A week at TX School of Professional Photography -
(Editor's note: If there seems to be "inside jokes" in this blog, I apologize in advance. This was originally written as an article for my local photography guild's newsletter, so it is geared a little more toward the photography crowd...specifically to those who have attended Texas School previously or are interested in attending).
Like most other photographers in Texas (and across the globe, I suppose), I anxiously await the day the Texas School of Professional Photography brochure arrives in my mailbox, so I can choose my instructor for the upcoming school. Once it arrives, it’s always a tough choice narrowing the list down to my top three classes, as there are so many incredible instructors. I do find that with each year I attend, choosing the instructor gets a little easier, because I know my skill level better, have narrowed my scope of work down a bit more and have met instructors at previous schools, getting an idea of their personalities and teaching methods.
This year, before my brochure arrived, I was already pretty set on my number one choice, so I really only needed to choose two backups. But when I opened the brochure, a new face popped up...Russ Harrington. The gears began turning, and I now had a dilemma. Do I go with my original choice or my gut instinct?
In 2015, Russ came to speak to the class I was attending (Tony Corbell’s) and had some really great stories to share about experiences working as a commercial photographer in Nashville. He seemed like a fun guy who could pass along quite a bit of knowledge. In addition, I had become a lot more interested in the commercial photography world over the past year. I read books, joined the American Society of Media Photographers and began assisting commercial photographers a bit. I’m not much of a webinar person, so I was really craving an in-person class related to commercial photography.
My mind was made. Russ Harrington, it was.
On the infamous January 3, I filled out my information and counted down until I could hit “send.” Much to my surprise, it went through immediately with no server crashing or Facebook drama. Since Russ was a new photographer to the school with quite the resume, I figured Russ’s class would be an instant sell-out and I may not get in. But alas, a few prayers and a few weeks letter, I had my answer in the mail. I would get to spend a week with Russ Harrington!
(For those of you outside of the photography world, Russ regularly photographs people like Keith Urban, Loretta Lynn and Reba...and probably any other big name country star who comes to mind.)
My week with Russ was everything I could imagine and more. If you’ve never met the guy, you should take the time to do so if the opportunity presents itself. He’s a geniuinly good person with a big heart, passion for his work, incredible talent to make anyone look amazing and to top it off (with a custom designed hat), he’s a great teacher as well.
Because of the nature of my day job (staff photographer at the University of Houston), I’m thrown into a lot of less-than-ideal portrait conditions ranging from outdoor portraits at noon to last minute portrait sessions thrown between between events. Russ works in a way that he can make something out of anything, so that was really helpful to me. He helped us add a lot of tricks to our “toolbox” just by knowing how to work in a variety of situations.
For example, Russ showed us how to overpower the sun with flash at various times of day. If we were wanting a natural lit portrait instead (in that same harsh lighting), he showed us simple tips to make great portraits with a white umbrella and a few pieces of foamcore.
Russ walked us through a variety of lighting modifiers and how they can be used for different looks. He talked about grip gear, assistants and the team that make up a larger production shoot, and how things work on that type of set. We talked some about pricing commercial jobs, contracts and usage rights.
I’m a visual learner, so one thing I really liked about the class was watching Russ work and interact with the models. The mood was always light and fun. He had an easy rapport with the models and could get a ton of great looks out of the same lighting setup and location all in the matter of about 5 minutes. It was definitely something I’ll have to work on more. I feel like once I get that rhthym going like Russ does, my images will become a lot more powerful.
Outside of the actual teaching, one thing I always enjoy about Texas School is hanging out with and networking with other photographers. I tend to be on the shy side, but I’m not near as timid at Texas School as I am in “real life.” It’s amazing how much you can learn and what tips you can pick up while having a quick conversation during class breaks or over dinner at the hotel.
In addition to the education and networking aspect, all of the evening events at Texas School were great as well. The barbecue was great (if you were at the front of the line), the costume party was entertaining as always and the speed-chalk-drawing-artist was pretty inspirational. Unfortunately, I didn’t win any big prizes at the giveaways, but I enjoyed shopping and came home with a pretty good stash of gear anyway.
All in all, I’d count my fourth visit to Texas School as a huge success. If you’ve never been before, I’d encourage you to make it happen. It will be worth it!
Thanks to the Professional Photographers Guild of Houston for helping me make the trip by awarding me with a scholarship this year. It was truly appreciated!
Thanks Dennis for the photo!