As many of you may know if you follow me on social media, I teach workshops and give lecture on photography and retouching all over the United States. Through prepping each workshop, I sharpen my knowledge and become fluent in the material I’m teaching. However, without fail, I always learn a million new things when teaching each workshop.
And I’m not talking new ways to light, pose or retouch, I’m talking about things about my market, my peers and how things are done differently from person to person. You see, as photographers, you don’t really get the opportunity to see eachother work. With the exception of workshops, tutorial series and the occasional Creative Live, we’re left guessing on how to properly work with, light, and edit subjects to help create our art. As a workshop educator, I’m afforded the luxury of teaching, while remain a fly on the wall to a dozen different photo shoots throughout the day. Here are some of the things I’ve learned as an educator in this industry.
We’re All Oblivious When It Comes to Business
I teach workshops predominantly relating to lighting and retouching, though I encourage all of my students to ask questions throughout the workshop about anything related to photography. Without fail, the conversation eventually makes its way to business practices and making a living as a photographer.
While I pride myself on knowledge relating to client interaction, lighting, and retouching, I’ve found that generally people are most impressed with my ability to run a photography business full time. This industry is filled with far more weekend warriors than full time photographers, though many of them are trying to find the bridge from one to the other. I give them the same advice time and time again, and just simply encourage them to make the leap.
There is no guide book on how to run a successful business, and there is no one secret on how to get booked with photo shoots 5 days a week. You simply have to fight for it. The best advantage I have against other photographers in this industry is that I don’t have a nine to five I need to report to five days a week. My success as a businessman is solely dependent on the time I can invest in it.
People Can't Bridge The Gap With Client Interaction
Another thing I've realized, is that people think there is a secret to client interaction, that there is a single sentence of phrase that can be said when photographing someone, that'll instantly make them comfortable in front of a camera. Sadly, like all things, there aren't cheat codes. I tell people, there is no such thing as client interaction, only people interaction. If you want people to feel comfortable in front of your camera, you need to make them feel comfortable with you, and you with them. Want to know about client interaction? Then understand social interaction. Read books like "How to Win Friends and Influence People," and most importantly, find authenticity in your intentions.
Right And Wrongs Don't Exist
Perhaps my most staggering findings is that there is a million different ways to do the same thing. I like my lights close to my subject, and I like my modifiers large and circular in shape. I teach this practice at my workshops and watch students awkwardly fumble through this technique and idea. Eventually, I step in, swap out the octabank with a small softbox, and tell them "Do it how you naturally do it, and then let's maximize your technique."
It helped me understand that there are no rights or wrongs when it comes to technique. I love my off camera lighting, and will become a pack mule when working on location. That doesn't mean that there aren't people who work in natural light and do it brilliantly. I love to have my modifiers larger than life, making kites while outdoors on location. That doesn't mean bare flashes can't create some masterful results. I have become obsessed with large sensors and ridiculous dynamic range, but I'm still forever envious of those who can create exceptional art with nothing more than an iPhone.
So this is exactly how I approach my workshops. I tell people that I'll teach them what they need to know, and then together we can use those tools to help develop their own style. I'm not teaching workshops that show you how to shoot like me, I'm teaching technical skills that will help you develop how you want to shoot, without any limitations to your own knowledge. Shameless plug incoming....
Techniques Can Be Taught, Style Cannot
Which brings me to my next point, Only techniques can be truly taught. When starting on my workshops and eventually tutorial series, I got asked a question by many that sank into my brain, and scared the hell out of me. The question --
If you're teaching photographers the secret to your style, won't you lose your edge in the market?
This question rotted in my stomach for a long time, and made me second guess the nature of my workshops. My instinct was to withhold some information at my workshops, like I had some signature shortcut that was worth its weight in gold (There is no such thing). But it wasn't until I released every little piece of information that I knew, that I learned, there are no secrets.
My photos don't look the way they do because of a confidential light placement, or a top secret curves adjustment in Photoshop, they look the way they do because they're an extension of who I am and the experiences I've had in life. That is something that can not be replicated in an 8 hour class - or an 8 week internship for that matter.
And that statement rings true still today. I can have a student take a photo in the same location as me, using the same makeup artist, wardrobe stylist and light settings. The end result is that we're going to get different photos. No one can effectively replicate your style (assuming you have one), so there is no sense in hiding that from the world.
And that is where I sit right now. I'm teaching workshops because each and every time, I learn something from them. Even as the instructor, I become better familiarized with the technical jargon, and gain a better understand of the concerns and techniques of others in the industry. A workshop is only as good as the class it contains, and the class is only as good as their willingness to learn - myself included. None of us are masters, and regardless of your time in this industry, you have something to both learn, and something to teach.