Experience. It’s what gives photographers the know-how necessary to succeed in this competitive business. While it takes decades to truly instill confidence in clients (and in yourself) that you can get the job done, there are a ways to get a head start in the all important game of acting as if know what the hell you’re doing. One of those ways is to attend a workshop, such as CreateShops NYC Photo Workshop, presented by Daniel Castro. Recently, I had the privilege of attending the very first iteration of this event, which I left with beautiful portraits, valuable business knowledge, and some indispensable retouching tips and tricks.

 

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Saturday morning, I walked into the beautiful Colony Studios where the workshop was held and saw a full photography team hard at work setting up a high end fashion shoot. Among the 25 or so people was a group of around 15 students, politely breakfasting on the greatest donuts known to man. The students ranged in skill and experience from those simply interested in photography to creative directors and professional freelance photographers. The range of skill levels ultimately worked as a disadvantage to the class, as some of the information went over the heads of half the audience, yet was too basic for the other half. Ultimately, I believe the responsibility of matching the student to the class lies in the hands of CreateShops. They could have done more to specify what type of photography experience is expected of the students, but I suspect this sort of organization will arise once they have a few more classes to offer.

After waiting around for the class to actually start, I was in the audience of an intimate presentation given by Daniel Castro, an accomplished beauty and advertising photographer who has recently entered into directing, stop motion and many other visual pursuits. Daniel began the workshop by teaching the ins and outs of the business behind creating beautifully complex images. According to Daniel, it all starts with the “elevator pitch,” how you present yourself as a creative professional in only a few short sentences. The presentation then moved from getting the attention of potential clients to creating an engaging proposal, brainstorming techniques for storyboarding, preparing for the shoot, and (last but not least) budgeting everything you need. I particularly enjoyed the section on the dos and don’ts of negotiating usage rights, a very tricky topic indeed. The morning was filled with rich details on the step by step process of getting and impressing big name clients with your own unique style and creative flair.

 

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After a delicious lunch, the workshop changed gears to a detailed explanation of the particular studio setup that would be shot that day. During this segment of the workshop, the problem with having a large range of experience among the students became very obvious. Some had created similar setups themselves while others had yet to use a remote flash before, and Daniel and his team had some trouble interpreting the blank stares that were offered by an audience that was half mystified and half bored. It’s difficult to create a learning environment that makes strangers feel comfortable enough to admit they’re confused, but doing so would really bring CreateShops’s workshops to a higher level. Still, Daniel and his crew were sincerely open to questions and I have no doubt they’ll improve on this aspect of teaching in short time. Once everyone gained a some degree of an understanding of how the shoot would unfold, we were all given the chance to make some gorgeous images ourselves (like the one below).

 

Workshop Retouch sample

 

Day two began much like the first, with an informative presentation from Daniel. This time, he focused on the importance of marketing, branding, and advertising yourself as a photographer. The success of this presentation was evident as the students once again gave their “elevator pitches,” this time with a focus and clarity as to who they are as creative professionals. The afternoon was spent learning retouching skills from the amazing Zach Ahern of Black Magic Retouch. Using the photos taken the day before, Zach walked the class through the step by step process he uses to turn great raw photos into amazing images (some of Zach’s crazy process can be appreciated here). Like the other hands-on segments of this workshop, the varying experience of the students diminished the effectiveness of the lesson, and Zach would occasionally skip over steps that to him seemed obvious but to many of the students were entirely knew concepts. The most useful part of the retouching lesson was the one-on-one help that was offered; I think that type of teaching needs to be emphasized in more workshops. While the three hours spent on photoshop were nowhere near the time needed to master the techniques presented, the core concepts behind Zach’s retouching prowess were very helpful to those who could keep up. The workshop wrapped up with constructive portfolio reviews with professionals and the other students in small groups. It’s always valuable to get feedback from a fresh set of eyes, and these portfolio reviews were no exception.

 

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Though there were a few hiccups that were typical of an inaugural workshop, such as the model showing up two hours late, Daniel and his team took them in stride. Once the CreateShops teachers gain more experience in engaging students, the value of the information conveyed will really set them apart. However, the most unique characteristic of this particular workshop was how genuine it was. By “genuine” I mean that it was truly designed to help the students, not drain every last dollar from them. Unlike every other workshop I have ever attended, Daniel made exactly zero attempts to get more money from the students. Zero attempts. This is not only a refreshing reminder that some teachers really do have their students’ best interests in mind, but also a testament to the complete set of knowledge offered by CreateShops. In part, no other workshops were pitched because CreateShops has nothing else to pitch yet, but it’s also clear that this particular workshop simply was’t designed to leave any valuable items of knowledge out. Daniel et al packed as much personal expertise as they could into one weekend, giving all who attended second-hand experience that can only come from respected and seasoned professionals. If you have the skills but lack the some of the knowhow, CreateShops may be able to get you all caught up and even be a springboard into a rewarding career as a professional photographer.

Overall, I would give this workshop four out of five stars, with the expectation that it will wrinkle out some of the inefficiencies soon.