The final two stops on the Making Outstanding Images workshop tour for 2013 were Amsterdam, at the end of September, and Prague, at the beginning of October. The course now lasts four days, and by all accounts, is intensive – I’m trying to make it easier, but there really is quite a bit of knowledge that has to go in Read on to see how it went.
Firstly, to the participants – 13 for Amsterdam and 13 for Prague – I must say a huge thank you for attending and being excellent students! I know the material is demanding and it’s quite physically tiring because we spend so much time on foot, but if you’re sitting down, you’re not shooting, and if you’re not shooting…you’re not learning, either.
There’s also a gallery of images from the teaching portion of the trip here on Flickr. I’ll be adding to this as I gradually finish processing my images – there are still several rolls of film I haven’t gotten around to scanning yet.
Though we battled with overcast skies and the attendant lack of shadows/ directional light for the first day, things cleared up, and for the remainder of the three days, we had what I understand is unusually brilliant sunshine – not that any of us complained! We spent a significant amount of time during the first two days (the ‘building block’ exercises) around the three main canals of the city – Keizersgracht, Prinzengracht and Herengracht – as well as the ’9 Streets’ area. Having completed the basic toolkit dealing with light, subject and composition by the end of day two, we move on to the idea and finding style on the third day; this is accompanied by a shift to a more challenging location – the Jordaan, Old Town Square/ Red Light District and Chinatown.
A wide variety of subjects and lighting conditions – from very open to very narrow alleyways and canals – provided plenty of opportunity for the participants to find both subjects and locations that were conducive to a wide variety of different styles, as well as further development of their own. On top of this we added storytelling, narrative and one final assignment: define ‘Amsterdam’ in an image. There were a wide variety of excellent images – some direct, some thought provoking, some subtle.
The final day of any workshop is always the toughest: by this point, participants are physically and mentally drained; fortunately the body can take a rest, as we spend it indoors. The first half of the day is always reviewing and critiquing (as a group) images shot during the previous day, and earmarking them for future work. By lunchtime, we head into the Photoshop session with the basics of Bridge, ACR and the few critical tools in PS itself; after lunch is individual practice and coaching. More importantly, at the end of the day, we take various combinations of those initial tools to process for style; it’s really quite similar to how you can make many different things with the same ingredients simply by altering the order and proportions of a recipe.
And I’m also pleased to say the sole camera-shop detour was so I could pick up some Provia
Three days later, I found myself with a new group in Prague: here, the weather was absolutely gorgeous (with the sole exception of about an hour of cloud over lunch during the first day). Higher latitudes have much nicer light than the tropics; skies are bluer and shadows are defined around the clock simply because the sun shines through the atmosphere at an angle and describes an arc rather than a straight passage overhead. Put simply: you can shoot around the clock. We can, and pretty much did; right up to the end of the day, where I brought the group to the place where I’d made one of my favourite images of all time. Prague has always been one of my favourite cities – it has the old world European charm, surprisingly affordable prices, excellent service, friendly locals, and a huge amount of photographic material.
We began, as always, with the walking and seeing exercise: I point out frames and compositions, and explain what I’m visualizing. All of this of course makes a lot more sense after having completed the basics in day one and two – then a systematic order comes to the madness. The structure of the Prague workshop followed Amsterdam identically; though I have to admit that this group kept me on my toes in a good way. There were a number of names you’ll recognise as regular contributors – Roger, Ian, Erling, Valerji – it promised to be a raucous, fun group, and I wasn’t at all disappointed. Fortunately, neither were they! Those remaining behind after Photoshop – seven of us in total – had a blowout on the last night that will go down as one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had. I’m reminded constantly that it’s not just about the photography and the teaching – but also the company, the people, and the experience.
The group enjoyed themselves so much they’ve challenged me for a follow up next year: we’ll be doing a masterclass in Havana, Cuba; however it will be a closed session as I’ll already be at the maximum number of participants I can handle.
*The credit card didn’t fare so well this time; I found a vintage HC4 90 degree prism for my Hasselblad, as well as a replacement eyepiece for my E-M5 – I broke the original one.
Next year will be the last year I’ll be doing Making Outstanding Images syllabus; this is the basic, introductory level course that includes all of the tools you need to create the images you see – not create the same images as your teacher – and begins to touch on exploring style, and complete workflow and processing via Photoshop. The syllabus will follow Prague and Amsterdam, and is explained in more detail here. If you’re not able to create the images you want or you’re having trouble visualizing, this is the course you need. There is nothing more frustrating than spending thousands on equipment without the knowledge to use it properly!
From 2015 onwards, this syllabus will be offered on video only – we’ll be adding the next two episodes to that, available from tomorrow. For 2014, the first two confirmed destinations are Melbourne and Sydney during the last two weeks of March 2014, and London, for the second week of July. All workshops will run for four days. If you’re interested, please send me an email – I’m aiming to firm up timing and details and make a formal announcement in around a month or so. There will be two more locations in North America in the second half of the year, as well as possibly also Hong Kong.
However, I think it’s time I offered something a little different: 2014 will be the first year I’ll also be teaching masterclasses. Remember the stages of creative evolution of a photographer? The Outstading Images workshops bring you up to Stage II. The masterclasses will bring you one step further, to Stage 3a: here, practice, feedback, discussion, philosophy and the finer points of technique become important. Assignments and feedback are individualized, and these classes will be smaller to facilitate that.
Kuala Lumpur Masterclass – Thaipusam, 16 & 17 January 2014
The first of the classes will be in Kuala Lumpur, during the Thaipusam festival. (If you’re not sure what that is, have a look at this set on flickr.) Simply: it is NOT for the faint-hearted, the beginner/ novice photographer, or those who are not confident shooting by themselves. The class will be limited to five participants, last two days and one night, and fall on 16 & 17 January 2014; the main event peaks at around 3am. We will have a briefing, individual portfolio review and dry run exercises the day before; an assignment overnight, and a detailed edit and critique the day after. It is physically very demanding, hard on equipment, and a noisy, chaotic environment. For those of you looking for an experience, and a taste of both pure Asia and photojournalism, this is the real deal. It is one of those photographic events of a lifetime that I guarantee you will never forget. I’ve shot this festival four times – and each time, I come away with something very different. Once again, if you’re interested, please send me an email.
The best thing I can leave you with is selected feedback from my previous workshop students, and a closing thought: if you’re willing to spend big bucks on a single piece of gear you might use only occasionally, why not learn how to get the most out of it with skills you’ll use all the time? Finally, for those of you who can’t make it: come back tomorrow, the next two episodes in the Making Outstanding Images video series will be available. MT
Please also note that tomorrow will be the last day to get How to See and The Compact Camera Masterclass videos at the introductory pricing of $55/35 individually, or $77 for the combined bundle.
Roger Wojahn (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop): When the discussion started up earlier this year about a workshop in Europe, I knew this would include me. It represented just the sort of life disruptor that could bounce me out of my well-worn path and into a new season of growth, exploration and creativity. I knew there would be a diverse group and I was fearful that I would become so consumed with my own negative internal dialogue that it would effect my ability to just let go and truly learn. In one way, I was grateful for those fears because they got me into practicing on a daily basis so I could at least bring my best self to the table.
But those fears were much ado about nothing. The workshop, the learning, the process and the experience of each of you transformed what could have been a series of technical lectures over several days into something that was valuable beyond measure. I was able to show up as I am, not trying to be any better or worse, and just surrender to the process of being with all of you under Ming’s tutelage. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate every one of you and your ability to live out of your own uniqueness. What an incredible group and experience.
Ming started out the initial session talking about how he was going to help us see differently and teach us about awareness. “Start by finding interesting light”, he said. I was so excited in those first few moments when Ming, marching out in front of us, began showing us the extensive reflections in the cars and on the buildings. This was something that I’d somehow missed in my life and I was truly amazed. But, the more I think about it, the more I understand that there is a reflection of life and of us too, in every shot we make. Photography is multi-dimensional.
Life is a co-creation between each of us and the unfolding moment. As we engage that present moment, consciously see it, accept it, and engage it in creative participation, we are learning something about ourselves too. The same holds true for our personal interactions and relationships with each other. We see in one another, some aspect of ourselves. And if these reflections we see are a mirror of us too, then we are all becoming more aware of our oneness and being elevated to our highest and best selves.
The practice of photography is not so different than the practice of yoga. Each practice uses consciousness of the present moment to bring us to a relationship with life and with ourselves. As our awareness increases, so does our consciousness. If our focus is on the camera and simply a scene in front of us, perhaps our awareness is mostly limited and we live out of our unconscious. But if we zoom out a few clicks, and actually start to become conscious observers of ourselves as we are choosing, shaping and making our photos, then we are increasing our consciousness and making what is unconscious, conscious. Being not only the photographer but also the observer of ourselves in the very act of our creative process, seems to be very much in keeping with the “context” that Ming keeps explaining to us. We start out isolating subjects within a narrow field of view because are beginners and it make the learning easier. But I suppose as we develop our ability to see, we go ever wider and there is an ever greater context for our world view and ourselves in it. This may be more difficult but must ultimately makes life richer. And so it seems to be less about the photos and more about the practice itself!
I’ve been trying to absorb the whole experience but it’s going to take awhile. After those last several nights in Prague with little sleep, I slept like a rock here in Nerja, Spain last night. All night I dreamt of framing things I’d never seen before. But there wasn’t really much a “me” there at all. I was just floating and seeing things and most of the principles we learned were just there and obvious and it was as if I had the unlimited ability to simply play with light, seeing reflections in reflections and balance wherever I looked. It was as though my view-finder could look through portals into other worlds. Everything just made sense, was known and was accessible to me at any time. That dream makes me trust that some seeds have been planted deeply within me. My intention is to water them so they can become real and I can become lucid in my waking dream!
I can’t wait to see you all in Havana. I guess in the meantime, we’ll see you on FB and / or on Flickr as part of Ming’s reader’s portfolio. Thank you for the incredible experience! I hope this finds you safely home, happy and in the flow of life. May your practice be everything you hope it to be.
Eric Hoppe (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop): I strain to add anything substantive to that which has already been said [by Roger, above] about our brief but impact-laden Prague trip. Nonetheless, the trip had everything a photographer needs, light (Ming), subject (we, the participants), composition (the creation of the individual and group experiences) which led to the story, the memory we created and have taken with home with us. I must say however, I do feel a bit over-exposed from Saturday night’s nocturnal activities … nothing that a bit of post-processing can’t fix! I can not recall an experience with a group of people whom I’ve never met which has had such an immediate, positive and profound influence upon me. Back in the real world today, as I took a break from the world’s casino which is the stock market, I enjoyed yet another wonderful autumn day but immediately sensed something was missing, my camera! Not only was I missing my camera but the same street I’ve walked down countless times the past 15 years struck me differently today; I saw things for the first time, things which I’ve never noticed before but were most certainly always there. So Ming, job well done. One of the most difficult tasks in life is to influence how one perceives his surroundings but in a matter of just a few days, you accomplished just that. Now, to bring that on to a photographic moment … And once again, a big thanks to everyone for sharing your photographic experiences with me and simply enhancing and enriching the entire experience!!
Erling Martmann-Moe (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop, in reply to Eric and Roger above): I am unable to add anything meaningful to these poetic summaries of a great experience, both as a learning event (thank you both Ming and each and everyone in the group), and a social event. Hope to se you all soon again!
Ian Carroll (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop) – …really appreciated your approach to wrangling a group of grown men in a foreign city and force feeding us education! Very impressive (not that I am surprised…as in everything you show to the world, you are a well-oiled machine – and I don’t mean that to infer “soulless” – such precision requires an appreciation of the whole in all of its potential chaos to extract the core essence). It was a fantastic experience, and I am thankful for the catalytic nidus it will hopefully provide.
Great place, great group, great teacher, great weather. Cannot wait for Cuba – my bank manager can go to hell (along with my bank manager!). First day out post workshop, and without the conscious intrusion of shooting for assignment, it already feels as though my photography has kicked up a gear. Cannot wait to go through the images at home (although that means I won’t be in Prague anymore…what a dilemma! :S). Thanks Ming and all for a fantastic experience, I look forward to seeing your cameras’-eyes’-views in the Flickr pool!
Update: Well, its nearly 3 weeks since we got back from Prague. I have 64 images in my Flickr Prague set, and another 25 ready to upload. I have had 5 of these explored, including a run of 4 days in a row, 1 commented on favorably, and favourited by, Ming Thein, 3 selected by Getty and one approach to use 1 commercially. All, in all, so far, so good, I would say! I still have…errr…another 375 earmarked for working up and possible use! Oh, and that doesn’t even include the dozens of detail/texture shots! If I were to value the trip based on image hours per £ alone, I would have to say it was excellent value!!! To be fair, it was excellent value any way I might evaluate it! Can’t wait to go again! Thanks again to all the gang for the first 3 days, bring on Havana (I don’t even want to think about what that is going to do to my mouse hand and eyesight)!
Jeffrey Egee (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop) – I wanted to reply earlier, but came back to an extremely busy week at work. It was not easy to ease back into my corporate life after last week’s experience – but I think that is a good thing. I just wanted to say thanks to all of you, and especially to Ming. Ming – you were a great teacher and I took away a lot of tools that are helping me to think differently about my photography. I’ve been looking at some of my older photos, and besides now liking them less, I actually understand now what I need to do to make them better. To everyone else, I have never had such an interesting and dynamic experience with such a diverse group of individuals. The entire experience was really the most interesting thing I’ve ever done on my own. It gave me new perspective, not only on photography, and I can only thank everyone here for being a part of it. I really hope we can do something like this next year again.
Valerij Tomarenko (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop): I had a very busy week after coming back from Prague, so it took me a while to join the others and say a HUGE THANKS to Ming and everyone in Ming’s Prague “classroom”. For me, it was a terrific experience and I am so happy that I made up my mind to take part in the workshop. I have read quite a few books on photography (probably as everyone else) and lurked a lot on various forums and websites, but for me, nothing compares to this hands-on experience in learning (and enjoying) things about photography and beyond. Ming is such a talented, sharp-minded and – what I am especially thankful about – articulate and methodical person (and artist, of course). I for one, learned such a lot about seeing things, framing/visualizing shots, composing and de-composing (light, subject, inclusion/exclusion)… Let alone acquiring more confidence and getting more insights/inspiration from Ming and everyone in our group.
Matthias Gaiser (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop): I can only thank you in return for making this the most intense and at the same time in all probability most inspiring learning experience I’ve ever had. Indeed, if the weather wasn’t overcast, I’d be out shooting already; as it is, it’ll have to wait. And I’ll delve into post-processing very soon in order to make some headway there as well. It *is* worth it. And of course, I have to concur with everything you said about the group – I’d never expected such a diverse bunch of personalities to turn out to be such a worthwhile company. Apart from lots of enjoyable moments, I was able to revise some narrow-minded thinking on my part, making this whole trip personally enriching to an extend I’d never have expected. Furthermore, I’m really happy to report that if the scheduled time frame for Cuba really holds, I should be able to make it. Of course, I’ll have to consider other factors as well, but time-wise, it’d be ideal. Great! Thank you, Ming, and thanks everybody for everything.
Diego Defilippi (Oct 2013 Prague Workshop): I’m really honoured to have met you and all the other cool guys. Can’t wait for the masterclass together with all you. Thanks Ming for being so special in your way of teaching Thank you guys for the pleasant time!
Felix Leyer (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshoo): After our course in Amsterdam I have gone to Oman for a fortnight’s holiday. I had planned to write back to you once I was back home. In the meantime I have sent some of my Omani photographs to my 24 year old daughter in Switzerland. This is what she wrote back: “Your pictures are great, you must make an exhibition. Ming’s course is worth every penny!” I just wanted to let you know this ! Putting it in a nutshell: I got much more back than what I had paid for. My expectations were high, yet you managed to exceed them. Not only did I learn a lot, but I was also given an enormous amount of food to think about and to work on for the years to come. The course has also given me strenght on my photographic work and to deal with its results. My daughter spontaneously said last night: “Your style has changed completely, your pictures are far more interesting and versatile. And they have a message”.
Arthur van Reijn (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshop): Thanks for giving us the opportunity to directly pick your brain. I really liked the build up of the course in clear topics, though the weather mixed up the order for us in Amsterdam. All the topics were building up to this final application of lessons learned. The in-depth talk you gave about the topics and the challenging exercises really have build my confident as a photographer. I really like your honest, direct and to the point feedback on the results of exercises. Though I didn’t plan it I did decided to join in on the Photoshop workflow day, I didn’t regret it one bit! It was eye opening to see that editing doesn’t have to be that time consuming (My mileage may vary in the time bit ). I really enjoyed the editing process for styles. Your workshop has taught me a complete workflow from idea to final image ready for print. I thank you for that!
Heiner Pflug (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshop): I had wonderful days with you and the rest of the group. You were a great teacher and I am shure that my forthcoming photographs will be becoming better and better. Thank you for assisting and helping. I will be returning back to your special offer on Email School.
Mark Jackson (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshop): Thanks so much for a really instructive and enjoyable four days. My brain is still at total overload from all the ideas and tips you provided and it is going to take some time to process these and include them in my workflow. At the moment I am concentrating on framing so I don’t crop later, avoiding empty spaces, light and subject isolation. I can see an improvement already and when I can get my head around layering in all the other things there is no doubt that the course will have greatly exceeded my expectations (sorry, couldn’t resist chucking in some corporate mumbo jumbo). At a personal level I very much enjoyed your company as well as that of the other students, it was an eclectic bunch and I think the dynamic worked well (there I go again, soooo ingrained). In addition to being a great photographer you are also a great teacher and I suspect there aren’t that many other people in the market where the same is true. Your blunt assessments, whilst being mildly disappointing at the time, were appreciated later and are actually the only way to learn and move forward.
Maarten van Leeuwen (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshop): Thanks for the positive round-up mail, and even more so for your inspiring, open, and very informative tutoring. You can already sign me up as an workshop E-student in the near future, hopefully beginning somewhere in the first half of next year.
Angsar Trimborn (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshop): I just started my tablet wanting to write you a big thank you for four very inspirational days. You definitely kept us on our toes … and it wasn’t the only challenged body part Looking forward to go through the ~100 pictures that passed my initial selection process and develop them in 3 different styles. Just kidding … (still might try that with a few) Thanks again for the well structured and executed workshop and for lots of new ideas.
Yusuf Haffejee (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshop): Ming, thank you, you were a great tutor. It was fun and I certainly learned a lot and I admired your skill and also your patience with us.
Rudy Mareel (Sep 2013 Amsterdam Workshop): Hi Ming – I truly enjoyed the two days we spent together in Amsterdam and I’m looking forward to staying in touch.
There are even more testimonials here from previous (Singapore, NYC, San Francisco, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong) workshops.
Enter the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards here – there’s US$35,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, it’s open to all ASEAN residents, and I’m the head judge! Entries close 31 October 2013.
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