Jamaica Paradise Challenge
I first met Joel Alvarez, the King of Tape from The Black Tape Project a few months ago in late May 2016. It was only a few days earlier that I had seen some of Joel's work on the Instagram explore page and thought to myself how cool it would be to work together. As fate would have it, Joel reached out to me and we quickly arranged two shoots in Malibu with Eden Rambo and Morgan Ketzner.
From an artistic perspective, I was so excited at what we created. I had no idea that it would lead to so much more.
After a few weeks of nudging, Joel sold me on the idea of attending the Paradise Challenge in Negril, Jamaica. The event was pitched as part photoshoot, education, and networking. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous as I packed my bags to go. I had taken a look at the photographer and model rosters of seasoned pros and questioned whether my work would be able to stack up. I quickly got over those fears and made the journey from San Diego, CA to Jamaica.
I took a red-eye on Saturday night and made it to the resort on Sunday afternoon. It was great to see Joel again as we hadn't seen each other in person since our first shoots together back in May. He quickly got me settled in and introduced me to several of the other challengers. I was a little intimidated meeting several people who I had admired from afar in the cyberspace of Instagram, but was so thrilled with the opportunity too.
I'm somewhat shy by nature, a weakness I actively try to overcome. I did my best to network on the first night, but I only had a couple shoots lined up for Monday and Tuesday, the first two days of the challenge. I did a lot of mid-day shooting, which really pushed me outside my normal low-light comfort zone. While challenging, this exercise really forced me to think and has definitely made me a better natural light photographer. Here are some sample edits from my mid-day shoots. Models featured: Katilyn Anderson, Nicki Hill, and Melissa Swigert.
During the trip we had a photographer's dinner together featuring special guest photographers Steve Shaw, Josh Ryan, and Joey Wright. I felt this dinner was the most beneficial part of the trip as I was able to hear and speak directly with the best in the business, people who were actively making their visions a reality. YouTube, blogs, and tutorials are great, but nothing compares being able to listen and speak face-to-face.
One of my initial doubts about my work was whether I was shooting too much natural light. My setup is quite simple. Me, my Sony A7ii, Zeiss Batis 85mm/1.8, and cheap speed lite. Starting out, I simply didn't have the funds to get too far ahead of myself with strobes and other gear. Listening to Steve, Josh, Joey speak really reaffirmed some of my core beliefs about stripping things down and taking a more simplistic approach with natural light. With the amazing low-light technology available, why should we have to carry around expensive lights? There is amazing light all around us to seek.
A topic I brought up at dinner was my belief that one should get out of their comfort zone and experiment, but also stay true to their artistic and brand identity. I'm not advocating for never using artificial lighting, I'm simply urging artists to know what their identity is and market the hell out of it. If you're best work is done in a studio, market that. If you're best work is done at the beach, market that. If you're best work is shooting live sports, market that!
I would be remiss if I didn't give proper mention to Nicki Hill, won the honor of Paradise Queen- Jamaica 2017. Nicki is a model from New York and is also an up and coming photographer. Nick truly embraced the spirit of the Paradise Challenge, hustling in two different roles and working with more people than anyone else. Congratulations, Nicki!
The week as a whole flew by way too quickly. It was capped off with a fantastic dinner and award ceremony on Friday. I had no idea there would be a photographer's award, but I am very humbled for being selected. I'm looking forward to another Paradise Challenge in 2018!
There is still so much I haven't covered and I want to give thanks to so many people. Joel, thank you so much for urging me to go and organizing everything behind the scenes.
Jason Miller, from Fitness Gurls Magazine, thank you for giving me the opportunity to shoot for your publication and introducing me to two amazing models, Nienna Jade and Stephanie Marie. A separate blog post on my shoot for Fitness Gurls will come later.
I return from Jamaica reinvigorated with inspiration and confidence to keep pushing my photography forward. Traveling is important. Experimenting is important. Networking is important. Ultimately, progress is important. Push yourself to try new things, but always stay true to yourself. Don't be afraid to succeed.