strengthening my photography skillset: a journey of self-development

A bit of a change of gears from the usual content on the blog as I wanted to throw some light on what I do during the 'slow' periods of the year. I'm a big believer in continuous self-development and, for me, that means opening myself up to learning and strengthening my photography skillset through education.

So far this year, I have attended three different workshops: the first two - which I took back in February - being Parker Pfister's Creative Portraiture 4-day course in Asheville, NC and the Foundation Workshop in Kansas City (where I joined Ben Chrisman and Marvi Lacar's team focused on developing my photojournalism skills), and, the third during my trip home to England in July, where I took part in a one-day street photography workshop run by Jeff Ascough.

The Need for Self-Analysis:

One of the things I love about wedding photography is the fact that covering a wedding day requires a wide range of skills: photojournalism, portraiture, landscape, product, etc. are all required at different points during the day. When it comes to the dance floor, you could even say sports photography is required on occasion!

At the end of the day, my approach to photographing a wedding places photojournalism front and centre in order to document the majority of the day in an honest, reportage way. When I became a wedding photographer, I found this documentary style came to me pretty naturally. But, I also realised pretty quickly that, if I wanted to improve, I needed to invest in developing the areas where I was comparatively weaker. Since then, I have attended at least one in-person workshop every two years in order to improve my portraiture (thanks Parker!) and my lighting (thanks Cliff and JVS!).

Rediscovering the Basics:

Going into 2023 I felt the need to shake things up a bit. I wanted to focus on going back to basics and work on strengthening the fundamentals of my approach to photojournalism. I'll dedicate a post to my experience at the Foundation Workshop sometime soon as it was very intense indeed and it's taken me a while to decompress and get some distance from it. But Jeff Ascough's one-day workshop was very different indeed and one I can jot down some quick thoughts on closer to the event.

When I first got into wedding photography back in 2008, I came across Jeff's wedding work as he was a Canon Ambassador at that time and was the first to use and review the Canon 5D Mark II from a wedding context. To say I was instantly totally enamoured with his work would be an understatement. It was so different to what other wedding photographers were doing: 100% documentary in style with none of the clichéd shots I was used to seeing, a dedication to making compelling photos that combined composition, geometry and amazing use of natural light. All this, combined with Jeff's use of black and white to evoke emotion and feeling made me an instant fan. I read his thought-provoking blog posts avidly every time they were published.

Fast forward to July 2023, I was pleased to see that Jeff and his talented wife Sarah would be conducting a one-day street photography workshop in Bath, England, which is about 45 minutes on the train from my hometown. I was planning on coming back to visit my family in the summer anyway, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn from the man himself now he has retired from photographing weddings.

The Workshop Experience:

I travelled up to Bath early in the morning in order to get out and practice with a new camera a little bit before meeting up with Jeff, Sarah and the rest of the cohort. The early morning light and architecture were beautiful to work with.

After I'd joined up with the group, I headed out with Jeff to make some street photographs whilst Sarah took the other half of the group. With Jeff, I worked on improving my skills shooting from the hip, which is something I previously hadn't really dedicated any time to. Once we'd got through how to best set up the camera for zone focusing, we basically spent a couple of hours walking around the streets of Bath city centre looking for interesting things to photograph.

Following a quick lunch break, we swapped over and I went out with Sarah for a couple of hours. Sarah's approach is a lot more like what I'm used to myself, which is finding an scenario with potential (basically an interesting subject in good light) and hanging out with it for a bit to see if something happens worthy of making a compelling photograph.

As you'll see, we dealt with the challenge of the changing weather conditions of a typical English summer's day, which actually made it fun for me as I got to shoot in lots of different lighting scenarios. Bath was also very busy as the school holidays had started and the streets were full of tourists. If you don't know it, it really is a beautiful city nestled in a valley in southwest England with a lot of classical Georgian architecture and, of course, the Roman baths that gave the city its name.

After we had wrapped shooting, we decamped to a pub where Jeff looked through our photos and provided a critique on what had worked and what we could work on in the future. I actually followed this up with a one-on-one session where Jeff and I looked through my selections together on a Zoom meeting and discussed areas for improvement and where to go from here in terms of applying it to my work both on the street and in weddings.

The Takeaways:

Photojournalism is where I started my wedding photography career and where I want to continue to push my game in order to continue to excel. It definitely took me a while to get used to adopting Jeff's approach to photographing on the streets and shooting from the hip, but I am sure if I keep working on developing this area, it will have a really powerful effect on my ability to photograph more candid moments and tell more compelling stories for my clients. That's what it's all about after all!

Here are just a few of my personal fave photos from the day...

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