I know it’s been a really long time coming, but I’ve been so buried by other work that I simply have not had time to write the post and process the images – my apologies.
March 2013 was both the first time I’d been to the USA in more than ten years, as well as the first workshops of 2013. For this trip, I used tried a new teaching approach. Previously, I’d focused on subject-specific techniques; what I found was that whilst it was enjoyable for the participants, there were frequently fundamentals of technique and composition that were missing across the board, and these were elements that could be taught in a subject-independent way that would raise one’s photographic bar consistently across the board. Also, unlike Tokyo, nobody had to lie on the floor this time.
The workshops covered three days and took everything you thought you knew about photography, shelved them, and started from the start – I’m not talking about how to use your camera or what depth of field is here – I’m talking about learning to recognize and use good light; learning how to use natural elements in your frame to strengthen compositions and consciously direct a viewer’s eyes through the frame; employing perspective; how to make balanced images, and using secondary subjects to tell a story – amongst other things, of course. We focused on practical assignment-based learning for the first two days, exploring the city streets and with me demonstrating each of the assignments live. Participants would then go off and shoot to complete their assignments, and regroup afterwards for critique and feedback.
At the end of the second day, participants focused on a more long-term, philosophical aspect of photography: understanding and exploring style. We undertook several exercises designed to quickly and simply create images in various popular styles, followed by a deconstruction and a focus on individual style and evolution/ experimentation/ development of the best-fitting style from the earlier exercise. Given that the actual stylistic development process takes years or even decades in reality, compressing the basics of this down to a few hours was a bit ambitious – I think I’d like to spend a whole day at least in future sessions.
We concluded the sessions with a day of review and Photoshop: establishing which images work, and why, is just as important as being able to create them in the first place. There are exceptions to every rule, and just because an image checks off the technical criteria doesn’t necessarily mean it also succeeds on an aesthetic level. It’s also important to be familiar with what has to be done in camera, and what has to be done in PS (hint: it’s about local vs global adjustments). Finally, we established workflow: this is important for output consistency, speed and control. It’s also the reason why my images have a consistent look: it’s because I use the same logic to process all of them (though not the same exact methods/ amounts, of course).
Note: You may spot some images from the Google campus in this set – that’s because I was there for a day giving a workshop and talk; there’s also a collaboration in the pipeline. More details on that as and when things are finalised.
For the next round of workshops in Europe in the second half of this year, I’m planning to stick to the same overall structure, but with a couple important changes: firstly, we’ll be incorporating daily detailed review sessions to shorten the feedback loop. Secondly, I’ll be making the days modular: you can come for all days, or one day, or two days, or whichever combination appeals to you. This is to accommodate students whose schedules aren’t sufficiently flexible, or who only want to learn about certain portions of the syllabus. Thirdly, I’m considering running for four days total including photoshop, or dropping photoshop entirely and focusing even more intensively on the photographic/ in-camera portion – it really depends on what the next group would like to do. The longer format will also allow the inclusion of some subject-specific exercises – mostly related to street/ travel/ urban styles.
Overall though, I think I have to declare the USA tour a success – I had 32 students in five sessions, with several coming for more than one. It was a great pleasure to get to know so many of you in person; I can only say that it’s very likely I’ll be back again next year, but to a different round of cities. There’s much of the country left to explore! Once again – none of this would be possible without you, the readers, so I must extend an enormous heartfelt thanks to all of you for participating, flying in, and a special mention those of you who went out of your way to assist – Romain, Nicolas, Sina, Felipe, Charles (who drove in from NJ just to say hi). I’m flattered and humbled.
In any case, don’t take my word for it – early comments from the participants have been trickling in, so all I can say is see for yourself. And if you’d like to take part – the European tour is now open for booking – it’s set to straddle September/October, I’ll be visiting Prague, Munich and Amsterdam…please shoot me an email if you’d like to register your interest – places are limited. I’ve also got a couple of spots left for Singapore in July. Hope you can join us! MT
The full set of images from behind the scenes at the workshops are here on Flickr.
A few testimonials from the USA 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop participants
Andrew Marrero (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): I had a great time getting to learn from you was well as getting to meet both you and your wife. I’d love to be able to join you again in the future with camera in hand. I had a blast, would love to get with you again soon Ming!
Jim Lozier (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): Thank you again for an excellent workshop. In looking over the images I took over the course of the two days I can definitely see a progression which is pretty amazing for such a short period of time. I hope that you enjoyed your time in the states and have a smooth trip back home.
Dr. Paul Lewis (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge of photography with our group of nice people. I enjoyed meeting everyone and the amount of instruction that was presented during the three days. I would need at least two or three more workshops to get all the information that was given…Your workshop exposed me to a lot of things that I knew nothing about before attending…If I live long enough, I would certainly attend your workshop again. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with us. I had a good time.
Chris Suan (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop) : Thanks for a great workshop. I really feel much better about knowing how to take some great pictures.
Jed Best (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): I just wanted to thank you for a very interesting and informative three days. While I may not have showed it, it was great and I learned a lot. Hopefully, if ever I am in Asia or you are NYC again, I can take another workshop with you. In the meantime, I look forward to reading your blog and site assiduously.
Jill Maguire (Apr 2013 San Francisco Workshop): Ming, I had a great time at your workshop and learned so much. Safe travels home for you both.
Jesse Hall (Apr 2013 San Francisco Workshop): Thank you, Ming! I did learn a lot — although I’d read what you’ve written about these topics, spending real time practicing specific things and getting feedback helps much more than reading. Plus, it was a lot of fun!
Gian Dionisio (Mar 2013 San Francisco workshop and Apr 2013 NYC workshop): I can confidently say that attending this workshop has been the best investment I’ve made for my photography; the knowledge and techniques that he taught us apply not only to street photography, but all photography in general. From the fundamentals of finding good light and basic compositional balance, to more advanced concepts such a layering and storytelling, all of these ideas can be applied to any style of photography. Ming’s teachings have completely restructured the way I see the world photographically, and I would definitely attend his workshops again in the future. PS: One of the most important point of this workshop is being near the master himself. Watching him in action as listening to his commentary as he shoots is in itself incredibly insightful. Additionally, having instant and personalised feedback during the shooting process is…. I’ll let you assess the value of that.
Ciao Pui (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop and Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): Sitting next to Ming in San Francisco while he was processing these photos, I can attest that his “judicious application” [of Photoshop] is faster than using any presets, not to mention consistency. His workshops will demystify and challenge your views on photography… if you’re open.
Dale Perlman (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop): I really was stimulated by your workshop to re-think the fundamentals of making an image. From such a reassessment I find myself thinking about my own photography in a fresh, challenging way. I am optimistic improved images will be the result of this process. Keep teaching!
Richard Sandor (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop): A short note of thanks for having provided such an informative workshop. I’ve been to a number of workshops, but none have had the structure that yours did.
Leslie Gleim (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop): First let me say thank you very much for truly pushing my work and thinking around how to use the language of photography! I did want you to know that you made Photoshop more understandable than any person whose tried to explain/teach it me. It seemed FAR more intuitive — today was mainly me figuring it out and playing!! Thank you so much for your insight and help! Safe travels and thank you for making the journey over! Your workshop was invaluable and I learned to look through “new” eyes. Awesome!
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