I've spent the past couple of days participating in Rick Sammon's "Croton Creative" photography workshop. I have to say this has been about the best workshop experience I've ever had. And I think that everyone else participating in the workshop would agree. Rick and Susan Sammon go out of their way to make sure that everyone has a good time and gets the most from their time in the workshop.
One thing that was unique in my experience was how important the interpersonal aspect of the workshop was to Rick. I think he took as much time getting to know everyone as he did teaching. We all left feeling as if we'd been friends for years. In a Facebook post yesterday, I commented that "I really had a blast, met some really great new friends, and I even learned a few things along the way."
A good bit of what I took away from the workshop was software related. Two things in Lightroom that had been evading me was using the graduated filter and the "paintbrush" tool. And, I had been avoiding Photoshop's merge to panorama automation tool like the plague.
Rick showed us just how easy it is to make panoramas, and to do some really fun effects like this quick one I did of our model, Paula (on participant did one with six Paulas. This particular image shows the Photoshop pano, obviously, but also use of the Lightroom graduated filter.
I also learned a lot about working with HDR software. In previous versions of this blog, I've written about HDR numerous times, mostly griping about "over-doing it" with the controls. I like the concept of HDR, and I will still try to avoid some of that "over cooked" look. But, I also learned that there are some times when a little bit of over doing it really works. The key, though is in learning to use the myriad of controls -- or rather, which tools to use in Photomatix or Nik HDR Efex Pro, and which tools to not use. As it turns out, there are many, many parts of making an effect HDR that are better left to Photoshop or Lightroom.
As with most workshop leaders, Rick does mention certain products that he recommends. He's a big fan of Nik software. I've historically not been a fan of Nik products, but I have purchased Snapseed, and find it a joy to use. I presently use a selection of plugins from Topaz, because I found them easier to use and less expensive to own (I can use my Topaz software on both PC and Mac with the same license. That said, Nik does offer some unique advantages over other, similar products, most notably their "control points" for local adjustments. I may consider adding the Nik tools to my arsenal once I get the money. Unlike many other workshop leaders, Rick does not bombard participants with a "you have to buy this to be any good" message. He'll certainly tell you that there are products that will make your life easier -- that's what Photoshop and Lightroom plug-ins are for -- but not that they're absolutely required.
Another thing that I've been doing for some time that Rick offered some structured insight to is balancing flash against ambient light -- making flash photographs that don't look like flash photographs. The techniques require having an assistant or two around and/or some specialized equipment (some, I already own), but the results can be really pleasing.
What I did get to experience, thanks to having Donna's camera available, was being able to use the Phottix Odin TTL wireless remote system. The Phottix Odin is very similar to the ubiquitous Pocket Wizard system, at a lower price. It allows you to control flash levels and ratio for up to three channels. The biggest deal to me is that Odin is available with the Minolta/Sony flash shoe (Nikon and Canon versions are also available). Someone else at the workshop commented that another advantage over the Pocket Wizard is that Odin works reliably. Having never used a Pocket Wizard, I can't comment on that, so I'll just pass that along for what it's worth. Phottix also have some more basic trigger systems available for those on a budget.
Now, here's my hard-sell "commercial." If you want are a photographer who wants to improve you craft, make the opportunity to join Rick on a workshop. He even conducts free photowalks, and while I haven't attended one, I'm sure they're amazing. You can find out about everything Rick Sammon at this web site: http://www.ricksammon.info and on his Facebook pages. Also, check out Rick's videos on Kelby Training (you can get a free trial on Kelby Training)