Interview with Photographer Alice Prenat

“Being a woman tremendously helps me to understand what my female clients have in their minds.”

Photographer Alice Prenat
www.portraitmadame.com

See editorial Summer À la Parisienne


To begin, who are you, besides being a photographer and how did you first get into photography world? My name is Alice, I am French and I live in Paris. Before becoming a photographer, I was in a completely different world as I have been a marketer for a Fortune 500 medical device company for some years.

Even if it is in a complete different area, that experience lead me to what I am doing now in 2 ways:

#1: I was working along spine surgeons and surgeons are usually really passionate about what they do. It made me realize how much passion I was lacking in my everyday life. And it showed me that if you would mix passion and work then work never feels like ‘work’ and life gets to another level. So off from that world I was!

#2 I got to meet amazing people, with a wonderful energy and a very high level of expertise that however had extremely bad headshots and portraits. They didn’t have the ‘visual’ tool that was representing them properly or to the level they deserved.

Those two things lead me to redirect completely my professional path by building my portfolio of business portraits and then I started to shoot clients in the evenings and weekends.

In January 2016, an incredible mix of luck and opportunity made me meet the worldwide known portrait photographer Sue Bryce and few weeks later, I got to learn directly from her during several months and really specialize in portraiture.

In October 2016, I officially launched my studio Portrait Madame: the idea behind it is that everyday women deserves to be seen, to be pampered, and to experience at least once in their life their own photoshoot. There is beauty in each and every woman on this planet and it needs to be revealed.

I am now commissioned by clients coming from all over the world and it never feels like I am ‘working’!

How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it? ‘Finding your style’ is always some kind of a grail for photographers. I had been trying to find and define mine but never really succeeded to put words on it so I decided a while back to drop the idea. The funny part is that lately, I have different clients, friends, followers that are actually defining it for me through their own words: elegant, simple, powerful, compelling, authentic.

What do you like most about portrait photography? What I love the most about taking portraits, and again it is because I photograph everyday women mainly: I love the power we have, as portrait photographers, to change the way a woman feels about herself.

All women reading will for sure relate to something that might have probably happened to all of us: when one day, you see a picture of yourself that hurts you. Maybe a picture taken at a bad moment or from a bad angle that made you look bigger, older etc. than you thought you were … the worse of all is that it made you lose your confidence, get full of doubts about how you look and then indirectly made you doubt about everything else in your life. That’s how powerful can be a portrait …

My mission is to use it the other way around: show a woman an incredible portrait of herself, one where she looks happy, alive, joyful, confident and I promise you will change her entire world. She might even see her true self for the first time! You can trigger a profound sense of self-love in a woman through her portraits and believe me: it is pure empowerment right there.

In your opinion, how has picking up photography impacted your life? Through portraits I empower the people I photograph, which empowers me. That’s what drives me. I know I can change someone’s day, someone’s self-perception and knowing how impactful it can be in a good way, I feel a complete sense of accomplishment.

How do you keep yourself motivated and your photographic art fresh? ‘Play shoot’: Shooting for fun, not for a client. Choosing a specific theme, trying a new light technique, etc. : PLAY.

I am lucky to live in a city where cultural life is really alive, so are art exhibitions.

I also love to watch movies that I find beautiful visually: Danish Girl, A Single Man, Atomic Blond etc.…

Lots of photographers advise to stay away from Instagram and Pinterest to find fresh inspiration. I agree that copying is nothing short but ‘uninteresting’, however it can help the start of the process. Push yourselves further than those images you get inspired from. I actually read an interesting book about that: ‘Steal like an artist’ from Austin Kleon.

What makes the photo-session successful? What is your goal from the beginning to the end of the shoot on set? The absolute and biggest principle in my studio and within the team I work with (and I apply that from the minute I receive a booking request to the last minute when I deliver the portraits): “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”, Maya Angelou.

Full stop. The magic is there.

What from your point of view makes a great portrait? How do you choose which images you ultimately provide to your clients? There are basic criteria like framing, lighting, posing. And then the absolute key is expression. When I cull down my images, I keep all the ones where, when I watch, I feel something, it triggers something in me, either in a happy way or sometimes in a sad way, if that’s what was intended.

How long does a shoot day typically last and what is the preparation like? It all depends on the package the client chose. Through all my packages, my aim is to deliver a high level of service and a completely tailored experience.

When I work with high profile executives (this is the other brand I manage: www.portrait-executive.com), I might be obliged to go fast. When I have a full portrait session in studio with different looks it can take two hours. And for a full dream package in Paris it can last something like five –six hours.

For all my packages preparation is the key. We communicate a lot with the clients so that I would really understand all their wishes, dreams, and fears also. Going purposefully in front of a camera is an exercise and my role is to facilitate that and to show that it can be super enjoyable. I also push them to enter into the ‘creative’ process and pick the different moods they want. It always gets them super excited about the shoot.

What is your favorite part of being on set? I love to witness women slowly (but surely) warming up, getting out of their ‘heavy self-doubts negative shell’ and become those gorgeous Madame, feeling undeniably pretty, alive and in their full power.

The moment I wake up for, are those seconds when I see them leaving my studio with a huge smile on their face, walking happy, light & deeply ready to tackle what they want to aim at, either personally or professionally.

Are there any photography genres you would like to experiment with more? I would like to experiment more with strobes outdoor. I want to train myself to have a super natural soft result, and no harsh shadows.

Could you please share the secret to capture a great portrait? What is the key to getting the best out of someone? I have been spending a lot of time with the Canon Explorer of Light Sue Bryce, who has a worldwide photography education platform www.suebryceeducation.com. She get asked that question constantly ‘What’s the secret? What do you do? What do you say? Please, tell us’.

Having seen her on so many shoots and now getting to start mastering my own craft, I realize what the answer might be. It is not the easy answer of a magic recipe that you could just follow.

No, it is a work on yourself: To get the best portrait of someone (especially non models), it has to come from you. You, the photographer. Your energy when you take the image, the way you feel yourself, your expression… and the space you give to your ‘subject’ to be themselves. I have no clue what I tell people, however I know that during a shoot, I have to be on top of my game in terms of my energy. I usually finish a shoot with a massive headache not wanting to speak to anyone for few hours as I usually give everything I have.

Tell us why is having makeup artist, stylist or other professional creatives essential to a photographer? Do you have a support staff and what areas do they handle? A beautiful make up is absolutely essential to shorten the retouching time. And as time is the only thing we really own in life, if we can spend it away from the computer, it’s a major plus.

Hairstylist is the Key: You know how amazing you feel when you have a good hair day? My client needs to feel that exact way and without a hairstylist it is… hard.

I never shoot with a stylist because I don’t shoot commercial work, but I do believe that if you shoot fashion or commercial images, a stylist is a must have.

I work mainly with one hair & make-up artist on set. The persons I photograph are not used to be in a studio, so a full team watching them would totally freak them out.

Alice, do you remember your very first shoot? How did it go? This question brings a huge smile on my face because yes, I do remember it. Very well.

When I decided to move forward and become a portrait photographer, it was the first week of 2015. I had no portfolio, I decided to start on the easiest subject ever someone could have but not every one has: a twin. My twin.

It was in my flat, natural light mixed with a speed light towards the ceiling (no comment) and I will always thank her and for giving me her patience and her trust.

Then I photographed my closest friends.

All those pictures do not look good at all technically speaking. However I remember that creating them made me feel super happy, and eager to learn more and keep practicing, practicing, practicing. I remember telling myself every single time: ‘You have to start somewhere’

Who are some photographers that inspire you? My dear friend and mentor Sue Bryce (www.suebryce.com), classically: Annie Leibovitz, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindberg.

Less known ones that would deserve more attention: Sabine Pigalle (www.sabinepigalle.fr), Desiree Nolron (www.desireenolron.com), Dayron Vera (www.dayronveryphotography.com), Jamie Beck (www.annstreetstudio.com), Isabelle Chapuis (www.isabellechapuis.com).

What was the most exciting shoot you have ever been on? It was a shoot that turned to be amazing, out of nothing.

Mary Beth, a very beautiful woman in her 50’s (#50andfabulous) from Santa Barbara decide to celebrate her birthday at a costume ball in Versailles. Through a friend of a friend of a friend, she gets to rent that one of a kind ‘Versailles style’ huge dress. Before the session, I plan to shoot her in different locations in the city.

At some point, without noticing it, we are shooting in a very cute street in Saint Germain in front of an antique shop. As I am done shooting on the spot, she took some minutes to look at the windows of that fabulous antique shop. The owner starts the conversation, curious about her amazing dress. Joining the discussion, I attempt something out of the blue, thinking he would refuse: ‘Would you let us take some portraits inside your shop?’ Next thing we are in an incredible room full of beautiful art pieces and 18th century furniture. It was breathtaking.

We got out of there feeling almost teary as we just experienced luck and magic right in our faces.

Do you think you have experienced anything differently, artistically or business, because you are a woman? Yes, in a good way.

Being a woman tremendously helps me to understand what my female clients have in their minds. We are all the same. So I know how to make them feel good.

Guys don’t know that we don’t like to have our breasts shown saggy under a dress and to have back fat visible. They don’t know that the majority of us don’t like our knees and find our arms too big even if thin.

They don’t know how bad an overdone make up or wrongly executed hairdo can make you feel.

I can prevent all of those small things. Because I know. Because I am a woman. #Igotyourbackgirl.

How do you feel about digital manipulation and post processing programs? Are they important in your photography? I feel good about, but it is like everything in life: It’s a question of quantity! And I am in the natural quantity side of the processing spectrum.

One day, I heard the best way to explain it from the amazing retoucher Pratik Naik: Retouching is like memory. When you remember a person, you remember mostly her image overall, her energy and you unconsciously take the negative details away. Retouching, when done in the right way, acts the same: it keeps the positive energy and erase the small negative unnecessary details.

What is the most important thing you want potential clients to know about you? The least photogenic they feel before their photoshoot, the happier I am, as I know how much a portrait session will impact positively the way they see themselves and their lives overall.

Where can our readers keep up with your work and get connected with you? www.PORTRAITMADAME.com and Instagram @portrait_madame.

What are your goals and plans for 2019? Anything you can share with our readers? Keep awakening self-esteem and self-worth one woman at a time, one photoshoot at a time, one portrait at a time #portraitmadametagline.

Also, about the thing I can share for now: I have been invited to teach a class about business portrait on the French photography education website Empara. #thrilled

And about the thing I can’t share yet… best way is to follow along on Instagram to get the news coming!

Please tell one surprising fact about yourself. My studio space is extremely small (about 300sq feet). But that’s not the size that matters!

Thank you, Alice


Published 2019 January: BUY NOW