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Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 6 - The Road Less Traveled - to Allentown.

I gotta tell ya. I was tired. After a huge day hoofing it 'round New York, these legs of mine were feeling it. Glynn felt a bit the same. We felt like two satisfied veterans as we got packed and ready to leave Newark for the drive south into Pennsylvania. We had breakfast, checked out and picked up the rental. 
Our first port of call would be Harlem. We both felt the need to check it out. Driving through Harlem was certainly interesting, and we found ourselves asking whether it was safer to take our Lowe Pro ProRollers out of the car and bring them with us, or leave them in the car. We opted to bring our gear with us, even though, to be quite honest, I wasn't in the zone. Perhaps what I needed was a day, Today was going to be that day.
As we walked through Harlem, we were approached by a local. He told us that he knew that we were "location scouts" for Hollywood, looking for places to film. We replied with firm "G'day mate' and let him know we were just two Aussie photographers. He showed us around a little, told us where all the movies had been shot in that street and gave us the heads up on where the best food is. And of course we took his picture. Not inclined to reveal the nature of our LowePro cases, we just opted for using our Ricoh GRD III's. I love that little beastie. Have I told you that yet?
Two tired dudes leave New York behind...
The drive to Pennsylvania from there is pretty easy - if you want to just settle for taking the Pennsylvania TurnPike. To some degree you have little option. But where possible we would get off that thing and grab a back road. The lady in the little box who kept giving us directions was very patient with us. All she kept saying was "recalculating" and trying to get us out of wherever the hell it was that we were. She never once got angry or annoyed. 
Even though it was raining and there wasn't much chance for photography it was still a beautiful drive, especially if you take the road less traveled. The forests in New York and Pennsylvania are verdant and lush, even in some of the outer suburban areas. It is punctuated with abandoned mills and buildings that date back to the War of Independence. It is quite fascinating and in some parts it is absolutely beautiful. I think I could very happily find a place in that part of the world and enjoy being there for quite some time. But for now, we were headed for Allentown. Yes, its the Allentown Billy Joel wrote that song about. Technically, Allentown never had any real steel mills. Nearby Bethlehem did. But there is one thing Allentown does have that Bethlehem doesn't. Dan's Camera City. Glynn and I were booked in there to run three days of workshops. 
Dan's Camera City is similar to Paul's Photo in LA with regard to one very important aspect of photo retail that only a few understand - their customers want to learn and they want to shoot something! If photo retailers supply both of those things they will have a better chance of surviving while still holding on to their bricks and mortar. Over the next few days Glynn and I would add our unique brand of Australian photo workshops to their rather conservative mix. I will be back...

Shelton Muller

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Walk Through New York. Day 5

Me in Times Square. Photo: Glynn Lavender
So where did Day 4 go, you ask? Well, that's easy. It was spent trying to get through security in LA airport, followed by a long flight to New York, followed by dinner with one of Glynn's old friends, Heidi, in a restaurant in Newark. Ok? See. Nothing there to excite you too much. We did have a good giggle with Heidi, however! She is a laugh. We'd been used to Bonni's unique sense of humour in LA so it was time for a change. Thanks Heidi! After a long day managing airports, security, public transport and a long flight, you were great company. 
But Day 5 had been long scheduled as our 'day off'. And how do photographers spend their day off? Taking photographs, of course! But I have to tell you that when the alarm went off at 6am I was not pleased. Aren't you supposed to sleep in on your day off? Apparently not. To top it off, we would spend the next 14 or 15 hours walking through New York, a LowePro ProRoller between us, carrying the lenses and cameras we would both need.  In the end, we probably could have done most of our photography with our trusty little street camera - the Ricoh GRDIII. Have I said how much I love that little beastie? Oh well. Rolling the LowePro wasn't too difficult considering we were taking turns anyway. Travelling without the ProRoller would be so difficult. How did I ever travel without that thing? Anyhoooo.....
The view from the Empire State towards the Statue of Liberty
After a motel breakfast, Glynn and I caught a crowded subway into town, getting out at Madison Square Garden. Yep, I was finally in New York. Stepping out from the station I felt that familiar rush of being in a new place, a new city, somewhere I had never been before. Glynn had been there before, but this was my first taste at the Big Apple. I planned on taking as big a bite as I could in the one day we had. It would turn out to be an exhausting day off, but one I won't forget. First on the agenda was a morning shot of New York from the top of the Empire State Building. Glynn is acrophobic so I went up alone....with a thousand other tourists. But its all worth the wait when you finally get to the top. Ok. That box? Ticked.
A dancer poses for some quick photographs in Central Park
After that, much of our day was actually spent in conversation with complete strangers. There was Donnie in Central Park, who regaled us with stories of his battle with alcohol. And then there was Ed who played the fiddle for passersby. After asking an older couple seated geometrically on a park bench if I could photograph them, Glynn and I spent quite some time with them after having been given a polite 'No'. Its fabulous what a conversation can do. They acquiesced after a while and even 'made out' for the camera! I have since even received an email from the gentleman who apparently wants the photograph now. You see, it was all just a matter of trust. This is where the photographer needs to gather skills that have little to do with the art of taking photographs. Conversation is just one of them. For Glynn and I it proved a worthy tool in our street photography toolset. Without the ability to engage our subjects in banter and manifest an interest in them as people, we would have simply gone nowhere. More than that, we would not have had the joy of meeting new and interesting people in our walk through New York. Photography offers more to your life than the joy of images. It also adds another dimension that is not expected.
Making our way through the acreage that is Central Park, on through Strawberry Fields and then back through town, we found ourselves in Times Square for a a well earned pizza before heading home. It had been a long day and we were very tired. But here's the thing people often get wrong about New York, at least in my limited experience.The people are friendlier than you expect. At least that's we found.
The couple who said 'No'...

Glynn in Times Square
It was around 10pm and we were wondering how we were going to get back to our motel near Newark airport. Oh yeah, we stay in all the ritzy joints. Glynn pulled out a map to get our bearings and as he did so a young woman passed by. Realising that we were a little lost she stopped, turned around and asked "Are you guys ok?" After we explained our plight she gave us all the directions we needed for finding the perfect bus back. I was impressed. That kind of interest in others isn't supposed to happen in the Big Apple, is it? But this kind of thing had happened to us all day. We had encountered all manner of friendly people. I had been told that New Yorkers are rude. Maybe they are. I don't know. I must have only met the friendly ones.
Well, I made it. And,as the old song says 'if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere'. Thank you, New York, New York. It was fun. See you again in May 2011.
Strawberry Fields, forever...

Shelton Muller

Getting Cheap and Flashy in Los Angeles. Day Three.

Our LA Model, Bonni Mircovich

Our final workshop in LA this time around was our Advanced Flash Photography workshop. This was arranged so that those who attended our Creative Flash Photography workshop when we were there a few months ago could attend and further their knowledge and prowess with flash. So, there were some familiar faces, as per our cunning plan for world domination, and some new ones too! Oh, and there was Bonni, our lovely model. She seemed to be enjoying herself too much and kept coming back for more teasing and insults from the Aussies. Its just our way...
Once again we gathered at the Palos Verdes Motel in Torrance, a rather ordinary venue it might seem, and yet the very kind of ordinariness that makes our workshops unique. We are NOT about location. This venue had also served us well for our Film Noir event and we were happy to be back.
Our Advanced Flash Photography workshop takes the next step forward from basic flash, teaching flash modifiers, basic studio techniques, multiple flash and coloured gels. For most of this we use Honl strobist equipment, which never fails to impress. Honl Grids, softboxes, gels and gobos are all available in this range. FlashWave III triggers and receivers were brought from Australia to distribute to our attendees to use.
Even our customers model for us!
It is rather surprising to see the effect of this photography workshop on those who attend. We deliberately use simple flash equipment and Honl modifiers to achieve some rather wonderful images. Keeping the equipment simple is also at the heart of our workshops because we have no intention of promulgating the notion that there is a need to spend unnecessary thousands in the pursuit of great images. We have customers arriving at our photography workshops with cameras and lenses that make me salivate - only to learn that they have no idea how to use them. This is not intended as an insult, just an observation that comes from years of teaching others how to produce images from their cameras and not their computers. It appears that there are many photographers who are either told or simply believe that the more expensive their equipment, the better their images will be. Nothing could be further from the truth, except Christmas. But that's another story.
It was surprising to our Californian contingent that such wonderful images were being produced using cheap generic flashguns. We had taken our FotoBestway strobist kit with us. It contains two generic flashguns, two stands and two shoot through brollies. As mentioned earlier in this blog, we also had our Honl gear. All of this stuff is inexpensive, yet very, very effective. I love being able to show what you can do with some generic gear, some knowledge and a little imagination. This is why photography workshops actually save you money! 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Where the Light Is - Day Two of the US Workshops Tour

Model, Bonni Mircovich, photographed in a parking lot
Mark Comon using a white backdrop as a reflector
in the parking lot behind Paul's Photo

Our Natural Light Creative People Photography workshop has been a real eye opener for almost every customer who has attended it in past years. Its profound ability to reveal the omnipresence of workable light and the potential within it has left our customers truly astounded sometimes. Such was the case with this event for Paul's Photo in Torrance, California.
Summer had eluded LA this year,...until we arrived. Suddenly the California sun decided to break out in a rebellious and somewhat last minute manifestation of its true character the very day we arrived. It was well and truly out for the Fullerton Photographics event, and even moreso for this workshop the day after. It seems that our acronym – CPW – can also stand for Can Produce Weather.
Matt on Black, using only window light
What this meant is that we couldn't have people standing outside for the whole afternoon. Sure, Californians are used to heat and sunshine, but the parking lot at Paul's is not exactly an idyll for any photographer. And yes, that was our intended location for the shooting part of the workshop.
So, once again, Glynn and I are compelled to pull stuff out of our collective hat. The sun being what it was, we decided to stay inside at the back of Paul's Photo and run our workshop to a large degree in there. Mark Comon, who owns and runs Paul's Photo, is a true believer in education and runs a lot of events and workshops himself. Having set aside a special area at the back of his store for seminars and presentations, he also gave us a place to work.
Matt on white, using only window light
Using a simple fold out backdrop – white on one side and black on the other – we were able to teach the varying potential and nature of window light, metering and camera to subject relationships. We were in that back room for the first three hours of the afternoon, teaching high key and low key techniques as well as the need for a photographer to walk the arc, something we teach again and again at this workshop. You will need to come along to this workshop to find out what I mean. Sorry...I can only offer so much free stuff here...hehe....
However, part of this workshop compels us to take it outside sooner or later, no matter the light. You see, our entire premise is that there is no such thing as bad light, only the poor use of it. Another premise is that locations are irrelevant. Hmm, that can sometimes be a difficult one that forces us to put our money where our mouth is. For this workshop, Mark offered us his parking lot. Now, let me tell ya, this is no paradise. But, true to form, we were able to place our fabulous models, Matt and Bonni in some wonderful light and produce some rather impressive portraits. Once again our customers were amazed by what can be achieved when you simply 'find the light and put 'em in it.'
Come along to the next of these Natural Light Portrait workshops to find out what we mean. You won't be disappointed...even if I say so myself. I have to admit that this has probably been the most profound lesson of my photographic career and I am so happy to see its effect on others as it is paid forward. Its an epiphany that changes how you see light. That's a rather worthwhile epiphany for a photographer, don't you think?
Bonni on white, using window light

Monday, October 25, 2010

US Workshops Tour, Day 1

Being invited to come to a country like the US to run photography workshops is both daunting and exciting at the same time. There is the initial excitement of the chance to travel, to meet wonderful people, to teach and to tick a couple more boxes in your personal bucket list. For me, all of this happened during our recent Creative Photo Workshops tour. The daunting part is hoping that you live up to the expectations that surround the arrival of two photographers who have been invited from Australia to run workshops that some might consider possible for any local photographer to run. As you can imagine, we were met with that curiosity from so many who came to our workshops in the US. Why these guys? Why not a local photographer? However, I believe that Glynn and I form a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. That's not ego talking, although we both have our share. Its just something I believe in when it comes to what he and I bring. We believe in education, passion and fun for our photographers. We are also from that mysterious land down under, where women glow and men plunder, apparently. You better run, you better take cover. 
Glynn gets a little excited about our workshops...
No wonder Glynn has a bad back...
Glynn and I were invited to run a series of workshops for Fullerton Photographics in Fullerton and Paul's Photo in Torrance, Los Angeles, California. It was our second time around for Paul's Photo and our first chance to do our thing for Fullerton Photos. After making our mark on these two retailers, we were booked to head for Allentown, Pennsylvania where we had been cordially invited by Dan's Cameras to run a series of workshops for them. Having been as busy as we were, I wasn't able to blog. So, come back to the blog and I will keep you up to date on what we were doing and the madness that ensued. Lets start with our first day, shall we?
Fullerton Photo is run by Gaby Mullinax, a very smart and rather lovely woman I had the pleasure of meeting at PMA in Anaheim earlier this year. Glynn had already pitched the idea of workshops to her and now his pitch had come to fruition. So, off we were to run the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” workshop for her customers.
The day arrived and Glynn and I found ourselves surrounded by about 20 Orange County Women, each with a different level of photographic experience and equipment. That being the case, we adapted on the spot, trying to get the girls to come to grips with their cameras and the basic functions that make for great photographs. After that, it was time to do some actual cool stuff. Out came the models and our chance to set up some photographs. It was then that we realised the value of the lessons we had presented in the first couple of hours.
Gaby had cleverly named the workshop as she did and the theme “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” gave Glynn and I the chance to run it as we saw it, as long as they had a giggle and learned something too. To be honest, it is our ability to instantly adapt to situations that has often made the difference between a successful workshop and a disaster. Our combined experience with people and our years in the industry mean that we can sometimes pull a workshop out of our hat, instantly adapting from what we had planned to do to that which is necessary for the customers who have come along. While that is never our intention, we are often compelled to do so in order to cater for a workshop group that is unique in its expectations or experience. Such was definitely the case with our first day back in Los Angeles. It is a rewarding afternoon indeed when you can prove that a red t-shirt against a green garage door can produce some wonderful images. It was a giggle, and Glynn and I learned something also. We learned that our new Fedoras look awesome on us!
Model: Bonni Mircovich
LA ...not so Confidential
Our Film Noir workshops in Melbourne have been very well received, and its reputation as a photographic event preceded us all the way to Torrance, California. Mark Comon, all round great guy who owns Paul's Photo, insisted that we run that event for him as our 'kick-off' for the series of workshops we were running for him. I love that event, and I love shooting in that style. Mark had ensured that he'd purchased a fog machine, so we were set - except for the pistol prop. We had not brought ours from Australia. I have heard its not a good idea to travel with things that look like guns. Hmmm, wonder why. Mark Comon had bought these piddly little plastic pistols that looked small in a child's hand, let alone look real for the event. Glynn drove around in vain from camera store to camera store looking for a plastic pistol that was relatively life size. No go. Apparently, while real guns are sold over the shop counter in LA, trying to get a plastic replica is too dangerous. Go figger. In the end we had to settle for the anachronistically unsound air pistols that a customer's husband dropped by. At least they were big enough!
Our customers loving every minute...
Image straight from Ricoh GRDIII
So, we were set to go. A ProMaster lighting kit and the costumes we brought from Australia were all we needed to establish the event. Models arrived, and it all happened. Well, most of the models arrived. Nicole and Bonni Mircovich were right on time, and she looked fabulous. Bonni worked with us for every workshop in LA and she never let us down. A beautiful girl with a beautiful spirit. I would work with her anytime. However, our male model was nowhere to be found! What is Film Noir without a private eye in a Fedora and trenchcoat?
Bellboy to the rescue. Yes, that's right. During the course of the evening, one of the young bellboys who had been helping us with power and access to various parts of the Hotel stepped up to fill in the void. Being tall and slim made him perfect for the part and he was happy to spend his evening doing something very different from his usual occupation. So, the evening's shoot went very well, and we were happy to have our first official workshop day over. I was very pleased with many of the images straight from my Ricoh GRDIII actually. Damn I love that camera! bed to sleep and wake to run yet another workshop in the morning. Stay tuned....
Mark Comon 'shoots' with model, Nicole

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Serious Fun

I spent this morning working at a function for the ANZ bank, taking photographs at a function they were holding for the Australian Women Donors Network. It was an interesting morning learning about the means by which women can be empowered and empower the community through acts of financial philanthropy. It was a very interesting series of presentations. Toward the end of the shoot I was asked by one of the women who had spoken if it is possible to make a living from photography. She had always wanted to spend her life in the pursuit of her passions but had considered it inviable as a means to making ends meet.
It is an interesting question, and I responded with one. I asked her what she meant by 'a living'. I don't drive a Maserati. I don't own racehorses. But I have never gone without, and I live comfortably. Conversely, I have crawled through ancient pyramids, watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, The Himalayas, the Andes and the Rocky Mountains. I have held the skulls of ancient rulers, seen the piles of bones in the Killing Fields, laughed with Muslims and Monks and been chased for the kill by angry wild animals. I have touched the Taj Mahal and the Tombs of the Nobles, eaten guinea pig and used the smeared bodies of dead Amazonian ants to repel mosquitoes. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Because of photography, I have had a life - a very interesting life. In fact, there is a part of my website dedicated to this aspect of my life - the adventure that photography has brought to it. 
Which brings me to yesterday's shoot. Glynn and I decided to spend another day with our American friend, David Honl. We invited our good friend and fellow Creative Photo Workshops team member, David Oakley to join us also. We organised a model and spent the day in Melbourne taking photographs. Why? Because we could. Because we wanted to.
Photography is a wonderful and empowering passion that has the potential to take each day in your life and add to it by the simple act of creating from those moments, many of which would be considered rather everyday or common. But the photographer has the option to make an image, to place something within a frame, to write with light, to capture a moment. Yesterday was the result of a decision made to have a day in which our photography was not about our customers or clients. It was not a quick shot to ensure the image works for our workshop customers. It was simply a day we could use to take the photographs we wanted to take. 
So, David Oakley, Glynn and I met in town. Before meeting with David Honl we had a very informal CPW meeting over bacon and eggs to discuss the workshops we plan for 2011. We have much to prepare for and many workshops ahead of us, don't you worry! 
Then we met David Honl in the lobby of his hotel and  walked to Southbank to meet up with Jasmina Basic, our model. Ready and charged were two Elinchrom Ranger heads and a bunch of FlashWave III triggers and receivers. In our cases were Canons and Nikons, a range of  Tamron lenses, and a whole lot of card space. Yeah, it was going to be a great day. We were intent on having fun. Serious fun.
Working together to create images, debating the techniques, laughing and exchanging insults, as men do, we enjoyed our day of photography together. I find it refreshing that what I choose to do on my day off is to take photographs. I could never imagine myself loathing the thought of photography and opting not to take my cameras with me. I have known and spoken with renowned photographers who don't take their cameras with them on holidays unless it is only for family snapshots. There is nothing wrong with family snapshots, but there is a problem when a photographer makes a conscious choice to 'rest' from his photography. When we lose the passion to do it, the chance of killing our creativity in our profession is very high indeed. I never want to be in that place. Photography has granted me a living, true. But more importantly it has enhanced my life in ways I never dreamed possible. Why would I want that to ever change?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Working with David Honl

Well Hello Blog! Its been a while. My sincere apologies, but I have been a little busy. More on that in the next few posts...ok? I am sure you are keen to hear about our American sojourn and you will. All in good time.
In the meantime, I have to tell you about the distinct pleasure it has been to run a flash workshop recently with David Honl, well known photographer and inventor of the Honl range of strobist equipment. Glynn and I met David and his wife, Claudia, when we were in Anaheim, California earlier this year. We then did a shoot with him in Los Angeles a few months later. Now, he and Claudia were in Melbourne. So we took the opportunity by the ears and asked him to do a flash workshop with us. And as you now know, he said 'Yes!'
So, we advertised it on our workshops website and it was very well received indeed! I know that for many who attended it was a chance for them to meet the man who was responsible for a lot of inspiration and for the flash modifiers that had enabled many of their strobist images. Our models Sarah Hardy and Joana Sibinoska arrived, and we were off and running!
It was interesting to see how David approached each image he was creating with us on the day. He knew the image from the outset, disassembled it in his head, and step by step, put it back together  for us all, explaining each step along the way. I always enjoy hearing that process from fellow photographers. It is inspiring, educational and encouraging all at the same time. Being able to create the most dynamic images from the most ordinary circumstances is at the heart of strobist imaging. I love it!
Having spent that day with David, it was difficult for me to keep things a little simpler for those who attended our Creative Flash Photography workshop at Abbottsford Convent yesterday. Our Creative Flash Photography workshop starts with on-camera flash lessons and finishes with some funky off camera stuff that really excites our customers. Little do they know that by the end of the day we have only just dug beneath the thin surface. So many options and opportunities present themselves when you have a working knowledge of your strobist lighting options. Tomorrow, Glynn, David Honl, David Oakley and myself spend a day together shooting...just for fun. Our model, Jasmina, is going to get some great images. And so are we!
We even get our customers to model for us sometimes!

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller