Never Stop Learning – a CPS Workshop

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Test shots combining blue and purple gels make for a more interesting fashion image

Things are a lot different now in our industry than they were in the ‘good old days’! The world wide web not only offered creatives a new platform in which to express their work to a much larger audience, it also began to offer new ways of communicating and sharing knowledge with like-minded individuals. Communities grew up around this new notion of information exchange and the idea that you could learn a new skill or update an existing one without the need to beg a photographer for an assisting gig, or ever leaving your house. Not quite like the ‘good old days’ where knowledge and skill sets were a deeply guarded secret, where it was nearly blasphemous to ask how a certain look or image was created. This person toiled for years to perfect the way of creating that image…..Who were you to think you could just waltz right in there and skip all those years!

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All hands on deck as we experimented in Studio 1

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Simeon uses Jerry Ghionis’ Ice light

I never agreed with that philosophy and here’s why. No matter how intelligent you think you are, no matter how quick you are at adapting and learning new knowledge, no one (and this is a broad generalization) can immediately start creating a new style or way of doing things right off the bat, just because someone told them how to. It’s one thing to have something explained to you, but it takes countless hours of practice and failure in order to perfect it, and even then it’s no guarantee that you will nail it first time, every time. Knowledge is key, but it’s the application of that knowledge over extended periods of time which will determine whether you can do anything useful with it. Here’s the other reason: If you get to a point in your career where the standard of your work is widely acceptable to the majority of clientele and you then dedicate your time to protecting that knowledge from the wider community, you become stale. You stop learning. You stop seeking out new knowledge. You stop raising your own standards and adding to your skill set. Because if you are unwilling to share your knowledge with others, why would they want to share theirs with you. It would be quite egotistical to think that nobody has anything to teach you, or that you have nothing left to learn. A wise man once told me that the day he stopped learning was the day he would hang up his cameras. And if your skill set and knowledge hits a plateau, then it’s not going to be very long before everyone starts to pass you out.

It is because of this reality running through my mind on a daily basis that I’ve attended workshops throughout the years, spent time in the studio with colleagues experimenting with different lighting set-ups, trying newer or quicker ways of elevating the production values of my work.  I’ve tested new equipment to see if it deserved a permanent place in my camera bag (more often than not, it didn’t). So when I was invited to participate in a CPS lighting workshop at Barry McCall‘s studio hosted by Canon Ireland, it didn’t take long to cancel any existing plans. Quentin Caffier is an incredibly gifted fashion and editorial photographer based in Paris, and photographer and cinematographer Simeon Quarrie, although London based, had just flown back from a shoot in Tanzania in order to share what he knew. Both were great teachers, and had a very simple yet comprehensive way of explaining their techniques.

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Quentin sets up the next look using Canon speed lights + gels

Did that mean that I would be able to shoot just like them by the end of the day? Of course not! That’s not what these workshops are about. I didn’t go there in order to become the next Quentin Caffier or Simeon Quarrie. I was there to see a new way of lighting a subject, whether it be the position of a softbox, a different piece of equipment, or adding props to a set in a way you never thought could work. It was about experimenting in ways that could potentially add production value to your own work, sometimes very inexpensively (tinsel and a fan, anyone?). Quentin’s workshop concentrated on using multiple Canon 600 EX RT flashguns in a variety of modifiers, along with coloured backgrounds and gels. Simeon’s workshop was more based around the idea of creating a set to tell the story, along with using Profoto studio strobes and using props.

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Using tinsel and a fan to create interesting backgrounds

So what did I learn? Probably the biggest take-away for me from the day was the use of different gels wrapped around the canon speedlights using specific colours, which whilst at completely different ends of the colour spectrum, also complement each other when used in the same shot. For example – using blue gels together on fill lights at 90º to a subject whilst using yellow/orange gels on the back hair lights makes for an interesting combination in camera. What’s important is not taking this information on the basis that you could only use it if you were to then recreate that image yourself later, but to take that information and think about how you could apply it to the type of photography you already do. For me, it’s environmental portraiture. It’s a model on location for a brand announcement. It’s a CEO of a company fully suited up, with five minutes of their time to give me between meetings. It’s lifestyle shots of students in a university for the following year’s prospectus. It’s about applying this new knowledge to your next shoot in order to create a new look, a new feel, or a new style which you hadn’t done before for that client.

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Yours truly experimenting with the Canon 600 EX RT’s Hi speed sych settings (I was waving my hands like crazy for this shot). Pic. Naoise Culhane

No workshop hosted by Canon would be complete without a ton of their professional gear at your disposal to try out on the studio floor. From the acclaimed 1Dx and 5Dmk3 cameras to the new 16-35mm F4 lens, as well as other recent zoom arrivals and a bunch of beautiful primes. Shane Crowley from Canon Ireland, along with a whole group of CPS staff were on hand to ensure the workshops went smoothly, as well as discussing the latest available equipment. This workshop by Canon (CPS) was just one of a series hosted by the company in October, with others in the UK taught by David Noton and and Danny Green on the subjects of Landscapes and Wildlife.

A big thank you to Quentin and Simeon for sharing all your knowledge – Quentin, I’m going to try out that Blue, Red, and Green lighting set-up we discussed. Also a big thank you to Canon Ireland and the whole CPS crew for putting together a great day, including great food and copious amounts of coffee. For Bond street Studios for the use of their space, and for the very beautiful and very patient models for their time and willingness to contribute to our more ambitious experiments!

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them or point you in the right direction. Who know, I might see you at a workshop in the near future.

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Using continuous light for dramatic effect

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Canon had a full staple of pro gear available to play around with. The new 35mm F.2 is a beautiful lens.

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Try before you buy – a great way to test Canon’s latest equipment on set.

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Simeon shows the effect of moving a light into different positions to change the entire look of an image.

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Quentin (dead centre) explains how he created his most dramatic shots to fellow photographers.

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Everyone worked together to help make this a great workshop.

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Using the available light from the Profoto’s modelling lamp between test shots.

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