In this installment of the photographer interview series we’re talking with celebrity photographer Gina Milicia
Gina has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. She has photographed some of the world’s most high-profile people including royalty, billionaires and A-list celebrities. You might notice names such as Daniel Radcliffe, Justin Bieber, Jon Bon Jovi, Ricky Martin, Princess Mary, Liza Minnelli or the Dalai Lama for instance.
When not traveling the world, Gina also runs photography workshops and private mentoring sessions.
get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot. There is no magic formula, just hard work. The more you shoot,
the better you become.
- Who or what was your biggest influence in photography and why?
- I’ve had three great mentors in my photography career thus far. Firstly, a photographer by the name of Andy Tavares, who gave me my first break in the industry.
I didn’t set out to become a photographer. I was going to be an Art teacher and studying photography was part of my Bachelor of Education.
Most of the classes were pure torture. It was like the lecturer was speaking another language, a language I clearly didn’t understand. Shutter speeds, ISO and F-stops. What the hell did any of this have to do with photography and when do we start taking photos?
While the other students submitted photos that looked like they were shot by Leibowitz or Cartier-Bresson, mine were mostly … unremarkable.
Then everything changed.
In the final year I was sent to be an intern with a fashion/celebrity photographer. It was in the late 80’s and one of my first jobs was assisting on a shoot for a young Kylie Minogue, who was already a huge star in the UK.
It turns out I am a terrible photographer’s assistant. Completely incompetent. When the photographer went on location he would leave me at the studio while he hired “a real assistant” to help him on shoots.
To fill my time I did what any daughter of Sicilian parents was taught to do. I cleaned. I vacuumed; I scrubbed and bleached the toilet. I polished mirrors, washed dishes all in an effort to keep from going stir crazy.
The most surprising thing happened.
On the last day of my internship Andy took me aside and commended me for all the work I had been doing, without being asked. He was impressed by my hard work, loved the fact that I was such a competent printer (one thing I did learn at university) and offered me a full time job!
Over the next 12months I watched hundreds of shoots. My assisting skills never improved but I did learn how to shoot and how to direct. Andy was an absolute master at posing and directing people.
His greatest skill was his ability to make people feel and look amazing. Many of the techniques that Andy used to make his models comfortable and relaxed are the same techniques I use today.
I am forever grateful to Andy for giving me that break and reinforces one of my favorite life quotes
Work hard! In the end, passion and hard work beats out natural talent.
The second great mentor was a photographer named Rodney Manning. I met Rodney during a short stint working in a black and white printing lab. Rodney was a wise cracking legend of the printing industry. He knew everything there was to know about printing in the darkroom and soon became my mentor.
Each week Rodney would set me new assignments to complete and was a master at critiquing my work in a manner that made me eager to keep improving and the more I realised I had a long way to go before I could see what Rodney saw in an image.
When I first start taking pictures I was so hung up about getting them correctly exposed and sharp that I just could not see the subtleties of tone, contrast, shadow detail and highlight quality. With time, experience and Rodney’s help, I trained my eye to really see what was possible.
I ended up leaving the lab after 6 months but managed to learn many valuable photography lessons that I still apply today.
- What’s your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
- My biggest and most memorable failure was the day I broke someone’s wedding.
The wedding was ten years BD (before digital) and very early in my career. I was so inexperienced that I didn’t realize the flash tube on my external flash was only emitting about 1/4 of its power and, as a result, I underexposed all the images by 3-4 stops. They could not be salvaged. I only managed to get one useable frame.
At the time, I just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there but this nightmare scenario defined the style of fill flash lighting I still use.
I also developed a pre-shoot protocol that ensured I would never have this kind of disaster again. I always test all my equipment before a shoot and check and recheck exposure as I’m shooting.
- What is your biggest success or thing you’re most proud of?
- I define “success” by what has given me the most joy in my photography and that would have to be my lifestyle travel images. I feel most alive when I’m standing behind my camera photographing the sunrise over a city I’ve never been to before. This is, and always will be my absolute happy place.
I’m also really proud of the relationships I’ve developed and the photographers I’ve mentored over the years. It’s this part of my photography that has been by far the most fulfilling.
The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.
David S. Viscott
- What’s your one “can’t live without it” piece of gear?
- My “can’t live without it” piece of gear is my Canon 70-200mm lens. It’s my workhorse and I use it for 70-80% of my work. We’ve done so many shoots together that this lens feels like an extension of my right arm.
- Your favourite image you’ve ever taken and why?
- This is like asking me which of my children is my favorite. It’s such a difficult question to answer… I’m emotionally attached to several because of where they were taken or the degree of difficulty in achieving the shot or nature of the subject but if I had to pick just one it would be “The Card Players” I love this image because of the degree of difficulty involved in shooting it.
This image was taken as publicity still for the Nine Network Australia television series “Fat Tony and Co.”
On the day of the shoot I had 4 different photography sets lit and a cast of about 30 individual actors and 3 different cast shots to get. I was not able to get any of the cast as a group and shot each member individually as well as shooting on the other 3 sets. It was the most high-pressure shoot I’ve done to date and there were so many elements and variables to remember in order to pull the entire shoot off.
There were many hours spent prelighting the set and working out props and poses for each actor and I put many long hours into the postproduction to achieve a gritty, gangster, grunge feel.
- Your favourite image from another photographer and why?
- It’s very hard to just pick one image! There are so many photographers whose work I love and who inspire me, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Annie Leibovitz ,Herb Ritts, Robert Mapplethorpe and many more but if I had to narrow it down to just one image it would be Robert Doisneau the kiss.
I love this iconic image because of its voyeuristic nature; it is set in Paris, and always reminds me of my favorite sculpture by the same name by Rodin.
- What one thing can then viewers do right now to improve their photography?
- I believe the best thing any photographer can do right now to improve their photography is to get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot. There is no magic formula, just hard work. The more you shoot, the better you become.
If you want to become a great portrait photographer then you must take lots of portraits. Start out with friends and family, and photograph them every day. Try and work in as many different lighting conditions as possible; indoor, outdoors, full sun, backlit, rain, dusk and dawn.
You will be amazed how quickly your photography will improve in as little as 30 days
- If you could do it all over again would do anything differently? Photographically or life wise?
- I’m sure there are many things I could have done to avoid making all the mistakes I’ve made in my life so far. I also realize that it’s all the mistakes, failures and disappointments in my life that have taught me all the valuable lessons I needed to learn, which in turn have lead me to this moment, and I love where I am right now.
Photographer Interview Series
See what makes professional photographers tick, learn about their favorite images and their greatest failures as well as their greatest successes. Check out others in this series below:
- Nature and landscape photographer Jay Patel
- Wildlife photographer Martin Bailey
- Photography educator Andrew S Gibson
- Food photographer Nicole Young
- Scott Wyden Kivowitz
- Photographer and Digital Artist Renee Robyn
- Snowflake photographer Don Komarechka
- Outdoor Photographer Sean Bagshaw
- Celebrity photography Gina Milicia