You know it's going to be a good weekend when you round the corner in the minibus and discover you're going to be spending all your time at a Castle! Not just any castle, but one that was literally and figuratively up in the clouds. And I was right, as it ended with popping champagne corks and a 1st and 3rd prize...
After a rather early and red-eyed 3am start on Thursday 17th May, I was keen to get boarded on my flight. But first the obligatory stop in duty-free. Any excuse to top up the gin supplies and some pressies for the family. A thankfully smooth flight saw us land in Marco Polo, Venice for 9.40am. We were picked up by our fantastic trainers for the weekend – Scott Johnson from @theedgepics and Paul Fowler from @paulsstudioessex and taken for a spot of lunch at a beautiful local vineyard, where we may of sampled just a bit of the local red wine... a good way to get to know the other 13 delegates.
Our next stop, and possibly one of the most amazing places I've ever had the fortune to visit, was the 'home of photography' – Count Ceconi Castle. The amazing castle owned and run by @graphistudio. Who had very kindly given us full use of the Castle for the duration of our course. After some introductions and some talks to set the weekend up it was clear this was going to be a very interesting weekend. Martin from @graphistudio was our very gracious host, providing many laughs for us too!
Friday we started off our day by visiting the @graphistudio factory. We had the privilege of being led round and shown the processes, the stages, the machines and more importantly the people who are a huge part of the album creation process. Yes, they use machines (some of which they have specially designed to suit their needs), of course they have to, but if the process can be done better by hand then they were possible use a person instead. And over 60% of the workforce are women, who they allow to work flexi-time around their families. How refreshing is that. The factory had an airy, relaxed and focused atmosphere and I really did leave that factory with a total sense of awe and inspiration as to what could be achieved with designing albums. Nothing seemed to be out of the question, and they want to go out of their way to help us photographers keep innovating and exploring and pushing boundaries for our clients. I've come away with a ton of new ideas that I'm going to be begin to start trialling this year.
In the afternoon we headed back to the Castle to begin our first round of model and photography tutorials, breaking up into groups led by Scott and Paul. What these guys don't know about wedding photography probably isn't worth knowing. And I wasn't disappointed, we were given invaluable posing and composition techniques and encouraged to think outside the box and push ourselves. I've found it's very easy to try new things but then revert to type as that's the easy or safe option. But I was determined this time to make a real change, and use what I was learning.
We then moved on for some one-to-ones with Paul and Scott to discuss business ideas, and critiques of our images. This was the second time Scott had made me cry! Not because he was nasty, totally the opposite – his talks so far had struck a chord. My whole reason for attending this course was to try to gain confidence with my photography and be brave and begin to develop a style that is mine, and that I'm proud of, and he was giving me the time, chance and the tools to do just that.
The Fuji Film guys were also with us all weekend too, with a load of great gear for us to trial out and chat about. It was amazing to have a go at the Fuji GFX! They were so knowledgeable, not just about Fuji but all types of cameras. They were a real asset to the weekend.
Saturday was kicked off with a super insightful talk by Paul on marketing and running your wedding business, in a way that remains true to your own values and the photography industry. And of course giving the very best service and 'product' to the wedding couples in a very competitive market. The discovery of @studioninja is going to revolutionise my workflow system!
Scott and Paul both taught us that like with many art forms, photography is so very easily and quickly devalued by clients, and often this comes from a misunderstanding of what photography really is all about. It's not just about someone turning up and clicking a button with the latest camera, or printing out the images in the cheapest format just to save a couple of pounds on the wedding budget, or even passing on every single image taken on a USB drive, only to be lost in the 'junk draw'. We were reminded that photography, and in particular wedding photography is about telling the story of that couple on that special unique day. It's about capturing the family and friends that have travelled many miles to be with the couple, for just one day. It's about freezing in time the memories that one day will fade from guests' minds. It's about creating a legacy for future generations to share and be a part of. It's about seizing those moments with grand-parents and older generations that won't be around forever. It's about capturing the what if's and the maybes of chance meetings or future unions that happen at weddings. Yes, true many people can take pictures, and anyone can print a picture out and stick it on the wall. But it takes a skill, a talent, and hard-earned knowledge to capture and re-tell the story of a wedding in an album for all to see for years to come.
I was introduced to a fantastic piece of software to help design albums, making the process easier and more efficient, including an online proofing system for clients - always a bonus! Something I will definitely be looking into using @fundysoftwareinc.
Sunday we were back out with the models (how Maddy managed to wear her wedding dress for days at a time I have no idea - what a star!), and were looking at posing, composition and lighting. I was keen to put into practice what I'd learnt when it came to my private time with the models, Myself, and two other delegates had the models for an hour, and boy did we make every minute count for that hour! We went all over the Castle and the grounds trying to find the best shots and new angles. I really enjoyed the time with the models as I was able to put into action the new techniques and tips I'd learnt, and I could already see what a difference this was making.
The training was finished off by Jonathan from @fundysoftwareinc, who gave an extremely inspirational talk on how to create your brand, that is based upon yourself and how this will in turn be unique and honest as it's built on your own values. We spoke about setting targets and really striving towards them in order to be the best that you can. It was very interesting definitely something to build on.
After our final dinner on Sunday night at the Castle cooked by none other than the Marketing Director of @graphistudio - Dario, we finished off the night with a bang! They held the judging of the competition for the best delegate shot.
Possibly one of the biggest highlights for me of the weekend was WINNING, yes WINNING, not one but TWO prizes for the best images taken over the course of the weekend. I had won third prize, which was selected by our fantastic models - Maddy and Bill (who had been absolute troupers all weekend). They felt my image captured the mood for them perfectly, and said they felt comfortable and confident when they were with me...
Then I was totally blown away to be awarded the 1st prize from both Paul & Scott for the best image taken. Fortune really does favour the brave. I resisted reverting to type, and really tried to push the boundaries of what I knew I was capable of - and it worked! Here is the winning shot and moment (courtesy of Carla Dobkin)...
I also had the privilege of spending the time with 13 other fantastic delegates, of whom I'd now call friends. We were from various backgrounds, all different professional levels, all different experiences, but with a passion for photography in-common. The thing that touched me the most, was how supportive and encouraging towards each other everybody was. It was amazing to feel empowered to be brave and try new things. The magic from the Castle really did touch us all!
Paul and Scott planned a jammed-packed weekend - from inspirational talks, to competition advice, they really covered all the bases and then some. We couldn't of asked anymore of them, they both gave 110% the whole time. I made a promise to myself that I would listen to what I learned, put it into practice and be committed to pushing myself forward to achieve better for me and our future clients. This honestly was one of the best training experiences I have ever had the good fortune to be able to attend.
Thank you to ALL involved.
(Award Winning, International Destination Wedding Photographer!!! ha ha ha)