“Michele, how did you become such a good photographer?”
Budding photographers ask me this question all the time. Here is my honest answer. It didn’t happen overnight or over the internet or even in a book. While technology has given us new tools to start the education process in a way that did not exist for me the real reason my skills improved over time is hands on workshops, PPA schools and monthly meetings at the Professional Photographers of Greater NY group.
Spending a couple of days or even a week in a live hands on learning class is truly the BEST way to improve your craft. An amazing chemistry of friendship and inspiration comes together when you fill a room with eager students and a passionate instructor-
A personal bonding and the best friendships are formed. Some of my life long friends started off as classmates in a live workshop.
Sometimes five days was not enough for me to spend with a gifted teacher. I took Monte Zucker and Hanson Fong’s workshops five times each.... By the fifth time I showed up in their class they both said to me “What are you doing here? You don’t need me anymore.” But I did - there was always something more to learn from how they handled subjects, how they found the light.... No joke - I couldn’t figure out how Hanson used the palm of his hand to find directional light until the third week I spent with him and then the light bulb went on.
I crawled under their tripods to get the best view of what they were shooting - I was always wiggling my way to the front of the group so I could get a better view. I asked questions, brought my work for critique and gladly listened as they explained what I could do better.
Not only did I get an education from the instructors I studied with but also from the students I was learning with. Each person had a unique view point - in the evenings after class we sat around exchanging ideas about business and photography, we looked at each others work, gave suggestions based on what we learned that day. We ate, slept, breathed and lived photography for five straight days and when it was over tears were always shed as we said goodbye because each of knew that ours lives had been changed forever by the experience.
I can not tell you enough about how passionate I am about LIVE Hands on Workshops.
No instructor that is worth anything teaches for the money.... Believe me there is far more money to be made staying at home and photographing families, seniors, babies or weddings.
Great instructors teach for the LOVE of teaching. They leave their businesses, home and families to give back to an industry - to lift it up - to help those getting started improve their skills- to mingle with new people and to watch that light bulb in the eye of a new photographer light up when they realize they got it, they learned something new and their work will never be the same because of it.
Take the time, spend a little money (it will come back to you tenfold) - invest in your craft - learn from professionals who have been were you are now and can help you grow. Dive in to a few days where all you have to think about is your passion.
I promise you adding Live Workshops to your education is the BEST money you will spend on yourself this year.
I am truly sad to see schools dwindling and attendance going down. Some schools I attended for summer workshops had 10-15 instructors and 400 students. I miss those days - they were some of my best memories growing up in this beautiful, crazy, fun, passionate business.
If you truly want to take your love of photography to the next level, meet some of the best photographers in the business, exchange ideas with other photographers face to face (the old way of socializing) know that when you take out that credit card to pay for the class that you are making an investment in your work, your business, your family and your future. The cost of Summer Session at SCU is far far less than I paid for workshops more than 20 years ago. Honestly, you are losing money if you don’t sign up!
So, how did I become a good photographer.... EDUCATION with the best in the industry - by hiding under tripods, taking the same class over and over because I could never learn enough and investing in my career....
Invest- come spend some time with me this summer.... you won’t be sorry - I promise.
Check out the SCU site.... Meeting the instructors... Check out the amazing pricing -
Getting uncomfortable is the key to growth and success no matter what you are trying to do.
This year I will run the NYC Marathon (baring any natural or physical disasters). It has been a 15 year journey to this marathon. I will give you the back story to the marathon another time....
A few days ago I decided to run the marathon in NY for time. In light of the events in Boston I have a strong desire to run the marathon there next year. Like photographers, runners are a unique group of people. The running community is pretty amazing - supportive, encouraging, strong, determined and caring. I want to be in Boston next year to stand with my running community and say not only “Boston Strong” but “Running Strong”!
In my mind NY was going to be my last marathon but now I know it’s just a stepping stone to be a part of Boston next year.
In order to qualify for Boston at my age I will need to run a 3:45 or better race.
That is a fast pace. Much faster than I currently run. Running is about to get uncomfortable.
Today is Sunday. I set the alarm for 6am and only had one glass of wine last night instead of two knowing I wanted to run a little longer today.
I hit the snooze button a couple of time before getting up and ready to run. A pre-workout drink and a little coffee and by 7:10 I was out the door.
There is something special about Sunday morning runs.... The streets are quiet, cars on the road seem to drive a little slower, cyclists seem to be friendlier and I love knowing I am out running as most of the community is just getting up.
Here in Arizona 7am is often too late to go for a run. It heats up pretty quickly. I really should have been out the door by 6. I ran 7 miles today. It was hard to get going since my legs were already pretty sore from doing back to back legs at the gym. (Not my idea - my trainer made me do it). After about mile 1 my legs start to loosen up and I’m feeling pretty good. Another 1/2 mile later and I am comfortable running an easy pace.
Once I get into the “zone” my mind starts to redirect from “Oh please legs... work with me” to thinking about what is going on in my life.
I started thinking about my FB group and how incredible it’s been to get to know so many new people and to watch a community grow right in front of my eyes. It’s also interesting to me how many of those photographers are “uncomfortable” with their cameras. I don’t think I realized how many people rely on post production because they don’t really understand how to get it right in the camera.
Then my mind started wandering to running again... I wandered back to running because my pace had picked up, I was headed up hill and it was heating up pretty quickly. I was uncomfortable.
I realized in that moment that my first response was.... “walk for a minute - slow down the pace”. Then my next thought was “No, don’t slow down -power through it”.
Power through it? Push myself, muscle through it.... Pushing myself leads to being more uncomfortable which leads my mind to say “slow down...” Slowing down is not the way to learn to run faster... slowing down is my mind giving in before my body does. Giving in to uncomfortable doesn’t get me to the next level.
I refocus.... Then I start to repeat to myself “relax into it - relax in this uncomfortable space... don’t muscle through it - don’t power through it - embrace it.”
I start to relax, I’m still running hard but now my mind knows it’s okay to be in this uncomfortable place. It’s okay to experience being uncomfortable. Lean into it - relax and allow yourself to let this moment of uncomfortable become the new comfortable.
It’s working, I’m relaxing, I’m okay even though I am uncomfortable - the pace feels better - I can go a little bit faster... how far can I lean into uncomfortable today?
As my running starts to become comfortable again as I pass this mini plateau - my mind wanders back to photographers just learning to get comfortable with their cameras. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as a young photographer (I was 19 - that was 23 years ago) An elderly photographer at the time said “the camera should be an extension of your hand, the functions should be second nature to you.” At the time (being young and kind of stupid) I thought this man was crazy. It was all to zen for me at the time.... “become one with your camera Daniel-son....” (Karate Kid fans will understand)
Al Friedman, a master photographer who never had an “auto” camera or a computer was so right. He was a master photographer because he truly understood how to use the tool to create the image and he was a master printer because he knew how to make a perfect negative come to life in the darkroom.
When you are “frustrated” or ‘uncomfortable” lean into it. Take a deep breath and relax with the feeling - don’t walk away - keep going because on the other side of uncomfortable is a break through and a new level of comfortable.
It’s in that space of being okay with being uncomfortable that we truly grow.
Most people run away from that feeling of uncomfortable. When you learn to experience it - lean into it - relax with it... You grow in ways you didn’t know were possible before....
NY in 3:45 and Boston... here I come!
People are People
I am a runner. I will share my epic marathon story with you another day. Running, no matter the pace is great for the mind, body and spirit. It allows me to connect to the environment, think, zone out and lots of other things... I’m also a music lover and have numerous playlist on my iPod. From 80’s rock to new age to current pop and techno depending on my mood and how fast I want to run the playlist changes.
Tuesday morning I was out for a 4 mile run (in honor of Boston) and a remix of one of my favorite songs began to play. It was ironic because the song is by Depeche Mode “People are People” (Yes, I understand this totally dates me)
In light of the events the lyrics had a greater impact on my then usual. “People are people so why should it be that you and I get along so awfully”
I just don’t get it. We are all different, we are all unique and special in our own way - why do humans do such horrible things to each other? No need to answer - it’s a rhetorical question.
I will be training for NYC marathon again this year. I’m sure it will be an intense experience in light of Boston and the hurricane that shut it down last year. But still I will run - thousands of other runners will run and that is what the human spirit is all about.
We don’t give in - we don’t back down - we make mistakes - we keep going. We learn to put hurt and pain behind us and move on to a new experience.
These lyrics are profound - they moved me to think about choosing love over hate (it is a choice). I believe that hate is really fear. When you fear an unknown person, idea etc.. that fear my feel like hate. Take time to learn about what you may fear. It can change you and the way you see the world. Many in the running community are hurting right now because of an act of hate or fear....
My heart is with Boston-
“So we're different colours
And we're different creeds
And different people have different needs
It's obvious you hate me
Though I've done nothing wrong
I never even met you
So what could I have done
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man”
Creative Live Day 3
I can’t believe it has been 2 weeks since CL. Time really does fly!
Even though I was ready to get home to my family, I was sad on day 3. It was like my vacation at Disney was coming to end. The entire experience was so fun I really didn’t want it to end. In three short days the crew became friends - we had some great laughs and I liked working with everyone.
Tuesday night I was lucky enough to have dinner with Arlene Evans, (one of my favorite people) we were able to catch up and talk about the exciting growth of CreativeLive.
Day three was fun because I was able to use the living room as a background and utilize beautiful window light. We did some early morning rearranging of the room moving the sofa away from the wall and into the center of the room. The production assistants also helped me stage the bookcases and mantle with accessories.
Trudy and her family were on set bright and early. Trudy’s children were a bit on the shy side which is common with children. I had to work a little harder to get them to open up but once they did it was all good. It’s not easy for most people to be in front of one camera never mind four cameras and a big crew.
It was fun having Trudy go through the pre-portrait consultation, the session and the sale all in one day. In real life that doesn’t happen but it was fun to have the viewers see the entire process. It was so refreshing that she could pay cash for her order which came to $42 million......
Here are some of the images with Trudy and her family.....
The end of the day was more emotional than I was expecting. The responses I was getting from the viewers on the previous days were overwhelming and it was nice to know I was having an impact on photographers around the world.
I feel so passionate about my work, what it means to other people, the importance of photographs and the value of photographers it was hard to not be emotional.
Sue Bryce last week in a post said that nothing is really new... we are just passing on ideas and information that has been given to us. I totally agree. I love giving back what my mentors and teachers gave to me. It is an amazing feeling to see the “Ah Ha” moment in the eyes of someone who learned something new that will change their work for the better.
As I said at the end of the last day on CreativeLive I am inspired by my own 12 year old daughter Anna. She has had a passion for playing football since she was 9. She played 2 seasons of flag football and then asked if she could play tackle.
She didn’t care that it’s considered a “boy” sport or that she would be the only girl on the team. She didn’t worry what other kids or their parents would say... She loves to play football and that’s all she needs to live her passion.
Passion, desire, a willingness to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation to achieve a goal.... that’s what it takes to be special - to stand out - to defy perception - to find yourself and your own happiness.
Thank you again to the entire team at CreativeLive, Erin, Christine, Lisa and all of you who tuned into watch..... Thank you a million times for all the wonderful messages you sent too. Thanks to both families that posed as our models!!
Inspired by “The Voice”
I have watched “The Voice” since the beginning and I thought this season I could give it up. I DVR the show obviously to get past the commercials, skip the fluff and minimize my TV time.
Yesterday was a crazy windy rainy day in AZ (rain is so rare it makes you want to curl up on the couch and take a mental health day) -and sure enough the new season was recorded and I couldn’t help myself -
I was trying to figure out why I enjoy “The Voice” so much and endless reasons came to mind. The first being that I love music. SInce the age of seven I wanted to be on Broadway singing. I grew up in NY so Broadway was something I did a lot of. My first show was Annie and from that moment on I wanted to be on stage. My family will tell you that I am always singing... I can carry a tune but that’s about it.
Growing up I don’t think my mom and grandparents knew how to direct my passion or they didn’t have the resources so I was never had any kind of formal training. I tired out for Juilliard when I was 13. I sang “The Rose”.... I was so nervous and all the other kids trying out had been in signing and music lessons most of their life so I was crushed when the rejection letter arrived. (I know it’s not too late.... Believe me the thought has crossed my mind)
I however found my passion in photography and discovered the outlets to grow and develop a career. I think my love of the stage is one of the reasons I love to teach and present programs. Someday during a platform program I’m going to breakout into a melody of Broadway hits... (I need to find a way to work that into my program)
The similarities in music and photography started to become so clear to me and it confirmed why I love watching this show so much.
Performing on “The Voice” means overcoming fears, having talent, wanting to be mentored by industry greats and watching talented mentors excited about bringing up new talent.
Then I started to realize that genres of music are a lot like styles of photography - they are virtually endless.
Musically you might like - Country, Rock, Pop, Hiphop, Rap, Techno, Indie Folk, Singer/Songwriter, R&B, Metal, Opera, Classical, Alternative, Show Tunes... and the list goes on.
Photographically you might like - Traditional Wedding, Photojournalistic Wedding, High fashion Wedding, Landscape, Wildlife, Infant Portraits, Lifestyle Portraits, Traditional Portraits, Studio or Environmental, Commercial, Fashion, HS Seniors, Macro, Children or Family photography..... again the list goes on.
You probably like more than one type of music and more than one type of photography.
No one style or genre is better than another they are just different. We sometimes forget this in photography.....
Some of the comments that Adam Levin makes on “The Voice” really move me. He is an incredible talent but when he hears something in a new artist that he is not capable of he recognizes it and appreciates it.
He said to one contestant yesterday “I wish I could do what you do with your voice, I sing like a high pitched girl and would love to have the range you do.”
I love that about him. He is capable of acknowledging different talents in others without feeling threatened by it. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all operate that way.
Another aspect of the show that I love is the coaching and mentoring. These new comers to the music industry are so eager to learn and to be coached to become better at their passion. One contestant said to Usher “I want to learn so much from you.”
We have so many new photographers in our industry that want to learn from those of us who have been around a while....
It’s the circle of the industry - I was mentored therefore I must mentor so that someday you will mentor too!
Last year I wrote a book. When the publisher approached me about it I had been slowly pulling back from photography and heading into a new career in health and fitness. After 25 years in the industry I felt I was ready for a change and that perhaps I was done in the photography world. I think I had forgotten what I still had left to give. I just assumed that everyone already knew what I know and that I was a bit outdated.
So, when I agreed to write the book it was with the thought that this would be a great way to close this chapter of my life (pun intended). The plan was to write the book and then move on.
Funny thing happened on the way to publishing..... Writing the book redirected me right back to where I was supposed to be along - giving back to an industry that had given so much to me. I love to teach, inspire and motivate photographers to grow as artists and business people. I realized that I was not outdated... I was really a classic oldie with a great base of knowledge and experience that I learned from great mentors. Mentors I would never consider outdated - I consider them legends - hall of famers!
Looking again to the music industry I started pairing up well know photographers to well know music artists that remind me of each other. Not one better than the other but all uniquely different....
Monte was the Frank Sinatra of his time -Timeless, classic, smooth and untouchable.
Don Blair and Dean Martin....
Hanson Fong is like Mozart - Classic and flowing.
Jerry Ghionis is like Bono - Classic, iconic, edgy, rock and roll
Doug Gordon is like Pittbull - Gritty, edgy, outspoken
Skip Cohen is like the Clive Davis of photography (able to see amazing talent and make things happen in an industry)
Bambi Cantrell to me is like Christina Aguilera - Classically trained yet edgy and confident.
Clay Blackmore and Michael Buble - Young, passionate yet timeless
Vicki Taufer reminds me of Cobie Caillat - Fresh, fun, easy going and timeless
Anne Geddes and Celine Dion are the perfect match and collaborated on a project together.
Annie Leibovitz is like Etta James to me. Timeless, classy, distinct and raw
Joe Buissink can only be compared to John Lennon - ahead of his time, peaceful, thought provoking, elegant, a master of the craft.
When musicians talk about range, runs, pitch, falsettos, tone, high and low notes... they are talking about the basics.... The basics of music that every artist must know before they start creating their own sound.
When photographers talk about the basics we mean - basic lighting patterns, understanding posing and bodies, white balance, exposure, lens usage, camera heights, facial angles, the color wheel, highlight and shadow.... and the list goes on.
These are basics every photographer must have before they can “break the rules” -and create a style of their own.
We can not escape a proper foundation no matter what we do in life. From music to sports, to medicine and yes photography too. We need to build on a foundation of basics. Even the most raw and gifted talent needs to start with a foundation of basics in order to fully utilize their raw talent and bring it to it’s full potential.
We can not expect to fast track our way to success without a solid foundation, without education, passion, a willingness to be humble and learn from others and without mentors, true mentors that are interested in watching young artists grow, mentors who want to give of their time for the betterment of an entire industry.
One of the things I loved most about Monte was his desire to not only teach but his deep passion for learning. We all become better teachers by continuing to grow and learn from others as well.
That is the message that Adam Levin leaves me with.... “I love and appreciate a talent or skill you have that I do not. How can I help you grow and how can I learn from you?”.
“The Voice” - I love the show for the talent, the dreams, the personal stories, the mentors, the passion, the determination, the diversity- I love it all - Just like I love photography for all the same reasons. I’m glad I took a step back for a little while. I believe everything happens for a reason.... if you are tuned into to yourself the reasons will show themselves.... Just like the reason I was asked to write a book was to bring me back full circle to my passion of teaching and photography.
What kind of musician an I....? I know who I’d like to be like.... but I’m not sure it’s my place to say.
You probably have your own pairings... Write them down - what do admire about those artists? What would like to emulate about those you admire? How can you grow and is there someone who can learn something from you?
This is what a rainy day in AZ gets you!
I believe in photography - but more than that I believe in photographs. Printed photographs are tangible. We can hold on to them, pass them around, frame them and hang them on a wall. We can make albums to be treasured and looked through by children for years to come.
We can’t touch a file and the truth is we don’t know the longevity of a file or if we will even be able to find it someday. A digital file is a bit of a mystery - if it’s lost, where did it go. If a drive is damaged what happens to the files? How many people truly back up all their images?
What happened to disc cameras, eight track tapes, Walkman's and other technology we thought would last forever? What will our children be looking at in 20 or 30 years
Photographs are special - files are not!
I believe in printing my work professionally. I believe my work is more than a screen saver. Years of studying and perfecting my craft comes down to more than sending files via the internet.
The photographs I create for my clients are not only precious to my clients but they are precious to me. It is my work, a lifetime of work that deserves to be printed.
Photographs are passed on to children and grandchildren.
Can you imagine a floppy disk, a DVD or a flash drive sitting in a frame representing your family portraits?
Like many photographers I have struggled with bending to the needs or wants of a clientele that is looking for files. But this is what I discovered over the last year - It makes me uncomfortable in the center of my gut to hand over digital files no matter the price. Clients have told me that the DVD is still sitting on a desk and they should have had me make the prints in the first place because they never have time to get to it.
I wonder about those files that were sold.... How were they printed? Did the client crop it to tight? Is the color correct? Did they attempt to alter the image? It troubles me because I put so much of myself into my work. And, I have to wonder... am I really acting as a professional and serving my client the best way I know how to by simply selling intangible files that may never be printed?
For some, it’s easy.... take some photos, edit them, burn them on a disk or flash-drive and make a few bucks. I don’t and can’t operate that way - I care too much about my work, my clients and future generations that might have no photographs because I wanted to make fast and easy money selling files.
I’m taking a stand! I am a photographer! I am without a doubt passionate about creating photographs - real pictures - printed on professional papers - and made into beautiful albums. I want your children, their children, my children and future grandchildren looking at and holding onto photographs not the latest greatest gadget.
It has taken deep soul searching, a lot of thought and time to define the value of my work. I am taking a stand against selling files and taking a strong stand for printing my photographs.
If being a business owner and photographer today means the current market will force me to sell files not photographs and to compromise my work and my values - well then, I’m out.
But, that won’t happen! I know it won’t because I know there are people and clients who value my work, understand and respect the value I have placed on my work and actually want photographs.
I am Michele Celentano , a professional photographer - I believe in and value photography and the images we leave for our children. My work and your portraits will be professionally printed to my standards, they will be available to frame and look at in albums... The portraits I create for you will not become a part of your screen saver slide show. I have worked too hard and taken too much pride in my work for that to happen. I will not take the risk that in 20 years we will be a generation of lost photographs.
There I stand!
CreativeLive Day 2
The Pavlatos Family-
A few weeks before CL, Victoria emailed me to let me know that she and her family would be my models for my workshop. I had let my producer (Malika) know that I would love to work with a large family. In my mind I thought more along the lines of grandparents, children and grandchildren so I was really surprised when my large family turned out to be a Victoria, Timothy and their nine amazing children.
Now, I have to say I am old school - Brooklyn - Italian when it comes to kids, disciple, manners and politeness. I think I have figured out that when you have that many children they need to be well behaved and not spoiled in order to have peace and harmony in life.
Without a doubt these 9 children blew me away with manners, politeness and personality! I loved them all. Having a “normal” family portrait session done with a family of this size is tough on everyone, never mind being on set all day with 3 video cameras along with my camera and an entire crew around. This most certainly could have become a complete chaotic mess. The truth is, it was one of my most enjoyable portrait sessions EVER!
If Victoria is ever looking for one of her children that appear to missing - I took one. The only problem with that is I wouldn’t be able to decide which one to keep - they are all amazing!
The house we were using as our location was a dream for creating out door portraits. Everywhere I turned there was another beautiful spot to use. The only problem - I was a bit limited to how far I could go because of the camera wires and mic range. I’m not used to being restricted and I had to get used to that quickly. I also had to be done in the front of the house early enough to let the food delivery guys pass through without getting them on camera. It is so crazy what goes on behind those cameras.
Teaching a workshop is always fun for me. I really pushed the ladies who attended in a way they have never been pushed and I was nice enough to do it on camera. For me, the best way to learn something is to do it myself. I can watch someone do something 100 times but I won’t really get it until I actually do it! Posing is a skill that needs to be learned hands on. Christine, Lisa and Erin were great sports as I put them each on the spot to pose different combinations of groups.
Seeing how to puzzle people together while helping them feel comfortable in front of the camera is tough if you don’t have a lot of experience. It is also helpful when you are learning something new to actually make mistakes. That’s how we learn, we make mistakes and then learn how to correct them. It’s pretty rare that anyone can master something new after only one attempt.
A while back I read that it takes doing something 10,000 times to become a true expert at it. Practice, practice, practice.....
Anyway, the images I am showing you here are straight out of LR4 with nothing done to them except the logo and resizing. A few have been cropped to 8x10 since that is how I intended them to be when I shot them.
Even though we were shooting at what I would call the worst time of the day for portraits , we were lucky enough to have an overcast day or as I like to call it “God’s Softbox”. I still would not recommend this time of day for portraits simply because the main source of light is still over head creating raccoon eyes. Using a reflector under the faces helped to eliminate that problem but I still prefer late afternoon low directional light. The point is we made it work - camera wires, overhead sun, lunch deliveries and NINE children ranging in age from 6 months to 17 years.
Tuesday seemed to fly by. Before I knew it I was being flagged down by a white board announcing I had 10 minutes left. When you are having fun photographing a family time passes faster than you know it - however when you are sitting on an airplane in front of a crying baby and a guy next to you that stinks - 3 hours feels like a lifetime! (I’m just saying)
After lunch we headed out back to continue working with the Pavlatos family using a different location. There was a great deck off the house that provided beautiful open shade (until of course God decided to test me by yanking my softbox away and left me with bright direct sunlight). I kept inching closer to the building in order to stay in the open shade but by the time the afternoon break came around I insisted on moving back to the front of the house where I had much better light.
You can see how many different combinations of portraits we created with this family and honestly I could have kept going. The light was PERFECT about an hour after we wrapped up. However, from standing poses to sitting on the ground, using an arm chair and even a rock the possibilities for creating images were endless. Not to mention the EZ Step blocks from Hanson Fong.... I’m pretty sure I could not live without them.
In the end I was thrilled with the images we created on day 2. I had so much fun with Victoria, Timothy, Dre, Isaiah, Tatiana, Gabby, Anasia, Jordie, Tasso, Noodles and Evie (please forgive me if I spelled a name wrong - I’m thrilled I remember them all - but then again they are pretty unforgettable)
I’m looking forward to having the family over for dinner when they are in AZ visiting.... You know that is going to be fun!!!
Day 2 is a wrap and I’m already sad I only have one day left at CL.....
Tomorrow I will wrap up day 3....
Thanks for reading....