Photography / Features

Back to My Roots of Photographic Independence

As the rain finally returns to Northern California and the year’s end is staring us down, I can’t help but reflect on a year that was not only my most challenging, but also one of the most exciting. After receiving a steady paycheck for almost two years, 2014 turned out to be the year in which I would go back to my roots in this industry: independent. My dreams of traveling and making a living while doing it were just too strong to ignore. The transition has been challenging and scary, but also, equally as inspiring and exciting.

One of my independent jobs is leading workshops for a company called The Giving Lens. We take photography students all around the world, not only teaching them photography, but also introducing them to the incredibly rewarding feeling of giving back to a community on the other side of the world. Whether it be teaching photography to impoverished school students, or documenting the lives and work of women’s organizations in the Middle East, nothing fuels my passion for life, travel, and photography quite like these incredible experiences. To meet the people who keep the heart of the community beating is something I had never experienced before I picked up a camera. Every portrait that I take, every moment that I capture on these journeys, has meaning. Every face tells a story, and I hope that those stories interest people as much as they interest me.

Michael Bonocore's Gear:

Sony A7r

Sony A7ii

Sony A7s

Panosonic GH4

Freefly Movi M5

DJI Phantom 2

GoPro 4

Not only will I continue my work with The Giving Lens in 2015, but I plan on expanding my role with documenting the work of NGOs even deeper. Part of this documentation has been learning how to shoot and edit motion pictures, in order to tell an organization’s story, as well as convey the emotion that I feel when I work with the incredible people who run them.

Little did I realize how much of a polar opposite video is to photography. It is an entirely different mindset, one in which you have to force yourself to think one step ahead. Being proactive is much more necessary in the motion picture world, at least compared to the type of photography I usually do. My mind has been trained to react to the scenes unfolding in front of me, and reactively capture the scene through my viewfinder. Trying to teach this old dog a new trick has not been easy, but the excitement of conveying emotion through moving stories is what I am most looking forward to in 2015.

The fear of failure is strong. This drives me to try harder, learn more, and take more risks. I think the lack of fear breeds contempt. None of us wants to fail, but none of us wants to hit a creative wall, either. Being creative means taking risks. Risks create opportunities. And those opportunities create not only visually pleasing content, but a strong sense of accomplishment and pride. And that accomplishment and pride inspire you to take more risks. And so, the cycle continues.

I hope you will join me in 2015, overcoming fear by taking on new challenges and feeling the pride that comes of it.

Two elephants wait for dinner as the sun sets at an elephant sanctuary, Elephant Nature Park, in Northern Thailand.

Children beg for money at a temple in Cambodia. Often children who should be furthering their education spend the school days either begging or selling trinkets to tourists in locations such as Siem Reap, Cambodia. We work with organizations around the world whose goal is to help break the cycle of poverty.

A street merchant poses for a portrait in Salt, Jordan. Before I began taking travel portraits, I never would have had the courage to talk to people on the streets, but my camera is my vehicle to opening a conversation. Soon, you find yourself more enthralled with their story, you almost forget to follow through on your request to take a photo.


Meeting the future generations of a country’s future is an amazing experience. While this child now lives in a barrio, in Granada, Nicaragua, what will his future hold? You may be looking at a future President. The unknown is captivating.

Petra, in Jordan, is one of those places that can’t be described in words, or photos.

Travel and photography have shown me scenes I never would have known existed, like this floating village, in Tonle Sap, Cambodia.

Few people inspire me as much as Lek Challert, the brave woman who founded Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. Her mission to end elephant tourism in Asia has garnered her many enemies, but Lek never backs down from her values, and will not rest until every mistreated elephant is given the life it deserves.

Michael Bonocore is a photographer, filmmaker, educator, and writer, based in San Francisco, California. Bonocore thrives on working with NGOs around the world, creating photo and video content to help them tell their stories and bring awareness to their causes. When not working with NGOs, Bonocore lends his knowledge and experience by leading photography workshops in countries across the world. He is also a writer for Fstoppers and Matador Networks, as well as an educator for Matador University, an online travel journalism school. You can follow him on Instagram.

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I saw the coverage on you through the bhphoto video link that came in mhy email.  I am curious about your slection of the three Sony cameras, all in the 7 series.  Why all three and wy from the Sony series?  BTW, I shoot a Sony a6000 and a newly acquired Nikon D750.

Many thanks for taking the time to reply.

Bill Piekney

As a user of the a7, Iwould be particularly interested in the lenses used.

The work is beautiful. I had never heard of the Giving Lens. I can't wait to check it out.