I’ve trained with everyone. You name it, I’ve done it. Absorbing knowledge is my fetish. I wanted to write this blog post for ages, but not before I finished training with the last person on my dream team of British trainers I have coveted over the last two years of my professional career as a photographer. This week I fulfilled my plan. As I am known in photography circles as the douche that shoves constructive criticism down everyone’s throat, I believe it’s only fair that I extend it to trainers too.
I’ve watched them closely online, analysed the type of photography they offer, the consistency of their work. If I could honestly say I aim for my work to be like that, it was the time to go and pay for the knowledge. Many times I paid for workshops, that could have been compared to a nice day out. Having kids, a day away at a workshop will always be fun, even if they only served coffee and cakes and the actual trainer wasn’t even there, as most parents could do with a break. Running a business, however, especially at the beginning, where my prop investments were more substantial, spending a day drinking coffee and eating cakes for £300-£600 a pop was not an option. I was always on a hunt for great training that pushed me up the ladder of professional awesomeness. I never regretted paying for learning, even if it was only a few things I picked up.
At the beginning of your career, workshops are revolutionary. You know nothing or not much, so every trainer appears God-like, and in your eyes they are the Gandalf of Photography. The more you train, the more you know, the smaller the snippets of missing knowledge are. You need to realise this in order to make the most of each training, otherwise all you’ll get is chunks of knowledge that are not news to you. The more you train, the more strategically you need to approach it. Prepare a list of questions, make the most of this time.
This blog post is not about me telling you about the money I wasted, because it was never wasted. It’s not about me telling you about trainers, who opened their workshops with statements like “wow, I cannot believe I got 6 people to pay £600 for this!”. It’s not about trainers, who charge considerable amounts of money and run their workshops without sufficient insurance. It’s not about trainers, who take your money and turn their workshop into a pub-like conversation, which is fun of course from a personal perspective, but does nothing for your professional development.
This blog post won’t be about trainers who advocate shooting underexposed, because they don’t know the technical difference in the quality of an underexposed RAW file. This post won’t be about trainers who talk little, because they haven’t got much to say, but it makes them appear wise and God like. In the plethora of mediocre training I’ve paid for, I came across a few people, who can pass on the knowledge. Let me make this clear. All of the people that trained me HAD valuable knowledge. Not all of them knew how to pass it on. This is essentially the thing you are paying for. I don’t care if I am training with triple grandmaster, who is sitting on the sidelines after he positioned the light himself, looking superior, because lighting is about the only thing he’s got control over in his life. I want someone who will make me question what they are doing, get me to do it myself and tell me what I’m doing wrong. Bonus points if they manage to take me out of my comfort zone.
With all this in mind, I would like to share my thought on four of the most knowledgable trainers I came across, who CAN pass on the knowledge. Who will have you do it and won’t take the lead on everything.
I have many requirement, before I transfer my money over. One of the things that divides people in opinion is whether people who cannot do something themselves, should teach. I believe it is possible. Some people may be amazing at amassing knowledge and compartmentalising it, to then serve it in digestible chunks to the masses, without as much as an interest in doing it themselves. It IS possible, however it would be hard for me to go and train with someone, if I did not aspire to produce work at their level. This extends to sending work to photography competitions judged by people, who produce work of a mediocre standard.
This list of trainers is in a chronological order from the first awesome photography mentor I came across, to my most recent workshop. They are a dream team. This is cash I’d happily spend over and over again.
I saw Zoe’s name pop up in a photography forum, and since I was a heavy Lightroom user, only popping to photoshop to cut things out and remove blemishes, I knew I needed to get more familiar with this vast tool of the trade, but every time I felt brave enough, it used to overwhelm me.
I booked 4 hours with Zoe, comprising of 2 hours over two consecutive days. We had our date over Skype, and initially I could not get my head around how can anyone learn Photoshop over Skype. It’s like trying to lick a doughnut under plexiglass. I have no idea how, but it all worked seamlessly. I was editing on my screen as per usual, Zoe could see what I was doing. She showed me all the tools of the trade and with her sexy, husky voice, poured the knowledge straight into my head. Literally. I felt like that blind guy from the New Testament:
The man looked up and said, “I can see the people, but they look like trees walking around.” Once again Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes, and when he opened them his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly. Jesus sent him home and said, “Do not go back into the village.”
Except in my case I was not to go back to Lightroom. I could finally see. I felt empowered and I knew what I was doing. A week later I embarked on my composite journey.
The most important thing about those two days was not how smart Zoe is, how much knowledge she’s got or the fact you want to adopt her as she’s just down to earth and goddamn nice. It’s her ability to make you so good at what she’s teaching you so fast, that you actually use every bit of knowledge you get from her training in practice, and this never fades. Without much effort, I literally gained about 2 years of my life, where I would have been staying up all night, analysing Phlern’s videos. I have no time, I have a family and friends that barely see me, so this rocket up my editing ass was much appreciated. The feeling you get after Zoe’s workshop is comparable with getting out of a spa, and nailing a jug of coffee on the way out: you are buzzing with all the knowledge, and you’re feeling cleansed of all the ineffective ways of doing things that can take you half the time, as long as you know what to do. She showed me what to do. She is my editing Gandalf.
Kasia doesn’t advertise her training, neither does she have to. She is hard to pin down. You have to be pretty much bullying her to take you on. She is not cheap either. If you only have £295, she is not the girl for you. She values her time, which I respect.
I wasn’t too concerned about her time though, when I needed someone to show me what to do with those pesky babies. I needed her knowledge. I am very lucky to have met her at the beginning of my photography career, and lucky she agreed to show me her magic tricks. It’s taken me a long time, but she had enough of me pestering her. I got in the car and I was there, in case she changes her mind.
I was lucky to be the first person she’s trained. We had 3 newborn models, a little girl and twin boys in the afternoon. Kasia doesn’t talk a lot, but she is the owner of the industry’s most magic hands. All the talk of “baby didn’t want to settle, didn’t want to straighten their fingers, didn’t want to put their feet up..” this never happens in her studio. Babies do what she says. No matter what age. She laughs in the face of a two week window of time.
I don’t have to introduce Rob to the world. Craftsman Qualified with the Guild of Photographers in Baby & Newborns, he won Baby & Newborn Photographer of the Year title, Newborn Image of the year and Children’s Image of the Year with the Guild too. But meeting him, he’d never tell you all this, as he is as humble as he is talented.
He has a knack of letting you get on with the shoot and almost lead the way, if he sees you are not shitting yourself completely during the training, but when there is even as much as a doubt in your eye as to what it is that you are doing, he will seamlessly throw you a life jacket, and then take it off you when the moment is gone. This is a skill in itself. Some trainers take over the shoot, leading the model and posing as they get frustrated with people shuffling around. This is a natural human reaction and it takes an experienced trainer not to jump in and put you in the back seat. Not many of us learn practical skills well by just watching. Most of us need the muscle memory. We need to do it ourselves and if we mess up, have someone by our side to tell us we messed up. Don’t agree? Remind yourself when you were 18, and your parents told you not to date that guy who drove a motorcycle and had tattoos, because no doubt he’s some kind of bandit, and you did it anyway, then he left you for a stripper. Yes, we learn best on our own mistakes. Rob lets you make them is a safe environment, under his knowledgable eye, so that you don’t do it again when there is no one around to throw you the safety net. Again, not the cheapest lighting trainer around, but this is not without a reason.
This blog post would not be complete without Nina. I was dying to post it ages back, but that would only be half a job done.
I wanted to come to Nina’s marketing and editing workshop for ages. To be precise, since I stumbled upon her blog post about what to wear for an autumn photoshoot, and I don’t even shoot outdoors! There was one link in there that got me interested. It was about exposing to the right. I knew about it but never implemented it till that day. I read a few more of Nina’s posts, and realised she may just be the only photographer whose blog posts I actually read in full (sorry guys, I care not about how cute Henry was with his face covered in icing, unless Henry is indeed my son, or about you first and a last blog post, about the value of photography as there won’t be much ground breaking stuff in there). Nina provides value. It’s her brand. She doesn’t post about how fabulous her work is, she won’t spam you with the same image of hers over 3-4 months, pimping it into different photography groups and forums, trying to appear humble, when fishing for compliments. She’s humble but confident. She’s got a Children’s Photographer of the Year badge to her name, but what’s more important for you as a photographer who is potentially looking at some training, she has been among the three top Professional Photography Trainers of the year this year, and rightly so.
The amount of knowledge she can pass during a day’s workshop is amazing. I am not a fan of group workshops, as in my experience they are never a balanced mix of people and there is always someone who is going to ask: “why are we taking a picture of this grey card?”, “where in my camera do you click the exposure button?, “Oh so these are curves! Fascinating! I never knew of those” (real quotes from some of the training sessions I’ve been to). Nina has managed the impossible. She kept up the pace. She wanted to give us the tools necessary to get our business visible online, to stop relying on Facebook, to get the pricing structured better. On top of all this, she still managed to give us a few hours of practical editing tips.
Her training may be a lot to take if you haven’t got a website and haven’t opened Photoshop in your entire life. If that’s you, please don’t do workshops. You will be that annoying person that slows everyone down and you’ll not get the full benefit you could have if you were to attend when more experienced. We all need to start somewhere, so instead of signing up to advanced editing and marketing class, have a Skype session with Nina to get your knowledge up to speed. Do a 1-2-1 half a day training with her. It will be much more productive for you in the long run.
When I signed up for Nina’s marketing training, most of my friends were laughing “don’t you guys like.. own one of the leading marketing agencies in the country?!” I am pretty clued up when it comes to SEO, PPC, blogging, Google rankings and not randomly ranking for boudoir photography, when I don’t do it. I have the tools to do all this by the book. Which of course means I don’t do it at all. I needed this training to cement in my head the importance of the tools I had at my disposal, and Nina did just that.
As photographers, we need to be good at everything. When the realisation hits, a lot of us starts looking for a “proper job”, with normal hours and salary. Instead of giving up, why not treat it like a project that it is? Analyse your strengths and weaknesses. Find the solution to those weaknesses. If training is the solution, whoever you choose out of the people I cc-d above, you will not be disappointed and your hard earned cash will be spent wisely.
Photography is a journey. Stay on track. Don’t get lost on the side roads.