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A review of the Jerry Ghionis workshop

If there was a photographer whose work made me cry, it would be Jerry Ghionis, master world class wedding photographer, who presented as a platform speaker at the WPPI conference in Las Vegas earlier this year. Of all the speakers, Jerry was the one I felt least “sold” to, but within 15 minutes I signed up for his five-day workshop in Boston. If Jerry can convince this girl to plunk down enough money to buy two nice pairs of Louboutins, you know he’s good. I justified it because I wanted to train myself inside out and have the ability to get even better, this was for my clients. And also, despite having very different styles, I saw the emotion that Jerry was able to evoke, and I’m all about real emotion.

The experience from the workshop is best summed up as: Jerry taught us how to fish, and remember to aim for our perfect day. The workshop was isolating and Jerry had a really great no-email/phone rule. Jerry breaks down his best photos in five steps, starting with the most important thing – light. Jerry’s interpretation of light is amazing – he discovers it in places you wouldn’t think of. He is a master of light, color, and emotion, no doubt.

The first day of the workshop was a long, long day of honest critiques (though gentle). Jerry would give hints and glimpses into the foundations he would teach in the following two days. We grew pretty tired – it was July 4th and we missed the fireworks. Yet, even from the first day, I learned how to diagnose some issues I’d been having in shooting – lessons I’d carry with me for life. I had taken 2 film classes in college and they taught me not to blow out too many highlights and color correct, but not lighting portraits in particular. Days 2 and 3 were intensive shoot days. Jerry moved from light to posing and emotion and then took us out around Boston for shooting. We got tired on the second day because we went all the way to almost midnight. However, this is where Jerry stood apart and is key to his success. When we lost focus, he persevered. When we sat, he remained standing. When we declared we understood, he continued to push until he saw the lightbulbs click in our heads. Jerry never lost his energy, his cool, or his sense of humor (which borderlined between classy and wait-did-he-just-say-that…). He gave his all, and I can see how he would do likewise for his clients.

Days 4 and 5 were some of my favorites – Jerry went over album design, managing a client from beginning to end, selling, marketing, branding. He was very brutal with branding – including my own, which I’m very grateful for. This is really where he teaches you how to fish – and I’ve done some of those ideas to a lesser extent and I can speak to you from my personal experience, it works, but sometimes a little too well. I was empowered and felt I could do anything. Jerry even showed some of his old albums and they were pretty hilarious to look at – Jerry has made similar mistakes and wanted us to learn from them. Also, Jerry recently married a wonderful human being named Melissa, who is one of our own – a Boston wedding photographer. I learned a lot from watching the way Melissa talked and responded to our email. She made each and every one of us feel special, encouraged, and uplifted. From having only seen photos of her before, I was blown away by her sweetness and cheerful disposition.

Coming in as a workshop cynic, I can truly see where the value in the workshop lies. Now, I do not believe any ordinary photographer can come from the workshop and suddenly develop into a success overnight. I don’t believe that those are promises any workshop teacher can make, because it will depend on the student’s ability to incorporate the teaching.

Who is this workshop for? There are two kinds of photographers I would recommend this workshop to. One, you are early in your career, you’ve got basic technical chops, you may have shot anywhere between 5 – 10 weddings on your own, but you want to start your company correctly. Second, this workshop is great for people who have been in the biz 10, 15 years and are feeling burned out.

How to get the most out of the workshop? Come in with an open mind. A lot of the things Jerry says might be counter-intuitive and not your style, but keep in mind that Jerry is a lot more successful than most of us, so he must have done something right. To say the least I was a little frustrated when we spent a lot of time addressing individual questions that at times were not pertinent to what Jerry was teaching. He is the teacher, he is the one I paid to listen to. Jerry’s technique in repeating and presenting the same idea in many different ways WILL stick, but it takes time. You have to differentiate the principle he is presenting from his style. Take the time after the workshop to digest and mull over the implications of what he has presented on your own business.

Also, don’t shoot too much when he shoots. I saw many students crowd around Jerry to try to get the photos he was taking. You’re just going to have a version that wasn’t as good as Jerry’s and you can’t put them in your portfolio. Instead, look at the entire setup, look at the surroundings, and look at what he is doing. I took a lot of the photographs of the overall setup, location, position and angle that Jerry was photographing.

What did I get out of it? This workshop helped remind me what was really important in my life. I concluded that I was right in taking a personal break from full-time photography in 2012 (it’s not barren – you’ll still see weddings that I’ve committed myself to). I know that was not the answer most of you expected from me – I won’t elaborate as it is a very personal decision – all I ask is for your support as I transition my life. In general, I firmly believe that if you are a talented photographer and a smart businessperson, you can take Jerry’s teachings and make a great career out wedding photography.

Fellow photographer and friend Dave Chen has a great review that shows more behind the scenes photos. I have chosen not to display most of the photos I took because frankly I didn’t take much.

So, there is a photography treat at the end of this post! In order to benefit from the technical part of the portfolio, I was itching to practice. I wanted to commit to muscle memory Jerry’s 5 steps, but add my own twist, as his style is not my style – but not on a paying client’s time. I also didn’t want to shoot with models, because I don’t work with models in my weddings. I recruited Amy and Frank – a real couple whose actual engagement I captured back in March, and we just played around the MIT area. These photos are not perfect, but they’re a start! There is Jerry’s influence in them in terms of lighting and posing, but I really wanted to make them my own – Jerry said that my portfolio had “quirky that wasn’t cheese” (yay!) and that my bubbly personality is reflected in the playful way I portray my clients.

I don’t know if the direct sunlight look is right for me, but I am getting better at it. I promise my summer clients though that I won’t be exposing you to too much hot sun anyway =)

Amy and Frank are… well, real. There’s no other way for me to describe it. Frank especially, who I’ve been acquainted with since high school, has grown so much. If you ever have the chance to get to know him, you should

Jerry’s technique is great though. Most of these photos required very little post-processing while maintaining my signature color

I LOVE this portrait of Frank. It shows all of you what Amy likes most about Frank’s smile – the way his nose “gets really cute” when he smiles (her words!)

Did I mention it was like 90 degrees? Well, maybe more like 80s because we shot later in the day. Thanks guys for being awesome troopers!

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Shang Chen Photography has rebranded to Saavedra Photography
she takes photographs of celebrations of love and life
Based in NYC | Open for select photography commissions on Sundays only

July 14, 2011 - 1:55 am

ajira Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about the workshop. It’s always incredibly helpful to read a thorough and honest review about something one is considering. Thanks!

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