There are some experiences that seem perfectly ordinary as we head into them, not realizing that they will change our lives.
Then there are experiences like the He Said She Said workshop I attended last month in Chicago.
Experiences like He Said She Said are the ones in our lives that we know are going to be extraordinary as we head into them. We know they will change our lives. I was so certain that my trip to Chicago would change my life, in fact, that I was more than a little scared of what the future might hold for me afterwards.
More on that later. I want to tell you a little story first.
When I first started actively trying to learn more about photography and develop my skills, I poured over Pinterest, photography websites, and books. I started noticing that several of the photos I “pinned” were from a photographer named Jean Smith, and after liking her page on Facebook, I fell completely in love with her work. A few months later, Jean was the celebrity mentor on the Rock the Shot forum, which I had just joined. I never asked any questions in the forum, but I read almost every thread to which she contributed. Jean’s advice to another member about pricing was the reason I raised my prices for the first time back in December, and her amazing lifestyle work made me realize where the heart of my love for photography resides. I also became familiar with Jean’s husband Travis’s incredible work through her mention of it in the forum, which led to the discovery that he also does amazing commercial video work. I felt like I was taking a peek into an alternate version of my life with David, if we had invested the time in learning and developing our skills and businesses that Jean and Travis obviously have.
For those of you who are not aware, David is a former rock star turned audio engineer/video producer. You can check out some of his music (he is the one playing every instrument in the audio tracks on his songs), recordings, and video work on his YouTube channel. But I digress…
After following Jean’s and Travis’s work for a while, I finally worked up the nerve to e-mail Jean to ask a few questions about her work. In the e-mail, I told her that I would understand if the info I was after was top-secret or something she only covers for workshop attendees, and I never actually expected a response…or a response like the one I received a few days later.
She answered my questions, and she was unbelievably humble and kind. One of the photographers I admired most at that time was not only an incredibly talented and well-known photographer, but she was also willing to take the time to help a little small-time photographer like me. She immediately moved up on my list as THE photographer (singular) that I admire most.
I had told her that I would love to attend one of her workshops in the future, and she e-mailed me again a few weeks later with the link to the workshop dates she and Travis had just announced. I added, “Attend a He Said She Said Workshop” to my bucket list.
Seriously. I have had a physical bucket list that I add to periodically (and check things off) for over a decade, not just a mental list in my head.
In the meantime, I signed up for an online workshop Jean was hosting for Chic Critique Forum on lifestyle photography, and the two-hour workshop gave me a taste of the wealth of info I knew I could gain in an entire day with her and Travis. I never really anticipated that I would get to check off my workshop addition to my bucket list, nor did I anticipate that David would send me a screenshot of a receipt for two seats at the upcoming session in Chicago. I cried–like a baby, actually–and had to wait until I could compose myself before I called to thank him and tell him he’s the most amazing man in the world.
I knew the trip to Chicago would change my life. I knew it, and the knowledge terrified me because my life has been so stable–so predictable. I knew the workshop would equip me with the know-how to take my photography skills to the next level, and I also knew that it would result in a total overhaul in my business itself.
What I didn’t know was just how much it would change me.
Jean and Travis are, simply put, two of the most influential people who have entered my life. In the eleven hours that David and I spent with them and the other workshop attendees, I learned so much that it has taken the three-and-a-half weeks since then for my brain to process most of the information. I already had a good grip on things like exposure and using my equipment, but the workshop left me with a deeper understanding of how to use those things for a purpose. As a result of the workshop, I know how to manipulate exposure to get exactly the look I want. I know how to be purposeful when choosing the lenses I use on my shoots. I know exactly how to edit my photos to get the look I want. I know how to use off-camera flash (although those skills have a long way to go)…direct my subjects…work a lifestyle shoot the correct way…manage my business…
Really, I could go on for days.
I took twenty pages of notes and only went to the bathroom twice in eleven hours out of fear that I would miss something.
The info (and awesome swag) I walked away with was invaluable and changed my photography more than words can explain; however, it was the other aspects of the workshop that changed my life.
It was the hug that Jean gave me as soon as I introduced myself because she knew who I was and how much I respect her work.
It was the opportunity to shoot alongside two of the best photographers in the business.
It was the raw honesty and pure heart with which Jean said to get rid of all the things about photography that do not bring me joy.
It was hearing Jean tell me I am worth more when I discussed the dilemma I face when determining pricing in a small town with a lot of other photographers.
It was coming home with a husband who had originally tagged along simply hoping to gain knowledge of exposure to assist with his video work (and share the experience with me), but instead grabbed his camera and started practicing his photography skills the first chance he got. A spark was lit in him while the one that already existed in me became a raging fire.
I saved the best one for last.
It was the genuine respect and care I saw in Jean as I fought back tears telling her about the struggles I face sometimes with my career as a teacher, my intense passion for photography, and my roles as a wife to an awesome husband, advocate for my autistic son, and mother to both him and his incredible older brother.
Jean knows what my ultimate goals are for my photography business, and she gave me the advice that I needed and that I have taken completely to heart. Together, she and Travis gave me the confidence and education I needed to make those goals happen. Since returning from Chicago, I feel that my abilities have improved ten-fold, and my last couple of sessions are starting to reflect the new knowledge that I gained at the He Said She Said workshop. The magazine that Jean and Travis co-own with Brittni Schroeder (another amazing photographer for whom I have mad amounts of respect), Mozi Magazine, featured one of the photos from one of those sessions this week, and for some reason, that act felt like a major milestone for me. I know I haven’t “made it” yet. I know I have years of work ahead of me before I will feel like I am even on the outskirts of the same realm as Jean and Travis…but that feature meant the world to me. Not only do I feel it marked the true beginning of the changes He Said She Said put in motion, but it was a vote of confidence from my idols.
I know this was long. I know most readers probably abandoned this post several paragraphs ago. However, there are two in particular who I hope hung in there with me.
Jean and Travis…
From the bottom of my heart and with a gratitude I will never be able to truly articulate…
This post isn’t much (I should have sent Cadbury mini eggs, I know), but it contains pieces of my heart that I thought were lost until I found them in Chicago.
To the rest of my readers–one of these days, you will see my work in the pages of Mozi Magazine. I’m not there yet, but I will be one day. The bucket list says so.
And yes, that IS “Go to Michigan to have Jean Smith take family photos and meet Jodi Friedman” (my pal from MCP Actions) on my bucket list. It’s happening one day, people. I just have to wait for the Smith clan to stay in the country long enough for it to happen. 🙂
(Sorry for including mostly terrible iPhone photos, by the way. Watch for a post soon to feature some of the photos I took while in Chicago with my “real camera” during the shoots Jean demonstrated, and hopefully they will be on my brand new website, which is in the works right now!)