Photography Learning: SCU Summer Session Wrap-Up

Buckingham Fountain in Downtown Chicago
Buckingham Fountain in Downtown Chicago

Continuing education is an important part of any field. A popular quote I’ve heard (I don’t remember the source) is, “if you’re not learning you’re dying.” It seems pretty appropriate. Photography, computer programming, construction, juggling, circus arts—things are always changing and progressing. And for me, the best way of learning is by doing; by getting my hands dirty. Sitting through a lecture is all fine and dandy, but if it’s not followed up right way by doing, then the lecture is pretty much useless. These days, one of the quickest and most convenient ways of getting that hands-on education is through a few, a very few, workshops. Skip Cohen University provides such a workshop.

The SCU Summer Session (formerly known as Skip’s Summer School) is an annual photography workshop that for the last 2 years has been held near Chicago, in Oak Brook. The current format is 2 full-day sessions with 2 instructors (1 per day), and a couple of evening keynote events, plus a Sunday afternoon and Wednesday morning keynote. Additionally, the students tend to put together impromptu photo walks and model shoots after hours. It’s a ton of fun!

The first instructor I chose was Jennifer Rozenbaum. Jen is a boudoir photographer out of Long Island, near New York City. An area that I’m constantly striving to improve in is communicating with a subject and seeing in my mind how best to pose a woman. I don’t want to spend way too much time in Photoshop correcting for issues I should have taken care of during the shoot. Jen is a phenomenal instructor and an excellent person. Let me tell you, there’s nothing better than having somebody sitting there watching you, and saying, “FREEZE!!” as you start to pose the model. You cannot get that from a video or a book. Theory is good; practice is great; practice under an experienced eye is the best. I’m really hoping I can work with Jen in the future.

Photograph of Jen providing instruction and coaching
Jen explains what she would be looking for in this situation, to best present the subject in the photograph.
Photograph of Dee under a hallway light
Dee under a hallway light. We all saw the light and just had to get her under it. I pushed her as close to the edge as I could without getting her out of the light.
Photograph of Dee on the bed in a pose
Jen helped me see that a woman needs to be lengthened and allowed to breathe. And the model was super-helpful, too! Jen coached me along to get Dee in this pose. Still, my best communication so far is demonstration! 😉

The other photographer I learned from (in class, anyhow—there was a TON of learning going on!) was Ryan Schembri. Ryan is relatively young, but he grew up on a photography studio, and he’s been processing and photographing weddings most of his life. Ryan has a really great vision and an inquisitive way of looking at the world around him, to see how he can fit his subjects into the environment and create a stunning photograph. Part of Ryan’s philosophy is being able to photograph anytime, anywhere. Look for the great lighting, try to get a very interesting location in that lighting, and make the subjects look their best in that location. And lighting. It doesn’t matter if it’s high noon or the dark of a bar. Bring along some supplemental lighting if need be, and make excellent photographs.

Photograph of Ryan speaking to the group
Ryan giving tips on what he’s looking for in the light and location, to handle the noon-day sun gracefully
Photograph of reflections of Courtney
Reflections of Courtney. I’ll be on the lookout for more reflections and other interesting ways of getting the image.
Photograph from above of the model bride and groom in an embrace
Looking down at the model couple.

I think between Jen and Ryan, I have a LOT of practice to start doing. Posing women to look great with amazing light in unique and interesting locations, in varying degrees of dress. That’s the goal! I’ve gotten pretty decent at event photography, headshots, and even some family photography, over the years. It’s time to kick it up a notch. And, boy, I feel like a beginner!

We also took some time out to make some photographs after dark down at “The Bean” and then at Buckingham Fountain. That was interesting. Clay Blackmore joined us, and cajoled one of his models for the day into coming out for some more shooting. Here are a couple shots from that walk. It was really great to be able to just get out and play around for a bit, and to have the model there. I highly recommend that type of activity. Frequently.

Photograph of The Bean in Chicago at night
A slightly different angle on The Bean. I have no idea what the official name of the thing is…but I’m actually in this photograph. 😀
Photograph of Merina in front of Buckingham Fountain at night.
Our lovely model against the backdrop of Chicago, lit with my ICE light bravely wielded by Levi

I had a BLAST!!!! this year, and I met so many more awesome people! And I reconnected with some from the last couple of years, which was great! Facebook is around and all, but man, nothing beats face-to-face! I love me some good hugs!

Photograph of Levi uplit from the side.
Fellow classmate Levi. Which is just an anagram for “evil”. Which is how this light makes him look. But he’s not; he’s the nicest, most enthusiastic guy in the world! Hey, HE was holding the light! 😀

My advice to you, after the last couple years: whatever your field of interest, be it juggling, car washing, calligraphy, construction—when looking for workshops and seminars, try your absolute BEST to find education that is hands-on and participatory! As I said, videos are okay and all, but having an instructor watching you, offering real-time advice and instruction. THAT is when real learning happens!

Until next time, keep learning!