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| p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Wanted to give a plug to legendary portrait photographer darton drake |
I have never attended a workshop - what exactly do you get out of them?
It doesn't seem like anybody who teaches a workshop has taken any themselves. I am curious how these people are able to sell their workshops to the general public when it seems like the most successful people in the field either learned by either working as an assistant or just figured things out on their own.
I apprenticed with Jack's uncle Monte in the early 70s and assisted with his classes which range from a 2 hour lecture in front of 300 pros at a PPofA convention to a three-day hands-on "master classes" with 2-5 photographers .
By then Monte had been in the business about 25 years. He got into teaching and writing by virtue of being innovative in the 60s. When others did flat looking single flash shots and stale looking studio lit formals he use window light and a reflector for the posed shots and incorporated the then new idea of an optically triggered slave to shoot all his wedding reception "candids" with dual flash. He got recognition amongst his PPofA peers in the profession by walking away with the prizes in print competitions. He was also very successful financially because he had clients who paid top dollar for his work.
Winning competitions led to invitations to teach at the PPofA summer seminars and at conventions and a monthly column in the PPofA magazine. He magazine column which I read as a PPofA student member is how I knew who he was and what I could learn from him when I saw the ad in the Washington Post for an apprentice / assistant. It was and old fashioned apprenticeship: I made only $50 per week to start, but getting paid for the education I got.
I was already a technically competent photographer using the Zone System and had some experience selling work as a photojournalist. Where I was clueless was dealing with people and putting them at ease, what was actually involved behind the scenes to run a small business successfully, and how difficult that part is to do well single-handed.
That's mostly what photographers, mostly wedding pros, who attended Monte's seminars got. It was a given they had mastered the technical side and had some experience with posing, lighting, business approach, etc. So sitting in a crowd of 300 at convention they where not trying to learn things from ground zero, it was more a process of comparing what they did with what Monte had found to be successful. A person with no experience attending one of his convention seminars wouldn't get much out of it because they would have no baseline of personal experience to compare it to.
As for why some people appear to teach more than they shoot? Over time photography as a business is more like bricklaying than art and like bricklaying it can get boring. That's why a many photographers burn out after going "pro" for a few years. Teaching by comparison is more fun, and can be as remunerative.
What motivated Monte over the years shooting weddings was he loved interacting with people and making them happy. A huge part of the secret of his success is his clients loved working with him. That same love of people motivated him to teach. Some successful people will jealously guard their "tricks of the trade". He laid them out in simple to follow "paint-by-numbers" techniques that were easy to remember and master. Anybody could easily master his photographic techniques. Developing the same ease and repport with people? That's where Monte, and extroverted - feeling type had skills photographers like me who are by nature introveted - thinking types excelled in ways not easy to learn.
I learned by observation watching him, then imitating him. I learned if you approach someone at a wedding with a big smile and say, "I'd like you make you look your best in this photo for the wedding album, could you please ....." Asked the right way, pushing the "vanity" button they would happily cooperate and appreciate the professionalism of not just walking up and taking a 'snap shot' candid. Little things like that make a huge difference in dealing with people.
Another lesson learned was how he could make a portrait session seem like a party because he did the technical stuff so simply it never got in the way of interacting with the subjects and making them look their best. That, and some of his brilliant ideas for marketing, are the most important lessons I took away from the experience working for him.
With portrait photography the goal is pretty simple, make people look better in the photos than their self-image looking in the mirror. Just using an oblique view with short lighting does that. But what creates the emotional reaction isn't the lighting or the pose, it's the photographer's ability to interact with the subject, put them at ease and be able to capture a natural expression. Watching a guy like Monte interact with his subjects is one of the best ways to learn that and not something that can be done on the Internet or in the old days from reading a book.