Okay, not really. My real first thought was more like, “Holy Hell, I get to spend a week learning directly from Joe McNally with a small group of photographers, AND it involves shooting models the entire time? Heck, yeah!” It didn’t take much arm-twisting from a friend and fellow photographer to encourage me to sign up.
The Paso Robles Workshops are a fairly young venture run by Syl Arena and his awesome wife Amy. Homegrown and handspun, they have created something amazing in a picturesque town I’d never been aware of before. Paso Robles is a fantastic location, full of local characters, that wonderful small-town feel, but with a variety of cuisine and the best damn food concentrated in a four-block radius. When they say lunch is included with the workshop, do not expect sandwiches. A week in Paso Robles will be one of the best-fed weeks in your life. And let’s not forget about the wine! If you manage to recover from the hangover and food coma, you’re in for an incredible experience.
Joe McNally is a character himself. Humorous, down to earth, full of stories, and one of the best damn teachers out there. And he doesn't have a huge ego, though he has every right to one. If you don’t agree, then you haven’t looked at his work. Go look. Come back later. I don’t think anyone can understand how much knowledge and experience he truly imparts during one, short week without perusing his body of work. The guy is a quick-lighting genius. And he divulges all his tricks. He is open, honest, and generous with his feedback during critiques and in the field, and he never hesitates to answer questions in the same way.
I’m not sure I can fit everything I learned from Joe into one blog post, but here are the highlights:
- You can be the most celebrated photographer in the world and barely be scraping by financially. If you’re not in this photography business for the love of it, you’re going to have a very tough time when the going gets tough. You’ll have tough times even if you do love it, and hopefully that passion will see you through.
- You will never love every picture you take. Being self-critical is not a bad thing. It makes you try harder next time, or even in the next frame. And eventually you will get one shot that makes your heart soar and will obliterate for a while all the bad ones you had to take to get there. Keep striving and keep shooting.
- It’s okay to turn down the best-paying gig in the world if it goes against your practice as a photographer. Saying no can be even tougher than saying yes, but sometimes it needs to be done. Trying to balance the need to make a living with your love of photography can be difficult. Don’t let anyone talk you into a bad decision just because it pays well.
- The photos you love won’t always be the photos that are published. But it’s important to keep taking the photos you love.
- You never stop learning, no matter how good you are.
Oh, I also learned some amazing things about lighting in very tough situations with small flashes. Things that I had read and comprehended, but I was never able to put into practice successfully. Joe forced me to put them into practice, every day, until it all finally clicked. The biggest “aha!” moment for me was this:
Expose for ambient first! Then add one flash at a time.
I know it’s simple. I know I’ve read it elsewhere. But until I was forced to do it (and fail at it a few times in quick succession), I could never actually do it. By the end of the week, I was having a lot of fun trying to add lights quickly and creatively to a scene, and I wanted to do more. The workshop was so inspiring, I wish it could have gone on another week. It lit my mind up with ideas.
If you have a chance to learn from Joe—and his awesome assistant Drew Gurian—or if you’re debating about attending a Paso Robles Workshop, do it! You will have no regrets.
…except perhaps a slightly expanded waistline from all that fantastic food!