Tips + Techniques

Season For Learning

August 14, 2012

By RF Staff

For photographers looking to brush up on their skills (or acquire new ones), workshops can be an invaluable tool. These days there are classes for just about every type of photography and every type of photographer. Quantity does not necessarily guarantee quality, however, and the sheer number of choices available can be overwhelming. Rangefinder has cut through the clutter and done the legwork for you by picking our top workshops offered this fall (and one in late summer)by a range of providers, including such stalwart institutions as Santa Fe and Maine Media workshops, to independent teachers like Cliff Mautner and Jerry Ghionis. Consider these workshops to not only acquire new skills or hone existing ones, but also help you get a leg up in the market that you’ve been looking to conquer. 

The Julia Dean Photo Workshops
Course: The Portrait Project
Instructor: Ken Merfeld  
Oct. 24-Dec.12 (six-session workshop, Wednesdays)
Los Angeles, CA

The Pitch: “Working on something that you care about…is how you continue to grow as a photographer and an artist. It’s a different mentality,” explains Merfeld. “To have a project that is not under the critical eye of expectations and deadlines helps you to continue to grow as a photographer. How do artists expand their portfolios otherwise?”

For working professionals, it’s often difficult to find time to work on your passion projects and it’s easy to ignore them when you do get the time. According to Ken Merfeld, a photographer with 25 years of commercial and fine-art experience, working on projects “arresting to your heart” is the only way to grow as a photographer and as an artist. “[Passion projects] allow you to access a balance in your own creative process and help you defuse a bit,” Merfeld says. In his workshop, the Portrait Project, he challenges students to conceptualize and complete a portrait series that is less about “solving other people’s design problems” and more about digging into a subject matter that ignites the photographer’s creativity. Merfeld is a strong believer in work ethic, and in this class he not only stresses techniques that will help you develop a consistent one, but also define your own creative process. Open to students of all skill levels, the Portrait Project focuses on many of the fundamentals essential to excellent photography—lighting, technique, print quality—but that’s not to say that the class would be redundant for more advanced students. Merfeld believes that the value in the class lies in the time you get to pursue projects you leave behind in commercial, traditional portrait or wedding work, and in the value gained by getting input from a number of different photographers. Price: $445. Follow the link here for more information.

Ice Society’s 5-day workshops
Instructor: Jerry Ghionis  
Oct. 29-Nov. 2 (New York, NY)
Nov. 19-23 (Melbourne, Australia)

The Pitch: “I humbly say it’s the most comprehensive photography, business and marketing course in the industry,” says Ghionis. “It’s personal development. Being away from your life for five days and taking a step back makes you realize what’s important.” 

Australian photographer Jerry Ghionis is no stranger to the wedding world. He’s been named “one of the top five wedding photographers in the world” by our very own WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) and holds his signature five-day workshop all over the globe throughout the year. This fall, he and his skills will be in New York and Melbourne; should you land one of the highly-coveted spots, Ghionis is sure that you won’t regret it. The course is a do-everything, learn-everything, hands-on offering in which students receive a comprehensive primer on everything in the wedding business, “from lighting to closing to evoking emotion to business practices, branding and marketing.” Experience levels range from hobbyists and weekend warriors to 30-year pros, and Ghionis is positive that everyone has something to gain. One of the unique features of the workshop, he says, is the level of critiquing focused on each student. If Ghionis finds a photograph in a student’s portfolio that can be improved, he works to demonstrate how to do so, using models to emulate a pose and then walking students through better methods of shooting. (Editor’s note: In the event that a workshop is sold out, Ghionis encourages people to add their name to the waiting list posted on the site. Spots have been known to frequently open up.) Price: $2,200.  Questions, e-mail: 

The Fearless Heart Workshop
Instructors: Huy Nguyen & Brett Butterstein  
Aug. 21-22
San Diego, CA

The Pitch: “We help wedding professionals when they’re at the point where they know how to shoot pictures but they want to figure out how to put themselves in the picture,” says Nguyen. “We help them take their heart and their mind and their vision and express it through their pictures.”

So much of the creative process is based around a sense of confidence and a clarity of vision, which is why Huy Nguyen and Brett Butterstein, two accomplished photojournalists and wedding photographers, decided to focus their wedding photography workshop on achieving these goals. And whereas most workshops focus on teaching new technical skills or providing testing grounds in which students can shoot, Fearless Heart is all about portfolio review and critiques that can help you hone your artistic vision. “We’re not traditional,” says Nguyen. “We help [students] understand what is holding them back and what can make them better. We tell them the truth. The workshop is like having good friends who will tell you how it is.” During the course of two-day intensive, a class of no more than ten photographers will first go through course lectures from the instructors, and then take each student’s work and examine it “blow-by-blow” in a “trusting environment.” Fearless Heart is open to all skill levels, though Nguyen acknowledges that most of his students are professionals looking to take the next step.
Price: $1,500.

Lighting and Skillset Bootcamp 
Instructor: Cliff Mautner
Oct. 15-18
Haddonfield, NJ

The Pitch: “I’ve seen it literally change our students’ businesses,” says Mautner. “It helps change their lives because they get a leg up. It’s not a thing where I encourage people to come so I could hand them a fish to eat. I’m teaching people how to fish.”

Cliff Mautner maintains that he has never done any marketing, e-mail blasting or spamming, because he knows just how good his workshop is...and it always sells out fast. Aimed at already-in-business wedding photographers, his bootcamp is, he says, also a good “fundamentals” course for just about any type of photographer. In just two-and-a-half days, Mautner schools photographers in intense courses on lighting, technique fundamentals and workflow. The first two days are each 12 hours long and feature hands-on shooting in almost every type of light and lighting possible, including harsh sunlight, off-camera lighting and flash. Where other photographers run for the shade, Mautner runs into the sunlight, believing that every type of light can make a dynamic unique portrait that is rich in “texture, dimension and mood.” Mautner says he can sometimes sound like an old-fashioned crank, but he is really just passionate about his craft and educating photographers who, he believes, forgot about the basic skills in “homogenization…due to the digital revolution.” Skill levels range from “aspiring professionals to 20-year vets and everything in between.” By the end of the three days, says Mautner, students will be on the road to making their technical skills “innate” so that their internal vision can be fully released. 

Price: $1,800.

For more information and to register, call the studio at (856)-428-4268, (609) 560-0877,
or contact Cliff via e-mail:

Maine Media Workshops 
Course: Storytelling with Canon HDSLRs
Brian Kaufman
Oct. 21-27
Rockport, ME

The Pitch: “It’s pretty intense…You take your professional still-photography skills and you learn how to do the same thing in video,” says Kaufman. Students learn how to shoot documentary stories with “really character-driven storytelling.”

Cameras today seem to do much more than just take photos, especially HDSLRs. These technological powerhouses incorporate professional-level video recording capabilities into tight, affordable packages. But having the right tool is only the beginning of the battle. Learning how to use it is where Brian Kaufman comes in. Kaufman provides his class with the fundamental skills and know-how for converting professional photography skills into professional video proficiency. According to Kaufman, students—either individually or in groups—will fully produce a two-to-three minute film from conception to completion during the course of the week. Angles, narrative and editing are at the forefront of Kaufman’s course, and students can expect to do hands-on shooting and learn the basics of Final Cut Pro.
Price: $1,095.

Santa Fe Workshops
Course: The Evocative Portrait
Instructor: Gregory Heisler
Sept. 30-Oct. 5
Santa Fe, NM

The Pitch: “I spend my time shooting people that look like me and you,” Heisler says. “If James Gandolfini weren’t James Gandolfini, he’d look like a mechanic, and no one would be interested in taking a photograph of him. Of course, people want to take his photo now because of who he is. What I’m about is trying to find out who he would be if he was just another person. I think the important thing is to discover what you can ‘mine’ from a person.”

There is perhaps no single institution more dedicated to providing photographers with quality learning that is designed to expand artists’ skills and repertoire than Santa Fe Workshops. Noted for its picturesque location and rotating stable of prestigious instructors, no workshop listing would be complete without it. And Gregory Heisler’s “The Evocative Portrait” is undoubtedly the pick of the litter for Santa Fe’s upcoming fall lineup. Heisler is a noted portrait photographer with big name credits that range from over 70 Time covers (including Person of the Year) to Sports Illustrated, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine. Heisler is a devotee of what he calls “the evocative portrait,” which he characterizes as being “done with a great deliberateness and a consciousness in every decision.” In his workshop, Heisler teaches photographers to capture that illusive portrait that “evokes a sense of the person” and “finds that special uniqueness in each and every person.” Students, whose skills range from amateur to professional, spend time photographing other students, because, as Heisler says, “It’s instructive to be on the wrong side of the lens.” While the workshop focuses as much on technique as interpersonal communication, Heisler warns that if you are looking for him to provide you with answers, look elsewhere. “It’s not a cookie-cutter thing,” he explains. “This is about finding your own way of doing it.” The Evocative Portrait caters to all different types of approaches, something Heisler encourages from the get-go. Lighting, camera choice, lens choice, pose and demeanor are just a few of the variables Heisler forces his students to consider; for the rest, you’ll have to go to the workshop. Price: $1,095. To sign up, follow the link.