Workshops? A New Direction… After a Break. Maybe.

Workshops? A New Direction… After a Break. Maybe.

It’s time.

Actually it may be later than that. And that makes it all the more… more…

Well, I don’t really know how I feel about stopping the workshops. A little sad, I suppose. Possibly a tiny bit bitter (fuckit, I’m human… right?). But mostly I feel like I needed to do it and move to a different place. Doing workshops was something that was fun, but not my main source of revenue, and I need to focus a bit more on that these days.

When I started the Lighting Essentials workshops it was in response to what I was seeing here in the Phoenix area in regard to photographic lighting – or rather the lack of any attempt at it. Or the knowledge that it even existed…

We charged a few bucks and we would put 4 or 5 shooters in my little studio on Broadway and we would shoot. Setup, discuss the reasons for the setup, shoot. Setup, discuss, shoot. Repeat.

It was for one day and we would cram a ton of learning into those days, starting early and finishing late.

I turned around and we were traveling the country and then the world doing workshops based on my idea of Subject Centric Light (H/T Dean Collins for inspiration), and my 30+ years in the business.

I took the workshop to Boise, New York, Halifax, San Diego, Missuola, Omaha, Anna Maria Island, New Orleans and a couple of dozen other cities. I even traveled to Singapore and Malaysia to do my workshop.

No Bullshit workshops… No “Celebrity” workshops… No ‘watch me while I have fun and you stand there and admire me from afar wishing you were me but knowing you will never be as cool as me but still watching and hoping anyway” bullshit workshops.

There are plenty of those around. Plenty of worthless shit workshops where people pay a grand for a ‘lesson’ from someone who has been shooting for 3 years and knows how to fuck around in Lightroom. Yeah – photography has changed a lot. You simply don’t need to know much at all to make photographs good enough to wow ’em in the wedding forums and on Flickr. There are so plenty of “spray and pray” workshops teaching nothing at all about photography but simply a way for narcissistic preeners to garner wads of cash from their sycophantic followers.

(“I thought you said you were only a little bitter?” – ed. LOL – I am making a point, so let me rant will ya…)

But my workshops were different.

In September of 2011, I was voted as one of the top workshop instructors in the world by the READERS of PDN. Not ‘chosen’ from the ranks of the ‘good ‘ol boys’ network, but by the people who took my workshop and learned stuff. From the heart stuff and from the experience stuff. And really real stuff to use right now to make better images.

The people who TOOK my workshop rated me that high.

That same month I cancelled all my workshops for the balance of the year.

Ironic? Sure, whatever.

But I said it was time, and that means there are other considerations as well. And they were the most important in the long run and figured high in my decision to pull the plug.

For one thing, teaching is exhausting when you do it right. It really is. I love it, and I love the exhilaration when someone in the workshop says… “hey, I got this… I can do this…”

Yeah… you can. And that is what a good teacher does. He/She helps their students to be as good as they can be… even better than the teacher in some instances. When the master becomes the student and the student becomes the master, then there is perfection in the art of teaching.

But it also takes its toll on the teachers own work. At least it has mine.

I need to focus back on my work, and my design work, so that I can be an effective teacher if I decide to do it again. I love to teach, but I want my teaching to be relevant – and timely. So this hiatus, however long it goes, may be a catalyst for something else. Something new, different, relevant.

I miss the travel already, and then there were those wonderful people that I met out there in the workshops. Many have become my friends, and I know we will kick up some dust sometime out there. But there are those faces and names that I can barely recall that seemed to have such a great time, and then we went our own way and we never met up again. Those folks I miss too.

I am a one man band. No roving bands of assistants, and no grunts. I do it all. Sweep and paint the cyc and then shoot on it. I am not famous, nor do I seek fame. I have never been a big time photographer, rather I was a photographer in a crummy market that made a good living. Never shot a cover of Vogue, nor climbed the highest mountain to get a fashion shot of a super model. I just maintained my clients and made images that were hopefully a little more than they expected.

But this also means that I am doing everything for the workshops myself… booking spaces, finding models, and looking for venues and dinner places in towns I have no knowledge of. When the workshops were filling it was fine, but now it has become too much work. Too much time.

And I am a good teacher. I have taught photography, music, art and self achievement. I love it.

So now, this chapter is closed and I move on to something else. We’ll see. I am doing creativeLIVE and that is a blast, and I will be continuing on the very successful Project 52 with all that amazing talent.

I do have a commitment to a few folks who were setting up workshops for me and I will of course honor them, and we will have a great time.

Things change… I changed. Photography changed in the last five years as well.

So for now it is off to other endeavors, and we will see what that means for the future of Lighting Essentials Workshops. Essentials for Photographers is fine and staying and I am working on some other ideas for Learn to Light.

Thanks to all who supported the workshops and especially to those who came out to meet me.

I will be working with other groups who do workshops, and presentations. This post deals only with the Lighting Essentials Workshops that I did on my own. I will be on creativeLIVE, and other venues presenting a host of information from lighting to overall photographic directions.

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  1. I remember those days of the one day workshop on Broadway :-)

    I actually think this exit on a high note and getting back to focusing on your work speaks more to the qualities that you have, then if you had gone on to a few more years of workshops like so many others. Well done!

    It’s not always easy to walk away from a thing that is on a roll and that pays (at least some) and that is fun. But I think the credibility of a teacher and mentor inherently lies in the teacher continuing to be a master at what he does, instead of treading water at the point wherever he started teaching. And inherently in the act of teaching people, especially if the teacher has a 30 year head start, there is a big gap between the teacher’s work and the student’s work. Being surrounded with that gap all the time without offset has to make it more challenging for the teacher to keep growing, stay relevant and fresh. Of course there are different challenges and joys in teaching, but they’re on a different orthogonal plane.

    Looking forward to seeing what you do next.

  2. I never made it to one of your workshops, but I have been reading your blog for a few years. One thing I have noticed-and love about you-is that unlike the “Rockstars,” you have TRUE passion for this craft. It’s not some contrived, super emotional, every time I think about taking a picture I cry,bullshit. That is why I come back here week after week. Can’t wait to see what comes next.


    P.S. Don’t let this teaching hiatus lead to a blogging hiatus also. Sometimes KT can get a bit too militant, and I need another curmudgeonly voice for parity. Heh.

  3. I read the posts at he links you provided – even though I know this stuff has been going on, still pretty scary to read. While not the SB workshop, I know of a couple who went to the “rock star” workshops. It was only after they had dropped an incredibly large wad of cash and got next to nothing for it that they had realized their folly.

    Maybe after your hiatus you’ll come back with something even better, although you are a pretty hard act to top 😉 Continued success and let us all know what’s going on.

  4. Don, I actually wish I’d known about you back in the day when you were up the road on Anna Maria. Love the site and I applaud you for changing tack on workshops — if that’s what works best for you. Ironically I know two people who actually have dipped their toe in the workshop instruction water with about three years of photographic experience (counting film days I have about 33 — the first 30 virtually all available light). I’ll have to check out the CreativeLIVE program.