Awhile back I attended the Foundation Workshop, held in Glen Rose, Texas. The workshop is taught by some of the best wedding photojournalists in the world, with the goal of providing wedding photographers a chance to develop their photojournalistic skills through the process of shooting and editing an assignment on real life subjects. This Workshop isn’t for everyone, it’s extremely hard both physically and mentally. If you’re up to the challenge, I cannot recommend it enough. You will be a better photographer because of it.
Thirty-six photographers attended the workshop. We were split into six teams, each with one leader, two mentors and an assistant. My team leader was Joseph Victor Stefanchik (JVS) with mentors, Ray Soemarsono, Ryan Jones and team assistant Jan Garcia.
My assignment was to cover the daily life of a wonderful lady named Lyn, owner of Thoughts4Paws Pet Sitting Service. Lyn pours her heart and soul into caring for other peoples pets when their owners are out of town or cannot get home to take care of them. When Lyn is not looking after other peoples pets, she is at home enjoying time with her own dogs, cats, turkeys, donkeys, geese, rabbits, and ducks.
After a long day of shooting, we all met back at the hotel to get critiqued by our instructors. It wasn’t good. I lost track of who my subject was and ended up shooting a bunch of pet portraits. I was suckered in by all the cute animals running around and forgot to capture Lyn’s story. The critiques went on until three or four am, and although they were tough to hear, they motivated me to go out the next day, kick some ass, and make some meaningful images.
Day two was challenging, but I was more focused on documenting Lyn in her environment and trying to put a story together than on the previous day. Running on two hours of sleep, I was up with sun and ready to go. My photos were better, but I was making mistakes: I wasn’t close enough, I wasn’t low enough, I wasn’t committing myself long enough to each frame, I wasn’t capture the moment I was after. I was simply taking a frame and then moving on to the next one. Needless to say, I heard about it that evening from JVS, Ray and Ryan.
By day three I was tired. I’d had two to three hours of sleep the last two nights, and I was emotionally drained from the tough critiques of day one and two. I love photography. I’m passionate about it, and having all my mistakes laid out before me was taking its toll. I was starting to doubt my ability to become a better documentary photographer. I texted JVS and told him I struggling. He told me to keep going and to fight through it, and that what I was feeling is part of the Foundation process.
After talking with JVS I relaxed, refocused, and concentrated on what my instructors had been drilling into me during the critique sessions: get low, commit to your composition, wait for the moment, stop being lazy. I started making progress. I was being more patient, more fearless, and capturing real moments. I noticed some of Lyn’s dogs playing fetch in the pool and I hit the deck, flat on my chest, waiting for something to happen within my chosen composition. My patience paid off, a dog leapt towards me, chasing a ball into the pool. I fired away and managed to grab a frame of the dog and a wave of water rushing towards my camera.
Here is the image I captured. The photo in the top of this post is by Olivia Vale just after the wave hit me.
After the dogs finished playing in the pool, Lyn headed out to feed the geese and I followed. Four geese started to gather and I positioned myself with the geese between Lyn and I. Once again flat on my chest, trying to ignore the wide variety of animal feces I was lying in, I captured my favourite image from the workshop:
Reflecting on my experience at the Foundation Workshop, I couldn’t have chosen a better team to be a part of. I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone; I wanted to be told the truth about my work (my mother thinks I’m awesome); I wanted to be told what sucked about the way I see photos; I wanted to see with a new set of eyes, and I wanted to learn from the best. I got what I wanted. I was pushed to the extreme, my weaknesses as a photographer exposed, but in the end I got a high five during the very last critique session from JVS. I was becoming a better photographer.
I cannot thank my team of instructors enough for their hard work and for their passion for teaching and photography.
I’m planning on attending FW12, hope to see you there!!