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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Studio Lighting Workshop, Winter Series

Model: Anthea Langenbacher

Model: Davjis Andonov
There is more to being a photographer than just the constant learning. There has to be fun. There has to be an experience. There have to be images. For this reason part of the business that I run with Glynn Lavender is about creating opportunities for photographers to have those things. EchucaPalooza was our first among these and we are repeating it this year. But our Summer Series and Winter Series have proven very popular as they are evening events that provide photographers with a learning and creative experience. Last Wednesday evening was our Studio Night, an evening in which Creative Photo Workshops provided an opportunity to shoot and learn the basics of studio lighting. 

Rather than hire a well appointed studio for this event, Glynn and I simply hired the Yellow Room at Abbottsford Convent. That way, no one gets the feeling that studio lighting is beyond them. We are saying in reality that anyone can do it, provided you have a little bit of space. So, we set up a portable backdrop and three FotoBestWay continuous lighting heads with shoot through umbrellas. Starting with one light and working up to three, we highlighted the value of shadow in a portrait, as well as separation from the background using rim and hair lighting. Our models were Anthea Langenbacher and Davjis Andonov. The contrast between Anthea's sweet young face and Davjis' silent masculinity added to the lighting experience, highlighting the different approaches needed not only between male and female portraiture but also in the atmosphere, feel and texture needed for each individual. Those who attended enjoyed the difference, learned much and got a chance to create images that otherwise may have eluded them. 
These events arise as a result of my own reflections on learning my craft, remembering the journey that photography has been for me. I was 16 when I bought my first SLR camera - a Minolta SRT 101. Even though it was it was about 10 or 12 years old, I was so excited. It was a heavy, clunking metallic masterpiece that I loved. It gave me no automatic options and it taught me much, but it simultaneously represented the potential of an exciting future filled with creative opportunities and adventures. That part has come true for me in ways I could never have imagined and there is still more to come. But I also understand that my own desires at that time are the same as those who buy DSLR cameras today. We are all looking for something to photograph, an opportunity within which to create wonderful images. Creative Photo Workshops is as much about that as we are about teaching. Without the fun, what is the point after all?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Brisbane and Gold Coast Workshops

Well, I am back from Queensland. Phew! What a week that was! Glynn and I are tired, but excited. It was a wonderful week of workshops, photography, friends and frustrations. The problem with returning from a week of workshops is having to catch up with everything you would have been doing while you were away, plus the work you have to do, and a strong desire to update your blog. And if you don't update your blog relatively soon, then the whole exercise of updating it is moot. The very news you want to write about gets stale. So, dear readers, forgive me for not having updated sooner.

But, yes, I am back from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, having run Creative Photo Workshops events with Glynn in both those places. Ah, Queensland. Beautiful one day, raining the next. At least that's what it was for us. I suppose you have to give it some credit. It is winter after all. What was funny (if that's what you want to call it) is that when we wanted sun for our workshops, we got clouds. When we wanted clouds, we got sunshine. Oh well....that's ok. We make it work. After all, photographers need to adapt to the prevailing conditions. It doesn't work the other way round. 
Glynn and I went north to run our Natural Light People Photography workshops, our Creative Flash Photography workshops and our Emerging Nymph evening sessions, complete with fire spinners, models in swimsuits, a lawyer in a tuxedo playing a cello in the ocean and a very handsome male model standing in the incoming tide complete with his guitar. Yeah, you had to be there. 
Our week was fraught with one recurring problem - models who believe that its ok to leave a business in the lurch. With rare exception each model who had agreed to be a part of our workshops cancelled - one by one, day by day. Having to locate a model for a workshop one half hour before you begin is not something you plan for. The lack of professional behaviour on the part of some of these young men and women was incredibly frustrating. We are very grateful to those models whose word was good. Rob, Kristina and Emily - thank you. Thank you to Anthony, Karleigh, Pirate, Rebecca, Jenaye, and FireTrybe Nation for making our events possible with your presence and your performances. To all the rest of you who think its ok to leave a business in the lurch - No thank you. Not ever again. If I were a lesser person there would be comments on your Model Mayhem pages that would not be complimentary. 
On the other hand, our customers (aka Friends of CPW!) were wonderful! Not only did they make our entire adventure possible, they made it fun and friendly. When our models failed to show, they knew people who knew people, and models were rounded up. They helped us out with lighting stands and helped carry gear. They learned and participated with eagerness and open minds and made our time there simply wonderful. We thank you so much for your kindness and support. And, we look forward to returning for more madness before the year is out.
Every workshop we run is different. It may have a recurring theme and its educational principles will remain unchanged, but the locations, models, lighting, images and atmosphere change every time. When we tour with workshops, we are compelled to pull rabbits out of hats sometimes, utilising unfamiliar locations, looking for light, coming up with ideas for images so that the techniques we teach can be created and shown. This was certainly the case with our workshops in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Me? I don't mind a bit. What is comforting is knowing that the principles we endeavour to sound down - that great images can be seen and created everywhere - are true. Our workshops are proof of that. From Los Angeles parking lots to Convents, motel courtyards and average homes, our workshops prove that with the right understanding of light, composition and exposure, wonderful images are everywhere to be seen and created. If you are not sure of what I mean, well, ....looks like you need to come along sometime....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creative Flash Photography Workshop using Flash Wave III

One of our most popular workshops was held at Abbottsford Convent on Saturday. Our Creative Flash Photography workshop is designed to help people understand flash from the ground up. In fact, it is designed to do more than that. It helps photographers see that flash is a powerful lighting tool that can transform their vision and their photographs. 
The morning presentation is about the technicalities of flash - understanding guide numbers and calculating exposures, seeing the potential of flash both on and off camera and utilising it to transform their photographs into lighting masterpieces. We deal with the technicalities and principles of flash in a way that I do not believe many others would. First of all, we talk about Guide Numbers, a concept largely forgotten in a TTL photography world. But understanding how it is used to calculate flash exposure is vital if you are going to be versatile as a photographer and enabled to use any flash in any situation. Once understood, it enables any photographer to buy a generic flash and calculate the correct f-stop settings and ratios for any flash unit. Our lovely model for the day was Azra Dedic and her surprisingly willing boyfriend, Alister. 
Recently, Creative Photo Workshops has started using Flash Wave III remote triggers and receivers for our workshops. These units are very reliable and very well built and a set of them will cost you about one third of the price of  two PocketWizards. Like PocketWizards, they can also be used to fire your camera remotely. They are also a little smarter than PocketWizards because the receiver has a hotshoe mount built into it, meaning that the flash can actually sit on the receiver. With Pocket Wizards, your flash needs to have a PC connection from which it can dangle quite precariously.  They are new to Australia but they can be bought here and here. Contact me if you wish to know more about them. Better yet, come to one of our Creative Flash Photography workshops or our Advanced Flash Photography workshops and use them yourself!

Friday, May 14, 2010

MeaWannaShootaLotta - Day 5

Ok..So that I can get on with other news, allow me to finish blogging about our wonderful time in and around Queenstown. Where are we? Oh, yeah. Day 5.
Well, day 5 started with a handful of us deciding that it was our last morning, so no matter the weather, we were all up for some sunrise landscapes. Would there be a sunrise, per se'? Well it didn't really matter. We knew there would be light, and that is all you need to create an image. The rest is just adaptability. As you can imagine, the lake was now very full. Queenstown had been all over the New Zealand news with fears of flooding, and there we were, right smack bang in the middle of all that commotion trying to run a workshop. But, as I have said, 'advantage through adversity' is what we learned and I believe that we gained more from it than what we would have had the weather situation been bright and sunny. So, Mike, Brett, Greg and I headed out in the early morning drizzle to find some foreground interest. And we did. We found it, we moved it into place, we made it happen.
After our brief but successful shoot, We met the well rested others who were already into their first coffee at Joe's Garage. The day ahead was looking very unpredictable. The weather was not looking like it was going to improve.
Thankfully, Glynn had arranged with one of the interesting venues where we had eaten for us to return and do some photography there. It was an interesting bar with great light and interesting options. So, after picking up our models, we made our way there. We immediately set about establishing some off camera flash photographs, while a small group went with Mike for a walk around town. There were floods to photograph after all!
After lunch we made our way to the ruins. I had arranged for Nicky Bodle, one of  the models from a previous day, to join us at the ruins that afternoon complete with her wedding dress. You see, I had an idea for some photographs. Nicky came, complete with bridal dress and a flower in her hair.
By the time she arrived we had established a strobe setup that gave us some wonderful rim lighting within the ruins. Working with German model, Claudia Pommer, we were very quickly taking some beautiful images. I was very excited. Its not every day you have a beautiful model in an old ruin creating some beautiful back lit images. I do love my rimlighting....When Nicky arrived, we were ready for her also. It was a great shoot and some of my favourite images from the tour were taken in that final hour of the entire week of workshops.
Our workshop officially ended at 5pm, but we all decided to go to the top of the mountain overlooking Queenstown. So, we boarded the Gondola and braved the cold. Reaching the viewpoint, we set up our tripods and waited for the changing light, the setting sun and the twinkling of city lights. We were cold and slightly crazy, but we were having a great time.
MeAWannaShootaLotta was a great trip. It was fraught with exhausting demands, especially on Mike, Glynn and myself, but we were rewarded for our efforts. For those of us staying on, we still had Milford Sound and the drive to Christchurch to go. But the tour itself was wonderful. I am looking very much forward to the same time next year when we can go back and repeat the madness. This time, I won't be hoping for anything in terms of the weather. I know what can be done in that part of the world, no matter what gets served up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

MeaWannaShootaLotta - Day 4

Day Four of MeAWannaShootaLotta was intended to be a day of rest. A few 15 hour days in a row is no holiday - especially when combined with the exhausting passion of a group of photographers on the loose. Nonetheless, a few stalwart members of the crew woke early to see what could be photographed. Mike Hollman and I went with them. 
Lake Wakatipu had by now nearly broken its banks. The rocks that line the lake shore - the ones that make great foreground interest - were now covered with water, leaving us to use more imagination in the composition of our images. However, in true photographer style, adversity makes for creativity and some beautiful images were made. The morning greeted us with drizzle - and some wonderful opportunities. I was very proud of the brave few who ventured out that morning.
After meeting with the sleep-ins at Joe's Garage for breakfast, we had some time off before we were scheduled for some time on the TSS Earnslaw, a steamer that takes tourists across the lake. Lake Wakatipu was a little choppy, it must be said, but we ventured aboard anyway. Our destination was across the other side of the lake at Walter Peak High Country Farm, a tourist operation that offered our group a change from the usual. I have to admit to succumbing to the bad weather and taking advantage of the hot coffee inside. 
It was an easy day, with most enjoying a few laughs and a respite from the fairly arduous schedule they had kept so far. There was no sunset to speak of, as the weather simply worsened. To be honest, I think everyone was slightly relieved. At dinner that night, it was evident that a day of rest had done everyone well. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

MeAWannaShootaLotta - Day 3

The third day of Creative Photo Workshops MeAWannaShootaLotta was an interesting one. We awoke to the possibility of a sunrise shoot, but with the weather being what it was that week, we could never be sure of what was in store. Nevertheless, we headed for a location along Lake Wakatipu and waited for the light. With the water rising in the lake we were finding opportunities to use the rocks that line the lake as foreground interest diminshing day by day. But, Mike knew where to take us. We were given some opportunities for some moody morning landscapes and we took them. After all, this is not a holiday! This is a photography trip, right? And I must admit, I stand by the statement that there were advantages in the diversity of our situations. There is little point learning how to photograph landscapes in beautiful light again and again. Once you've got it, you've got it. Move on. Learn something else. The week we were offered in beautiful Queenstown certainly provided us all with a learning lesson and the chance to create a greater variety of images.
Our morning light finished, a coffee and breakfast once again awaited us a Joe's Garage, after which we briefly returned to our accommodation to pick up our models, Matt, Danielle, Mel and Carla. Again, many thanks to I-Can models and to the models themselves.
The day to follow was going to be an interesting one. Following the light when it is as playful as it was on that day  and in that week was not an easy task. All you can do is trust your experience and follow your intuition. In this regard I was happy we had Mike Hollman along. He knows the area well and understands how the light will fall on the land and upon some of our key locations. Our first port of call was a small waterfall at Roaring Meg. I must admit to being a little out of the zone and it took me some time to get my mojo workin'. There were things here I just didn't see. As a result, I know that there were many here whose images were far better and more interesting than mine. Kerry Sumner took an overhead portrait of Danielle that was simply beautiful.
Our day ended in a vineyard near Bannockburn. The light was soft and we could feel a storm approaching. There were many opportunities for images of the golden vineyards and the models in them, some of whom had brought some very bright coloured clothing which contrasted beautifully with the context. There were opportunities for portraits, landscapes, macro and detail images of leaves and textures. All you had to do was think - and see.
To me, there is little point running a week-long photography workshop without offering a variety of subjects and techniques. One of those 'techniques' is the ability to see and create images even when your expectations differ from the circumstances you are offered. I have to say, our MeAWannaShootalotta was unpredictable in many ways, but the learning curve was steepened as a result. I know that in my case I returned home with images I had hoped for, and images I never expected. I was reminded of the fact that photography offers that potential, if your mind and creative thirst are in tune with what's on offer and not bound solely by expectation.

Friday, May 07, 2010

MeAWannaShootaLotta - Day 2

Day # 2 of MeAWannaShootaLotta started early and it started cold. Yes, we saw a relatively clear sky as we woke from our shortened slumbers and decided that the planned sunrise shoot was a Go! We made our way in the cold, dark morning to the bank of the Lake Wakatipu and established our positions. Within minutes we saw colour in the clouds to the east. It was enough for us to know that we could achieve something, that our rise from our warm beds would be worthwhile. This is always the decision to make when you are a landscape shooter. But then again, the landscape shooter is used to not sleeping in. They sleep in the middle of the day...don't they?
Before the trip I acquired a Velbon 730 Carbon Fibre tripod. I must admit, I love this thing. It is strong, tall, sturdy and incredibly lightweight. Kinda like me, really! Anyway...This wonderful tripod, combined the Velbon UC-6 Clamp and Umbrella made sure that my gear was protected from the drizzle that continued while being unmoved by the wind. I also got a chance to dust off my Cokin Grads and use them to balance the exposure a little. As I said in yesterday's blog, it was this week - of ALL weeks - that South Island decided to rain on our parade. All week, it would dog us, taunt us, and make us work for our images. Mind you, I was incredibly proud of everyone. Enduring the early rise, the cold and the damp just to come out and shoot some landscapes makes them my kind of people. I am also proud that they learned to adapt their vision to suit the situation. They produced moody and ethereal landscapes that were in keeping with the prevailing light and weather conditions. In some way I wonder if perhaps it was an advantage that we weren't given sunny blue skies to greet us. We all learned that great landscape images can be made in any weather if you have the desire and a sense of flexibility. I will be the first to admit that I am not a landscape shooter, but I do love creating image, no matter where or how. My travels have taken me to far more inhospitable places and situations and I still enjoy rising to greet the sun and watch the colours assume their roles in the clouds upon the horizon.

With only an instant coffee under my belt, I nonetheless got into the role of instructor and assistant,  helping our friends to 'see' the landscape. There were a few among us who had rarely if ever set out to photograph a landscape and so they were not tuned in to the opportunities of leading lines, foreground interest, lens utilisation and landscape exposure and composition. This all changed by the end of the week, which was very gratifying. However, this first morning reminded me that I have been shooting for a very long time, and that my diverse photographic career and associations has granted me the opportunity to learn how to photograph many things. Being the editor of a photography magazine for thirteen years also allowed me the opportunities to expand my vision in a way that few photographers possibly get. There are times I forget these things and as such, forget how much others are yet to learn. I also have much to learn, but my life as a photographer has placed me in a diverse range of landscapes over the years. Having Mike Hollman along was also a relief and his mild-mannered and warm encouragement meant much to those who stood on the stony shores that morning.
Sunrise over, it was time for breakfast at Joes Garage, and then back to the resort to pick up our models. Today we were headed for Arrowtown and the weather was looking up. This lovely little historic town was bursting with colour as the trees that line its avenues are mostly deciduous. As the group wandered through they were again given opportunities of seeing, framing and capturing the delights of this town. I stayed behind in the park where everyone had just left their unwanted or unneeded gear. But that was ok. There were four models on hand also, and so further opportunities could be created for me, and everyone else. I-Can model, Nikki Bodle brought a wedding dress, so I was just fine. I was given the chance to get my Ricoh GRDIII out and give it a spin. Its 28mm (equivalent) f1.9 lens grants you a 1cm macro option. That kind of closeness combined with the wide angle perspective yields some interesting results. I really love that little thing.
Sunset found us on the banks of Lake Hayes. The sun was still shining and the lake shore is lined with beautiful trees that once again enabled our landscape fanatics to go a little nuts. Having allowed our models to leave, we spent a leisurely couple of hours there until our bellies began to rule our creative desires. By this time, some in the group had discovered my love of the Cokin 173 Polariser, even as I had rediscovered it, and the reasons I love using it so much.
For me, our second day was a relief. We had promised autumnal landscapes and we were able to deliver. It meant much to me that we were able to do so. The faith we had been given was to some degree met. I could eat dinner that night knowing that everyone had taken some dream photographs that day. When you run a photography workshop business, that is at the heart of what you do.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

MeaWannaShootaLotta - Day 1

Ok Ok OK...I know you have probably been wondering - when is Shelton going to write about the New Zealand Photo Tour? Well, if you haven't - you should have been! Well, here I am. I will take it one day at a time, ok?
Initially, the New Zealand Photo Tour started as a discussion over coffee with renowned New Zealand photographer, Mike Hollman. We met Mike when he first came over from New Zealand to attend our Creative People Photography workshop. Being a landscape photographer, he was not particularly skilled at portraiture - posing, working with light on the person, etc. Mike has published several books on landscape photography in New Zealand and his work is beautiful. He is an incredibly personable man with an easy going personality, a great sense of humour and a fabulous eye for the landscape. So when he was next in Melbourne, Glynn and I met with him over coffee to discuss the idea of having him at the helm of a South Island/Queenstown workshop. So, what started as a coffee in Williamstown became the madness of MeaWannaShootaLotta - a name that we hoped sounded a little bit Kiwi. Oh well, you can only try. 
Landing in Queenstown, I was reminded that mountains and weather are never predictable. The week before our arrival the weather had been wonderful. The leaves were a variety of autumn colours and the landscape begged to be photographed. However, we were to learn that the following week - the week we were there - was to be the opposite. In fact, the banks of Lake Wakatipu would flood for the first time in 11 years. What a week to pick for landscapes around Queenstown! However, I must admit - I was surprised that the situation actually had its advantages. Some of the ethereal and evocative images that the week ahead would produce would encourage me and my fellow travelers very much.
Thankfully, we are Aussie travelers and things like that don't get us down. Also, Glynn and I - always prepared for every contingency (riiiiiiiight) had a back up plan for bad weather and middle of the day light. Glynn had contacted I-Can Models - a Queenstown modelling agency - and we were granted 4 models each day. On the first day they sure would come in handy. Hailey, Ashlie, Flo and Jose were just what the doctor ordered. 
It is an interesting thing to tell the group that the first day of their landscape workshop would probably consist of natural light and strobist based portraits of models in an old abandoned barn. But, as I say, they are Aussies and they go with the flow. We can only control certain elements and the weather is not among them.
It was a great location, complete with old barns, sheds, homes and even the ruin of an old hotel  where we would return on the last day for some of my personal favourites of the entire week. But more on that later. As it was, the rain held off a little in the afternoon and we did manage to get out and shoot some of the autumn colour.  I have to admit that it was great seeing our guests enjoying themselves photographing the colourful surroundings and  incorporating people into the landscapes as well. As for me, well, I know my way around a landscape but essentially I am a people shooter. So, I had no problems with the situation. Either way, if I am creating images I am having a good time. More tomorrow....

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

May the Fourth Be With You

Last night saw me in a parking lot with a lot of crazy minded people who will do almost anything for a photograph. And..that is where Creative Photo Workshops comes in. We are just about crazy enough to come up with the ideas. Last night was one of them.
With yesterday being International Star Wars Day, we thought a Star Wars Workshop would be perfect to kick off our Winter Series of evening events for photographers. So, we gathered in parking lot under the South Lawn of Melbourne University to begin an interesting process called 'make something out of something it isn't'. That's what we do at Creative Photo Workshops.
My friend and fellow CPW loony, Glynn Lavender, decided that he would be the Dark Lord last night. Yes, he donned the Darth Costume and became Dude of the Dark Side. He was very convincing actually. Perhaps it is because I am used to feeling his grip around my neck when he isn't even touching me. Star Wars fans will know what I mean. Me? I was just my incredibly lovable self. I am not as brave as my offsider. He probably would have suggested that I don the Leia outfit anyway and I just don't have the legs for it. Don't anyone make any cracks about my hair either, ok?!
Our Anakin was well played by my nephew, Jared, who has often been told that he looks very much like Hayden Christensen, who, of course, played Anakin in two of the three new prequels of Star Wars. He was more than happy to come along and have some photographs taken of himself in that role. I suppose it will be a new Facebook profile pic for him. We also had a Wookie and a Princess Leia, complete with bread roles for a hairstyle. It was too cold for the Jabba the Hut outfit...
Glynn and I understand that photographers are looking for something to create, an event, en experience. So, we make them happen. The interesting thing about workshops and events like these is that we prove that interesting, dynamic images can be produced anywhere if you acquire a greater understanding of the aspects of photography that really matter - light, composition, perspective, metering and a strong understanding of your subject and its place within the frame. With these understandings in hand, a competent photographer can use The Force (that's what we Jedi's use to take great pictures) to create beautiful photographs anywhere. Last night was no different. We were in a parking lot and yet I know that I am very proud of the images that many in the group extracted from their cameras. If you have a look at the Behind the Scenes images in this blog, you can see what the realities were.
We chose Melbourne University's unique parking lot because of its oddly shaped pillars. This was no doubt the reason that it was chosen thirty years ago as the location for a scene in the post Apocalyptic world of a young Mel Gibson's Mad Max. For us, it could be used as a place in a galaxy far, far away. With some gels on some strobes, we were able to make it happen.
This is at the heart of our events. You don't need French Castles filled with supermodels and 20 flash heads and softboxes. While all of that sounds very tempting, it is certainly beyond the average enthusiast photographer to ever have the opportunity to do. However, a light, a subject, a lens and a camera in manual mode can do almost anything - if you know how. Last night we used yet another parking lot to prove that point.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller