This weekend I participated in something that I’ve been excited about for a long time: a two-day, hands on workshop with one of the world’s best photographers, Joe McNally, in rainy Vancouver.
While I could have done without the cold drizzle, a couple of sushi comas, and having to wake up in a room next to Pablo Saravanja, the weekend was full of so many positives I don’t know where to start. But let me just say this: the power of constantly striving to learn and better yourself cannot be understated. I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone when there’s times you have those fleeting “okay, I know my shit” days, which inflates your ego just enough to realize the next day – when it all goes to hell – how little you know.. I’m constantly reminded when I look at the images of those who I consider to be “masters” how little I know. But I could be happier for that fact – that is, that I still have an unbelievable amount to learn in this passion. I think it would get pretty boring the day I knew it all. Don’t ever want to be there, nope.
A Joe McNally workshop is almost a spiritual experience to those in the room. At least it was for me. If it wouldn’t have met strange looks I contemplated having Joe to sign my nipple.
Joe did a number of demos, but it was one in particular where I felt this rush in my head; it was the sound of 100 lightbulbs going off at once in my little pea-brain. Joe had chosen a more elaborate set-up….one of those 5 or 6 or 7 light set-ups that I read about in his books and see on his blog that I never quite understood (and thus ignored trying in my own shooting). But seeing the thought process behind why things were the way they were: the placement of a light here, the elimination of an annoying detail there, coming together into visual poetry, made me giddy. I got it….and feel like I can now tackle bigger, more problematic scenarios in my own work. He approached an image like a big puzzle, and once he figured out that puzzle, the beauty of person and light coming together into something interesting was a beautiful thing to watch.
So onwards to us, as participants in the workshop, being thrown to the wolves to figure out our own puzzles. In teams of 2 or 3, we could do anything (we had the run of the very beautiful and interesting Iron Works Studio in Vancouver), light any way we wanted, go simple or go crazy, and try to make our own magic. I was put into a fantastic team and we jived well: myself, my Yellowknife friend and fellow professional development junkie, Pablo Saravanja, and a very talented portrait photographer from Calgary, Nikki Harrison. We had the choice of going easy or challenging ourselves, and I was happy to see that we all went for difficulty. We were there to learn, to put ourselves on the chopping block, and to screw things up. But we worked together beautifully, and within two hours we all had scenes/images that we were pretty happy with. The best we’ve ever shot? Probably far from it, but the following images made us proud in the sense that we went from a very ugly starting point to something more elegant through the power of thought, creativity, and collaboration.
…and while we shot, we kind of inadvertently told a bit of a story through working with the same model over our three scenes. I shot first, and I was going for a rugged, moody, “waiting for something unknown” kind of feel. Pablo went second, and he crafted an image of anger and heartbreak: our model, Georgie Daburas (a fantastic Vancouver actor) looking bitter and broken while fingering an engagement ring. A progression from my first scene. Finally, Nikki shot the “result” of the failed relationship: a bar scene, with one drink too many.
Here’s each of our images, from the bare bones ugly beginnings to something we felt good about. Note, you can click on any of the images (brings you to another page, and then click on image again) for larger versions:
In conclusion, if you’ve ever contemplated taking a McNally workshop, I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll learn from the caliber of photographer around you and you’ll learn from the Jedi Master. And he’s a pretty cool guy to spend two full days with. He’s as honest as it comes (he’ll tell you when something is boring/sucks/needs help/is brilliant), and he’s got a file folder of hundreds of thousands of frames and photo scenarios spanning 35 years in his brain.
I leave you with an anecdote:
Joe McNally: “Wow, guys, you are all doing great. As I walked through the room yesterday I saw some really fantastic images. Some really strong shooting and approaches. Oh, wait….I did stumble across some disasters. Shit, yeah, some rather spectacular disasters, oh God”….he looks over and stares….”PABLO!!!”
To see more of Nikki’s work, check out http://www.facebook.com/PhotoDreamzPhotography
Check out more of Pablo’s work at: http://www.facebook.com/aRTLeSSmeDia