My Christmas present came a little early this year. I’ve never attended a photography workshop in person before, and it was high on my wish list. While I’ve participated in many webinars and online courses, I knew that I was missing out on getting the most out of mentoring. In person and on location mentoring is an investment of time and money – a priceless one that can’t be taken lightly. I knew that I wanted to learn from the best of the best – someone that I admired and endlessly inspired me. It didn’t take long for me to choose Meg Bitton. Her airy, whimsical yet bold style of storytelling through images and her distinguishable talent had me mesmerized from the beginning of my career, so I sought out on my journey to learn from the best. I enrolled in her SOULS.IMAGINED. workshop last month, as my most treasured Christmas gift this year. It included photoshoots with children and a maternity model in the forest where most of her captivating images had taken place previously, as well as post processing mentoring afterward – I knew it would be perfect for me.
When I began to share the news of my investment, most of my friends and colleagues were extremely excited (and some even jealous) for me. I loved the support and as the weeks passed by, the excitement grew to match the levels of a kid on Christmas eve. It was expected though – this was my Christmas gift after all!
The workshop exceeded all of my expectations and hopes by far. I learned so many wonderful things from Meg and the other photographers that attended that weekend – a list of little treasures that would probably be 10 pages long. Instead of naming off every piece of gloriousness, I’ve decided to share with you the top 10 things that I did NOT learn at the Meg Bitton Souls.Imagined. workshop. Since mentoring with Meg is a highly sought out experience, I stumbled upon quite a few “urban legends” of what to expect from her and our time together. While some of the amazing legends were very real, some of the not so amazing ones were far from the truth. I hope you enjoy my list of what NOT to expect – what I did NOT learn.
1. I did not learn: How to add blur to my images in photoshop.
I’m sure this one is a shocker to many, but it was never part of our workshop. Instead, I learned how to nail some amazing bokeh IN CAMERA. I learned about perspective. I learned how to capture the sharpness in my subject and the natural blur in surroundings without the help of editing software.
2. I did not learn: How to edit with a slew of actions (available for purchase with a discount code after the workshop)
This one is BIG! Meg edits by hand. She teaches how to edit by hand. She removes the crutches of actions and shows you how to be in control of your images and the vision you have for them instead of running a slew of random actions hoping to achieve the effect you have in mind. It is the most liberating chunk of knowledge that I am so grateful to now possess.
3. I did not learn: How to block off and barricade NYC traffic just for a picture.
I did learn that a stoplight seems to last much longer when you’re in a car instead of lying in the street taking pictures though. Also, that cars passing by find it all entertaining enough to take pictures, too. (thanks Tara for this sweet shot!)
4. I did not learn: How to create images with composites versus planning out and setting up an actual shoot.
This was an eye opener for me considering that quite a few of my typical newborn images in a gallery are actually composites created from multiple images and merged together via photoshop. While that technique works well in newborn photography, it’s time consuming and tedious work. Meg showed me how detailed planning and forethought with determination can create a beautiful image straight out of camera – specifically one that doesn’t require endless time behind a computer screen compositing. Anyone that can teach me ways to save time is heaven sent in my opinion
5. There was no Meg Bitton Koolaide that I’d heard so much about.
However, she did keep us refreshed and well fed throughout the entire weekend! The very first stop after meeting everyone was a drive-thru trip to Starbucks where she ordered 15 venti sized beverages. The barista loved us, I think Meg treated us to many delicious meals at fabulous restaurants in New York City and in New Jersey, along with an endless supply of “Cronuts” each morning. I know, I had never heard of them before either. I’m addicted now though!
6. I did not learn: How to fix a lack of vision in photoshop
Instead, I learned the importance of writing down my visions as soon as they cross my mind. Brainstorming them and building on them until they come to life. Wardrobe, setting, lighting, hair (and possibly makeup), angles, and even my plan for post processing should all be planned out prior to create this vision that came to mind months (or sometimes longer) prior. The details matter.
7. There was no required lens or camera.
I’ll admit, I was concerned about this prior to investing in the workshop. I contacted Meg with a few questions about my gear and I was surprised that she was not concerned about my low end DSLR camera body and limited lens collection. She suggested I bring or rent something with a 200 length just to see the full potential of what I will learn in my resulting images, however, it was by no means a requirement. Once the workshop began, I realized that we all had very different equipment. Meg worked with each of us to make sure the crop sensor’d shooters had the space they needed and that each of us were able to capture something amazing with whatever we were working with.
8. There were no second agendas or sponsorships.
I really appreciated this. I cannot count the number of learning experiences I’ve invested in only to find out that they were actually sales pitches for some product, prop vendor, or a new action set. I understand the need for sponsors sometimes and I love my prop vendors as much as the next person, but it was refreshing to know that everything Meg was teaching us and sharing with us was real and raw – straight from the heart with no ulterior motives.
9. I did not learn that planning has to over-ride spontaneity
While the workshop had a detailed itinerary and planning was a huge part of Meg’s shooting style, I watched first hand how inspiration and creativity will take flight with spontaneity, regardless of the plans. One of the attendees was a nursing mother and had her baby girl with her for the weekend. Although the baby spent most of her time with her Daddy and siblings at the hotel, she had to nurse a few times while we were doing our post processing classes next door. None of us minded that she nursed while we learned, and we all witnessed the light in Meg’s eyes as a new idea came to mind. She asked if we could photograph mother and baby nursing on our next photoshoot excursion. You can imagine the shock and excitement of everyone in the room. Meg didn’t miss a beat though, and had the gown and bonnet on the way to our destination – she was continually building this spur of the moment vision and adding on to the perks of our workshop along the way. I’m not sure if it were the circumstances, my specialty, or the “models” themselves, but these were my favorite images from the weekend, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to capture them.
10. I did not learn how to be just like Meg Bitton.
This workshop was about ME. Although Meg was an open book and shared anything we asked, she always clarified “that’s what works for me, but may be different for you”. She shared her unique business plan that works for her niche market, and then we all discussed our own plans and what does and does not work for each of us. She did not teach us how to edit just like she edits. She taught us how to show the beauty we captured, how to highlight connections and bring focus away from what wasn’t important in our images. She explained how to create the dramatic effects that would fully portray our vision – whatever our vision may be. She never harped on prices and the fall of the industry like so many others get caught up in. Instead her focus was each of us – artists on a journey. Whether our journey paid well, was just a hobby, or was winding in the direction of creating fine art just to display in our own homes, it didn’t matter. We were all photographers; individual artists there to learn how to get the very most from our own unique journey – not how to be like Meg Bitton.
While shooting in the forest I saw this bird standing guard in a tree just above 20 of us. I was fascinated by his intensity – he was focused and unafraid. After I snapped an image I noticed a heart shaped branch behind him that he almost appeared to be protecting. This out-take image sums up my whole experience for me. The most profound thing that Meg taught me that weekend is FEARLESSNESS. I have a renewed confidence in my artwork and the ambition to chase my dreams, as wild as they may be. I’ve learned the importance of documenting my visions and focusing on my inspirations (not as much on the work of other photographers in my genre). I’m finally at peace with my choice to not strive to be like everyone else in the industry and instead break and make my own little rules along the way. I’m not afraid to step outside of the box more and capture what calls out to me – regardless how controversial that may be. I’ve learned that not everyone will see what I see, they won’t all LOVE my work. The important part is to stand by my artwork no matter what – if it came from my heart, I need to protect it. This knowledge, clarity, foresight and FEARLESSNESS would not be in existence right now without that weekend learning from Meg. She gave me my most treasured gift of all.