Following the positive reception to the Havana Masterclass report’s slight change of format – now showing student images instead of lots of photographs of people shooting (though that album is here on flickr) – I’ve decided this should be the format from now on; also to give my students due credit for the hard work put in and the excellent images made*.
*Though I don’t want to embarrass anybody in particular by naming names; I’m just posting images and letting the anonymous claim responsibility if they wish
London’s Making Outstanding Images workshop is a continuation and refinement of the revised 3-day format introduced in Melbourne earlier this year. Students view the first portion of the material on video in The Fundamentals, Outstanding Images 1&2, How to See 1&2 and Intro to Photoshop Workflow – this is to give them time to be familiar with the concepts and ideas used. I find that there really is quite an enormous amount to pack into three or four days, and the learning process goes faster when the ideas aren’t totally new.
The first day is spent working on exercises to cement the core toolkit: light, use of shadows and metering; subject isolation; perspectives, frames and leading lines; conscious exclusion and matching your frame to the subject. Each exercise is simple enough in itself, but when one starts combining everything together…it gets a little more challenging. We finished with an exercise of creative and shot discipline: the first designed to make you think before shooting, the second to show you that experimentation is still necessary to make a strong image. We were based around Trafalgar Sqaure in the morning, and the Square Mile in the afternoon. If you’re wondering why such a pedestrian choice of locations, it’s because both places are full of tourists: shoot to your heart’s content without having to worry about overzealous police or security (a serious concern in London).
Day two focuses on storytelling and style: the process of translating an idea or story into an image. Once you’ve identified the elements you need, you can use the fundamental tools and subject isolation/ perspectives to prioritise your subjects and control the order in which an image is ‘read’. One final exercise on shooting for optimum black and white, and then we spend the afternoon focusing on how to present that message in an individualised way – this is finding style. Some of this must of course be done in postprocessing, but it’s important to know what raw material is first required out of camera. For this, we spent the day at the British Museum: another material-rich site, and very photography friendly.
Our participants got a little homework that evening: to whittle down the two days’ worth of images to five to ten (everybody had ten) images for critique and possibly processing, for the best of them. I open the floor to the group: after all, photography is highly subjective and my opinion is not the authority – it’s all personal preference. The best of these images – or those with the most potential – were then worked into final form in Photoshop. I also did a very quick cull and process of approximately 130 of my own images from the GR – the 645Z’s files would have taken far too long – down to a final completed and processed set of 18. And of course the final day is not complete without a set of Ultraprints to view – not so much to view the prints in themselves, but to demonstrate the ultimate output of the photographic process, and the reward for all of that shot discipline.
Before I leave you with a selection of the best of the student images and some of their thoughts on the workshop, I’d like to let you know there’s one place each left for the last three workshops of 2014: San Francisco (Masterclass) and Chicago (Making Outstanding Images) – both in September; standby places for Venice, Italy in November. If you’d like to join us, or for more details, please click here.
Gerner Christensen: Big thank you in return. This WS was really a ride in a carousel I never tried before. I am consolidating as from this very moment and for sure time ahead. Such a concentrated injection ‘LIVE’ does a quite different job than the videos. By them you dwell in your own comfort zone and that’s for what it is extremely good as such. You may re-do as many times as wished or needed. The live photo concert is not editable. You deliver what you can at the instant moment. And that’s’ it.
The WS is a different medicine and at a moment I felt lost in my own ignorance. The self confidence evaporated and assignments the blitz way were to me a solid proof that I do not perform by command. I thought I did a lot better before….
This is not quite right of course and just browsing my shots again makes me of course think differently. I made stronger images in these couple of day than I would make i.e. in a month’s daily shooting. My curation for today’s session were weird in a way since I have much stronger images from the days. I think it all comes from choosing images that worked for one in the past and deselected the new stronger touch from the intensive training. I had selected several shots that others told being interesting and not those I found best. Bweeeh… that was foolish, but I learned from that. Fuck the vanity and trust yourself.
I am not disappointed .. no .. I am very happy from what I have learned. I have learned much more, I think, than I can comprehend by this very moment. I just know I did.
I give the credit to you. You showed me the keystone to a turning point being a better photographer much more than you might think based on the thin feedback from the group. Guess you are just used to that in the beginners WS’s.
Thank you Ming.Thinking again and again about our days in London. It is a big moment in my life. Even so much more coming back home and replay the whole thing. I was thinking today: This is going to be BIG for me. I am so glad having met you, having learned so much and just being in your photographic world is a joy and honor. I suddenly started understanding why your images are so impressive at the end of the day. This is surely not all about PP and plane technique, but timing and deliberate control from cradle to grave each image. If I may be personal, you create the scene rather than shooting it. That’s makes you stand out as a photographer. To be frank I started worrying about what photographic environment should feed me to practice in the little society I’m living in. It’s a little place and has nothing whatsoever in common with London i.e., but light is light and where’s light is shadows except on open sea at wind speed zero. Let me take the opportunity to thank you all for the inspirational and indeed cozy days we had together. We had many good chats about the incredible value the WS is too all of us. We also had some very fine gear-head talks
Seeing Ming’s Ultraprints gave me such an appetite for stepping up a noch and invest in a high-end printer. Thanks for bringing those prints Ming.
Todd Alexander Lawton: I’m a big fan of Ming’s blog and video tutorial series, but there comes a point where only practise and feedback will help you improve; that’s where the workshops come in. Spending time with the man himself (and 11 other like-minded photographers) was fun, challenging but above all inspiring; I left with a fresh outlook and a number of big questions answered. Can’t recommend the experience enough to anyone stuck in a photographic rut – those who’ve mastered the basics but aren’t sure where to go next. The difference between taking a nice picture and developing a creative vision that you can consistently execute (regardless of what gear you own) is tuition from the right person, and Ming has a remarkable ability to deconstruct what makes an outstanding image and explain how to get there in a disciplined, repeatable way. To anyone reading this and considering one of his workshops: for the price of a middle-of-the-road camera, you can start to learn how to use the stuff you’ve got effectively. Hugely rewarding and empowering.
Birgit Rabanus: For me the three days in London were indeed very pleasing and inspirational and I came home with a lot of new ideas what to do different in future and how to improve further. Thanks Leon for sending the pictures – a very nice souvenir of the workshop!
I definitely will consider a future masterclass or perhaps email school.
Thomas Hermann: It was a great experience to be on the workshop with all of you. I’m also thinking about a masterclass next year. Krakow sounds good to me!
Robert Bakker: Just chiming in here… I want to thank you all and Ming specifically for making the workshop such a wonderful experience! Thoroughly enjoyed being challenged like this, and feeling there’s so much more to learn in seeing the world around us! Hope to meet up in the future again, whether its in Amsterdam or some other inspiring place on this world and spend some more time with the personalities behind the pretty cameras. I wish I would have taken a bit more time for that!
Richard Ang: Just finished the second day of Ming’s Making outstanding images workshop and wanted to put down my thoughts whilst they are still fresh in mind. Having been a long time admirer of Ming’s work, I jumped at the chance to attend his workshop when he announced that he was coming to town. Many have previously written about his workshop and indeed it has been finely iterated to its current state. The basic theoretical knowledge and required skills are ‘pre-loaded’ upfront with the excellent videos. Ming has distilled the essence of what makes a good image down to its key components and this is repeatedly drummed into us through the first day of ‘drills’, which layers on these key components successively. The second day then builds on the core skills acquired by expanding on story-telling and different photographic styles. For me, the most valuable part during the first 2 days is the ability to get instant feedback from Ming, which then feeds on to the next exercise and the learning process is thus greatly accelerated. Also, being with like-minded individuals and seeing the images they make and learning from their feedback, a cross-germination of styles and ideas. Finally, being able to see first hand how Ming ‘sees’ and the way he shoots, there is just no substitute (although the how to see video does come very close). I have been lucky to have met like-minded individuals to have a drink and dinner with at the end of a hard day’s shooting, and to carry on the discussions from the day (and we had dinner with Ming as well on his birthday!).
I am looking forward (and also dreading it as the workshop is coming to an end) to the last day where we shall be reviewing and post-processing our 10 best images. I cannot wait to see what the other students will bring to the table and the erudite discussions we will no doubt have.
Anything I would change for the workshop? The current format works well for the targeted audience at the beginner to intermediate level. I would say that with the instructional videos and diligent self-application most of us should be able to acquire the skill sets required to produce great images. What sets the workshop apart is the intensity and the instant feedback loop. Personally, I feel that the basic drills could have perhaps been combined and reduced as a refresher for half a day and then we can begin to explore styles and story-telling earlier, perhaps with smaller groups and even more individualised tuition. Indeed, I believe Ming is moving towards this model with his Master classes with videos and on-line instructions taking over from the current Making Outstanding Images workshops. I think this is a good move.
Personal reflections? I have been following Ming through his blog for a while now and I think subconsciously must have been suffused with his principles of photography for I found the instructions from his videos and workshops very intuitive. It just fits with the way I see things too. The workshop has been a great catalyst for me to kickstart my further development as a photographer. The single most important thing I have taken away is the need for constant practice and experimentation and the best way to do this is to build a workflow into my daily life. This starts from being observant (seeing and not just looking) of my surroundings, being ready to capture it (the GR is going to be my constant companion now) and to review the images in a timely manner. Rinse and repeat.
In some ways, the third day is the crown jewel of the workshop. Each student uploads 5 to 10 of their best images and the group then objectively critique and score each image presented based on Ming’s 4 point criteria of what makes an outstanding image. The images are anonymised after being uploaded but the students can defend their images if they wish. Ming pulls no punches and appraises each image with his professional eye, giving the brutally honest comments that one needs to improve. The resulting discussion and debate was most educational. This process whittled the image pool from around 120 images down to around 18 of the best images and Ming then showed us how he would post process them, including black and white and cinematic treatments. It was striking how some judicious use of dodging, burning and curves can transform an image. Ming then curated his own images and post processed them in real time. This is perhaps the most eye-opening aspect for me. To see Ming working from end to end and thereby observe how he pre-visualised the end image right from the initial moment of capture.
To sum up, I feel completely invigorated to put all I have learnt into practice. If you need a shot in the arm for your photography, don’t hesitate and take the plunge with one of Ming’s workshops!
Now, to save up for the Master classes…
Dan Stenvall: I wanted to thank you once more for the London Outstanding Images workshop. It was my first paid workshop and going in I did not know exactly what to expect.
All in all it was a great experience to have an intense course together with you and so many passionate photographers. I think it worked really well having the video instructions as “pre-reads”, so that we could focus on taking pictures without to much theory. It has been said before, but now I really see that getting feedback from someone experienced is a great help to get on the right path. But in end it’s the learnings and tools that you have provided which we need to take home and apply. No one can expect the become a world class photographers in the short timespan of the course.
I really hope you are able to keep doing what you are passionate about – you are a great inspiration to me and many others. I particular admire the ultra prints which you showed us – it really is that has pushed printing to a new level and shown that when technique, technology and a perfectionist come together some unique can be produced. I would definitely like to have one or more hanging on my wall to remind me what I should be working towards. Personally I prefer pictures with more focus on nature, similar to the first print run.
I would also be very interested to join the email school when spots open as it allows to get feedback over a longer time period.
I hope we meet again at some point in the future. It’s been an enlightening and fun three days, and thats is something I value in my free time.
A few places left for Making Outstanding Images Chicago (September 2014), Masterclass San Francisco (September 2014). Masterclass Venice (November 2014) now open for booking – click here to book or for more info
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