Last week I spent 4 full days in a classroom at North Georgia Technical College for PhotoWorks. It's an annual boot camp organized by the Georgia Professional Photographers Association. They bring in industry leaders for advanced education - as with any profession, continuing education in photography never stops. I chose to spend the week learning from Pete Rezac, a friend of mine from Reno, Nevada. He also specializes in black and white portrait studies and has earned his Master Photographer Degree with this style of work. This is a goal of mine as well so why not study with someone who has already achieved it.
Through out this post are a few of my favorite portraits I created during the week.
March 11: Day 1
IT'S MY 35TH BIRTHDAY!!
We spent Monday morning touching on the basics of photography - nailing exposure in camera and a simple 3 light set up. Nothing fancy, but effective. We demonstrated that we knew how to change a white backdrop to different tones of grey simply by moving our subject off the background and adjusting the amount and direction of light hitting it. We also discussed adding and subtracting weight to a body by posing and "shifting the cargo" (taken from a line during Pirate of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland) towards and away from the camera.
An educated photographer will understand how to manipulate and sculpt with light. They not only bring out the best in their client but also add personality and character to the backdrop and props. 3 dimensional object (the body) needs a shadow and highlight side when being captured on a 2D surface (paper). Light without direction is flat light and makes the human body appear wide and unflattered.
Monday afternoon we shifted the focus on to working in a dramatic, low key setting - what we were there for! Still keeping with a simple light set up we worked with posing at a regular table, learning to pose hands, upper body, and head/face.
March 12th: Day 2
Tuesday we jumped right into were we left off. One of the college students brought her bass and dress the part for a character study. One of the things I loved about attending Pete's class was the way he allowed us to be creative. He would team us up in pairs or small groups then allow us to decide how dramatic the lighting would be, the placement of the lighting, and let us take turn giving direction to the "client" in front of the camera.
After lunch we went off campus to "The Castle". I was thinking like a magic kingdom type castle. I WAS WRONG. This location is a medieval inspired fortress - it's been under construction for 10 years and will be completed between "now and then". It's HUGE. We worked with model Mary Grace (fitting name for a castle shoot) using the edge of window light and a strobe in one of the spiral stair cases. I find it difficult and uncomfortable for me to shoot large dramatic scenic shots at locations like this; my brain doesn't see it. I'm a portrait photographer who shoots tight and tidy, but below is a shot of a TEENY TINY sliver of just one of the buildings.
Tuesday evening Pete and I had a out-of-the-classroom discussion on the front porch of the resort rooms about papers, pricing prints, every day business, and even shooting with medium format film. What's old is new again. I am in the learning process of professionally shooting and developing film. This is a medium that will eventually be what I do for my clients - it's still a long ways away but it's a goal.
I loved that the week wasn't about watching Pete showing off what he can do with us ooo-ahhhing in the background. It was him letting us make errors then guiding the way to correct it for a better result. This kind of education is incredibly valuable in my studio. It gives me the knowledge needed to put it into play during my portrait studies. I was going to say you can't pay for education like that - but I do. Every time it's about equivalent to a hefty down payment on a car but my art is worth it and the clients who value my work are worth it.
March 13th: Day 3
Wednesday brought on strong coffee from the adorable Sweetwater Coffee Shop after a night of German food, karaoke and cocktails in Helen. I also had time for a quick shopping excursion on Ebay for a "vintage" Lindahl Lens Shade before diving into incredibly cool advanced lighting techniques with 6 different lighting modifiers all used at the same time - hard light, soft light, lots of layers of yumminess. IT WAS HEAVEN. I'm the kind of person who wants to be challenged in my art. Teach me the difficult stuff to keep me entertained and engaged.
For our morning "client" my friend and fellow GPPA member, Brad Budd, modeled for us. Be borrowed the guitar, some shades, and rocked out for a bit. Pete decided to pull out his film camera and shoot a roll - it was inspiring - goals, ya'll, goals.
Class changed gears when our next client arrived in a pancake tutu and pointe shoes. We had a quick dance term lesson, witnessed Pete's gracefulness, then changed the lighting set up to a more elegant and softer look. It was still an advanced set up but looks to be simplistic. We were having so much fun we shot right through break missing the entire school picture. OOOPS!!
In the afternoon Sydney had her turn for a portrait study. We learned how to light darker skin tones to soften specular hot spots caused naturally. It's amazing what can happen in camera with just a few minor adjustments of a tulle filter and scrim; it eliminates any harsh skin retouching in post production. She found a black velvet shapeless dress in the school's costume closet and a long piece of black velvet fabric. I got creative with a few paper clips to give her a waist and made her cape/train for a more formal portrait inspired by a photograph another student had seen.
March 14th: Day 4
Thursday was our last day of PhotoWorks. Our last model of the boot camp was Richard Hayes. He came in dressed in his cosplay attire of Scotsman/Viking; a persona based on his own heritage. Pete brought out the same grudging technique I also use in my studio for ball players and other people who need to be dirty for their Study - along with "sweat". Who knew I would learn to make fake sweat at a black and white class? Pete also shot a roll of film of this character study, he shared more side bits of film education while loading and shooting. Yay for the extra Easter eggs of knowledge tossed in!
I had another instructor ask if he could photography Riley and myself (I didn't mention this was Riley dog's first time going to a photography conference with me as a service dog in training!!! He did GREAT!!) - so we ran across the hall for a few minutes. When I came back to class Richard Hyatt, a photographer friend of mine from NC, had found a formal styled look in the costume closet. He was sitting for a few portraits; I jumped in the fun! Doesn't that top hat looked awesome on him!
We finished the day by sitting for our own character studies photographed by Pete. I believe I am the most awkward person he has ever had to photograph. I've been told I wear everything I'm thinking on my face, I don't hide it well, there's proof on camera now ya'll. He did get a portrait of me that is a softer yet serious expression but Lord knows he worked for it.