I attended Scott Robert Lim’s “Master Lighting Guide to Flash Photography” workshop in San Francisco this past week. Overall, the workshop met my expectations, although not necessarily in the way I would have hoped.
First, a little about me and my mindset. I love learning. I believe in education, and I believe wholeheartedly in seriously investing in my craft, but I don’t have gobs of money to spend, which makes it doubly important to invest my money smartly.
Another major consideration for me is that stylistically, my work is very different from Scott Robert’s. My aesthetic (sweet, romantic, natural) is starkly different from Scott Robert’s (dramatic, bold, artsy). So this was not going to be the most obvious choice of workshops for me. But I gave it some serious thought, set specific parameters for myself, and ultimately jumped in with my $400.
There are all sorts of workshops offered by all sorts of photographers these days. But not every workshop is a great fit for every photographer, so the first step to choosing one is knowing what you’re looking for. Figure out what the workshop is offering and decide what you’re trying to get out of it. For me, that means going in with high expectations but specific objectives.
The Workshop Description:
You can read the full description here, but basically, this workshop promises:
- Photography Instruction– in this case, about lighting through off-camera flash
- Personal Coaching– from Scott himself
- A Styled Shoot– with models in Chinatown, which Scott encourages as a unique portfolio builder
It’s the second of eight workshops in Scott Robert Lim’s year-long Mentorship Program.
Based on the above claims of the workshop, I formed my own priorities and objectives.
- Lighting Knowledge- I will have a conceptual understanding and a practical knowledge of how to use basic one-light off-camera flash.
- Bay Area Networking- I will gain contacts and form/strengthen relationships with area photographers who can continue to be a resource throughout the year.
- Scott Robert Lim- I will build a relationship with Scott Robert Lim, especially since he promotes himself as a mentor
The one big marketed aspect of the workshop that I basically dismissed was the idea of using the styled shoot as a portfolio builder. Because the style really doesn’t fit my wedding aesthetic, I figured the images wouldn’t be very usable in my portfolio anyway, and that was fine. My priorities were really on the other three items listed above, so this also impacted the way I approached the night and what I got out of it (for the better, as it turns out).
Workshop Review (the details):
The first part of the workshop was a lecture in a small clubhouse. First impression, I was surprised at the large number of attendees (40), since so much was made of this being a mentorship experience with personal coaching. But Scott Robert is an engaging speaker who’s clearly passionate about photography. He started with a recap of the previous workshop, which had covered posing and basic lighting (face toward the light; body away). Then he went over lighting. The information was great and easy to follow, though sometimes it seemed really slow and other times he just rushed through. My biggest gripe was that almost the entire lecture was exactly what he goes over in his interactive e-book, Master Lighting Guide to Flash Photography (sound familiar?). True, it was nice to have him animating the slides to life and explaining things in person, but I was left with the distinct feeling that I could’ve garnered the same information by reading it myself.
The most valuable part of the lecture was definitely the live demonstrations– not just because we got to see a lighting setup, but because we actually got to think through the process of lighting a subject together and begin to see how the troubleshooting works. Again, downsides were that there were only a couple live demos that we got to think through– towards the end, he just went ahead and set things up, more to show us something cool than to lead us through the thought process– and also, the camera wasn’t hooked into a screen or anything, so it was fairly difficult to see what the results actually looked like.
All in all, 7/10 for the lecture. I had really high expectations.
Guided Practice (what guided practice?)
The trained teacher in me is thinking, after you teach new material, you have to provide guided practice so the students can try what they just learned with your help. Ideally, I would have liked to go from sitting in the lecture room to having everyone take out their equipment and try a standard setup, all together. That way we could get familiar with our own gear, see the concepts in action, and be reassured that we’re doing it correctly the first time. Sadly, there was no such structured practice put into place. We broke off from the lecture into our own independent groups, and basically wandered off until dinner. While we were told we could practice and try things out, there wasn’t necessarily anyone there to guide us through anything. This is when I started feeling kind of lost.
2/10. I was with a group of photographers I already knew, and they already basically knew what they were doing, so at least they helped me out.
The shooting portion of our workshop began after dinner, from roughly 7-10pm. Six models were set up at different stations inside and outside the restaurant. Each station had a group leader with a pad of paper. We had to put our name on the list, and when it was our turn, we would have 3 minutes to set up and shoot. That’s it. 40 photographers clamoring for these 3-minute slots! I had no idea what I was doing, and I was supposed to figure it out on the side and come up with an idea so I could just go up and execute it? Overwhelmed. I shot at two stations right off the bat, hated everything I got, and quickly gave up on that plan.
Styled shoot- 4/10. I still don’t buy into it, but I know other photographers got really great portfolio builders, so that’s good.
New plan: follow Scott Robert Lim around. I clearly wasn’t going to learn anything from myself, so I assisted Scott for a while, and I got to talk to him one-on-one for a nice chunk of time, as most of the other photographers were busy with their own shoots. I watched him scout out one location that didn’t work out and think of a second setup that he then tested and set up before the model was available. In short, I got to see more of that thought process, which isn’t always visible when people who are really good at what they do just go ahead and do it. But Scott was extremely open and articulate about what he was thinking, and he was patient in answering all my random questions.
Finally, at the end of the night, back up in the restaurant, I still wasn’t shooting the models, so Scott took the time to set up a low-pressure shoot just for me with Mei, one of the girls who was just standing by, ready to help with anything. Dressed in regular clothing, she came up to the bar and we posed her and lit her, shooting with a basic one-light setup. Then Mei went to change into her dress and came back some time later, when I was able to replicate the setup and shoot it again. From there, I had this unofficial model to myself, and with friends Elliot and Ed to help with the flash, we moved to another part of the restaurant and I got to finally try some stuff out without that 3-minute timer ticking down. (See what I said about needing guided practice?) These were my only salveagable images from the night, but it made up for my trepidation around the rest of it.
My personal one-on-one tutoring with Scott Robert and my own improvised shoot- 10/10. Plus, I am now part of a network of photographers who can all continue to help each other out throughout the year. Truly priceless.
Moral of the Story
If there’s a moral to this workshop it’s that I got out of it what I put in. Just paying for a workshop and showing up isn’t sufficient to improve anything. I had small qualms about this and that throughout the day, but with my focus on my own objectives, I was able to help myself reach my own goals. Basic Lighting Understanding; Bay Area Networking; Scott Robert Lim Contact– check, check, check. I had to know myself and my own limitations and adapt the workshop to work for me. So it was all completely worth it in the end.
More images from the end of the night: