Had a chance to go the the PDN PhotoPlus Expo this past Saturday. Well, more accurately, my wife (who I can’t say doesn’t support my hobby) got me a ticket to some seminars there as a birthday present this year, so I ended up going a few hours early to check out all the cool stuff. I’ve never been to one of these before, but this definitely won’t be my last! Some highlights:
The expo floor itself was great—I was the kid and it was the giant expensive-assed candy store. Just for fun, I had to spend a few minutes playing with gear that I could never afford, and it seemed like half the people at the expo were there to do the same thing. I realized that I take for granted the fact that I live in NYC and can just go to B+H Photo anytime I want and see all the same stuff! But if you’re a photographer from somewhere in the Midwest and don’t have access to a photo-mecca like B+H, you have to buy all your stuff online or at the local shop and probably can’t play with all the fancy gear. For me, the best parts of the expo floor were the demos. They had pretty good quality live lighting demonstrations from Lastolite, Wescott, and others. These demos were very informal and driven by audience participation. Since I couldn’t leave there without buying something (but probably shouldn’t be buying anything expensive) I picked up a new camera strap from Op/Tech. Yup, not exactly a sexy piece of gear, but it’s something that I needed!
Now on to the seminars…
The first one of the afternoon was by Zack Arias, an Atlanta-based music photographer. It was based on his popular and very well-done blog tutorial about shooting on white seamless. In a two-hour live demo/Q+A session, he showed us how to set up a roll of white seamless paper and three lights, and do some really creative stuff. I learned how to make the same white background go from pure white, to grey, to black with just lighting. Truthfully, I knew the theory of how to do most of this stuff already (from reading it on his blog last year). The seminar was still valuable for a few reasons though. Seeing someone actually do it is much better than just reading about it, and really served to solidify what I already knew. It’s also great to see a real working photographer like Zack and his small crew set up their gear and work out all the kinks in real time. It shows you that the pros do stuff just like we amateurs do…”bring that up a bit, now down, ok”…(test shot)…moves a light around…(test shot)…”ah crap this thing doesn’t reach, ok move it over there” etc, until it looks good. Then he showed us how he takes the images and puts them into photoshop and does all the clean-up. He wasn’t trying to hide anything and the honesty and transparency of his whole operation was refreshing to see. He was just a cool and down-to-earth guy, and I really enjoyed his course. I’m sure these skills will come in handy in the upcoming winter months when it is too cold to shoot outside…now I can just whip out the white seamless and go to town!
Next was more of a discussion-based seminar by Joe McNally who is a big-time famous pro who shoots for a bunch of high-profile clients and publications. Joe is the man. First off, he is well known among the strobist-style shooters because he recently published two wildly successful books on shooting with small flashes, my favorite being ”The Hot Shoe Diaries”. He is also just a great public speaker and a pretty hilarious guy in general. He told a story (a joke really) about all the people he meets that say they want to be professional photographers but that aren’t really looking to learn about all the technical details of how their cameras work or all the technical aspects of photography. He said something like, “What if you were in the hospital and the doctor looked at all the equipment that you were hooked up to and whispered to you ‘I don’t really know how any of this stuff works!’ You’d get the hell out of that hospital, and fast!” The point being that there is lots of technical stuff to know in photography, and you really do need to learn the technical details to be a good photographer. He made so many good points that I won’t even try to summarize them all here—only a few.
He would show us all these amazing shots and then give a bit of back story that always contained some wisdom. He showed us a picture that he took for National Geographic of some giant telescope that shoots a laser beam 60 miles into the sky, and then tells us that it took him something like two days of shooting, a crew of four guys, hundreds of thousands of dollars in rented lighting equipment, treacherous shooting conditions at night in a desert, and dealing with a “bitchy” telescope operator that wouldn’t shut the thing down for a few hours of shooting so that he had to do the whole shoot with the scope moving. Then you see the final picture and say “WOW!” I guess I never realized just how much goes into some of these shots. You see a picture in a magazine that some pro shot and think that since he’s a pro photographer, he just shows up with an awesome camera and plays with the knobs a bit and then clicks the shutter. Made me really think about how much time and effort should go into creating something amazing. How after shooting for a few hours I should be happy to get a handful of shots that I really like, and how it can take many long days of shooting to get “The Shot,” even for the pros. Uber-experienced guys like Joe still start out a shoot with one idea, change something around, try it out and maybe fail miserably, then go back home and refine the new concept a bit, plan some more, and finally go out and create something totally original and beautiful. They don’t simply show up and shoot masterpieces every time!
McNally delved into some technical detail about most of his stuff which was great to hear, but my favorite parts were when he talked about his personal philosophy and experiences. His advice was to get some interesting people in front of your lens and just shoot. How you should never say no when given the chance to shoot something interesting. You never know what will happen or where the shoot will take you. He talked about the importance of persistence in making a shoot happen, working to refine a concept, and getting access to restricted locations. He talked about the little “bomb-proof locked box” in his head where his photographic soul lives, and how no critic or editor could ever get into it and destroy the integrity of his work, no matter how hard they tried.
All in all it was a great experience. Saw a lot of cool stuff. Learned some new skills. Got lots of wisdom from two photographers that I admire. Left there with new ideas and tons of motivation to get shooting! Thanks, Mrs. GWC, for a sweet birthday gift!
[She also made me an amazing cake for my birthday, more about that later in the week…I am so lucky!]