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Monday, November 29, 2010

How the West was Won

Model: Samantha Shvetsova

No folks, I am not speaking of the classic western of the same name. In truth, I am speaking of the recent Creative Photo Workshops events in Perth and Bunbury in Western Australia. Perhaps it is a presumptuous title for this blog, but I have to tell you that I feel rather positive about how everything went over there! This was our first time in Perth and the fact that everything went so well was, to be honest, a bit surprising. Our workshops were well supported, we met some wonderful and lovely people and had a great time. To me, it was a victory - over perhaps my own concerns that our first time in Perth and Bunbury would be only an introduction of ourselves to the photographic community there and not actually contain filled events. After all, CPW has never been there before. I was in Perth a few years ago working for Kodak and photographing the Crusty Demons, but that has been about it. This was our first time there as a workshops company. So I have reason to feel victorious I suppose. I don't get to do as much photography as I would like at these events because its all about our customers. But here are a few images from the six days we spent in the wild wild West.

Glynn and I have been in discussions with the fabulous people at Camera Electronics for some time. Without doubt they are the best photo retailer in that part of the world. A very active business that is all about photography. They organise workshops and seminars on a regular basis and we felt that our business would fit perfectly with theirs. We met owners, Saul and Frank, at PMA in Anaheim, California, earlier this year and immediately felt a synergy and built a rapport. It didn't take much to get workshops organised with them. They are very switched on in this regard and their business is built on the passion that photographers feel for their craft and not on selling boxes filled with black plastic things. For me, this has always been and will always be the secret to successful photo retail - especially in these days of grey imports, internet bargains and online shopping. For photo retail to survive, an atmosphere of photography needs to be built within the bricks and mortar. It needs to be a place where people go to feel more than just a need to haggle a price or ask how many pixels this camera has when compared to another. Why do people prefer one bar or pub over another? Its rarely about the beer. The same is true with photo retail. Cameras can be bought anywhere, but you can't feel the fun and passion of photography clicking a mouse and buying a bit of plastic online. Because our business is all about the fun and passion of photography, our philosophy and theirs were immediately on the same page.
Model: Keshia Menasse

We ran 5 workshops and one evening event while we were there- two Natural Light People Photography workshops, one beach event complete with sax players and swimsuit models, a Creative Flash Workshop and our Creative Wedding Photography workshop. During the course of those few wonderful and busy days we met some great people. I would like to thank all those who attended, most of whom had never heard of us! Our models were wonderful also. Thanks to Tahlia, Kate, Samantha, Caitlin and Keshia, all of whom were great sports and willing to take a bit of teasing. For our models, that is a necessary quality. Good looks come a distant third to personality and a good sense of humour. Admittedly not all of our models have the first two. Thanks also to WA surfing photographer, Russell Ord, who not only came to three workshops but even posed as our groom for the wedding workshop on the final day. Russell even hired a suit to do so! Apart from his surfing photography, Russell also shoots a few weddings.. It is this part of his business that he wants to develop. He felt that by being a groom, he would understand how to direct people. At the end of the day he candidly told the entire group that he had learned much about direction by being photographed. For a people photographer, this is an excellent lesson. His testimonial about the workshops is even more candid than that. And..I quote....
'Stale' is the word I used today when describing my photography work, which basically means it is not fresh, pleasant, new or exciting to me anymore.It has come to a point where I am not enjoying my work like I have in the past, just going through the motions and not challenging myself.  That has all changed with a couple of creative photography workshops with Glynn Lavender and Shelton Muller - two guys I could not thank enough for restoring passion back into what I love – photography.

I walked into Camera Electronics on Friday just to get some cameras cleaned and dream a little while walking the shop floor. Saul, the owner, suggested I go along to a natural light portrait workshop. Alarm bells went off in the head immediately. All I could imagine was some stereotypical photography nerd boring me to death with technical jargon, reading word for word from the latest wondrous instruction manual. If I did not sink five double shot coffees before morning tea washed down with sugar coated chocolate donuts I would be in a coma, snoring my head off. But he convinced me otherwise and I reluctantly went. After all,  I could do with a good relaxing sleep on a Sunday morning. Within the 20 minutes I knew I couldn’t get enough of the exceptional information provided. Glynn and Shelton would have to the best instructors, trainers, tutors, comedians, people etc etc I have ever come across. They never once lose your attention and they know their work inside and out. Yes, don’t worry about some great big dirty manual on the front desk for reference.They are both walking books of knowledge and they problem solve at speed. My photography improved in an instant and as a professional surf photographer I was not expecting that at all. Four days later I have just finished my third workshop. They were all brilliant and having driven three hours back home to Margaret River, all I want to do now is go shoot some photos. Stale? I am not stale. I just didn’t have the tools in the kit bag. I can’t thank the lads from Creative Workshops enough!
Cheers Glynn and Shelton, see you in Melbourne.

Cheers again

Russell Ord – improved surf photographer.

That is perhaps one of the highest compliments I have ever been paid, and I know that Glynn would feel the same. Thanks Russell. To reignite a passion for your art is indeed an honour. Thank you WA! It was fun!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brisbane Workshops - Again!

The lovely and ever reliable Eve Hendrickse

Ok! Ok! I know. Its been at least ten days since I came here to care for this blog and its contents. And I am sorry. I really am. But its been a very busy ten days..and I gotta tell ya - hotel internet isn't what it should be. But here I am. There are still stories to be told about our US workshop too, and don't think I won't be getting back there very soon. For now, just a few words about our recent Brisbane photography workshops
You are always a little unsure when you set about organising an event interstate. You commit yourself hoping that the response is enough to justify the expenses and the planning. I have to say that our recent Brisbane workshops were a complete success. We had a wonderful response from photographers, some of whom traveled great distances to be there. Some came from the Gold Coast, Hamilton Island, Byron Bay, and Cairns. The lovely Robyn (aka Brian - its a long story) came from some small town in the back of somewhere I can hardly remember. Glynn and I feel very honoured when we know that we are not the only ones who do the traveling. After all, we have to be there! 
Model: Cassandra

Model: Daniel Cohen
First of all, Creative Photo Workshops would not have been able to run these events as successfully as we did without the wonderful assistance of PhotoContinental, who hosted the event in their building. We are very grateful to this very switched on photo retailer and its manager - our good friend Mark Schleicher. 
We arrived a day early to do a personal workshop with Debbie, a photographer who has attended our workshops before but wanted some two-on-one time to sort out specific issues she is having in her studio. She provided two wonderful models -Daniel and Cassandra - and we had a great day. I think we sorted her problems out. I hope so anyway! 
Model: Eve Hendrickse
The next day was a long one. We ran our wedding photography workshop and our Film Noir event in the one day. That's a big day. The problem that immediately faced us was the typical CPW weather. That is also a long story. It was raining, and so another location was needed. We were directed to the Breakfast Creek Hotel, whose welcome and kindness was overwhelming. It was a great location that enabled us to shelter from any rain when it fell and still use outdoor light. The lovely Eve Hendrickse was our bride. She is such a pleasure to work with and with a little work could be a very successful model. Rob Bampton was our groom. For our Film Noir event that night, the lovely Melanie Surplice offered us the foyer area of her residence in the beautifully renovated old woolsheds where she lives. We were accompanied by Emma Boucher, Felicity Allman and Rob Bampton as models for that event and they played their parts well. Much of that is the simple yet arduous task of standing still while a group of photographers works itself around the many angles and options for each setup.
The next day was our workshop was our Creative Flash Photography workshop. I won't even mention the model with whom we worked as she was not particularly talented and her promises to be at our next few days of workshops turned out to be disingenuous to say the least. Lesson to models: Don't make life difficult for the photographers you are working with. They are often your lifeline to future work. I will not only never work with this model again but I will dissuade other photographers from doing so. Her utter silence since she left our workshop is deafening in its disrespect and indifference. The workshop itself went well, however, and once again proved that anywhere is a great location with the right light. Our 'paradise' for this shoot was the loading zone of a local supermarket. From there we went to a very ordinary park to continue our off camera flash lessons. 

Model: Anesu

Our Studio Essentials Workshop was our next event. It is always a challenge because patience is required from all who attend to avoid the tendency to take photographs between changes in lighting and the establishment of different lighting setups. But it never fails to astound our customers just how straightforward the principles of core studio work is. Beginning with just one light and building from there, we reduce the alleged complexities of studio work to that which is essential for the creation of beautiful portraits, evocative maternity photographs or basic product or still life work. Our customers appreciate the disassembling of images as the very thought of studio photography frightens so many who really want to give it a try but are apprehensive to begin.

We were accompanied once again by Eve and were joined by models Gavin Hain (left) and Anesu (above). Being stunningly African, Anesu provided us with a different look and complexion that offered a different perspective on lighting. Eve was her very pretty self and Gavin gave the girls a bit of fun with his somewhat well put together physique, but I take this moment to remind all that we run family friendly events...ok? But seriously, I do enjoy running this workshop very much as it enables me to control light rather than be at the mercy of that which is given.
Model: Nicole Payne
Our Natural Light Portrait Workshop came next, and this workshop never fails to amaze our customers as we often choose the most unlikely areas and locations to prove that light is everything and location matters little. Our location was the parking lot of PhotoContinental. It proved to be perfect for proving our point. We used every trashy and ordinary corner of that place. Because the aforementioned model did not turn up, Rob Bampton found one for us at last minute. Nicole Payne (above left) was lovely to work with and we are very grateful for her assistance at the last minute. Thanks Nicole! Thanks Rob! 

Our last day was our Advanced Flash Photography workshop in which we bring out the Honl gels and grids, the Fotobestway softboxes and other modifiers to show what can be done with a little ingenuity and some imagination. Everything from quick, convenient studio setups are established right through to outdoor multiple flash setups that either alter or enhance reality. Rob (right) once again played it up for the ladies when we created a 'shaft of light with a simple stobe and a Honl grid. Apart from that, this is also a difficult workshop requiring patience from all, but the learning curve is a pretty cool one indeed. Rob's chest became enough distraction between setups for a little while at least...
For myself, I want to thank the wonderful photographers and friends who came, many to each event, for making our time in Brisbane so enjoyable and our photography workshops such a complete success. Thank you so very much.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Day 7 - And on the Seventh Day, they...worked their butts off...

In Allentown, Pennsylvania there is a fabulous photo retailer - Dan's Camera City . Dan's is one of the most forward thinking and customer oriented photo retail outlets I have ever known. It even has its own 'University' where classes are regularly programmed to teach their customers the principles, techniques and processes connected with so many aspects of their photography. For this reason, Creative Photo Workshops became a part of the scenery. Yes, Glynn and I found ourselves, of all places, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We were there to run three separate workshops. They became four before we left. More on that later. The first of them was our Creative Wedding Photography workshop
The wedding workshop is perhaps the most difficult for us in some ways. In fact, it can even become a little awkward at times. It is difficult because there is always a keenness to shoot the setups Glynn and I establish - which is fine - except that there has to be time for explanation too and this workshop requires a little more patience than some other workshops. It is also difficult because there is an expectation on our part that our customers have already attained a certain level of prowess and knowledge in their photography before they take on the responsibilities of wedding photography. Glynn and I have never run a wedding workshop in which at least some of those who have attended have returned for our Understanding Your Camera workshop so that they can learn about shutter speeds and apertures. For us, this is a real eye opener. And, once again, it proved to be the case in Allentown among some of those who attended. For some, a basic understanding of metering was not present, and so much of the time was simply spent establishing shots in which lessons on proper incident or spot metering techniques were necessary. Unfortunately, that is time taken from the more specific aspects of wedding photography, such as posing and managing the shoot. This is not a criticism of our customers. Rather, it is an education for us, alerting us to some of the misconceptions about modern photography. The whole "take 4000 pictures on Auto and hope for the best' mentality is somewhat pervasive within that aspirational new collective of neophyte wedding photographers. It is an entirely inappropriate and unprofessional approach to the couple's Day of Days, but that is the fault of the industry, not entirely the photographers themselves Every time we run our wedding photography workshop it is adapted for those specifically in attendance, which is fine, but wedding photography has unique difficulties and challenges associated with it that we prefer to spend more time addressing. I never get to actually shoot much at a wedding workshop, which in this case was ashame as Mike, the owner of Dan's Camera City, had arranged for a wonderful location with some beautiful lighting opportunities and I would have loved to gone a little ballistic, I have to tell you....

If becoming a wedding photographer is something you aspire to, become proficient with your camera manually. No racing driver has only an automatic licence for his car, and it could be said that wedding photography is the Speed Racing equivalent of professional photography. 

Monday, November 01, 2010

A workshop in the Otways

7th Generation owner, Tom Dennis, models reluctantly for our workshop

Ok. Lets take a break from this America thing for just a moment. Don't worry, I will return to that subject. But there is much more to tell. The problem is that there are so many other exciting things happening in life at the moment that I can't blog it all without missing something. But...the weekend just passed was an enjoyable one and I suppose I just wanted to tell you about it.
A few weeks ago I received a call from Lindy at Otways Tourism with a request to come and speak for their Otways in Focus event, a photography event for the local region. Of course I made the date free, and asked if Glynn and his wife and daughter could come also. It was agreed, and our accommodation and workshop location at the fabulous Tarndwarncoort homestead near Colac were confirmed. Fabulous.Tarndwarncoort was built in 1848 and it is a wonderful retreat for you and a group of friends or family. We intend on returning to run more photography workshops there next year. It still remains with the descendants of the original family. In fact, Tom Dennis, one of the sons of the current owners, Wendy and David Dennis, was so friendly (and handsome!) that we even asked him to model for us. He obliged with a typically country sense of humour and willingness and then roped in his friend Ross also.. We were also joined by the lovely Gayle who wore a great combination of jean jacket and oriental style dress. Love it. What was great about these three wonderful souls is that not one of them had modeled before, leaving us and our customers with the real experience of photographing real people and not experienced models. It is somewhat disingenuous to hire experienced models who provide a great experience through their knowledge of posing and light, only to leave our customers believing that this is how every wedding photography or portrait session will actually succeed. Gayle, Tom and Ross were all very real and easy going people who were certainly good looking enough for our cameras and also real enough that we could teach real lessons. Perhaps the most experienced model for the day was Emily Lavender, Glynn's 3-year old daughter who poses for the camera with such delight and expertise you would think that the cover of Marie Claire awaits her.

Experienced model, Emily Lavender
assists with the
pre-workshop establishment
Ah, the iPhone. Every handy...
After a restful morning spent having coffee and a well earned break in the homestead, our official duties began on Saturday when Glynn and I spoke at COPAC on the subject of Travel Photography. We discussed the need for a photographer to assess whether he is a photographer who travels, or simply a traveler who photographs. The images and opportunities that result manifes themselves in the images. To prove the point , I showed two video slide shows of my travel images and together we spoke about some of the necessary techniques and philosophies behind successful travel imaging. One of the videos is included here..

Sunday morning we were prepared for the 20 or so customers who had paid the princely sum of $10 to come along and learn some techniques. We intended to do about two hours of setups and explanations, realising that there would be less chance for those who attended to actually shoot, or at the very least achieve the best vantage points for each shot. But for $10 they certainly got their money's worth as once again Glynn and I explained the benefits of finding light and metering for it. I am constantly astounded at how little of this is actually understood by those who attend our workshops before they come. I am also thankful as without it, Glynn and I would not have been able to assist as many as we have over the past two years. Even with the rain, the shoot went very well, and everyone learned something worthwhile. At the very least they had a giggle. That is an essential part of every workshop we run. Without the fun, we don't want to do it!
Ok, there you have it.  A deviation from the America narrative and one I hope you didn't mind. I will be back on the subject of our US tour very, very soon. We are also off to Brisbane this week to run a series of workshops there. So there is much to tell. See you soon!

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller