As the end of each year approaches, our Photo and Video team gets together, and we reflect on the last year. We talk about what we did well, celebrate success and congratulate each other on exceptional work that made us particularly proud. We also critique our work and talk about where we can grow as we set goals for the new year. These practices, have helped our team improve in quality and focus, giving us objective markers of progress and growth.
We also look for ways to further not only inspiration but also education. We are firm believers that being a part of an extensive network of artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs gives us the unique gift of having a broad group of people to learn from and be inspired by. These networks of mutually beneficial relationships are priceless!
We are always looking at people's work in our industry and drawing inspiration from the immense amount of talent that exists out there (if you’re not doing this, start now). One thing we do to add to our growth and education is attending some form of conference or workshop that another photographer is hosting. These have always been a positive experience for us relationally and creatively. We thought it’d be beneficial to share an experience from one of those times and even share a few photos from the day itself. Now, there are tons of events out there... conferences, workshops, meetups, etc... One of the great things about the creatives community is we love sharing knowledge and collaborating!
One of the workshops that we attended was with a photographer acquaintance of ours, Sam Stroud. He has been a source of inspiration and learning for us as photographers for several years. He announced that he was putting on an all-day workshop with a model couple, and it took place at one of his favorite venues in Virginia, Sierra Vista. Space was limited, and this would mean a commit as we are based in Nashville. We thought about it, looked at the dates, and decided to make it happen!
What We Learned
One of the most beneficial things we did beforehand was create specific goals for ourselves. We considered things like... what we wanted to learn, what we wanted to practice, questions we wanted to ask, and challenges we wanted to make for ourselves.
We looked at our work, and asked ourselves, "What things can we focus on at this workshop to promote growth for ourselves?" For me, it was getting close to my couples and not talking from behind my camera. This was a small, but a persistent habit I was having a horrible time kicking. It can be very nerve-wracking to get up and close to your couple to communicate with them, but learning how to approach them without a camera pointed at their faces has made our couples feel much more comfortable during a shoot.
What Conference/Workshop should I go too?
This one is up to you, but sitting down and thinking about what you’re looking for in a conference is very helpful. It can help you narrow your focus and point you in the right direction so that you can limit your search. The variety of conferences is seemingly endless... there are week-long conferences full of speakers, seminars with huge parties and networking events, some are at resorts or big hotels, and others full of industry celebs and gurus. Or there are simple workshops with fewer people looking to get some hands-on practice in a more intimate setting.
Both types of continued education options have their benefits and limitations. Are you going to get more out of a big conference or is something small and specific more your speed? For us, we wanted a concrete and hands-on workshop that was in an environment where we could ask questions and dialogue in real time. So, my advice is to sit down and list out your expectations, goals, and desired results that you want to get from this time. Knowing those specifics about what you're looking for will help you to filter through the options and guide your decision.
Engage. Engage. Engage.
These workshops and conferences are not magic bullets. They do not automatically make you a better photographer; they don’t all of a sudden unleash the industry's best-kept secrets for you by merely showing up. If you go and are intimidated, reserved, and hide, then you will most likely leave feeling disappointed and not get out of the event what you were hoping for.
Every event we have been to has had time for questions, for practice, and for conversation. Those are the moments that make these events so rich to experience. We are all capable of sitting and listening to a speaker and taking down some notes and nodding our head at good points. However, getting a chance to practice in a workshop by asking a clarifying question, or discussing ideas with another person at the event, or give/receive inspiration by swapping stories with participants. THEN, you are able to get into the meat of the experience!
The Sam Stroud workshop was informal and relaxed. It was a professional yet intimate atmosphere. Even with that being said, we were all nervous, every one of us. There was that awkward nervous energy in the air that made everyone feel a little out of sorts and on edge. The best formula to get through that is to engage it. I’m not saying this is easy to start, or that you’re not going to mistakenly try and talk to the brooding, introverted artist in the group, and get stonewalled entirely.
One of the photographers was particularly shy. At one point during the shoot, Sam was having every person come up and was observing our way of shooting and communicating with the couple “our client.” This experience was one of the most vulnerable of that day. In front of a group of other photographers, some of whom are seasoned professionals, you had to unmask yourself and your methods.
One photographer was so intimidated by the experience they quietly backed into the group and inconspicuously hid behind a tree. No judgment, I know exactly how it felt and understood why the person wanted to disappear into that tree! However, the host did the best thing possible, they saw what was happening and engaged that person. They stopped everything, they invited the person up, and instead of leaving them on display and letting everyone watch, they gave them one on one attention. The person ended up capturing some of my favorite images I saw from the day. Had the person refused to be engaged, they would have missed out on the experience, and WE would have missed out on their beautiful images.
What’s the lesson here? Do yourself a favor, don’t hide behind trees, or take an extended trip to the restroom. Be humble, be brave, and embrace the awkwardness! On the other side is growth and a wonderful opportunity to gain experience and skill, not the least of which is a newfound confidence.
I know what you’re thinking, is engaging people not a risk enough in itself?! Well, technically speaking, no. You’re here to learn and to grow. That's what these conferences and workshops are for.
They are a facilitated safe zone to practice something you can’t risk doing with a client yet! One of the things we did at the workshop was each person intentionally picked one new thing we wanted to try with a client... a pose, a way of communicating, a joke, etc... This was a facilitated enviornment that was safe to practice in. I tried several poses, and some worked great. A lot however, utterly failed and felt awkward. But the great the great thing is - it was a safe place to try out ideas before bringing them out on a real shoot. Take advantage of the opportunity to try something risky at a workshop before you try it on a client.
Share What You Learned
Lastly, what do you do with your experience and knowledge after coming home from the conference or workshop? If you take these events seriously and squeeze all the benefits you can from them, you will walk away with so many valuable lessons to implement in your work, and ultimately to share with others. For us, we’ve taken the information and learned it, mastered it, and then shared it. This blog is one example of that.
For you, it could look like facilitating a workshop yourself? Start with a meetup, announce it on Facebook and Instagram, pick a date, a location, and invite other folks out to do a shoot. The best way to organize it is to utilize an online platform where you can put all the information in one place and people can RSVP to let you know they’re coming. Something like Eventbrite's registration online tool is especially helpful if you don’t have something already integrated into your website for sign-ups.
When we learn and become confident in our work, it’s my belief that we have an obligation to share our knowledge so we can help other people learn and grow. This activity strengthens our industry, and weeds out those looking to make a quick buck or jumping on to a fad. It reinforces the networks of people who are in it because they’re passionate about the work they get to do. Be confident in what you have to offer. Don’t be afraid to share that gift with the rest of us!
Canaan and the Details Team