film. Like many photographers Mamia 645 and I shot Nikon, but when I transitioned over…I transitioned slowly to digital and 2004 was when I started shooting digitally and then I transitioned completely in 2005. When I transitioned to digital, I switched to Canon. I felt at the time that Canon was a little bit more ahead technologically than Nikon was. I think now it’s probably an even situation, but then Canon seemed to be really be heads above and I really love the quality of what Canon was producing. So right now we are shooting the Canon 5D Mark II and we shoot with basically 3 lenses. I’ve got the 35 1.4 aperture which is beautiful for close-ups and also for some portraiture it works really beautifully for individual portraits. I’ve got the 24 – 105 Canon which is fabulous and then also a telephoto for close ups. I try to go in when I’m photographing events and when I’m photographing weddings. I really like to blend in with the crowd. I feel I get much more natural images versus when you point cameras at people sometimes you’ll get what I call “Camera Face” when people just have that plastered on smile and I’m always going for more natural looks. Just as the evening is flowing, I want the pictures to flow as well.
DAMIEN: Either the plastered smile or the deer in the head lights look.
DONNA: Exactly. That’s what I call camera face. I try to catch them on the down beat when they are not aware of that.
DAMIEN: What’s gong to be new for Kopol Bonick Studio in 2011?
DONNA: Well we have a few things coming up that we are really excited about. We are going to start doing workshops and I have a couple of them lined up with the wineries. We’re going to be doing workshops with the wine clubs. I’m really looking forward to that. Also corporate is coming back. We had a lull in corporate the last few years, and I’m seeing that corporate is coming back. We’re going to be offering some new products which we are in the process of developing that right now, so I can’t really speak about it, but we’re looking forward to that. And of course always upgrading and updating the website. Working a lot with Facebook. Facebook in many ways seems to even have replaced email. It’s fascinating to me how it just keeps going.
DAMIEN: I think it’s become one of the greatest business tools on the face of the earth.
DONNA: Hasn’t it? It’s amazing. It’s fabulous. We love Facebook. We’re on it frequently. We’re posting pictures on it frequently. It’s so much more user friendly than websites which we know tend to be a little bit more stagnant. With Facebook, you could be posting pictures by the minute so people can really keep up with what you’re creating in the studio. It really has changed the way that we present our images to the world.
DAMIEN: Well if someone wants more information on Kopol Bonick Studio, where do they go? How do they get ahold of you?
DONNA: They can go to the website, We have a contact page of course. They can go to Facebook, Kopol Bonick Studio in Napa, they can contact us through Facebook or a phone call right to the studio. (707) 253-0575. I always want to make it easy for people to reach us.
DAMIEN: Well lots of great stuff. Thank you very much for joining us today, Donna.
DONNA: Thank you so much, Damien. It was really a pleasure talking with you.
DAMIEN: We have been speaking with Donna Kopol Bonick of the Kopol Bonick Studio in Napa, California. You have been listening to More Photos Radio. My name is Damien Allen.   Everybody have a great afternoon.
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