There’s never a time to stop learning, and having felt hugely inspired by award-winning Chicago photojournalist Candice Cusic on meeting her at the European Fearless Conference in March 2016, I signed up for her workshop in association with the Nine Dots conference last November. My day started stressfully, with missing two buses to the studio thanks to my Oyster card ‘hiding’ from me in my bag, and I hurried into the room just as things were starting. Thankfully seeing some photographer friends and Candice’s immediate warmth in her introduction settled me in! (Oh and coffee.)
I wasn’t expecting such a quick ‘oh my goodness’ feeling with this workshop, which came fairly soon and before lunch. This was my first workshop as an independent photographer i.e without Tom by my side, so my head was already filled with self-doubt about how my work would come across and whether I’d make a mess of settings etc, being a self-confessed shoot-by-the-heart-technicals-later kind of gal. But portrait photography is one thing I do love doing, and many people who work with us know that I tend to provide the closer up portraits of our couples, and I have shot brand portraits for entrepreneurs too.
Our first session was a presentation by Candice, and it was great to see a more in-depth look at her work. Then she dropped a bombshell, that our first task was going to be street photography, and more than that, actually talking to the people we want to photograph and asking them. Woah! But we’re wedding photographers! We’re used to shooting people who expect us to be there!
As our intrepid bunch shuffled out of the studio, we headed to the canal, asking questions like ‘so we actually have to ask to take their photo?!’ We were wondering how we were going to get through the next hour. However the promise of pizza on our return was an extra incentive!
At the canal, our group went off in different directions and I started to walk up the canal path, trying to work out a plan. There were workmen; they looked busy, a jogger, no they won’t want to be stopped, and a number of the usual no-eye-contact from Londoners, which made the task seem even more of a mountain. Doesn’t Candice know that people don’t talk to each other in London?
And then a shining beacon arrived in the form of a pretty and effortlessly cool girl in a fur coat standing outside the pub smoking. She would look great! Then I could hear a couple of fellow students behind me say the same thing and I knew that if we all stopped, I probably wouldn’t get out of this what I was supposed to, and the girl might feel hounded. So I kept walking as they stopped; another jogger, another businessman, and then, a super-cute doggy. I am totally that person that stops to fawn over every dog she meets, and I knew then this could be my ‘in’. Thankfully the gorgeous pooch saw my smile and bounded up to me, and I gave her a good tickle.
Following behind was Joe, whose name I have changed, and he gave me a big smile. I took my chance. ‘What’s her name?’ ‘Ella’. ‘She’s gorgeous’ I replied, as he started to step onto a house boat, and across to another closest to the water. He called the dog over and I started my conversation, ‘oh cool do you live here?’
What happened next I couldn’t have imagined. We started to talk and I edged closer, before taking the plunge and asking if I could hop on and take a few shots of him and Ella. I said I was being challenged on a portrait photography workshop. He thought about it for a second (and I held my breath for the knock-back) but he then agreed, and we continued to talk as I took a few shots, gently easing closer. He was a musician and as we talked, I had the overwhelming feeling we’d met before, but in a weird deju-vu kind of way. We clearly saw the world in a similar way and continued to chat, and I genuinely enjoyed his company.
After chatting about serendipity, Joe wanted to show me a book and invited me down into the boat. My first though was how bowled over I was that he was being so trusting and generous with his time, and the second was that Candice would probably be very excited about this! I probably should have had a thought about my own safety somewhere, but hey I didn’t, my gut told me Joe was clearly a good soul.
Down in the boat, we talked about the book and he proceeded to feed Ella, and I kept shooting. Then a gorgeous fluffy kitty came strolling over, and anyone who knows me will know my cup runneth over!
We continued to chat about his music, my photography and a good half an hour must have passed. Then a small worry crept in, how long was this task supposed to take? Will everyone have gone or will they be looking for me? I continued shooting for a little while and whilst Joe did a couple of tasks we fell into an easy silence, he content with the click of the shutter.
Eventually I figured I should get back, and he had things to get on with so I asked if he could give me an email address so I could send him the pictures. All my feelings about Joe were confirmed, as he politely declined, saying he did not need to see the pictures, he was just happy he could help me with my project. We hugged goodbye and I carried on down the path and a huge wave of emotion came over me and I cried! I just hoped I had done our experience justice.
Back with the group, I relayed my experience, and took a few more shots but I was definitely ready to head back for pizza and coffee – I needed it! Then Candice dropped her next bombshell, we would give in our memory cards and look at all our work together – argh! The group did a fantastic job, there were some wonderfully characterful shots, but when we got to mine and Candice announced ‘you have nailed this assignment’, well I could have cried again!
Next up was shooting portraits of ”normal’ people who had signed up to be models, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. This is what we do every week right, easy? Wrong! Another curve-ball from Candice, we would only have a couple of minutes with our model and would then move on to another one. And here my confidence came crashing down. I was starting off in the corridor with a gorgeous girl, but the lights strobed and well, I fussed over my settings so much it put me in a bad mood. Eventually I got over it and was definitely much happier when we moved outside, being so much more comfortable in natural light. All the models were lovely and I thank them for putting themselves forward and being so easy to work with.
This task was exhausting, because you didn’t want to replicate what the person had done with that model before you, so you had to think on your feet, and it felt relentless! It also made me realise how much I talk to people when I shoot, and maybe I could do with talking a little less sometimes. I do like to get people on side though, and when shooting a wedding I’ll usually spend the first five minutes of the morning having a chat with who I am shooting – I think it helps settle everyone in to the weird experience of being photographed. It’s great Candice captured some behind the scenes shots too.
Back inside, we all ran for coffee whilst giving our memory cards in again, and despite my initial worries, I was generally happy with my work, and in fact the whole group had created some fantastic portraits – I know I’d be happy if I was one of the models (but I never would be as I hate having my photo taken, ha!)
Here is a selection of my favourites from the session as well as a last few shots from the end of the day discussions.
I am so glad I signed up for this workshop, working with Candice pulled me out of my comfort zone on many levels; being without Tom, going out on my own, trying to tell someone’s story, fighting my technical fears.. the list goes on. If you are a photographer I can’t recommend working with her enough – and lucky for you she is back next month for not one but two days! Don’t think about it, just do it, your photos will thank you. As I said in my feedback to Candice, I walked into my next wedding with my head held higher. Take a look at http://momentdrivenworkshop.com/london-workshop/ and give yourself a little push, even if you don’t think you need it…