Industry News

Are You Ready to Unplug? Behind the Scenes with Three Wedding Photography Workshops

June 21, 2017

By Interviews by Libby Peterson

Every year, the wedding and portrait industry comes together at WPPI to network, learn from mentors and peers alike, and yes, party. In the interim months, more and more photographers seem to be creating workshops and gatherings to keep that educational momentum going. We go behind the scenes with three such ventures to see how breaking out of the digital socialsphere renews creativity and helps nurture community.

Photo © Wrkshp

Brooklyn, New York
Est. 2016 by Ryan Browne (Forged in the North) and Lev Kuperman
Next event: October 23-26, 2017

We had been feeling for a while that the East Coast, specifically New York City, didn’t have a solid, community-focused wedding photography event, conference and workshop. After teaching a small one of our own in 2015, we wanted to keep it going, but in a much bigger way.

Assembling the cast of teachers and keynote speakers was the fun part. For our first year, almost all of the teachers were close friends who had already been teaching all around the world. Having both arrived at wedding photography from other mediums (architecture and music), it was extremely important for us to bring in teachers and speakers from outside the wedding photography industry. Last year, we purposefully chose non-wedding photographers as our WRKSHP keynotes, like Rodney Smith and Bee Walker. We feel that as wedding photographers, we sometimes forget to look outside of our industry at great work being made.

After the teachers and keynotes were confirmed, that left about 98 percent of the rest of the conference to plan. Venue coordination, scheduling, sponsors, social media, food, and audio and video vendors were just some of the plates we had to spin during the planning process. There were times that we wish we could have cloned ourselves to get the work done, but ultimately it just took lots of late nights, emails, phone calls, a little bit of tears and mainly lots of coffee.

The toughest part was just getting the WRKSHP name out there and getting people to trust that we built something worthwhile. We just kept spreading the word on social media, through sponsorships, our amazing teachers all started talking about it online, and there was a moment when it just clicked and people got excited. We were initially thinking this would bring in mostly people from the New York City area, but we kept seeing signups from all over the world. People traveled from California, Texas, Mexico, South America and Australia, and even a few from as far and exotic as… New Jersey.

We heard from so many attendees that they really appreciated the smaller classes where they got to be more hands-on and interact with teachers in a way that many of them had never experienced. James Moes did a whole class on curation and ended up reviewing portfolios and websites for attendees. Hugh Forte did a live food shoot and took attendees through styling, lighting and shooting. Michael Ash Smith’s class was all about instant film, and each attendee got to shoot with a Polaroid camera on Impossible film and learn how to manipulate it.

We found that in a three-day conference, over-scheduling can become a problem when people have traveled long distances and want to just hang out with friends they haven’t seen in a while. This year, there will be a much more manageable pace to everything—just about the same amount of classes and keynote speakers, but with much more downtime to chill. The main thing is restructuring to fit with the ebb and flow of peoples’ capacity to process new information throughout the day. We plan to start each day with a keynote, rather than end on it. The morning will be filled with maximum inspiration, launching people into an afternoon of classes. We realized that it’s super difficult to tell 200 people that their 15-minute coffee break is done and they should head over to their next class, so we’re also going to be bringing the coffee to the people this year.

We’re personally super excited for a full day of live shooting with Bee Walker.She’ll be going through everything from conceptualizing and shooting to editing. Overall, there are more live-shoot classes happening, so attendees better be ready to bring all their gear. ­
—Ryan Browne and Lev Kuperman

Photo © Chellise Michael

Camp Go Away
Big Indian Springs, New York
Est. 2014 by Chellise Michael and Mike Busse
Next event: August 21-24, 2017

We started talking with a few fellow photographers about how all of the cool and fun photography workshops were a) teaching photo 101, b) too far and expensive, but mostly c) a and b combined. Don’t get us wrong, we find it really beneficial for people to sit and listen to folks talk about their experiences—we’ve both received incredible pushes from other photographers’ stories in this manner and always enjoy teaching at workshops like this—but everyone has a unique way of absorbing information, so we wanted to take a different approach to how people learn and grow. For us, there’s something really exciting about figuring things out on your own or through collaboration. We want to create a space where people can realize that life is about conquering their own hurdles, not someone else’s.

Camp Go Away is an intimate gathering in the name of exploration. We get together in a 30-room mansion in New York’s Catskills for four days, and we give 20 campers access to everything they might need to create one image or a series of three for a personal project. We use each other as models, Fuji donates film and Fotocare lets us borrow fancy film cameras, lenses and lighting gear. We develop black-and-white film on site, scan it and have a large-format printer for all of the campers to use to print their project on the final day, which turns into a gallery to show off everyone’s work. Camp counselors are also on site to help everyone with creative blocks, technical assistance and dating advice.

It has given us relationships with fellow photographers that have even joined our Chellise Michael Photography team, and we get what everyone else gets out of it: a break from clients and our work brains. This is the time to hit the reset button and remember why we picked up our cameras in the first place.
—Chellise Michael and Michael Busse

Quyn Duong: One night, I heard a low rumble coming from the other side of the house. Like a war cry, a group of campers were chanting, “The developers are developing!” as they rushed through the house shaking their film tanks. We all ended up smushed at the end of the long hallway, crammed in a tiny bathroom as they dumped out their chemicals and unrolled their freshly processed film. For some, it was their first time shooting film, but even for the seasoned shooters, it was invigorating to hold their negatives in the light and see the photos come to life.

Eileen Meny: When I realized what I was trying to do with my project, I immediately didn’t want to do it. Then the “if you’re afraid of it, you have to do it” instinct kicked in. Camp Go Away happened in November, which was the end of my wedding season and a week after the U.S. presidential election. I mostly photograph weddings and children. I am 31 and single, but yes, I would like to get married and also have kids. While I do love my job and business, spending all my time at weddings and photographing children can make me feel incredibly lonely, and in dark moments, a complete failure. The results of the election made me double down on these feelings. I ended up making a self-portrait of how I felt as a woman that week.

Eleanor Dobbins: I came into Camp Go Away with an idea to create minimalistic black-and-white self portraits. The first day was torture; I realized that I wasn’t alone after taking a break to talk with other campers. We were all struggling through the creative process together. It was amazing to watch everyone hit their low points before having their breakthrough. Perseverance really was the only way through. I just kept on shooting despite wanting to give up. It worked.

Jillian McGrath: I’m that person who throws themselves fully into their business, and as much as I want to create a personal project and complete it, it always gets put on the back burner. I had no idea how I was going to be able to create something that really came from my heart in such a short amount of time, but he moment I stepped away and took in the creative energy that was in the space, that was when things really started to click.

Autumn Adams: I was inspired by the work of Jeff Newsom for my project. I had an idea how to make it happen but had never even come close to trying anything like this; I had never used a Pixelstick before. Daniel Orren, Camp Go Away’s lighting master, was there to give me a tutorial on how to use it, which blew my mind once I saw the test shots in camera. I had the help of three other campers (including my model) to create my project, all of which were more than happy to do so. For the 2016 group photo, everyone was asked to wear a completely white outfit. We walked down to the old tennis court on the property, laid down in a big circle, joining hands so that from overhead we would look like a circle of paper doll cut-outs. We goofed around as a group after that, taking more photos of all of us, probably looking like a cult, but who cares. I drank all the Kool-Aid.

Photos © Redijus Photography

Way Up North
Stockholm, Sweden/Rome, Italy
Est. 2015 by Jakob Granqvist and Cole Roberts (Nordica Photography)
Next event: October 10-11, 2017

Hosting a large event had been in the back of our minds since 2011 when we were based in Vancouver (we’re based in Sweden now). We resisted the urge for years as the timing never felt right, and we wanted to earn our stripes within the industry before taking on the project. By waiting, nearly all the presenters we asked to come knew us and believed in our reputation. Within the English-speaking community in Europe, there was a gap in the market for an event like Way Up North. The name “Way Up North” naturally connected to us living in Sweden. From day one, the thinking was only Scandinavia.

Sponsors hope for exposure to as many people as possible, so we needed high attendance. Attendees want value, obviously, but also a reasonably priced ticket, so our entry-level price was lower than any other event we saw in Europe (395€ to start, then incremental increases), which helped attendance.

Upon announcing ticket sales for the first event, we sold nearly 500 tickets in about three weeks. That surprised us, and what surprised us even more was the demographics of the attendees: They were coming from all over Europe.

We wondered about the idea of doing two events a year, and Rome felt logical because it’s such a special place and in general, Italy hosts the most destination weddings of any country in the world.

Four hundred and fifty people turned out and we were quite happy with the results, but it was a legitimate challenge in every way. We knew nobody there, we didn’t speak a word of Italian and we were dealing with a culture that was definitely outside our own. Swedes are punctual and by the book, whereas Italians are a bit more laissez-faire and free-spirited. One specific and quite boring example was dealing with taxes and accounting. For a cash-based culture that isn’t fond of providing receipts, we learned quickly their accounting regulations are incredibly strict. It was a challenge we dealt with almost daily when starting the event.

Today, we’re doing a better job inviting more unexpected people to present. Some photographers believe they’re on a circuit and that they “should” be presenting at these events. Some almost appear jaded when they’re not invited to the event. The more we can get away from those who feel entitled and bring in people who feel genuinely excited about being part of Way Up North, the better the presentations will be and happier the audience will feel.

Take Vancouver-based Tuija Seipell, for example, a keynote speaker and business adviser who spoke in Rome this year that doesn’t shoot weddings. If we had surveyed the audience before the event asking if they knew who she was, we’re doubtful many would. It was a risk on our end, but a calculated one because we believe that wedding photographers need to hear hard truths from outside the bubble. She bluntly said that she felt weddings only existed “in a world with young, beautiful white people.” It was an awakening to have someone who had no vested interest in the industry, and when we surveyed the audience after the event, Tuija was the presenter who received the most praise.

Two big additions to the format this year are the WUN Awards and wunX. The latter will comprise four consecutive presentations, 10 minutes each. The forces presenters to be prepared and get right to the point. The awards are for Europeans only and will recognize both filmmakers and photographers. They will be a combination of nominations and submissions, and with nothing like this existing in Europe as of right now, we’re quite excited to gauge the reaction.
—Jakob Granqvist and Cole Roberts

Related: Q&A with the Brains Behind Inspire Photo Retreats