Alicia Dickerson as interviewed by Page Orb
Alicia Dickerson graduated from Summer Intensive in 2005. I first met Alicia when she asked if she could take photographs of me and my dog for her Basic Photography class assignment. The assignment was to take a series of photographs and present them in a slideshow. Alicia's project theme was women and their dogs. I didn't know when I agreed to help her that she would end up standing on my bed taking photographs of my dog and me while we cuddled. Usually students in the first couple of weeks of SI are timid about photographing people let alone asking to stand on their bed. I had to admire Alicia's creativity and willingness to try anything. I found out later that not only is she creative but she is persistent, finding and photographing many women and their dogs around Missoula. A couple of weeks ago I heard through the RMSP grapevine that Alicia had opened her own studio in Portland and was doing well. When I contacted her, she was more than willing, when asked, if I could interview her about her life during SI and her career as a photographer since then.
What was your favorite part about Summer Intensive? SI 2005 was the best summer of my life for many reasons. If I have to pick one favorite thing though, it would be the people. In the beginning there was this amazing feeling of kinship among strangers. We had all taken a big leap of faith to pursue our dreams. As the summer progressed I developed a group of amazing friends from around the country. We encouraged and inspired each other throughout the summer. And everyone actually enjoyed the endless conversations about F-stops, shutter speeds and quality of light.
What was it like integrating back into your normal life after Summer Intensive? I had a hard time going back to my old job and life. I had experienced so much during the summer that it felt surreal to be back home where relatively nothing had changed. I knew that another big change in my life would have to come soon. SI had changed me and I needed to keep growing with my dreams and photography.
What was your first photography job after Summer Intensive? How did it go? When I went back to my old job at an environmental education non-profit organization, they were updating and republishing one of their very popular books called, "The Growing Classroom." It is a curriculum guide for educators who teach in school gardens. I pushed and pushed to be the one to take all the photos. It worked and I finally was out on photo shoots at a dozen school gardens making money with my camera! I made lists of photos, set up photo shoots, and got hundreds of students photo-released. The book just came out this February and is being promoted both locally by the organization I worked for and nationally by The National Gardening Association.
Did you/do you keep in touch with other students from Summer Intensive?Most definitely. A handful of the people I met continue to be my photography support system and personal best friends. I invited about 8 people over last year for my birthday...and they came! Last year, two of us went to New York for the Photo Plus Expo.
Are you currently working on any personal projects? If so, please explain the project.I am working on a self-assigned book with the working title of "A Life Fully Lived." My book is about people and their rescue dogs who are living full lives together. The photos are of various people with their dogs. The pictures are accompanied by their stories. Hopefully, the book will positively inspire more people to rescue animals in need, instead of buying them from breeders. The inspiration for the book started when I rescued my dog from a dismal pound. She was 6-months old and only had 2 days left to live if unadopted. She passed away a couple months ago, but lived an amazingly full life of 17 years. This dog stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, spent a summer with me in Montana (SI!), drove with me cross country through 16 states, and went backpacking every summer. I have often had the thought during the past 17 years, "what if my dog had been put to sleep and all of her joy, love and enthusiasm was never expressed?"
Have you had any jobs/projects that you are particularly excited about? Please explain. I quit my full-time job last May and moved from California to Portland, Oregon. On my second day here I landed a job with a busy wedding photography studio. They filled up most of my Saturdays during my first summer as a "Pro Photographer." I love being outdoors and was given mostly beautiful outdoor weddings to photograph.
In relation to photography, where do you see yourself in five years?I am learning that photography is a very big field. I just keep moving forward and have no idea where it will take me.
To see more of Alicia's work please visit www.aliciadickerson.com
Expanding Your Photography - Stage PhotographyGoing outside of our comfort zone makes us and our work stronger and helps us learn a lot in the process. Neil Chaput de Saintonge suggests stage photography to anyone who is looking for a challenge. Elements to be aware of and prepared for are changing lighting scenarios, lots of movement and the decisive moments in the performance that make the biggest impact. It is a little bit of portraiture meets action/sports photography, meets photojournalism. It’s a great way to gain experience in multiple disciplines and learn how to work with the camera under pressure. With all of his experience, Neil has a lot of advice for people who are interested in testing the waters.
Before heading out to a performance there are a couple of things Neil always makes sure are in his camera bag. Most importantly, he brings a fast lens. The lighting in many concert halls and theaters is dim so it is much more important to have a fast lens that allows more light in, than it is to have a large depth of field. Ideally, the lens to use will have an f1.4-2.8 aperture. The length of the lens is also important. If shooting from a few rows back Neil would bring an 85mm or 90mm lens. He recommends a 50mm fixed lens especially for digital camera users. 50mm lenses are quite often inexpensive, fast lenses. When used on many digital cameras the image is cropped and the lens appears to be 50-60% longer than it is. This is due to the smaller sensors that are in many digital cameras. So, a 50mm lens essentially, becomes a 75mm or 80mm lens. Other great lenses to consider are fixed telephoto lenses, or short telephoto macro lenses such as 90mm, 100mm or 105mm. They are usually f2.8 lenses and are great for stage work.
If funds are limited and you don’t have any fast lenses you’re not out of luck. In this scenario, Neil bumps up the ISO on his camera to as fast as 1600. Keep in mind that when a higher ISO is used on a digital camera there will be quite a bit more noise but the element of graininess may add a little drama to the image’s composition. Another item that Neil never leaves at home is a lens hood. A lens hood helps to cut down on extraneous light that may affect the quality of your images.
The next step is determining when to photograph. Neil’s found that the optimal time to photograph a dance or theater performance is during a dress rehearsal. The performers are in costume and the lights are exactly as they would be during a show. The other benefit to the dress rehearsal is that there is no audience, so he is free to move around and capture the action from different angles. If Neil is limited to photographing during an actual performance, he is as respectful as possible to the audience members. He usually arrives early to make sure that he effectively positions himself to capture the best possible images of the performance. The ability to move around the audience is also dependent on the type of performance being photographed. In a rock show there is more freedom to move around without being disruptive to the audience. During an opera, however, Neil has found it’s better to find a good spot with an excellent vantage point and stay put.
The only thing left to do is go out and find a performance to photograph. This may be the easiest part of stage photography of all. Directors and choreographers usually love having Neil come to document their work. Musicians, comedians and other performers who may not have adress rehearsal prior to the live event will obviously ask that the photographs be taken during the performance but are usually more than willing to have photographers there. Before Neil goes to any performance he calls ahead of time to check with the venue just to make sure that its okay. Neil suggests that you offer copies of some of the photographs from the event in return for the opportunity to photograph. It’s a great way to get your work out there and in the end if they like your work you may be hired to photograph other events in the future. Now relax, enjoy the show and have fun experimenting.
We asked a few of our students what piece of equipment they couldn’t live without and here are some of their responses.
"I love the Canon 5D with its full-frame sensor, 12.8 megapixels, and the big LCD monitor on back. I feel confident with this camera, knowing the image size is huge and being able to clearly see the LCD. I just had a photo printed from this camera to 24"x30". It looks great!"
"My 70-200 f2.8L IS Canon lens. Razor sharp and I like the telephoto compression in portraits."
"I just bought a Nikon 17-55mm 2.8 that I'm having fun with."
"I’m loving my Canon 30D. I probably use it half of the time, and I especially love it for low-light situations. For the other half of my work I still use my good ‘ole EOS 3 (that I bought for SI) to shoot film. It’s what I used on my travels in Spain and Morocco last fall."
"My 15mm. sigma fish eye lens. It lets me get in close to the action when shooting sports and the big backgrounds add a dramatic effect."
"I would have to say my new MacBook Pro laptop."
Most of our workshops are full for 2007! Here are some of the workshops that still have spaces available:
Capture, Process, Print for Beginning Photographers May 6-11, 2007
Capture, Process, Print for Experienced Photographers May 6-11, 2007
Photoshop Level III: Fine PrintingMay 13-18, 2007
The Sacred Southwest: Monument Valley and Mesa VerdeMay 19-25, 2007
Photoshop Level II: The Next Step--Color Correction and Advanced Image Editing June 10-15, 2007
Character of MontanaJune 22-28, 2007
Light Studies: The Light and Atmosphere of PlaceJuly 7-13, 2007
Colorado’s Grand Landscape: Mountains and WildflowersJuly 14-20, 2007
Photography and the Creative LifeAugust 25-31, 2007
Photoshop Level I: Photoshop for PhotographersAugust 26-31, 2007November 4-9, 2007
Coast of Maine and Acadia National ParkOctober 6-12, 2007
Wildlife Up Close October 13-17, 2007
Photoshop Level III: The Master PrintOctober 14-19
Land of Extremes: Death ValleyNovember 11-17, 2007