Foundation Workshop: Leaning to shoot with my heart

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(Photo by Dexter Lo)

On our last night of Foundation Workshop, after my slideshow had screened in front of the 50 some-odd students and staff, I got up and said, “I knew Foundation would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be THAT hard!” And as I finished up my speech and walked back to my team, they embraced me as I cried and tried to figure out exactly what had happened to me in the past week, because it had been a process both exciting, impactful, but also overwhelming.

On the surface, Foundation Workshop sounds simple. Exceptional wedding photographers gather in sleepy Glen Rose, Texas every year in January to not only become better their craft, but to also become better people. The Foundation Workshop site describes the workshop like this: “Under the guidance of experienced instructors, workshop students will explore and develop their photojournalistic skills through the process of shooting and editing a complete photo story of real subjects. Students will be challenged to approach their real assignments creatively and encouraged to shoot passionately while establishing a foundation for learning the skills and perspective of a photojournalist.”

At first, the idea of shooting passionately and from the heart struck me as a bit hippy-dippy. As we spent our first day doing listening exercises and discussing how we must truly love our subjects in order to capture them in a meaningful way, I couldn’t help but feel a little skeptical about the process. I admittedly focused more on the talks about composition, light, and moment, but still promised myself to keep my mind open while I captured my assignment as we had been asked to listen to our instructors, take to heart what they asked for us to do, and to check our egos at the door so that we could see and accept change in ourselves.

After being assigned my team leader and mentor (the amazing Erin Chrisman and Craig Fritz) and my teammates (the fabulous Erika Mann, Susan Aalbers-Eikenaar, and Gary Nevitt), we bonded over truth and dare and received our assignments. I was assigned to photograph a family with three children for two full days. It had been years since I had photographed a family (I currently only photograph weddings, engagement sessions, and a few seniors), but I had always wanted to do a day in the life session and I was ready for a new challenge.

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(Our team bonding in delightful ways! Both photos by Dexter Lo)

I may have been nervous as I drove to meet my family at 7 in the morning, but Alisha, Johnny, Evangeline, Gabriel, and Nathaniel made me feel right at home. I spent the first day getting to know them as I tried to figure out how to capture the love that they all shared for each other. Craig and Erin immediately honed in on my weaknesses when they watched me shoot during their visits and suggested that I slow down and wait for the right moment to occur, so I continually reminded myself to slow my pace down and observe. They also pushed me to shoot more with my 35mm lens and get closer to everyone. I’ve always loved shooting with longer lenses, like the 85mm, so I can put some space in between my subjects, so it was hard to abandon that practice and get very close to the family, but once I did I felt like my images felt more intimate and impactful.


(Photo by Craig Fritz)

After finishing shooting at about 8pm, the entire team reviewed the images they had captured until 2 in the morning. The critique went better than I expected. While there was a lot I needed to work on for day two, the critique came from such a place of caring that it never felt particularly painful or unkind, which was very appreciated.

The second day I was ready to make some magic happen. I reviewed my notes prior to leaving the hotel and planned images I wanted to create. But nothing seemed to go right and a lot of what I had just learned went out the window as I began to panic when things didn’t go my way. My ego emerged as I began to worry that I wouldn’t capture the images I needed for my slideshow, which I really wanted to be awesome. This moment of panic neatly coincided with Craig’s visit, in which I admitted to him, rather tearfully, that I was worried I wasn’t getting it. He hugged me and told me I could do it, which calmed me down a little. Once again, I tried to place myself in locations where I thought a composition would be good and wait for the right moment to happen, and while it was hard to be patient, there were times where everything came together and I felt like I was not only seeing the moment through my camera lens, but feeling it.

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(Photo by Dexter Lo)

Erin visited me in the last hour when I was beginning to feel frazzled once again and patiently guided me as Alisha and Johnny put the kids to sleep. It wasn’t until that very last hour that I felt that things began to click in my head, and I created some of my favorite images then and there.

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(Photo by Erin Chrisman)

The slideshow night was an emotional one– as I saw my fellow classmates share their incredible photos they created on their assignments and talk about the process afterwards, I kept reflecting on my own journey. I wanted to feel like I had become a new photographer overnight, but I felt like that really hadn’t happened. I know my work improved over those two days, but not as much as I initially expected.  I realized, though, as I was boarding my plane to come home, that I needed to appreciate my journey and realize that the tools I have learned are going to help me create better images, not only for my clients but for myself. It was in that moment that I came to really appreciate my Foundation journey, even though it wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be. Now I am excited that if I work hard enough that change will continue to come, and I love that Foundation has given me the tools to be open to that upcoming change. And I’m going to spend the rest of winter and spring working hard so that my clients this year will receive images that are more honest, intimate, and thoughtful.

Foundation was hard, as I mentioned after my the slideshow, but it wasn’t hard in the ways I imagined it would be. I thought I would be critiqued ruthlessly and that the difficulty would come from that aspect of the workshop, but everything Erin and Craig said, no matter how critical, came from such a genuine place of caring I never felt that portion of the day was hard to bear. The hardest part of Foundation, no doubt, came from having to face the parts of myself that were holding my photography back, and having to acknowledge that these places would need to be tended to before I could expect significant change.

Thank you, Huy, for creating such a wonderful workshop that has helped me to see the world with new eyes and an open heart. Thank you for my team for picking me up when I was down and believing in me. And to all the other friends I made at Foundation (there are too many for me to name them all here)– I love you all and hope to see you soon.

Before I end this post, these are the two images I decided to share from my experience at Foundation.  I chose them specifically because I slowed down when I created them, found good light, chose my compositions carefully and waited for the right moment to happen.  These photos feel like my biggest successes!

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Actually, let’s end this post with this photo, taken before we began our journey.  We visited a local dinosaur park, and felt, as photographers, that it was essential we recreate the “running away from a dinosaur” wedding party photo that was all the rage last season. Thanks to Gary (who I didn’t know yet would be on my team!) for creating this majestic image.  It reminds me of who we were before we went through this whole process and the progress we’ve made :).


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