As you (probably) know, this year I was lucky enough to have an extended holiday in Miami as little treat for working so hard during the year. It wasn’t all sun and sea though as I decided to invest some of my hard-earned cash in my first ever photography workshop with Mr. Jerry Ghionis – arguably one of the most successful wedding photographers in the world. So, what was my week with the smooth-talking Aussie like, and what did I actually gain from the experience?
Well, let me first of all say that the entire week was certainly one of my highlights of the year, really challenging some of the ways I shoot and how I run my business. It was certainly money well spent and I’m so glad I was in Miami the same time the workshop took place.
If you are reading this post, then I guess you are either thinking of booking on to one of Jerry’s workshops or have already done so and are eagerly searching the net to find any information you can about the experience that awaits you. I know I did when I made the booking.
One of the reasons I searched so hard for information is because, being totally honest here, my main reason for booking the workshop was due to it being in Miami at the same time as me. I knew who Jerry was, but hadn’t really looked at his work in too much detail. From what I’d seen I liked the drama and intensity of his images, but thought it quite far removed from what I generally shoot. I went into the whole thing a bit unprepared, and I think it showed in the shots I chose for the first day’s critique. Instead of honing in on portraiture, or “staged” moments, or experimentation with lighting– which is what Jerry is pretty awesome at – I opted for soft light portraits and actual photojournalist shots. Most everybody else in the room clearly had chosen shots in a similar style to what Jerry shoots and could receive much more constructive criticism than my shots allowed for. When choosing your shots for the first day critique choose the shots that push the boundaries of what you do; heavily weight it towards portraiture, either with dramatic lighting, striking poses, or real emotion – and maybe a subject you found difficult to shoot.
By the end of the evening (and the stories you hear about finishing at 1am are entirely true) I actually felt pretty rubbish, out of my depth, and wondering what the hell I was actually going to achieve by being on this workshop.
I’m generally a positive person and by the morning I realized that these thoughts weren’t really going to help me much and I readdressed the situation. Yes, my images didn’t quite fit with what everybody else had shown but that didn’t mean I was the most awful photographer in the world (!) It didn’t mean I had to change my style, but to take on board all I could learn and use it to complement what I already do.
Jerry says that each workshop is always different as the photographers taking part will have different strengths and weaknesses and want to work on those aspects more than others. With the 2010 Miami workshop it became clear that posing and lighting were two of our biggest concerns, and so we spent a lot of time going over various techniques and exercises to think about posing in a way that looks natural in the shot, but flattering for the subject. We looked at ways to generate different genuine emotions in our couples, and how to use any kind of light for a certain effect.
The workshop is quite theory based, and often you are listening to Jerry or watching him shoot. Short shoot sessions are scheduled in but these felt quite pressured – as Jerry says, don’t try to change the world in those 20 minutes – just try and put into practice what you’ve learned in the morning – do one thing differently to what you did before and it will begin to sink in.
One thing I used to run away from was direct sunlight and harsh shadows. At one shoot session on the beach we were encouraged to shoot with the bright sunshine and no shade. This is something I would never have done before and it opened my eyes to using light in different ways. All the models on the shoot were really easy to work with, had a great attitude, and looked amazing.
Perhaps the most interesting shoot for me was the night shoot. I already know how to use my speedlights, and was interested in using other lights at night. Shop windows, streetlights, video lights – all these were used and I think looked amazing. With a full winter wedding season I have found looking at different artificial ambient lights has really changed my photography for the better.
Aside from these practical tips, the last two days of the workshop are very much geared toward optimizing your business. My private mentoring session with Jerry made me re-evaluate my brand identity, and it put me on the road to putting my albums at the forefront of my business instead of tucked away only for those who really want them. He also had lots of ideas for increasing your bookings and getting your work out there. I came away from these two days understanding more than ever that although do what I love, and do quite well at doing it, there’s always room for improvement in business.
With all this learning please don’t think the workshop is all work and no play. The Miami crew were some of the craziest people I’ve met and we had such a blast in our downtime. One night we were dancing on the tables in a Greek restaurant and singing Karaoke in a dingey hotel bar! You can learn as much from the other photographers on the workshop and it’s always interesting to hear their perspectives on the various issues we have as wedding photographers.
I can’t tell you if this workshop is for you, but I can sum up what I think I got out of the whole experience. I’ve been in the wedding photography business a few years and have been lucky to be quite booked up from the moment I started, but it’s given me very little time to stop and reflect. It’s given me the tools to refine and tighten the things I do, and to take my business seriously going forward. Jerry doesn’t want you to become clones of him and you need to find a way to listen to what he says and do it your way. I was fortunate to have a lot of weddings and pre-wedding shoots when I came back from Miami and put into practice what I learned almost immediately. I really took on board what I learned, and I hope some of my recent images below, that I feel demonstrate things I’ve now done differently, show how I’ve tried to apply what I learned in my own style.