Monday, August 24, 2009
Photography Workshops - A Day Trip to Get Your Feet Wet
This is the next installment of my series on photography workshops.
Since a workshop can represent a major investment, both in terms of your time (sometimes we are using up our entire vacation time to attend these things) and money, I thought I would offer a few pointers on how to get yourself ready for one.
If you're not used to shooting all day, one thing you might like to try is to take a shorter "day trip" before you book your workshop. Get used to packing up you gear, traveling someplace (even if it's someplace close by) and shooting for an entire day. Take a Saturday, Sunday, or day you don't have to work and plan to spend a day out in the field. Don't forget all the important stuff like extra batteries, loads of flash memory, maybe even bring your laptop to get used to what it's like working in the wild. If you have to, work out of your car, but be careful. Remember to secure your belongings and try to have fun but also get a feel for what it's like shooting for hours straight, rather than just taking a few shots and moving on. Don't spend an excessive amount of time on your cell phone either-explain to your family and friends that you will be "offline" for that day and only plan to "touch base" once or twice over the course of the day. When you travel afar, you won't want to be spending hours yapping on your cell phone-the time should be spend focusing your efforts on your images.
One thing you'll probably notice right off the bat is that you will need to pack all of your camera gear, everything that you might possible need over the course of the day, into your pack. If it isn't in your pack, it's almost like you don't even own it at all, so it becomes important to plan ahead and think about what you are going to need over the course of the entire day. Remember here the key is that you don't have opportunity to "run home and grab" so you'll want to pack your bag carefully and deliberately. Go through every lens that you might need, lots of batteries, any accessories that you like to shoot with, and don't forget to care for your camera bodies. Dust them off and clean them up a bit around each shoot, so that you know they are in good working order. And, yes, notice I said "bodies" there-plan on having at least two camera bodies at all times. Cameras are prone to malfunction-especially now that you're going to be shooting more, you're going to be breaking them more, so plan ahead for this.
Another thing that becomes obvious when you hit the road is that you have to budget your time. Everybody always wants to shoot in "golden light" and that's great-we take a lot of wonderful shots at that hour-but the so-called "golden light" only lasts for a small part of the day. Learn to work the lighting conditions that you have and plan to be someplace spectacular during those wonderful "golden light" (precious) minutes. Sometimes, for example, you can find that high noon, while not offering the best of lighting conditions, offers you more opportunity for doing portraits, since a lot of people are walking about during lunchtime. Find shady spots and learn to look for where the sun is in the sky, and which way it's moving, so you know when to come back to something in the case where it will have better afternoon lighting. One more piece of advice: shoot a lot. There's nothing like shooting tons in the field, and you can always edit later, so plan on shooting way more than you'll need, at least until you feel comfortable enough working in the field to scale it back down again. Start early in the morning-be out to catch that early morning "golden light" and plan on spending the entire day, past sunset, out shooting, again because you'll want to catch the evening's "golden light" opportunity as well.
Meals can be tricky in the field. You'll probably want to eat at noontime, when the light is at it's worst, but plan on skipping dinner (or having a very late dinner) since you'll want to be setup for "golden light" right about the time most people think of their evening meal. I usually pack things like bananas and breakfast bars-these go a long way towards fending off hunger and can usually keep you shooting for the day. Also pack and drink a lot of water-it's important to stay hydrated.
If you're shooing in a desert or highly variable climate, you'll notice how the weather changes over the day. Dress in layers and plan to be able to add/remove clothing to keep yourself warm and dry over the course of the day. It's always a good idea to have some fleece jackets and clothing for the cooler spots (even in the desert it gets cool when the sun goes down) and some sunscreen for the hottest part of the day.
As you're shooting over the course of the day, remember that it's ok to take breaks but don't stop shooting for extended periods of time. We're not robots and we do need to sit down from time to time but I find that I do some of my best work when I'm exhausted, so really try to push yourself to shoot as much as you can over the course of the day. Remind yourself mentally that this is not a "spa day" and that you are, essentially, working now as a photographer. At the end of the day, it's a job, and you're getting paid (or want to be getting paid) to produce great work, not stroll around with a camera chatting up the locals. Instinctively you'll know as you produce a few shots that might work for you, so keep pushing yourself until you feel confident you have something to take home, some "money shot" as I like to say. When you spot something interesting, don't just take a few shots and walk away, try to get at it from every possible angle and adjust the lighting if you can to capture a few different takes on it. Think about your compositions, you lines, colors, textures, perspective, scale, gestures, and all of the artistic elements of your images, don't just "snap and run." You'll want to shoot a lot yes, but you also want quality shots, not just quantity.
Once you get back home, plan your editing sessions so they are a bit longer than normal-you'll want to be able to review work over the entire course of the day and this might turn into more frames than you imagined you would shoot. I like to edit a day of shooting in one session, as I can mentally review what I was doing, where I was, and how the light was at the time. I usually make a cup of tea and sit down in front of the computer using the Adobe RAW viewer to check my shots before I start to process them individually. This gives you a higher level "what did I get?" view of the world, before you start to individually process each shot that you like.
Don't forget to "pack out" your bag-unload all of your flash memory cards, clean your cameras and put them back, restock your lenses and recharge your batteries. Get yourself setup for your next outing. In the workshop experience, the next outing would translate into the next day, but now you've gotten a feel for what it would be like to shoot all day. Try to edit your work down into three or four good shots from the course of the day-it's great if you can get more, but really try to pull out a few of your top shots for highlighting later.
I realize that, for a lot of you, this was a review, as many of you shoot all day now without any help from me. In the next installment of the series, I'll talk about the portfolio requirement for some of the workshops, specifically addressing some pointers for getting your work together to secure a slot in the workshop or master class.
Until next time...