Shooting 301: Composition and Creativity

Wow, okay… I’m going to apologize ahead of time for this overwhelming post. I’ve just finished up the most amazing workshop I’ve ever taken… Shooting 301: Composition and Creativity taught by Sarah Wilkerson at Clickin Moms. You’ve heard me speak of it numerous times over the last six weeks and I’ve even shared a few images along the way. But it’s hard to put into words just how life-changing and impactful this class was. I knew it was going to be good having been lucky enough to snag a spot… it sold out within 20 minutes of going live for registration!

Here are the class details from the CMU page:

what we cover:
This course covers preliminary artistic considerations that take into account your vision as an artist and the way that your images are perceived by your audience. The course will cover perspective, occupying the frame, compositional guides, use of light, framing, scan paths, and more. There are four lesson/assignment sets, but the material is extensive and rather intense, so we’ll take a break half-way through to catch up / take a breather / just discuss. The instructor will remain available to you for all five weeks and will hold a webcam based “office hour” for live Q&A, demonstrations, and discussions during break week.

Week One: Basic Compositional Considerations
Week Two: Rule of Thirds – and Alternatives
Week Three: BREAK/Catch-Up
Week Four:
 Photography’s Essential Conflict

Week Five: Guiding the Visual Journey (shooting and processing)

what you get:
  • four sets of upper-level lessons and assignments
  • detailed, personalized guidance every week
  • constructive feedback from Sarah and one or more teaching assistants on each week’s assignment
  • daily exercises for peer-to-peer discussion
  • provocative, brain-stretching material that will drive you right out of your artistic rut
  • webcam based “office hour” for live Q&A, demonstrations, and discussions during break week

There were 30 of us in class and some of us knew each other already. We starting chatting in the workshop forum well before class officially started because we were so excited. I think we broke a record with how many posts we made… well over 10,000. We were so immersed in the material and the daily exercises that we all got to know each other very well. So not only did I learn new photographic techniques but I gained some amazing new friends too. I took nearly 2000 photos in March and April; some of those were for clients, but I submitted over 60 photos for this class for the daily assignments and weekly critiques. I’m not going to share ALL of them, but most of them. <giggle> Sorry!

Week One

Week one focused on compositional considerations and being deliberate with our shooting.

1. This first image is the one I ended up submitting for my weekly critique. Sarah really liked this image… the lines, the visual scan, the perspective. It’s one that I also added to my portfolio!

Austin lifestyle photographer dog Labrador home

2. Dominic waiting to go to school. He’s playing his DS while sitting on the curb with his backpack on. The sun was just rising.

Austin lifestyle photographer boy black and white

3. This is a silhouette of my son watching the sunrise from our back deck. This image made Flickr’s Explore page!

Austin lifestyle photographer silhouette boy sunrise

4. Dominic had been really sick the week before class started and has been getting sick quite a bit this school year. We saw an Infectious Disease specialist who ordered some tests including an abdominal ultrasound because he’s been having a lot of belly pain. I was setting up a self-portrait when the doctor called with his u/s results. I was shocked to hear that Dominic’s kidneys were enlarged and his right kidney showed two dilations inside of it. I captured this image right after I got off the phone, learning that we would have to see a Urologist and get more tests. He has been ill again since then and will most likely end up with PFAPA Syndrome as a diagnosis.

Austin lifestyle photographer self-portrait woman home

5. I find a lot of comfort in shooting macro, so to ease my worry, I went hunting for something pretty to shoot. It had just finished raining and I love how you can see the water droplets on the rose and the leaves on this rose bush in my backyard.

Austin macro nature photographer rose flower

6. Suspended from the tree in our front yard by a delicate silk worm thread was this tiny seedling.

Austin macro nature photographer seedling suspended

7. Later in the week, I went over to Mill’s Pond in our neighborhood and shot this self-portrait sitting on the dock. I think I’m being terribly brave sharing this because I’m at my heaviest weight ever and extremely self-conscious about it.

Austin lifestyle portrait photographer nature self-portrait pond lake dock duck

8. Jenny sitting in the window seat of my mom’s house. This was a complicated shot in the setup and editing.

Austin lifestyle portrait photographer girl woman window silhouette

9. I found a snail and gently placed him on our sidewalk. I always talk to the critters that I photograph, thanking them for allowing me to capture them in a photo.

Austin macro nature photographer snail

10. Jenny was so helpful to me during this class. I got this image late in the week.

Austin lifestyle portrait photographer girl woman flowers wildflowers nature

Week Two

The second week focused the Rule of Thirds and alternatives.

11. I found a small garden snake hanging out in our flower bed and put it in our little habitat. Love this reflection!

Austin macro nature photographer snake

12. Jenny was smitten with this little snake and I got several good shots with them together. I love how her nail polish is the very same color as the snake and the excellent diagonal lines I got.

Austin macro nature photographer snake

13. I went to the Capitol Building to get some architectural shots of the rotunda… this one was my favorite.

Austin architecture photographer State Capitol rotunda

14. Who knew eggs could be interesting? Some of my classmates said this one could be a magazine ad for Real Simple. 🙂

Austin food photographer eggs

15. My sweet Pickle. Oh I how I love his blue eyes!

Austin child lifestyle portrait photographer boy

16. I will be adding this black and white one of Dominic to my portfolio too. I’ll be updating my blog header and blog portfolios with new photos soon!

Austin child lifestyle portrait photographer boy black and white

17. We took the kids out for some wildflower photos near the end of the week. I got this one of Dominic playing on the playscape at Old Settler’s Park.

Austin lifestyle photographer boy park slide

18. Be still my heart! This was a candid, unposed moment between Jenny and Dominic. Even though they are 14 years apart, they are best friends and love each other so much. <3 I had Sarah critique this image and she suggested that I step back and frame them further toward the right. She would’ve liked to see Jenny’s arm wrapping around Dominic.

Austin lifestyle portrait photographer siblings boy girl wildflowers hugging

Break Week

During break week, we created, updated, and polished our portfolios, then reviewed each other’s work. Wow, what an amazing journey that was. Seeing everyone’s best images was inspirational and getting feedback on what worked and what didn’t in my own portfolio was incredibly valuable.

Week Three

During the third week, we focused on dramatic light and this was definitely everyone’s favorite week. I realized that I tend to shy away from dramatic light and I learned so much about how to find it, embrace it, and process it.

19. My mom’s (and Jenny’s) cat, Mystery. I had a much harder time finding dramatic light when the light source was bright, so this was good practice for me. What I love about this image is that you can faintly see the screen behind Mystery in the window and the light is reflecting the window sill in his eyes.

Austin pet photographer cat feline

20. I went out searching for a night scene and ended up at Mozart’s, a coffee house on the Colorado River. I focused on the woman on the far left talking with her companion.

Austin street photographer night urban

21. Dominic was kind enough to help me out one evening just before bed. There is a patch of light by our front door created by the porch light in our hallway. I had him stand in it for this one. I just have to add that he broke my heart this month by insisting on his first buzz but. I really miss his hair! Wah!

Austin child lifestyle photographer black and white boy

22. I had him sit in that patch of porch light for this shot. Because it was so dark, I had to manually focus and missed focus in this one, but I didn’t delete it because something about the image really appealed to me. I think it’s seeing him slightly blurry at the end of the hall feels like we are peeking at him.

Austin child lifestyle photographer boy DS

23. Laying in bed playing his Nintendo DS… the light from his game was the only light source for this shot.

Austin child lifestyle photographer boy DS

24. The next day I focused on using Anna for a few images. I shared this one for The Way I View: Friendship for the April challenge.

Austin child lifestyle photographer black and white girl doll

25. Here Anna is watching YouTube on my desktop computer. I love her expression in this one!

Austin child lifestyle photographer black and white girl computer

26. Charlie, my Labradoodle, even cooperated for a couple of practice shots. These aren’t the best images of him, but I only used the flashlight app on my iPhone to light him.

Austin pet photographer dog Labradoodle fur canine

27. Charlie is looking at my quizzically, wondering why I keep shining my bright phone light at him. I wish I had stopped down a little bit more on my aperture to get his nose in focus too. But you can see how all of this practice is valuable, yes?

Austin pet photographer dog Labradoodle fur canine

28. Dramatic evening shadows in my dining room.

Austin architecture photographer dining room

29. Dominic sitting on the sidelines at Anna’s Special Olympics soccer practice in the late evening sun.

Austin child lifestyle photographer black and white boy

30. A lone red poppy straining toward the sun.

Austin macro nature photographer red poppy

31. My mother/daughter figurine that Curtis gave me for our first Mother’s Day together. It represents me and Jenny.

figurine black and white

32. A self-portrait of my insecurity, trying to stay hidden in the shadows.

Austin lifestyle photographer self-portrait

33. My most dramatic self-portrait yet. I’ve already shared this image, its story and symbolism, in my April Self-Portrait thread. It’s called “Reaching into the Darkness” and this was my week three critique image. Sarah called it soulful.

Austin lifestyle photographer black and white self-portrait

34. We have a young squirrel that has adopted our yard as her home. We’ve named her Baby and each week, she gets closer and closer to us. I have a whole series of photos I will share soon with her but this one caught my eye for this week’s assignment. She sits in the dark shadow under the bush studying me.

Austin wildlife photographer nature squirrel black and white

35. This was hands-down the image that got the most comments from my classmates. Many said it looked like a painting of Jenny. I used a dim closet light and an app on my iPad called SoftBox Pro.

Austin portrait lifestyle photographer black and white woman girl

36. I closed all of the shades and curtains in Dominic’s room to get this dramatic afternoon light from one side window to light Jenny. I love this image.

Austin portrait lifestyle photographer black and white girl woman

Week Four

We weren’t required to shoot anything new in the last week of the course, as we were focusing on post-processing and guiding the viewer’s eye. I pulled some older images to edit and took a few new shots also.

37. I did a series of images at our local grocery store focusing on leading lines. I had to make several phone calls to get permission to shoot there and I got some strange looks setting up my tripod and gear but it was fun!

Austin photographer grocery store

38. I’ve always loved this yoga lamp of my mom’s and thought it might make a visually interesting subject.

Austin photographer lamp black and white

39. This was an older image… I think I took it in early March. I nearly deleted it because I just didn’t quite pull off what I had in my head. BUT after looking at it with fresh eyes and with the knowledge gained in class, I edited it anew and really liked the result. This was my week four critique submission and Sarah really liked it also. She mentioned the stacked framing (frame within a frame within a frame), the reflection (that I’m actually not in the image at all, I’m quite removed, only seeing the back of my reflection), and that the viewer can insert themselves into the story and create their own emotional experience. I left the figurine in because it’s personal to me and the story behind my image could be one of watching for a lost child, thinking of a grown child that’s left home, or many other variations. I would be interested to hear if it evoked an emotional response in you as well.

Austin lifestyle portrait photographer silhouette self-portrait reflection

I ended up submitting two self-portraits for critiques during this class which is so interesting because I hate being in front of the camera. I do like challenging myself, however, and I am always a willing subject. 😉 I even got my March Self-Portrait during this class!

40. I took a few other photos that didn’t quite meet the daily assignment requirements but were still good photos, like this macro shot of raindrops on a rose petal.

Austin macro nature photographer rose petal raindrops

There was so much more to this workshop than I can ever share here. Even with all of these images, it’s only a small taste of what class was like. Sarah’s critiques are incredibly detailed, insightful, honest, and deep. The cost of the workshop is worth those alone. There were several TAs that also provided feedback as well as some alumni helpers. And my classmates! We were incredibly supportive of each other as we stumbled through the lessons. There is such value in slowing down, shooting deliberately, and shooting daily. It was intense, I won’t lie. It added a layer of stress that led to many late nights but I would do it again in a heartbeat. My approach each and every time I pick up my camera is drastically different now. If I don’t feel the shot, I’m not taking it. If I can see a way to improve the shot before releasing the shutter, I will take the extra time to do it. I’ve heard previous graduates of this class rave about it and I thought to myself that it couldn’t be all that great… well it is!

Thanks for following along my long, detailed journey into Shooting 301: Composition and Creativity taught by Sarah Wilkerson at Clickin Moms. I numbered the photos so that if a particular image jumped out at you for any reason, you could refer to it by number. I would love any additional feedback… what struck you, what moved you, what spoke to. And I’m always open to CC, so please feel free to share your thoughts on what you could see improved. I highly encourage anyone that is interested in photography to join Clickin Moms, anyone who is already a member to upgrade to Lifetime status, and everyone to take this class! It will change your life. <3

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