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Foundation Workshop | What do pigs have to do with wedding photography?

I believe in education. I am proud of my photography and my business is doing the best it ever has, but I always want to be better. Be smarter. Build on what I know. I’ve been to some very inspiring conferences and workshops that have molded me into the photographer that I am. Still I want more, I will probably never be satisfied. With that, I decided to get radical and invest all of myself into the best workshop available for wedding photojournalists. Foundation (First) Workshop.

In the weeks leading up to the workshop I had mixed emotions about attending. I was honestly not entirely excited about going. That’s hard to admit. I mean, this is a world-renowned workshop with a reputation for making good wedding photographers great ones. The best in the industry have learned at this workshop and now teach there. Why do I feel this way? Was I admitting to myself that I wasn’t good enough? I had this feeling that everything I worked so hard for was just second rate. A lot of my good friends are photographers and until the day before I left I had really only mentioned it to a couple people. WTF? I should be so excited. I felt like I was a fraud to my past clients. I’m established, my couples love their photos (and so do I) and the experiences I’ve had while working with them have been so good. Why do I need to go to this workshop? I knew I needed it, but I didn’t know the real reason why.

Well, I’m back home now and it’s been a few days since the workshop wrapped up. I am sitting at my desk, feeling completely paralyzed. I worked hard and I’m exhausted, but that’s not why I can’t move. I’m reflecting on the invaluable nuggets of information I learned at Foundation First, but that’s not the reason either. I signed up for this workshop to become a better photographer. Like as in, take better pictures. So what does that mean? Aperture and ISO? No. Back button focus? No. Well, kinda, but no. I had this vision of really getting inside the camera and going into technique. Boy. Was. I. Wrong.

Classroom Timed

Lecture time | Photo: Joe Appel

Under the guidance of my mentors, some of the best photojournalists in the industry, Gulnara, Craig Fritz, Sergio Lopez and Huy Nguyen I learned more in 1 day of photographing pigs than I had in my entire career. They built on my strengths, they squashed my weaknesses and encouraged me to be comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. To be brave in the face of my own preconceived notions of what other people think. I learned the value of patience and what patience really means when you’re after showing emotion. To let the scene develop and the story unfold. I learned to trust myself, my gut, my vision and when all of those things lined up, I learned to make a photograph that would resonate with the audience and myself. I used to shoot what was in front of me, but now I can bring that inside and really feel what I’m shooting.

Standing on sketchy ledges!d

Behind the scenes | Photo: Bridget Eldridge

This is an intensive photography workshop where you shoot and come back to an in depth critique of your images. I was assigned to the Fort Worth Stock Show to photograph people and their pigs. I walked around the crowded laneways between pigpen after pigpen wondering what the heck this had to do with being a wedding photographer and after about a half hour, I started to take pictures. People are there to sell their pigs, it seems so impersonal. Again, I was wrong. I made a lot of really crappy pictures but my mentors kept me in line, encouraged me to get close to the subject, interact on a personal level and make images from my own heart. I learned that when you shoot with that kind of passion and sincerity, beautiful things happen.

Get down with the pigsd

Behind the scenes | Photo: Gulnara

Love of pigsd

You can feel it, right? | Photo: Rob Whelan

So, I came to Foundation wanting to learn how to take better pictures. Check, check, but that’s not what’s important. Did I become a better photographer? Yes, but not in the way I thought I was going to. I’m a stronger photographer now with more depth and insight into what actually makes a better photograph. Patience, Love and Connection to the subject. Being fearless doesn’t mean climbing trees to get cool composition. Sure it helps, but being truly fearless behind a camera starts inside your heart and it means going into any situation and finding meaning in what you’re doing. You have to work for it. Anticipate it. Go after it. Then, go after it some more.

So what do pigs have to do with wedding photography? Everything. Love is everywhere if you just stop, wait and look for it, feel it. I am so grateful for this experience, the mentors who cared deeply for my progress and growth as a photographer and as a person, but most of all, I’m thankful for having these people in my life. The teachers and my classmates reworked my approach, pushed me (sometimes literally…Craig!) and made me better in every way.

Foundation First Familyd

Foundation First Family | Photo: Joe Appel

I’m going to close with a quote from Susan Sontag that Huy shared on day 1 that will stay with me forever; “A beautiful picture is not a picture of something beautiful”. Damn! (mic drop)

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Jan Garcia - January 27, 2016 - 9:00 pm

Great post, Rob! Looking forward to see how you grow from this experience. Wishing you the best!

Sherry Grondin Pickerell - January 27, 2016 - 9:15 pm

Love this post Rob! So happy to call you my friend! Proud of you! Hugs!

Candice C. Cusic - January 27, 2016 - 9:36 pm

So wonderful to meet you! You did an awesome job!

Misty Adams Christensen - January 28, 2016 - 2:14 am

Love this! It’s so important to build that connection!! 🙂

Joe Appel - January 28, 2016 - 3:44 am

Beautifully said, Rob.

Juan Carlos Calderón - January 28, 2016 - 3:57 pm

Awesome post my friend! We’ll see each other in the near future

Jose Luis Arellano Espino - January 28, 2016 - 11:51 pm

wow!!