Last week, October 6 – 8, I was in the presence of greatness. I was surrounded by family, and I experienced a shift in my business. Last week, I attended The Photo Cookout which is the brainchild of Tomayia Colvin. This was the second year for The Cookout, and it was phenomenal!
The Cookout was created as a safe space for Black and Brown photographers to come together and learn the art of photography. Tomayia saw the need for this space because Black and Brown photographers weren’t present as speakers or brand ambassadors in mainstream photography or at conferences. Black and Brown photographers were and are overlooked, and for some crazy reason, deemed as not being contributors to our field. That’s a load of poo.
Last year was the first Photo Cookout, and it was held in Atlanta. When I saw the pictures, videos, and This year’s Cookout was held in the Crescent City – New Orleans. The tagline was “One-part photography conference and one-part family cookout. And bomb Potato Salad”. The event lived up to its name!
Sunday, October 6
I really don’t know where to begin without this post turning into a dissertation! The first day of the Cookout was the actual cookout! We all met at the host hotel, Ace Hotel in New Orleans. We had to be there before 1:00pm as the party buses were leaving to take us to the park. The buses were truly party buses! The music was loud, and we were all excited! It was raining slightly as we left the hotel, and it really picked up when we hit the highway! We were all concerned that the rain wouldn’t stop, but God had other plans. Although it did sprinkle while we were eating, the rain full stopped, and we were blessed with a beautiful cloudy sky.
My first class was an OCF (Off Camera Flash) taught by Toni Shaw. I have admired Toni’s work for years, and I met her for the first time at the 2018 Vision Conference in Atlanta, GA. Toni is a guru at lighting, and I was thrilled that I was able to learn from her. Our class was small, about 12 people, and most of us had brought our lights. We had a model to photograph, and we also photographed one another. A huge piece of advice that I received from Toni was to raise my lights. She also advised having a soft box or beauty dish with double baffold. The soft box that I currently use is a foldable one by Godox. It is the 80x 80 foldable soft box. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t have the double baffold. Toni recommend a soft box by Glow. You can find them on the Adorama website.
Monday, October 7
The first full day of the Cookout began with opening remarks by Tomayia. She touched on several topics, but the one that she really wanted to get across to us was doing things “well”. Handling your business in a professional manner, and doing it well. This is critically important for Black and Brown business owners because there’s already an assumption that we’re inept and unprofessional. People approach our businesses with preconceived notions that could not be farther from the truth. Unfortunately, it’s the old adage of having to be 150% better than your White counterparts.
Tomayia also stressed that we all began somewhere. We cannot ridicule or look down on someone who charges less than we do, and wax on about how they’re ruining the photography profession. She charged all of us to reach out to that newbie photographer, and help. We should want all of us to do things well.
My first class was taught Chip Dizárd, and it was called “How to Craft Facebook Ads that Work”. We received an abbreviated lesson, but it was full of helpful information. I’ve never tried Facebook ads, but I did a boost on Instagram a couple of months ago. I didn’t follow-up on it very well so I never did it again. I now know more about the process and how to identify my target audience. This is on my “to do” list for 2020, Lord willing.
My second class was “Nailing Branding Portraits” by Latoya Dixon Smith. I took this class because I want to get better at this genre, and be able to offer my clients an amazing experience. I’ve done more headshot types of session in the past, but branding requires more understanding of what and how the client will utilize the images. We photographed a young artist from New Orleans, @loyalmont. He had a strong message of hope and unity, and it was an honor to photograph him. One of the things that Latoya taught was interviewing the client to gain a better understanding of him/her as a person, and to get to know his/her brand as well. My takeaway from this class was to review the questionnaire that I have for branding clients, and make sure that I will have a strong grasp of how they want their images to look.
I missed the group branding session by Ndidi & Folasayo Ayoola because of a headache. I wanted to sit and listen, but my head had other plans. After taking some aspirin, I went to my first afternoon class taught by Tyrenda Pentecost, a wedding photographer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She is such a joy and so down to earth! We met for the first time at Vision Conference in 2018, and I’ve been a fan of her work for a couple of years. What is so unique about Tyrenda is that she shoots both film and digital for her sessions! Tyrenda’s class was the “Basics of Film Photography”. I selected this class because 1) I think that Tyrenda is amazing; and 2) I want to get back into film. She said information on different film types, and also on how to submit film for development. Our class was small, and I really enjoyed that because we were encouraged to ask questions as Tyrenda spoke.
My last class on Monday was taught by Kesha Lambert. This class was full, and it was a testament to Kesha’s amazing work! We photographed a bride and groom, and the lighting techniques that Kesha demonstrated were breathtaking. She taught us how to look for different and unique pockets of light. We broke up into groups of four based upon camera type, and took turns photographing the couple. Although the majority of us abided by the rules of not hopping in front of others to get the shot, there were one or two who didn’t play well with the rest of us. I was also disappointed that I wasn’t able to go outside to get some additional shots. We were told that the class was over when in fact some of the group went outside to capture the couple. Next time, I won’t be so quick to leave.
The night ended with a welcome social at the bar. I ventured out and tried to talk to people that I didn’t know. Being an introvert, this can be quite challenging, but I did it. I even managed to speak to a photographer whose work I have admired for several years. I have to admit that I was sorely disappointed in this person’s demeanor. There was an air of superiority that I had not experienced when interacting with some of the other speakers, and it left a very bad impression on me. This person asked if they could use my t-shirt to wipe their glasses. I was shocked. To quote my son, “That was rude and disrespectful”. My gut feelings are usually very accurate about people, and it was unfortunate that this was the vibe I received from that person. I smoothly exited stage left. I can also say that I won’t continue to follow this person on social media.
After the social, we were to meet in the general meeting area for a group photo. Tomayia posted in our Facebook group what time to meet and to wear comfortable shoes. We were surprised with a jazz band, One Shot Brass Brand and our own second line parade! Oh my goodness! I don’t have any pictures from the second line because I went live on Instagram. We went all the way down to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter! It was amazing, and I will never forget the experience.
Tuesday, October 8
My first class of the day was with Tyrenda, and it was on editing brown skin tones using film presets. Again, I learned a great deal from Tyrenda. I use a preset in my edits, but I tweak them to get images that represent my style. Tyrenda’s class help me to see that there were other presets available from Mastin Labs that work wonderfully on brown skin. Another thing that Tyrenda spoke about in her first class was to shoot with all of the different type of film to see what appeals to you. I’ve used Ektar film, and I love the rich tones that it produces. However, this won’t prevent me from trying the other types available.
My late morning class was with Hope Ballenger. I know that you’re probably tired of reading this, but she’s another photographer whose work I admired. Hope’s class was on creating your own styled shoots. Now, I’ve done some on my own, but not at the level Hope spoke about during her class. It’s given me food for thought on how to take my shoots to the next level. However, I’m going to wait a bit on executing. Hope said that you could use those styled shoots for portfolio building and creating content. They could also be used to branch off into another genre of photography that you’re interested in pursuing. Yes, I definitely see more elaborate styled shoots in my future.
The afternoon session was a group one led by Kesha Lambert. At the beginning of her talk, she gave us all a challenge to capture an image that didn’t look as if we were in a banquet hall. I was sitting next to representatives from Profoto, and they took my photo. The lesson was to examine your surroundings to find unique locations for images. It was a great exercise, and it made me think a little harder about the images I want to create in the future. This exercise was similar to one that I participated in, but the challenge was to capture an image using an unattractive background.
My first afternoon breakout class was Systems for Photographers taught by Latoya Dixon Smith of One Union Studios. This class was all about working smart and using a CRM to help automate more of the client process from inquiry to delivery. We were given post it notes that represented ourselves, a client, and automated activities. We wrote down each of the activities on the corresponding post-its, and to place them in order. When I put the notes on the wall, it was as if a thunderbolt hit me between the eyes. It made perfect sense to me. I have been stressing and thinking how I would to put the steps into place. I kept the post-its, but repeated the exercise here at home. The post its are on the wall in my office, and they’re a reminder of the big step that I made.
My last class of the day was with Hope Ballenger, and the course was “Capturing Authentic Family Moments”. We discussed the types of photography that we captured. We had the opportunity to photograph a young family with twin boys. Let me tell you that I got my workout in! With children, especially little ones, you have to be on your toes, and capture the images when you can. It’s been a long time since I chased a little boy around for pictures. I was so pleased with how the images turned out.
The night ended with a Harlem Nights themed party. It was the perfect ending to the time that I spent in New Orleans. I came away with lots of new knowledge, new friends/cousins, and a renewed love of photography. I highly recommend the Photo Cookout to all Black and Brown Photographers. I have never had such a sense of camaraderie, acceptance, and support at any other conference that I’ve attended. I hope to see you in Chattanooga in 2020!
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