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Monday, July 26, 2010

Wedding Photography Workshop

Models: Dave Nelson and Brooke Boslem

In 1996, my life changed dramatically when I took on the role of editor of a magazine I had proposed to a publishing company. It was known as PhotoMaster. It was also known as Better Pictures, which was the corporate version distributed by Camera House. From that moment on I was no longer a freelance gypsy with a camera. I suddenly became some kind of authority on photography. I was being asked to speak at camera clubs and societies, conventions and seminars. And then, I started running photography workshops. Since that time I have thoroughly enjoyed that role and I do not tire of it. Our recent Wedding Photography workshop was a prime example of that.
Creative Photo Workshops runs a variety of educational and enjoyable events. Most of the time, they are educational. Sometimes they are put together for a simultaneous combination of fun and learning. Case in point, our recent Film Noir workshops. Our Wedding Photography workshop has an entirely different potential however. Its very nature can alter the path of someone's secular life. 
An overstatement? No. It is a workshop designed to teach ground level principles for overcoming some of the difficulties that the newcomer to wedding photography encounters. Most of those who attend are perfectly adept at taking the basics - family group photographs, candid images and even some lovely portraits and formals. However, for the photographer, a wedding is usually a case of producing extraordinary images in ordinary circumstances with everyday people. There are so models in $10, 000 dresses in ancient French castles here. Most weddings take place in suburbia, or in everyday situations. What we teach is the ability to create beautiful images - in camera - that impress on the day, and even more in the album once the finishing touches have been applied. Our workshops promote the idea of creating the image in camera - for two essential reasons. The camera is the primary capture tool and it can - believe it or not - create beautiful images all on its own. It is also a much more powerful business tool on location if the images you show your client as they are shot are already near perfect. Lightroom and PhotoShop are wonderful tools, and I love them both. However, they are there to enhance and create only those aspects of the digital image that cannot be created in camera. They should not exist for the photographer for the labour of constant and consistent repair.
The first part of the workshop happens all in the very room in which we hold our initial two hour lecture. Using basic window light, basic backdrops and basic metering techniques we prove that any location that has light can be used. Our customers left our workshop on the first day without having hardly left the room. And yet each of them was surprised with the images they themselves created. Using the camera manually, metering for the highlights and posing the subjects for the light are simple processes that have the power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. 
Our second day is more complex. We began at the home of a friend who offered us a livingroom to prove that what we learned the day before works in most people's homes. Then, its off to various locations to find the light and put them in it. And, if the light is not what you want, we create it. 
On and Off camera flash techniques were something that our customers asked us to explain and show from the outset. So, we did. Creating light when the light you want is not with you is a powerful addition to any photographer's toolbox. It has been the difference between mediocre and extraordinary at many of the weddings I have photographed, and the images that result in camera are enough to convince any dubious couple of your abilities or the images you are producing. After that, they are putty in your hands, willing models who are suddenly getting all funky for ya.
Our customers leave the workshop with skills that enable them to see light, meter for it and create images at their weddings - weddings that happen in our own surroundings. We want the couples who don't look like Brad and Angelina and who don't hold their receptions in ancient castles or mansions to still have the most beautiful images possible. That honours our process and our place as photographers. It also honours their wedding day and their love for each other.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Film Noir Workshop - Black Gets Blacker

Azra and Alister go retro. Camera: Ricoh GRDII
Recently, and by popular demand, the Creative Photo Workshops Film Noir event was once again organised for our customers who missed out the first time. This time we called it Film Noir - Black Gets Blacker. We thought Back in Black might have worked but apparently some Aussie rock band had taken that one. I'll have to look into that.
Our models were Azra Dedic and Alister LeToille. These two young people were wonderful to work with, but I wonder if either of them had ever even heard of Film Noir. Well, now they have. Funnily enough, they missed out on the first round of this event and after seeing the images posted on Facebook of our replacements, Natasha and Taisen, made sure that they were not going to miss out modelling for the second round. For a bit of spice, we added another model, Miss Carly, fired up our fog machine, loaded our plastic pistol and we were set to go. 
I love this genre. I have to admit it. This lighting genre is about 'not light'. Its about what you don't light, as against what you do. And that is a great lesson for photographers to learn. The mystery that darkness creates is what this genre was all about and it was created for those low life, dingy gangster tragedies of the 30's through to the 50's, although it had been pioneered in the silent cinema era. 
Now, this might sound simple, but when you 'don't light' something, what you 'do light', and how, is very important. Because you are only lighting a select portion of the frame or the subject, your selection is rather important. Then, how you meter it is also very important. Essentially, this is about metering for the highlights, and for our customers it demands that they put their cameras into manual mode, ensure the correct exposure and fire away. No amount of fiddling about in Program Mode is going to work here. It is a great workshop for those who believe that cameras know what they are pointing at. They don't. 
We also ask our attendees to set their jpeg settings to monochrome and shoot in black and white. Yes, they could convert the images at home, but we want them to learn to see in black and white when they shoot and become accustomed to the style. 
But the satisfaction of that process is palpable. Images that come straight out of camera are the most satisfying of all. Achieving a powerful, dynamic, artistic image in camera is an Everest for the neophyte photographer. It is a moment not soon forgotten. Film Noir shooting demands that attention be given to metering above all. There is usually little work required in terms of post processing when our customers return home. Some may choose to add vignettes, or perhaps do some retouching. But really, the images are perfectly acceptable and viable straight out of camera. Ya gotta love that.
Interested? Well it won't be the last time we run this event. Check here for details of our Brisbane Film Noir...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Studio Essentials

Model: Hailee Forde
I have often wondered if photography is truly teachable. In other words, can one photographer teach another how to take photographs? I suppose the answers "yes" and "no" are both true. Certainly there are techniques, guidelines and sciences that one should learn. But right and wrong is a matter of perspective and opinion where an artform is involved. Art is such a personal thing that its very difficult to say that one approach is wrong and another is correct. It is for these reasons that I no longer accept invitations to judge competitions at camera clubs. Rarely anyway. I believe that such a process only reinforces one photographer's idea of creativity over an other's and I wonder if anyone has that right.
Another workshop was integrated into our repertoire over the weekend. Our 'Studio Essentials' Workshop was designed to teach our customers exactly that - studio essentials - the starting point for their own journey in that arena. We were graced by the company of Taisen Blackwolf, Hailee Ford and Kelly Kooper as our models as well as many of the CPW crew who came along to assist with the running of the whole show. It was a sea of Team CPW shirts...and it was a beautiful thing.
I get to see quite a bit of work from photographers at all levels. Much of it I aspire toward, hoping that I achieve that level of technical and/or creative brilliance myself one day. But I also believe that too many photographers jump into studio lighting and studio photography too quickly. The evidence is seen in the fact that so many of the 'studio essentials' are missing. What are these, you ask? Highlight vs Shadow. Contrast control. Background separation. Light positioning. Specular vs diffused, or the combinations of both....and much more. Naturally it takes much study and hard work to become a master of any or all of these. I am not a master, but I have been on the road much longer than many.
The workshop was designed to highlight and examine the principles of lighting, whether it be portrait or product. Once they are established and understood, a photographer of average experience and intelligence can take that ball and run with it, using his or her own imagination, creativity and aquired tool set to build on that and create their own style. Naturally you can't teach everything in one class. For that matter, I think it would take a lifetime to teach everything possible in the studio, the same as it takes a lifetime to work through the almost endless variations of light, ratio, positioning, composition and posing. A seven hour workshop can only teach some principles and hope that those who attend see the infinite possibilities that lie before them in their own time. Admittedly, that is the best any workshop can hope for. Now its up to each of those who attended to take what they have learned and make it theirs.That is the best I can hope for.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Bomber and a Bombshell!

Last night's 40's Pin Up event came as the result of an off hand comment I made while I was in LA with Glynn. He was recording me with his Kodak Zi8 as I was looking at a retro calender in a shop window. I said something like "We should do a 40's Pin Up Workshop". When the video played on our website, the thought of it became a reality when so many people put their hands up and said 'Yeah! I would come to that!' . Thus, a passing comment became another event for Creative Photo Workshops to run as part of our Winter Series. Sometimes its good to think out loud!

We found a WWII Liberator bomber under restoration in a hangar in Werribee, and the owners were kind enough to let us in and do our thing. So, last night, in we went. Looking after the needs of the group, Glynn and I don't get to shoot much, but here are a couple of images I had fun with in PhotoShop.
Thanks to our brave and beautiful models - Rebecca, Brooke and Darci for braving the cold and for making the evening possible. Thanks to John and Judi for making us all welcome in their beloved hangar. Thanks to Gordon for bringing that fabulous jeep and to Monika Brecht and Josey DeVito for doing the model's hair and makeup. Thanks also to all our friends who attended and brought their cameras and a sense of fun. It was a great night and another successful event.

Natural Light People Photography Workshop

Model: Emily Reardon

A few days ago, Creative Photo Workshops ran yet another one of our People Photography workshops. This workshop is among our most popular and teaches those who attend the value in all kinds of light, the context of it and the methods of its use. It also highlights the fact that great 'people pictures' are found anywhere that light can be found and used. Our old 'find the light and put them in it' mantra really comes to the fore here, and our customers learn how to see light, place the subject within it, pose them for it and meter for it. Sometimes a dozen or more different kinds of images can be made from the same shaft of light. We don't believe that great locations or supermodels are the makings of great photographs. The simple art of 'writing with light' takes care of that.
The other aspect of this workshop is that we like to use models who are not necessarily going to make life easy for our customers by doing everything for them. Certainly they are attractive and need to be friendly and personable, but one of our greatest issues is getting people to interact with our models. So, we use models who don't necessarily have years of experience working with photographers. This forces our students to direct them, even as they would the every day people in their own lives who become the subjects for their own lenses in their own time. There are some serious spankings dished out to the silent photographers who just stand there and focus. Seriously though, there is nothing more frustrating for anyone who is being photographed than not knowing whether or not they look their best, or that they are meeting the photographer's vision. Give your models clear direction and they will not only respond, they will be relieved. 

Sunday, July 04, 2010

On Broadway

Well, I am back from LA,  and having had a very bad back since I returned, I have been somewhat incapacitated. But I am on the mend now and finally able to sit at my desk and catch up with you all. Especially with regard to what happened on the last two days of our time in LA, which, incidentally, is probably about the time I did my back in. 
Glynn and I were set to leave LA on Sunday night. We had a lunch appointment with David Honl and his wife, actress Claudia Christian. Glynn and I met David at PMA in Anaheim in February and enjoyed meeting his wife at a cocktail party in Hollywood we were then kindly invited to. Since then, Creative Photo Workshops has partnered with David to promote his unique and very functional range of Honl strobist equipment, which, I have to say, I really enjoy working with. Apart from being very practical stuff, its easy to use and does not require you to glue anything or attach anything to your flash that won't easily come off. Its all done with Velcro, folks. Cool. If you want to know where to get this stuff in Australia, just ask me. 
Over lunch that Saturday, Glynn and I discussed doing a shoot before we left town and asked if they wanted to be a part of it. We mentioned that we had fallen in love with the old theatre district in downtown LA and wanted to do a shoot there. Claudia sourced some fabulous models in retro clothing and David volunteered some Honl gear. Suddenly, we were set to go. So, after a lovely dinner and a giggle with cable TV personality and fellow photographer, Erin Manning that night (aren't we the social butterflies!) we awoke to a new day, our last day in LA and a great shoot to look forward to.
The area that we fell in love with is unfortunately rather run down now, as is much of LA to be honest. In its heyday however, it would have been the hot spot of LA, the place you'd get all dressed up just to walk through, and the place where classic films would have been played to enthralled audiences.  We wanted to recreate the era if we could. The area itself is now very run down and neglected, which is rather sad considering how beautiful these theatres would once have been. It is such a shame. I believe that LA could redeem some of its former status if just this area alone were to be restored. 
Arriving at David and Claudia's home the next day we found Claudia herself, all dressed up in a pin striped suit and sporting a Fedora. Fabulous! Now we had two models and a Hollywood actress to photograph. More than that, we were going to have a renowned photographer as our assistant. Within minutes, our two models - Jayde and Sabrina - arrived and we were headed for Broadway and Hill in downtown LA.
It was midday in LA at the beginning of summer. Our light was not in any way sweet or complimentary, and so we often sought shade where we could so that we could use off camera flash, modified by grids and softboxes as supplied by David. David's new softbox is surprisingly effective and we used it for almost every image in which we used off camera flash. Having run a Creative Flash Photography workshop for Mark Comon at Paul's Photo in Torrance the weekend before, we had all the triggers and flashguns we needed. We were just a little short on for Honl gear. Thank heavens for Dave!
David Honl assist Glynn to get the light just right...
I haven't used the Honl PhotoTraveler 8 Softbox all that much, seeing as it is a relatively new product and I haven't had it very long. Also, I have never been a believer in on flash diffusers. The manufacturers try to tell you that these things perform on camera flash miracles, but I have never been a witness to any of them. However, I would have to say that I was surprised at the nature of the light that this beautiful and very portable little light shaper produces.I think I am probably going to default to its use for much more of my off camera flash photography. 
The PhotoTraveler 8 Softbox at work on my Velbon 730 Carbon Fibre tripod
Claudia has a way...
The first part of our shoot was to photograph Claudia. She had asked us for some updates and wanted to be a part of the fun. Who were we to say no to our gracious host, an attractive Hollywood actress and the lady who had organised our models? Certainly not us! But we would have done it anyway, no matter who she was or what she'd done. She looked fabulous and knows how to work a camera. After all, she has been in front of one for a long time and her husband lives behind one. Claudia is so much fun to work with. A fabulous sense of humour, confidence to the max and a way of looking down a lens that makes life so very easy. Since marrying David, she has taken an interest in photography herself - as you do. So, when we were finished with her, she turned my camera on me! I am not one for having my photo taken, but fair is fair I suppose....Hmmmm....
Claudia and David couldn't stay all afternoon, and left after about an hour or so, leaving Glynn and I to focus on Jayde and Sabrina. Jayde runs a retro clothing store in LA and had access to some wonderful clothes for herself and Sabrina.Their makeup and hair were impeccable and Glynn and I were just having too much fun. For another two hours we trawled these run down streets looking for locations and angles to avoid unnecessary anachronisms. For much of the time it meant keeping it simple, or rolling on the ground and shooting upwards. That's where and how I did my back. A long flight home to Australia that night didn't help either!
Photo of me by Claudia Christian
Thanks to David and Claudia for being so hospitable and helpful, Jayde and Sabrina for being such wonderful models and LA for not knocking down these beautiful old theatres!

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller