Let’s face it– there is a LOT of photography education out there to be had. Some of it’s great. Some of it’s good. Then some of it– a lot of it, unfortunately– is simply sub-par and not worth your time. Some of the best, though, is currently coming from a company you may not have heard of. Founded by former Monte Zucker assistant Jeff Medford, MZed (formerly Monte Zucker Photographic Education) is bringing together some of the biggest names in photography, in an effort to provide some of the best photographic education available– in person or online.
This past weekend I attended MZed’s “HOW to WOW’ Tour with Jerry Ghionis in Atlanta. I’m generally not someone who makes bold assessments, but I’m making an exception when I tell you that I’ve rarely attended a seminar or workshop that may have actually changed how I look at photography, or even myself as a photographer. For those of you who may not be familiar with Jerry Ghionis or his work, he is widely considered to be one of the top wedding photographers in the world. Splitting time between California and his native Australia, his wedding and portrait work has been described as that point where vintage glamor meets contemporary fashion. Even the quickest of glances at his work tells you in no uncertain terms that he’s the real deal.
I’m not going to rehash the entire 12-hour day here for you. There was so much information and I’m still digesting a lot of it. What I am going to do, however, is give you the basic road map for the day, along with why you shouldn’t miss it.
Who Should Attend?
While Jerry is primarily a wedding photographer, the principles presented in this seminar apply to any photographer who takes portraits, regardless of whether tuxedos, wedding gowns, and teary-eyed parents are involved. If you take photographs of people, this seminar is for you. Don’t let a lack of experience intimidate you out of attending. My group included full-time professionals, part-timers, a physician, and a 14-year-old boy that I think we’ll all be seeing a lot of very soon.
The Daytime Session
The daytime session begins with a look at Jerry’s five steps to a great portrait. I’ll confess to being a bit skeptical when I first saw that in the seminar description. After all, the internet is full of articles and tutorials, many with the same catchy title: “My ____ Steps to a Great ____.” But don’t let the skepticism drag you down. I’ve listened to a lot of photographers over the years, but I’ve yet to hear one talk about the combination of light, location, pose, technique, and expression quite like this. By way of example, think about the last time you went location scouting for that absolutely perfect spot. We all do it, but what’s more important– a great location with average light, or an average location with great light? Obviously we want both, but I think too many photographers sacrifice the light for the location. This seminar does an amazing job of showing its students why you need to start with the light and build your photo around it.
Listening to someone talk about photography, though, doesn’t do nearly as much for us as actually watching someone in action, and that’s exactly what happens after the first break. Working with two professional models, as well as seminar students, Jerry spends the rest of the day shooting tethered, sharing his techniques– and his results– instantly. I know what you’re thinking. So was I. You’re thinking that every person in every sample image is skinny and gorgeous. You’re thinking anyone could take amazing portraits with subjects like these, right? Again, don’t let the skepticism keep you away. I don’t recall any supermodels attending the workshop, but everyone Jerry photographed looked as if they were.
The Evening Session
The evening session shifts gears a little bit, taking the material and images from the daytime session, and showing how it all stacks up to many of Jerry’s actual weddings and photo shoots. Topics for the evening include:
- Converting an ordinary location into an amazing opportunity
- Optimizing difficult lighting situations
- Achieving light that compliments and flatters clients
- Drawing emotion out of challenging clients
- Diversifying your creative approach
- Attaining the “wow” factor
Some of What You’ll Learn
1. A great background is only great if your subject has a reason for being there.
2. Anyone can capture natural magic (e.g., groom hugging siblings), but capturing magic of your own is what separates us from the pack.
3. Directing the pose is actually easier than you think.
4. Hands are the most expressive feature after the eyes. They can make or break your shot.
5. Posing men so they look like they actually want to be there.
6. A pose is like architecture. Sometimes you need to rebuild. Sometimes you need to renovate.
7. Dealing with a 6’5″ groom and a 5’1″ bride.
8. Hiding weaknesses and amplifying strengths.
9. Selling collections is better than selling packages.
10. Read the manual. Know your tools.
11. Take fewer shots. Do them better.
12. An on-camera flash technique that will blow…your… mind.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So far, I’m sure a lot of this sounds like typical portrait workshop fare. By now you probably don’t need a seminar to tell you that ordinary effort yields ordinary results (although the occasional reminder certainly can’t hurt). It was really in the final hour, though, that the evening session took an unexpected turn for many of us in attendance. As photographers, we can light and expose like masters. We can pose like Renaissance painters. But if we can’t bring the emotions out of our clients– if we can’t get the real person to open up in front of the camera, then what’s the point?
When a photographer like Jerry Ghionis tells you how, it obviously comes out sounding way simpler than it actually is. If it was easy, every photographer would be doing it. But they aren’t. So, what do we do? This is where we put the technical aside and embrace the philosophical. I’m trying to encourage you to attend this amazing workshop, so I’m not going to spill the specifics. I’ll say this, however– no photographer or photography seminar has ever encouraged me to evaluate myself, my clients, and my view of the world in equal measure.
I know– it sounds like a load of existential crap, but you’re just going to have to trust me.
I Sit Down With Jerry
Jerry was gracious enough to spend a few minutes with me at the end of the day. Among other things, I asked him what he hopes people will take away from this seminar.
I want a belief that they can do it. That’s the big thing. There’s always a euphoria at the end of a seminar or workshop, and you wake up the next morning wondering, “What did I just learn?” So that feeling of euphoria and excitement dies down and reality kicks in when you go back to the four walls of your studio Monday morning and say, “What do I do now?”
So, the idea was to be able to put my money where my mouth is and photograph tethered to the big screen, showing some incredible shots taken in an environment we’re all used to, even for those who think they can’t. So, yes– I photographed those gorgeous models, but then I photographed everyday people from the class in the same settings. I wanted to take some really cool shots of people so they’d believe.
Watch The Trailer
Atlanta was only the 8th stop in the tour, which will wind its way through 33 cities across the United States and Canada between now and November 2nd. Details and tour dates are available on the MZed website. HD digital downloads will also be available after the tour ends in case you can’t make in in person. It’s also worth pointing out that the first 30 people to register for each tour stop get VIP status, giving them preferential seating, as well as the chance to assist Jerry and possibly have their portrait taken. Alas, I was not one of the lucky few to be photographed, but I walked away from this seminar with renewed confidence and a new way of not only looking at my clients, but at myself as well.
That, and an on-camera flash technique that will blow your mind.
All images (except mine of Jerry) are Copyright Jerry Ghionis Photography, all rights reserved.