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Check Out Nicole Carson Bonilla’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Carson Bonilla. 

Hi Nicole, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was born and raised in North Hollywood, California, and performed in a family wild west show with horse and dog acts. I was also a dancer and my hobbies included horses, dance, and art. I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and earned my bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design with a minor in advertising. 

I worked as an art director for an advertising agency in Orange County, California. Then my husband (also a designer) and I both started working from a home studio as Bonilla Design offering visual marketing materials including logos, branding, collateral, and website design. 

In 2013 I bought my first Canon camera to add commercial photography and promotional videography to my creative services I offer my clients. I subscribed to some online photo/video courses, watched YouTube videos, and learned on my own. Adding these services allowed me to offer a complete visual design package. 

Then in February 2018, I saw a Facebook ad for a portrait lighting series by Felix Kunze and felt inspired to purchase it. I absolutely loved the course and it opened up a world of studio portrait photography to me that I had never really considered. It also introduced me to Sue Bryce Education and I continued to follow their courses. 

I love graphic design and I’ve been doing it for 25 years but it has been a wonderful experience introducing the new creative challenge of portrait photography into my life. I began offering a high-end portrait experience to my clients complete with wardrobe, professional hair and make-up, and a fully-guided photoshoot. 

I started sewing when I was 12 and made all my dresses throughout my teen years. I was drawn to the fun colors, prints, and textures of fabrics and loved the creative freedom of what I could make. I considered majoring in fashion design when I started college but chose graphic design instead. With my home portrait studio, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit my love of fashion design. I use my education of the principles of design when helping my clients determine their wardrobe for their photoshoots. And I also design and make gowns and outfits for my studio wardrobe that I know will flatter a variety of body types. 

In 2018 I was introduced to The Portrait Masters international awards and accreditation program. I submitted a few portraits, received positive feedback, and felt inspired to continue to submit. This began my journey into creative, fine-art photography. It’s been a grueling, exciting, frustrating, emotional, fantastic experience as I’ve pushed myself to expand my creative vision, my technical photography and editing skills, and my determination to make photoshoots happen! I recently earned Fellow with The Portrait Masters which is their highest ranking. I am one of only 14 Fellows internationally. 

I am a mother of six children and love having a home portrait studio in my converted guest suite. The room is 11.5″x15″ which is not very big. So, I’ve had to get very creative in how I light my shoots. Before starting portrait photography, I had three Canon EX600 Speedlites. I’ve continued to use these three speedlites in innovative ways to create soft light in my studio that rivals light created by larger strobes in large photo studios. I would love to work with larger strobes and a large space in the future, but for now, this works for my smaller space. Light is light and I am a firm believer in ‘work with what you got’. The fact that I’ve won a gold award, three categories, and Fellow status in The Portrait Masters with portraits taken with speedlites proves you don’t need to have very expensive equipment to create quality work. 

During the COVID quarantine, I was inspired to start a YouTube channel with videos I could make from my home portrait studio. I started a playlist called “Designing the Look: From Idea to Portrait”. I can best describe it as a cross between Project Runway and How It’s Made. I include my entire creative process for my artistic photoshoots. I begin with the idea or sketch, then where I buy my fabrics and props, how I sew the outfit and style the photoshoot, the actual photoshoot, my editing process, and the final portraits. It has been such a fun experience and I’m grateful it allows me to share my experiences in hopes of inspiring other photographers along their creative journeys. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I would consider my photographic journey smooth in the sense that I didn’t give up—so it’s been continually progressing! COVID quarantine definitely presented a struggle but it inspired me to start my YouTube channel which has been such a blessing for me. There were times I felt very frustrated and discouraged when some of my portraits didn’t score as high as I thought they should have in The Portrait Masters competition. But I chose to humbly accept the feedback and continue to improve and develop my ‘eye’ for identifying and creating fine art photography. 

The other times I felt discouraged were when I would compare my skills and my journey to other photographers. Comparison is the thief of joy. I had to trust in my own abilities and continue on my unique path of what I was drawn to create and how I could best serve the clients I wanted to work with. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a contemporary portrait photographer specializing in high-end, creative portraits. 

I am known for uplifting, artistic portraits with a fashion flair often with flowy fabrics and textiles. I also incorporate pets and animals in unique and artistic ways. 

I am most proud of my YouTube channel. I love sharing how I create award-winning portraits from my home studio, using speedlites. I also love showing how I gather my props and outfits from thrift stores and how I make some of my most unique outfits from used bedsheets and curtains. Anyone can be creative and light is light. 

I am also extremely proud of my Fellow status in The Portrait Masters international awards and accreditation program. 

My innovative ways of using simple speedlites, Magmod modifiers, v-flats and bounced ceiling light in a small space set me apart from other photographers using larger, more expensive equipment in larger studios. This is not my intention to only use speedlites, but merely how I’ve made my small space work for me. 

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
My main goal with my portrait clients is to inspire them to stand with confidence in who they are and the good influence they can have on the world. 

I have several mottos that have inspired me along my creative journey and that I continue to live by… 

“If it’s to be, it’s up to me” 

This is what my dad used to always say. I am a self-taught photographer and all the experiences I have had and things I’ve accomplished have been a result of having the assertion to make them happen. The first step is always the hardest but it’s the only way to achieve your goals. 

“Light is light” 

I’m not sure who said this but it is so true. I was very intimidated in the beginning by the high-end, expensive lighting equipment I saw photographers use to achieve stunning work. It wasn’t until I was willing to experiment with what I had to control light that I learned my light could produce beautiful work too. 

“Done is better than perfect” 

I have Sue Bryce to thank for this one. Waiting until a project is perfect before releasing it can be paralyzing. I have learned so much by moving forward when a project is done despite it not being what I consider perfect. Then I can learn from my first attempt and do better next time. That knowledge becomes invaluable. 

“The tide raises all ships” 

I also have Sue Bryce to thank for repeating this quote. The intense experience I had competing in The Portrait Masters over the last two years raised my technical lighting and editing skills exponentially. I now utilize these skills in my commercial and client work. It raised the quality of work I produce across the board. 


  • My three portrait packages are $1600, $2600, and $3000

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Image Credits
Nicole Carson Bonilla

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