Monday, November 7, 2016

SSA13/SoCal - Sports Shooter Academy Highlights & Laguna Beach

It's been a whirlwind last few days. It's doubtful I can recapture everything, but here are some of the highlights of a great experience in SoCal.

Sports Shooter Academy. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Sure, I've known others who have attended in the past, and had spoken highly of their experience... and it was mostly those reviews which led me to apply in the first place. But the experience... wow.

Wednesday was the orientation/presentations/tradeshow day - that was fun and quite informative in its own right. But Wednesday was the day to get down to the nitty-gritty and start working. Wednesday morning I started by attending the remote camera session back at the hotel. The primary reason that I went was because the grouping of sports that I selected that day left me with the morning available. And although I had no intention of working with remote cameras this time around, it was a neat session to sit in on to simply become familiar with the equipment involved how it all works - as well as when/where to best use a remote setup. It's something I might consider attempting in the (not to distant) future.

That afternoon, I was slated to go to the Velo Center - a velodrome in Carson, CA to photograph the practicing cycling teams. This was the one event that I signed up for during this workshop that I hadn't seen or attempted before. I was anxious to give it a shot. I took the longest lenses I had (which ended up being a not so great decision), and I shot from all around the facility. Above, where the spectators sit... and below, inside the track... and around the apron of the track itself. I quickly discovered that the long glass was difficult to work with in this facility, and wished I would have brought my wider angle lenses. We stayed at this venue for 4 hours before returning back to the hotel for the first of 3 edit & critique sessions. Once back to the hotel, we selected our favorite images of the session... edited/cropped them... and then sat with various instructors - professionals in their fields - and they told us what they thought, what they would do differently, helped to see pictures within the picture... and gave the best insight as possible in how to move forward to improve. This, truly, was the most valuable experience. However, Wednesday night I was tired. I was frustrated. I didn't necessarily like what I heard from the instructors that night. I wasn't inspired, and I didn't really *like* anything I'd picked. Deciding to table the photo upload until the next morning, I went back to the AirBnB house feeling pretty defeated.

The next morning, I physically felt better. But I remembered how "bad" the images looked the night before, and that made me less and less excited to go back and subject myself to this for a 2nd... let alone a 3rd day. But I was in this for the long haul, and it was time to face the music. So back to the hotel I went for the morning edit/critique session. I looked at the 3 images I had picked the night before to submit for the daily slideshow... and to my relief, they didn't look nearly as bad as they did the previous night (sleep helped). So I uploaded them for the slideshow.

The daily slideshow showcased everyone's 3 best images. It gave all of the instructors (and the students) the opportunity to see everyone's images, and make comments (good or bad) as they saw fit. The instructors then selected the 3 best of each day, and those would be added to the next 2 days and then a 'best of show' would be selected at the end of the workshop, and winners would receive pretty swanky prizes. Some people got great feedback this way, others got comments about what should have been done differently... and sometimes images got no comments at all, either way. My first 3 images fell into the 'no comment' category - all 3 of them. I wasn't sure what to make of that. I wasn't upset... but I wasn't thrilled that I couldn't garner any sort of response. But I reasoned that maybe no response was better than negative response... and I moved on.

Thursday I was scheduled to shoot water polo and softball - both of which I have done before. Not much water polo, but I had seen it a few times. I'd done a fair amount of softball, and was looking forward to that. It was a long day of shooting, and traveling between colleges to get to the next game. But once I finished and returned back for that evening's edit/critique session, I felt good. I felt I had a lot of nice quality shots... shots that told stories... and shots that were more unique that what I typically take. I presented a handful of them to over half of the staff for comment that evening, trying to whittle the bunch down to 3. This was the night it was difficult to do that... as I had 7 that I really liked. Their comments helped, but I decided that I should sleep... and come back in the morning with fresh eyes to make the decision and upload. It was slightly easier to make a decision the next morning, but it was done and submitted for show later that morning. This time during the slideshow, all 3 of my shots got really great comments - all had aspects that the staff really enjoyed. And although none of them were selected for a photo of the day, I was pretty happy with the feedback I'd received this day.

After the presentation, we were ALL headed to photograph the same football game. Up until this point, we'd divided into 3 or 4 groups to cover events in different locations. It was certainly a challenge to go to the same event as everyone else and come away with something different than what the others were seeing - and I think that was the point. The game was great - lots of tension between the teams, the officiating staff, and the fans... which made for a lot of really fun moments. All the while, the entire instructor staff was also onsite (as they were in the previous days' events) to give suggestions in different game play scenarios, words of caution, and words of encouragement throughout the entire game - such a great thing to have! There are quite a few comments and words of wisdom that I will carry back with me - things that will forever live in the back of my mind until they, too, become second nature. Back to the hotel with us, to edit and have as many of the instructor staff look at our work as possible before the final slideshow of the week. I wasn't as excited about my images as I had been the day before - I was easily able to get my selection down to 4 or 5 images. Then by suggestion of the staff, I was able to narrow down which images I should take forward. I uploaded them that evening before heading back to the house to sleep.

Which brings us to this morning... the final day. The final slideshow... the final everything. After looking again at the images I'd uploaded the evening before, I still liked my selection and kept them... although I still think my day 2 images were the best of the bunch. Again, I got no favorites of the day... but my day 3 football shots also garnered positive responses from the staff - which was pleasing... and better than day 1.

It was an interesting experience - I went from being excited, to being discouraged, to being back to optimistic about my work. I received some invaluable feedback and suggestions and things to consider once I get back to work at home... some comments will live in the back of my mind forever, I think. Ha! But it's all good. It was fun, and I actually would love to come back and do this again in the next year or 2 - once I apply the things I acquired this time around, I'd love to come back for more.

Once the workshop was complete, I had the entire 2nd half of the day available... in which I met some photography friends that came down from the LA area and up from San Diego to meet near Laguna Beach to photograph, and generally hang and visit. That was a great time! We went to Shaw's Cove to photograph the people, water, sand and sunset... and then we headed up to Ruby's Shake Shack for dinner and conversation.Alex Bellanger, Eric Stoliker, Paula Contreras & Lorne - I truly appreciate you guys coming out on a Sunday night to hang out and photograph while I am here - you guys are great, and I can't wait to see you all again in Vegas!

Tomorrow morning, I head over to Huntington Beach Pier to photograph the surfers at sunrise before I have to return the gigantic loaner lens to Canon... and then I think I've decided to try to get back to Death Valley and make it up to the Grandstand and Racetrack Playa before sunset tomorrow night. I really wanted to get there on the way to SoCal, but just couldn't make that happen... I'm going to try and get there on the way out.

So here are some photos... I'm including my 3 uploaded images that I submitted each day, as well as some other fun things.