As some of you know, I recently completed a couple of workshops this summer / fall to help me meet other photographers and work on my craft. I think getting out of your own head and challenging yourself are critical to photographic improvement. Not just scrolling for inspiration on Instagram, but meeting people in real life and crafting images together, at the same time and in the same place to see what others see and in turn to understand what you see more clearly. There is something fundamental in watching other photographers craft something from the exact same light, scene, and actors that helps you challenge the way you see and inspires you to look at something differently.
The two workshops were seemingly opposites, one was street, and the other was dramatic studio portraits, but they led me back to the same place creatively. This is Part I of a two part reflection on these two workshop experiences and how they influenced me over the last few months. Follow me on Medium or sign up for my newsletter / photo journal on www.aaronjeanphotography.com to get notified of the next installment about my portrait workshop with Chris Knight and see where these two workshops led me.
Inspecting the Streets for Light with Olaf — Street
The street workshop with Olaf Stzaba in Paris was an amazing experience. It really stood out to me due to Olaf’s “Simplicity in Seeing” teaching program, and the detailed way in which he broke down how to see in photography, no easy task! As photographers, we all just want to go out and shoot, but the first few hours spent learning the program was so valuable. I wish I had taken better notes! This is not a workshop where we all go to a specific place to get an iconic photo of Paris, it was the exact opposite. The only thing Paris offered to our group was that amazing orange cast to the light and the way the light cast shadows off of its beautiful and interesting architecture. For 2 1/2 days, we were only looking for the light, everything else was secondary. In fact, I’m not sure if we walked a mile in the three days of the workshop because you could find interesting light everywhere!
While we were all lucky enough to be in Paris, the workshop reinforced how superfluous what city or place you are with your camera. Wherever you go, there is light or a lack of it which makes for its own exciting possibilities. This is not necessarily a new idea, but the passion and conviction that Olaf brought to that idea really hit home with me. In one of the most beautiful cities in the world, we were shooting through car windows and storefront displays. No Eiffel Tower in sight.
In addition to starting with the light, Olaf was incessant about encouraging us to look at things differently. We inspected windows, bus stops, puddles, and street signs like scientist inspecting every angle, testing ideas, composition, exposures, with people, without people, with posters and advertisements…literally anything that we found. We would spend 30–45 minutes in one spot until the light faded. Everything holds a potential image when you walk the street this way. It was a compelling idea that has changed my shooting.
It also showed me that, slowly and silently over time, I had developed some bad habits that were holding me back. Primarily, I would let myself get concerned about a character or maybe an interesting scene, without first focusing on the light. I would see someone or something interesting and try to shoot that in the best view I had, but it was usually not that great. So, at best, I would end up with a poorly lit interesting person or subject. However, once I flipped that and found the light, saw an interesting composition, the characters would inevitably come with enough time and patience.
I have slowly retrained myself to stay focused on the light first and let the characters come later…usually. The other benefit to this style is I always have clarity and direction when I am out shooting. I walk until I see interesting light and then linger and explore from there.
The last thing worth mentioning, which I also learned the hard way, is being open to what the streets offer you. If you get too focused on a certain image or a certain type of image, you can sometimes drive yourself mad, feel uninspired and pile on the doubt that comes with creating images. In my case, I was very intent on trying to get more abstract and edgier images while working with Olaf. However, for what felt like the entire weekend, I was presented with opportunity after opportunity for street portraits, to the point that it was almost laughable! I shot as many street portraits that weekend as I have shot in the last 6 months! I love them, but they weren’t what I thoght i was looking for. Turns out, they were exactly what I needed.
Regardless of what type of photographer you are, I cannot recommend Olaf’s workshop highly enough. He is a gifted educator and an amazing photographer! I learned a lot, met some great photographers, and left the weekend with a dose of humility and lot of creative energy!
Here are a few images shot during the weekend of the workshop. Sign up for my newsletter at www.aaronjeanphotography.com or follow me on Medium for Part II of this essay on my portrait workshop with Chris Knight next week!