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September 03, 2009
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I truly believe continuing education in our industry is a must.  Without the exposure to others thoughts, ideas, techniques and relationships found during such seminars, I believe my work would become very stale and not evolve.  This year I really looked at what I needed to improve upon to take my photography to the next level.  I decided upon lighting, specifically mid-day harsh light.  Having been to several 1 day seminars with lots of instruction but very little hands on mastering of techniques,  I opted for Cliff Mautner’s Boot Camp.  The seminar was a 3 day intensive lighting seminar with lots of time spent with camera in hand applying techniques.  I have broken it down to several areas so this does not become a rambling mess:)

Facility:  Cliff’s studio is a 100 plus year renovated church that is the perfect setting to showcase his work.  The wide open space lends itself perfectly to give real world examples of how light works; both natural and flash.  The 100” screen and small class sizes allow for a very comfortable setting with the ability to see examples of images without straining.  Plus there was beer in the fridge for after dinner refreshments :).  We started at 9am and breakfast and lunch were provided.  Classroom and location shooting all day/every day.  The class ate dinner each night, then returned to the studio for evening sessions, usually ending around 10pm.

Class: Approximately 15 students from England, South America, and all across the states.  Photographers in attendance ranged from working professionals, advanced amateurs with one or two individuals newer to the field.  Cliff’s ability to convey complex lighting theory/situations to photographers with differing skill levels allowed for a steady pace.  Not once did I feel that Cliff got behind or had to tell a student we had to move on because they could not grasp an idea.  This allowed fellow students, myself included, to feel comfortable asking questions ranging from basic to advanced topics.  

Post production:  While we discussed how to enhance, accentuate & direct the viewer with post production, this was not a Photoshop seminar.  By using Cliff’s techniques to add dimension with light, I have reduced the amount of work required in Photoshop/Light Room on all of the weddings I have shot since the seminar.

Business:  Cliff was an open book on how he runs his business.  From how he handles client inquires, client meetings, taxes, studio management, employees to the delivery of the final product, we were free to ask anything.  This is also an area where I’m currently struggling.  Cliff’s low-tech approach to client management showed that you don’t need to run expensive studio management software to run a successful studio…you just need Noelle!

Staff:  Noelle, Cliff’s Studio Manager plays a pivotal role in his business.  Aside from assisting Cliff on the wedding day, handling administrative and design duties, she was the contact point for registering and seminar payment.  During the seminar we were able to spend a few hours with her discussing her workflow, backup solutions, suppliers and album design. She also had receipts waiting for us the last day for tax purposes.

Locations: Location, location, location!  Cliff has access to one of the coolest locations of any seminar out there.  Eastern State Penitentiary!  This 180-year old crumbling prison has to be one of the coolest places I’ve ever shot.  We shot for about an hour with the general public; then after closing time, we had access for another 2 hours to different wings of the prison.  We were broken up into small groups of 4 led by the penitentiary staff.  Our guide led us to an area where she said only photographers and ghost hunters were allowed.  We also traveled to several parks throughout Philadelphia shooting in harsh mid-day light.  Transportation from the studio to all locations was on a very nice motor coach more so than a bus.  Very nice.

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Shooting:  At all locations after on sight instruction, we were broken down into small groups of 4.  We would take a few models and find a location to practice said techniques.  Cliff makes his way between groups and if needed walks you through the process as you are doing it.  This is huge and straightens the learning curve immensely.

His techniques are not extremely complicated but require a slightly different thought process…well for me, at least :)  While trying to master lighting techniques, Cliff would then push you to expand and create with composition.  Cliff would shoot the same scene as you, then do his patented display technique of placing his camera with its 70-200 face down on the ground so everyone can see the display on the back.  With just one or two frames, he would create something very different and extremely compelling. He is good!  Not sure if she is affiliated with the seminar or not but Susan Stripling spent a great deal of time with us while shooting and at the studio.  She was accessible to share the how and why of how she shoots & runs her business.  She was extremely helpful on location and played a very convincing bride-to-be during a mock initial client consolation.

Models:  During the location shoots several models would be divide among the groups and were there for the photographer’s direction.  Dressed in full-blown wedding gowns & tuxedos, with full hair and makeup done, the models were very attractive, professional & polished.  A true pleasure to work with each of you!

Post seminar:  With education dollars at a premium at LoRusso Studios, one of the deciding factors to attend the seminar was Cliff’s attitude towards the seminar in general.  Three days is good amount of time to spend shooting and learning, but what if I  have a question a week later?  Cliff stressed that we would have access to him even after the completion of the seminar to ask questions and get assistance.  I’m going to call him in the middle of the Phillies game and see if he answers.. I’ll keep you posted.

Conclusion:  It’s about 3 weeks after the seminar and I have shot 4 weddings in that time.  All of the instruction in the world is of no use if you cannot apply it to real world situations.  I attended this seminar to bolster my harsh-light shooting ability.  Instead, the seminar has dramatically enhanced the way I shoot through out the day.  It was not something I noticed walking out the door of Cliff’s Studio, but having looked back over the last few week’s weddings… there is a big difference.  Between lens selection and off-camera flash, my images have the pop, dimension & compression that I have sought for a long time.  Also I discovered how to shoot with lack of light:  just properly exposing for the light that is available helps create really dramatic images.  Believe it or not I now enjoy family formals, not really, there still a pain in the ass, but they look so cool and they are done right out of camera–no post!

 If you have the time and resources I would highly recommend Cliff’s seminar! 

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