A Photography Workshop with La Roque
Are photography workshops worth it?
This is not a review. A review implies that I know what I’m talking about, which I do not; that I’ve done a few workshops and can make comparisons, which I did not. This was my first photography workshop. I’m also not a photographer, so I cannot comment on the wisdom provided. What I can say though, is how I feel about it. I can tell you how I experienced this particular workshop and whether I thought it was a worthwhile experience.
Gear, gear, gear… I’ve fallen in love again with photography, and it’s a costly partner. Well, not really, but you can spend as much as you care to spend. That’s for certain.
After buying enough gear to wonder if I should have regrets, I decided to buy, instead of yet another piece of photographic gear, a moment in time to learn from a photographer. I’m not new to the idea of paying money to learn from someone. I do this for aikido all the time, and spend much more than I have spent on photography gear or for the workshop. Yet, there is this intangible that comes from buying a workshop. Buying a lens, a camera body, leaves you with a tangible. A workshop is a fleeting moment in time. A meeting and an opportunity for reflecting, redirecting. It can leave nothing behind, except a modified me; exposed to a different light.
I chose to approach Patrick La Roque, a professional photographer based around Montreal. I greatly enjoyed his work and his thoughts on photography, and had already learned quite a bit just studying his work. Also, Montreal I was quite familiar with. So I booked a place, booked a bus ticket, and hopped on for a six-hour ride to risk, fuelled by trust. Finally, the workshop was not a group thing. I preferred that approach, mostly because I felt the workshop would adapt to where I was.
I’ve mentioned this already, but it’s worth repeating. To me, money spent on training, be it aikido or photography, is money well spent or well wasted depending on your mindset. I tend to make conscious efforts to place myself in a learning mindset. I know that if I take the time to get in the right frame of mind, I can get some lessons from most things. Most times that’s true, but I also know that the better I think I am at something, the harder it is to find that learning posture (aikidokas reading this will likely think to the concept of Shoshin, or beginner mind).
So with that in mind, I met with Patrick for a three-day workshop. One day with him shooting the scene while shooting the breeze, one day with my own doubts and limitations, and one day post-processing. Patrick does not describe himself as a teacher. He is a photographer. So to me, he was a mentor; an expert who told me what his eyes saw, but also let me watch him as he worked.
In discussing with him, we decided that I would try to only work with Fuji’s xf 35mm f/1.4 lens (50mm eq). I own an X-T2 camera (let me just say that I love the thing) and this lens was the one I had a harder time with, so why not get into it and out of that comfort zone.
So what do I make of it? Well, I’ve already said a lot, but then again, not really. So here’s my take. Again, this is no review, just what I got from the process.
Trusting and Risking
Just shoot what your eye latches on. Don’t think it. That is harder than it sounds for me. I often ask why I should take this. Why the 35mm? Why not? All auto or full manual? Well, what do I want to do? Work a scene or just react to scenes?
I would like to think that I trusted the process and took risks. At least, I felt I got out of my comfort zone, and discovered a few things about light, about happy accidents, about messy brambles. Like finding the cold spot by getting burned, except the burning is immaterial.
Constraints worked wonder. Oh how I learned to enjoy the 35mm, though I just did not care for it. It’s now the default on the camera. Isn’t that funny?
I tremendously enjoyed listening to Patrick’s take on things. At first, I wanted to listen, then I wanted to ask questions. Finally, as time stretched, I also expressed opinions. The good thing about photography is that it is all good. The bad thing is that most people who do photography have strong opinions about what’s good and what’s not. Patrick is all about experimentation. At the end, the image speaks or it does not, regardless of sharpness. Hearing that helped me a lot towards new ideas, new ways of thinking about photography and about taking photographs.
Not everything is taught explicitly. I would say that most of what I’ve taken away from the workshop were not explicitly formulated. It’s about the little things, about what happens when you leave a place, when something happens, when a light turns green… You can’t put this in books, at least because you don’t know what it is until you see it and it speaks to you. For that alone, workshops (and apprenticeships) cannot be replaced.
This was true for taking photographs, but also for processing. Processing images is not a straightforward process. It goes forward, then backwards; left, then right, then black and white, then right again. Brushing, colouring, comparing, sharpening. So many little gestures that are full of purpose. And pauses! Breaths held in time, letting a change set in.
Now, what I mean is not that random gestures come to something. This is what is hard to convey. You see the small changes. They look random, but they’re drifting, converging towards a potential that I could not see, but that good photographers do. Where I saw a mess, Patrick saw potential. It’s hard to learn that, but seeing it unfold for my own images changed my photography completely.
Long Story Short
Yes. And I would take another tomorrow, but I need to finish digesting the first. I know I’ve learned more than what I can incorporate. So I need a few clicks under my belt before I go for more.