Workshops are a tender subject for photographers, and I’m not sure why. Well, I am, but I don’t think they should be. Some people just need to put on their big boy pants and get over themselves. We don’t all have to walk uphill to school, both ways, through 40′ of snow…barefoot. Hell, you didn’t, either, so don’t go giving me that garbage. And for the record, I didn’t get rides to school.
The whole debate is about “cheating” by taking workshops, or coming up the hard way, by apprenticing. Let’s assume that’s an old rule. Well, like everything else in photography, once you know the rule, then you start breaking it, and that’s just what everyone’s doing. If you have the money to spend on it, there’s no point in trying it out for yourself first and doing it the wrong way 5,000 times, when you could attend a few workshops and learn how to do it right, and then go out and try it out on friends, and then hone the skills you learned. Of course, you’re going to mess up – that’s why it’s called practice – but at least you’re already practicing at a more advanced level than you would have been.
So, it’s just a slightly faster way to get your feet wet; that’s all it is. Nobody (well, nobody in their right mind) thinks a workshop or two will make them into Yousuf Karsh or Annie Leibovitz. But it does give them a little confidence to keep going! As an example, I took this one about two months after I started getting serious about photography, in one of my earliest workshops:
Do you really think I would have been able to knock this picture out, if I had to set it up solo, having just started photography? If you do, you had more faith in me than I did! [Note: the full size is sharper.]
So, with that, enough of the workshop/anti-workshop rant. Can we all get along?
Onto the crux of this post – what I’ve gotten from workshops.
There are two main people that I’ve dealt with. Phil Sutherland, who runs West Toronto Photography Group, out of his studio RevPrint Studio and Kin Hai, who runs Photographerforum Meetup Group out of his studio (site’s still under construction). They’ve both provided me with some great opportunities and experiences, ones that I would not have gotten this early in the game, otherwise. I have photographed Playboy models (like the one above) and Penthouse models. I played with 4 strobe suspended light setups before I had even bought a 430 EXII on-camera flash. Had I not had my own bike to play with, I would have had a chance to shoot with a bike and a model.
I also got to learn a lot of skills. At Kin’s latest, I learned small, but interesting tricks. Example: since almost everyone gets a few rolls/lines under their chin, don’t have them stick their chin out. Have them stick their forehead out and their chin up a little. …go ahead, try it in a mirror. It keeps your face more level as well as stretching your neck out, tautening it to reduce the lines. If you want to know more tricks like that, take his workshop. I’m not here to steal his game, just making a point.
So not only do you get opportunities, but you also get skills. However, there are also downsides…
Remember, it’s not just you here. It’s you and half a dozen others. You’ve got 2 to 5 minutes in a given setup. The model is decided for you, the general location is decided for you. All you get to decide is the poses within that range – make it happen, Merlin. The problem with the time frame is that you just barely get into the rhythm of things, and then your time is up, and it breaks the flow. Some can devise a flow in that short a time; most can’t.
Also, your idea isn’t yours. I was at one shoot where the approach that the organizer took just wasn’t working for anyone; even the model wasn’t feeling it. The organizer had her holding a goalie stick like it was a standard stick, when she openly admitted that she didn’t play or watch hockey and had no clue how to hold a stick. She looked awkward. During my last set, we had pretty much exhausted all of the garbage they had their, so, she asked me if I wanted her to put on this red cowboy hat that had built-in white pig-tails. It would have made her look like Anne of Green Gables. I looked back at my stuff, tossed in a corner, grabbed my own hat (a black, Harley cowboy hat) and said “no, put this on, instead.” You could see her expression change. A few shots later, I tossed her my leather jacket. Suddenly, this “hockey, patriotic babe” shoot became “badass biker babe” and the look on her face said she was right into it.
Then it happened. Even though I was last in line, the organizer spent ten minutes ripping off most of my shots, and everyone else suddenly took one extra turn. Now the shots that were mine, my little personal touch, got completely trashed in the name of genericide. She was still fun to work with!
So, here’s what I’ve learned from workshops:
- They are useful things. They can teach you a lot.
- They will up your game, if you pay attention.
- If you work early hours, it sucks, because they’re usually late on weekdays.
- You only have a short time to assess the situation, so think fast.
- DON’T BRING OUT YOUR A-GAME TRICKS. SAVE THOSE FOR YOUR OWN SHOOTS.
Those are the overall lessons, anyway. If you can think of more, please, feel free to comment and add your own!!