There is within each of us as photographers, a depth of expression that is aching within us for a voice, and yet transcends words…each image we take is a dance of both truth and perception. It’s so imperative to us as capturers of moments that our ability to see the moments is not clouded by the daily stresses and muddled chaos of our day to day lives, something I was personally struggling with, and Skip’s Summer School was the perfect remedy to prescribe for such a condition. This was both the first time for me at Skip’s Summer School, and my first time meeting the legendary Skip Cohen. He more than exceeded my extremely high expectations.
With many feeling we exist in an industry in peril, jeopardized by a new generation of hobbyists attempting to moonlight as “professional” photographers and under charging drastically because they are inexperienced and uneducated in both the technique and business and also concerned about the financial state of the economy, it was more than a welcomed snap to reality when Skip began with a declaration that “Just because the media says it’s going to be a bad year, doesn’t mean it will be.” And really, who would be more qualified to set our minds at ease than someone who could be considered a patriarch of photography, who reminded us between himself and good friend Scott Bourne, carry 70+ years of experience in this profession.
I couldnt have been more in agreement with his decision to open the 2.5 day event with the immensely inspirational and at times almost prophetic Dane Sanders, a man I admire not only for his photographic talents, but for his genuine passion, not only for the artistry but for the personal connection and the preservation of the moments we are a part of, a quality that resonates very strongly with me. It is not only his message, but his delivery, not only the delivery but how apparent it is that every word is moving to him, which makes it that much more overwhelmingly inspirational to us. It was most strongly his challenge that impacted me personally: “Be all in.” It’s so difficult for us to stand up to the naysayers, to the challenges of this career, most importantly to our own fears, and bad habits, to our negativity and set them aside, courageously, follow those who are leading, and become leaders ourselves. “Integrity with myself means I have no choice but to lead” How do we do that? Unfailingly continue the upward and sometimes exhausting battle? In the words of Dane: “You do it for you, you do it for the people who depend on you doing well.” Most importantly I feel he really set in motion a reoccurring theme through the seminar that resonated with those as students, and was reiterated by those who followed after him as instructors: “Our best chance at long term viability is sharing” Supporting and giving our knowledge freely to our fellow photographers so that instead of lowering our quality and expectations to meet the current standard, we could instead raise the standards. I think extremely highly of Dane, and recommend if you arent familiar with him you remedy that immediately.
It seems that Scott Bourne is always slotted for 8am lectures, which in a way is a positive because there are few people I’ll get up for a class for before 10 I’ve heard him speak 3 times now, and I was enthusiastic to hear his program again, although to my surprise, while only a few months later, he had an entirely different class to share. Scott for me is someone I consider a personal mentor, he is a wealth of wisdom, technical expertise, and business know-how. With nearly 80,000 twitter followers I was more than flattered when he took a few moments to respond to a personal email I sent, since getting to know him, I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard other repeat similar statements, it is inspiring how he takes such time and care with everyone at times I wonder if he really knows how successful and revered he is, he’s one of the most humble persons I’ve ever met. He spoke of pre-visualization, and recounted the incredible 13 year experience of capturing his most infamous photograph: Cranes in the Fire Mist. Pre-visualizing, he told us is an Inspired Participatory Creation. That the mind’s eye dictates your photographic eye. He too spoke of the importance of sharing, and a radical concept where we could just be giving. No agendas, no hope for networking, or professional referrals, for hire or print sales, just being good to people and taking care of them for the sake of doing so, and that when you do in a karmic spin, often times business and connections come back to you because they know that you will take care of their clients, their loved ones, because you have done it for them without agenda. On a personal level the statement of his that most deeply spoke to me was the question he posed: “Will your images haunt people?” What an aspiration to hold to… to create images that haunt people…. this concept was also intensified for me by a quote during Cliff Mautner’s class: “If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips your heart out; it’s a good image.” more on Cliff later… but back to Scott: If we strive to create images that will haunt people, what is possible for us? If we can incite those emotions, that overwhelming sense of awe in another person with our imagery is there any greater accomplishment as a photographer? Is there any greater gift we can give to a person than to capture them in such a way that their essence, their very souls permeate the hearts of those that view the images, that they are able to move a stranger, that they move even more deeply those who love them, that they are beautiful and alluring, and intense, and the moment that they existed as all those things is forever immortalized….what we do matters. Could there have been any more inspiration in Scott’s message, I couldnt see how… but then I often feel that way about him, which is why I religiously follow his site.
Who could possibly have an act to follow the infamous Scott Bourne? The legendary celebrity wedding photographer Joe Buissink. When you have photographed weddings for Jennifer Lopez, Christina Applegate, Jessica Simpson, Steven Speilberg’s birthday party, and tours for Christina Aguilera it would seem that would be enough to impress any new or established photographer, but while the images are beautiful, it is his impassioned affection for the imagery and how what he feels inspires what you feel that really endears him to me. The strength of his message resides in his statement that “The most important thing about your photography is who you are.” A sentiment that also was interlaced through most of the speakers… we spend so much time trying to justify our prices in the midst of those undercutting the market value that we often times lose site of the fact that the work does sell itself, if it didn’t they wouldn’t have come in for the consult in the first place, all we have to do is sell them on ourselves. With all the back and forth between whether it’s better to shoot unobtrusively or be involved with your clients during weddings, I thought it was a great compromise of opposing views to consider that “you can inspire the emotion, and still have it be real”
Sarah Petty is a speaker I had not before had the privilege of experiencing, something I am glad to have remedied. In addition to her bright and colorful photography, she also created the Joy of Marketing and had an incredibly energetic and fun presentation on the importance of image and branding, the declaration of “You can not build a strong brand on a weak identity” In addition to the necessity for a strong image and brand, perhaps even more essential is to provide not only great photographs but an amazing experience while clients are with you. A very interesting perspective she presented was that discounting devalues what you do. You actually end up training your clients, that instead of booking you now, they should wait until you have a sale or offer things for free… on the other hand by adding to their order, giving them something extra, say a free print credit, or a complimentary canvas wrap shows them that you care and value them as clients without devaluing what you provide for them. Something that I will definitely be implementing this year into my business practice.
Jasmine Star. Here is someone who almost Lady Gaga-ed the world of wedding photography. It seems no one had heard of her and then she was everywhere, and everyone was talking about her. She’s a baby in the industry compared to some of the other speakers that have 10, 20, 30+ years of experience compared to her 4… which still puts her 2 years ahead of me. That makes her uniquely qualified in my humble opinion to speak about branding and marketing, because she is ferocious about her diligence in the amount of work she has done to build such a successful venture. I identify very strongly with her as a woman and photographer, and as a wife, because I too am blessed to have a very supportive husband. When she dropped everything to become a wedding photographer her husband said: “I’d rather see you fail at something you love, than succeed at something you hate” My wish is that each of us are fortunate to have the love and support of someone like that in our lives. I had both high expectations of Jasmine Star and equally was concerned that a lot of the persona was hype, another cliche that I too have dealt with, where more pessimistic people will assume that notoriety in this industry is more easily obtained by young females and has little to do with the merit of their actual talents. I am happy to say she more than lived up to the reputation that preceded her. She spoke emphatically about the importance of figuring out who you are, both as an individual and a studio. She said: “define who you are and let that parle into your photography” What is so easily admirable in Jasmine Star is that she is fearlessly authentic. She knows who she is and is not only unafraid but excited to share that with her clients, fans and friends, and it saturates into her imagery her online presence, and her presence on stage. Her statement that most stayed with me was “the path to perfection leads to procrastination.” Something I personally struggle with. It’s so easy to want to make a huge splash that we keep waiting to jump in on things, when by the time we do the smaller ripples would have exceeded the reach of the big effort anyway.
My first time experiencing Kevin Kubota was at the Photographers Ignite program at WPPI this year. Kevin is an amazingly intriguing blend of humor, fun, and knowledge, he connects with people so effortlessly it’s quite inspiring. His presentation this time was about creating projects to help foster creativity which in turn will cultivate your talents and new bookings. “Projects are the saving grace for creative Plateaus” he said. A reinforcement I needed as I have been so involved in the administrative that I have not had much time for fun personal projects, although I tend to chew my assistant’s ear off about concepts on a fairly regular basis. Kevin’s overall message resounds with creativity and optimism, and again as well known and revered as he is in our industry he is also extremely humble, as he encouraged us to be in his statement: “Check your Egos. Love yourself, know your worth, and recognize the worth of others.”
I had actually never heard of Kirk Volclain before, but he is seriously one of the most high energy humorous speakers I have ever studied under. A photographer specializing in seniors, it’s easy to see why his persona resonates with the younger generation. He touched on normal vs. aggressive marketing, taking advantage of all avenues of advertisement, did some basic retouching tutorials. The most important part of his lecture I found to be the significance of your mind’s eye being able to match the mind’s eye of your clients, and how essential that is for success. He said something that I feel we overlook a lot as photographers: “How often do we forget, what we do for a living others do for fun.” What an amazing gift that is for us huh?
Yervant. There is no introduction necessary, one of the most well known, decorated and refined photographers in the world, his work is just stunning, if ever I was to pick a favorite photographer purely on the merit of their work, it would be Yervant. There is something alluring, and intoxicating about his work. Every part of the essence of his photography, from his studio, to the products, to the incredible artistry of his images, everything is high fashion, haute couture, intimate, exotic and incredibly sexy. He spoke on the importance of shooting weddings with the album in mind, to shoot to tell the story. He said: “you are an artist, create art books” he reminded us in his poised accent that “Girls like to touch, they like something tangible.” The thing that really moved me was his passion apparent in the statement: “The creation of moments is artistry”
Kay Eskridge, another I had not heard of before was also a great source of inspiration. A boudoir photographer like myself I was very much looking forward to her presentation, though she is an eclectic blend of different kinds of photography, so it was a well rounded program touching on all genres. With a myriad of different marketing ideas, and unique concepts for differentiating yourself from the market, what really struck me about her, was her charitable endeavors. I feel that we are so blessed to be paid, and paid well for what we love so much we would do for free. It is so important that we give back and i really have a lot of respect for how in depth her dedication to doing so is.
Cliff Mautner is one I knew by reputation only. I have to say as photography goes I felt he was the most informative speaker…. He’s also the only one all weekend with enough gumption to get away with the affectionate nickname “skippy” for Skip Cohen. Cliff was a wealth of inspirational quotes, something that personally I find a lot of motivation in, he said “Light makes photography…let it become instinctive” and it is beyond apparent that it absolutely is second nature to him. He is one of the absolute best natural light shooters I’ve ever seen. While I have recognized a lot of people claim to be available light shooters because manipulating light is an intimidating concept, he absolutely commands the lighting and orchestrates masterpieces from it, he doesnt just light write, he light sculpts and serenades. I was truly awestruck not only by his understanding of his craft, but of how easily he conveys it for understanding to those who are not as experienced or knowledgeable. He made an impassioned plea to “Fight for your clients and your photos, move them to the light” I had never thought about it that way, but really how many photos would have gone from good to great if we had just been bold and asked them to relocate into where the good lighting was, how often do we say nothing when it’s really only a few feet, or even a few inches difference?
I have no words for Stacy Pearsall. She carried the most moving presentation, and her images matched it in both beauty and impact. An immensely talented and courageous photographer, she worked as a combat photojournalist from the time she was 17. She stood on stage, told the stories of the soldiers she photographed, and through those stories we learned her own. She has been featured in national magazines, on many TV shows, including being a guest on Oprah, runs an extremely successful studio and has worked on many respect worthy and awe inspiring projects, with a client list most of us would not dream of. With all her successes and media recognition, she is so down to earth and humbled by her experiences that one can not help but be humbled in her presence, and still she took the time to feature in her presentation the works of some other new and vastly inexperienced photographers in her presentation, mine being one of them… it is something I will cherish for the rest of my career. The thing that most struck me in her presentation was as images were flashing in a heart wrenching slideshow of her war photography on screen the words came up: “In many cases… I was the last person… to photograph them.” As a military wife I relate to that on some small level from the other side of the military coin… and it was endearing, and overwhelming that as the masses crowded around her to thank her for her presentation, share their stories and thoughts, and in many cases, once before her many of us cried from the crippling emotion she inspired in us with her words and photographs, and still she thanked those of us who were families of the military for our sacrifices… I have never met anyone who has so much of my admiration.
My favorite quote from the school was “If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips your heart out, it’s a good picture. ”
Skip’s summer school will be an annual event on my calendar from now on, and one I hope to one day join the inspirational ranks of speakers at in the future. It was impacting inspirational and at the same time intimate enough that we could network with each other and connect on personal and professional levels. It was fun, it was inspiring, it was well above and beyond anything it was promised to be, and I am both a better photographer, and a more humble person for it.
Thank you to Skip, and all the people that worked diligently to make it such a successful venture for us.