Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Zack Arias Photo 101 Workshop

I'm finally getting around to my recap of the Photo 101 3 day workshop I attended in early July. If you don't know who Zack Arias is, he is an Atlanta based editorial music photographer. For about 10 months now, I've been a regular reader of Zack's blog. I have also read everyone's comments on his One Light Workshop & have considered buying his One Light DVD. Since I live in Atlanta, I was waiting for the announcement of his 2009 workshop dates. This year, Zack introduced a new Photo 101 Workshop. After much thought, I decided to sign up for Photo 101 and possibly at a later date attend the One Light Workshop or purchase the DVD. What helped with the decision was the topics for Photo 101. It wasn't going to be all about the technical aspects of photography. It was focused on making photography a career. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for me. If you're thinking about a career in photography or as a way of supplementing your income until you make the switch, I highly recommend this workshop.

Day 1 - Little did I know how close I lived to Zack's studio, maybe 7 miles away. The workshop is small, limited to 8 photographers. After brief introductions and casual conversations, we sat down as Zack got the workshop underway. Zack gave us some background on his career and some of the mistakes he's made. Mistakes we've all made, but interesting to hear this from a professional. Zack likes to keep things simple, at least as we get started in the business. It's not about buying the most expensive gear, but overcoming it's limitations and making the best pictures you can with the gear you've got.

Zack went over the equipment letting us know that the camera body is not the most important, that lenses are the best investment, and surprisingly, to start without any lights. He also went on to further discuss the lenses that he uses and why. Most of us think wide angle for a wide view and telephoto to zoom in. Although those reasons are valid, he explained why you would use a telephoto for a portrait and demonstrated the results. This definitely made me reconsider my lens choices and now I really want a Canon 70-200 2.8. As Zack explained, I don't have to go out and get this lens to become a better photographer. I just need to work my butt off and save my money until I can afford it. Zack doesn't believe in going in debt to buy all your gear. He knows this from experience. He talks candidly about his past experiences, in an effort to keep us from making the same mistakes. Another important point that Zack made was to make sure as a photographer that we know our cameras without having to pull it from our eye. There are a couple reasons for this, first it instills confidence in oneself. Second, as a photographer you need to have a relationship with your subject. You can't do that effectively if you're fumbling through your camera settings.

We paired up and were given the assignment to shoot head shots of each other. We could stay in the studio or go outside, but we had to use available light. No lights! I paired up with Harry, from Oakland, CA. A photographer that specializes in law enforcement & military photography. We went outdoors. Not the best time since it was early afternoon and the sun was casting harsh shadows. We found some shade down the street and snapped some photos and took some more by the studio. After lunch we had our images critiqued. Although I knew to shoot in the shade, the critique allowed me to realized that although I picked an appropriate spot, I still could have made a better photo. I wasn't the only one. Zack walked through each photo and gave suggestions for improvements and later demonstrated some natural light techniques. Using a reflector properly can make a huge difference in a photograph. This exercise was in preparation for Day 2. We were going to meet at Zack's house where a family of 7 would show up for a family and individual portraits.

Day 2 - We arrived at 9 am. the Garmin family would be showing up around 9:30. Zack explained the scenario for the day. He would be taking pictures and explaining what to look for and how to overcome some of the difficulties of shooting in natural light and sometimes in full sunlight. We would then be broken up into pairs again with a member of the family for individual photos. Harry and I got paired with the parents. Here are a couple of the images from that shoot.

Zack was hands on, working with each of us. Making sure we were getting the correct exposure and making sure that we were aware how light affected the images we were capturing. We used reflectors or scrims. Although I understand what scrims do, the lightbulb doesn't go off until you actually see it done and see the effects of how it can soften light. I was also surprised at how close you can place the scrim to your subject and not get it in your shot. Before this class I would have used a scrim, but I think I would have placed it several feet away instead of inches. Makes a huge difference.

After lunch two of the Garmin boys would be showing up for individual portraits at the studio. Once again, Zack would only be using natural light. The studio has large windows which makes it possible to do portraits in available light. The light level also allows you to photograph at f2.8, using a shallow depth of field, very nice for portraits. This setup also gave me ideas for setting something similar at home. We also used some simple backgrounds that could be found at any fabric or upholstery store. Lots of great, low cost ideas for a studio setup.

Once again we split up into groups, each group photographing one of the guys. Our objective was to shoot in natural light and changing the lighting, background and positioning of our subject. Both of the Garmin boys have acting and theater experience. So they're use to being in front of the camera and required very little direction. As the day progressed, I started getting more comfortable with my camera. I liked the images I was seeing on the back of my camera. However, I still needed to learn how to change my focus points without moving the camera from my eye. I'm still happy with the images I took. These are the kind of images I want to take on a consistent basis. Here are some more images.

We then moved outside. Once again using natural light, a scrim & reflector. We looked for shade on the side of the studio, using a reflector for some fill. It was a partly cloudy day, so the sun kept coming in and out, changing the color temperature/white balance. I was shooting jpeg only. I hadn't set my camera to shoot RAW. I thought that since we were shooting in shade and had my white balance set that way that it would be alright. Later when I viewed my images, I noticed a color shift. I also noticed that since we were shooting by a red brick wall, the images all had a red-ish tint to them. I was able to tweak them and bring them back to a more natural color, I learned my lesson, always shoot RAW. I just downloaded the trial version of Lightroom and will be testing that out. Which leads us into Day 3, the business side and workflow management.

Day 3 - Third day was all about business and workflow. Zack walked us through his workflow, importing images, making adjustments in Lightroom before delivering images to the client. Zack uses a series of card readers daisy chained into his Mac. Using Photo Mechanic images are imported onto the hard drive. There are some nice features to Photo Mechanic, if you're a wedding photographer importing from multiple cards, you'll appreciate this setup. He then uses Lightroom to make adjustments to the images. Pretty simple workflow. We also covered hard drives, backup solutions, printing services, monitor color calibration & color space. This isn't the glamourous side of photography, but it's important.

After lunch we had a guest speaker, wedding photographer Mark Adams with LaCour Photography. Mark talked about the business aspects of becoming a photographer. He shared his experiences as he left photo-journalism to pursue wedding photography. He also passed out examples of marketing material for LaCour. As I flipped through the pages, not only was I impressed with the images, but was surprised that he not only worked with Joe McNally, but was his wedding photographer. Mark discussed how to determine your prices, when you should hold firm on your rate and when you can make compromises. We then got into his other project that evolved from a need to manage the business side of photography. They developed an online product called ShootQ. ShootQ is "... a web-based studio management solution that automates your business and gives you the freedom to focus on what you love – building your business, investing in your relationships, and giving back to your community." This wasn't a sales pitch by any means, Mark started out by providing some background on himself and this product prompted questions from many of us. Needless to say, I'm very interested in this product and will be looking into it further as my work increases.

As the workshop was winding down, Zack finally got around to some One Light demonstrations. First let me say that, when Zack says he's here for us and he'll stick around for as long as we have questions, he meant it. The workshop was supposed to end around 7 pm, but continued until just past midnight (I guess we pushed it to a 4 day workshop). We had plenty of questions about lighting and Zack pulled out the strobe, softbox, & umbrella and proceeded to show us how to use them. Once we covered the basics of lighting, Zack pulled up a couple of portfolios and did some critiques. Since we ran long, we didn't get around to mine, however I have asked Zack to critique my site when he gets a chance. Before we all left, we received a list with our scheduled day for our 90 day checkup and a copy of the One Light DVD.

Let me say that Zack is a really nice guy and is genuine in wanting to educate and help others succeed in this business. We also got to meet Meg & the baby, Hawke Danger Arias (love the name). Erik, the studio manager took great care of us and had the workshop/studio running smoothly. Thank you all for a great educational experience. I want to also mention that we had a great group of photographers from all over. There were a few of us from the area, but we had photographers from California, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and even Colombia (South America). Some of us are even keeping in touch via Facebook & Twitter.

There's a lot of information to process from these 3 days. I'm currently using the trial version of Adobe Lightroom and evaluating how it will fit into my workflow. I was also considering Apple's Aperture, however I think I'm going with Lightroom because there seems to be a larger user base and more resources available. I'm also looking at my computer setup and considering purchasing additional internal drives for backup purposes. I've also need to evaluate my marketing strategy and how I'll jump start my photography business. I already have some ideas and will be putting some stuff together in the next couple of days. I'm also considering putting some of those low cost solutions for a studio, but not right away.

Keep an eye on this blog, Facebook & Twitter for updates. I leave you with a slideshow from the 3 day workshop.

If you're looking for a portrait photographer in the Atlanta area, visit my portfolio.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for recounting your experience at the workshop! It was great meeting you and I look forward to seeing you again soon!