Melissa and I arrived at Dallas for the First Foundation First Workshop a few days before to do so some last minute shopping for our wedding in March this year. We both were very happy and excited to attend the FFW, not only because we were going to be founder members students of this program but because we were going to be mentored by some of the very best teachers in the wedding photography industry.
The measure of all things.
Since we started working as wedding photographers as a team two and a half years ago, one of our main priorities has been improving our skills and so we invest a good part of our income in education to attend workshops with the best in the business, like the amazing Daniel Aguilar and photojournalist Tyler Wirken among other virtuosos, who like other great photographers are former students of Foundation Workshops and some of them teach and mentor as well. They all recommended Foundation so much that when they opened up the FFW, we almost immediately started the process of signing up. We believed this was the place we had to be.
Still, I didn’t want to create for myself high expectations about it. Of course I was very excited to be part of it, but to be honest, at the very beginning I was afraid this would be another “ordinary“ workshop.
Still I wanted to attend it with an open mind, commited but with no high expectations and with my feet on the ground. In other words, be the best I could be, and pushing my fears away thinking it might be just another workshop or a “milder“ version of the original. I had no idea that these workshops were the measure of all things when it comes to photography mentoring.
When we finally met the Foundation team I though this workshop was going to be a piece of cake, all of them very warm and friendly. Huy, a serene, soft-spoken gentleman. Sergio Lopez, a super-cool-super funny Mexican and so easy going. Kelly, Sherry and McKenzie, always attentive and caring, and the mentors, well, they didn’t say much at the beginning but they looked like very nice people. Texas is a very friendly place so they might be very nice as well. Then I found out that Sergio was going to be my editor, I said: “yep, this is going to be a “mild“ workshop, a walk in the park as they say“. I really wasn’t aware of what was coming…
Sergio Lopez‘s presentation was funny, entertaining and full of metaphors of heads, hearts and love. Lovely. That meant that we should listen to our hearts more, instead of our heads.
But there was a catch hidden in between the lines… He kept saying to everyone: “write it down, write it ALL down, so you don’t forget about it tomorrow, eh?“ Did I write it down…? No. My first big mistake: Overconfidence. Especially when the brain-heart-love metaphor was going to be the cornerstone of the awakening in my photography. It was that deep.
Now let me detour a little bit. One can go to a million workshops, attend hundred of thousands of seminars, read a hundred books but at the end, the best COACH you will ever have is yourself. You can only push yourself as much as you want. You can be the first one trying a new photography technique, learn a new skill or push yourself to be a better person or a better photographer, but it’s only you who decide how much you want to achieve and if you want to make it happen at the end. You can become your best friend, or your worst enemy, specially if you don’t write the fuck down what you are told to in a workshop.
Because you can commit yourself to learn the most you can and hope you will have the best instruction possible. I mean, you expect the best bang for your buck, right? Just make sure you don’t act bold and just bring a pad of paper and a pen.
The Silence of the lambs.
Next day we are ready for shooting at the Ft. Worth Stock Show & Rodeo at the sheep barn to be more specific. Never been around a sheep, until last saturday, and man, it is quite an experience to say the least. They make this very loud and very strange noise that really gets in your nerves. And I was going to shoot there all day. Magical.
But then another thing happened, Sergio was no longer the funny, entertaining guy with tons of witty metaphors. He was death serious and professional when he approached me and wanted to see what the heck was I shooting in the last hour or so. He said while looking at the monitor of my camera: “What have you being shooting so far? Let me see. No. No, Carlos, you have to shoot closer to people: feel the connection, you know? “You have to get closer to people. Get closer. Closer. Do you understand?
I suddenly pictured a scene of The silence of the lambs where Clarice Starling is being invited by Dr. Lecter: “Cloooseeeer Clarice“.
He gave me a good consultation on my shooting distance so to speak, and then I thought: “Holy crap. I better start getting closer“. So I tried to pull myself together, focus and tried getting closer to people. But I just could´t. I was too afraid. And then Gulnara and Craig, my mentors, showed up out of nowhere to make things more confusing (My thoughts at that time). I just wanted to work on my composition and be left alone but they insisted me to get closer.
Then, almost the end of the day, I saw Sergio again. And then things got a little more serious and solemn (to say the least). This was the moment when I finally realised all of the teachers and mentors of FW really care about you and your shortcomings as photographers. It’s not just another workshop. This was the moment were my view about photography and personal life changed for the rest of my life.
The one most important thing Sergio said to me (and I’ll always be grateful to him) : Follow love and stay there. Simple words, but so powerful if you understand the concept of compassion, empathy and sensitivity. Simple words that make a lot of sense and can actually change your life if you have the right guidance. These words will definitely help you become a better person, a better photographer, a better anything in life.
I left him with tears in my eyes and kept shooting my assignment. This time I followed his advice and I finally found what I was meant to look for. I found love. And stuck there.
If I ever get lost again, I now have a beacon, a bonfire, a lighthouse.
Thank you Sergio for helping me see the right path. Thank you to the both amazing Gulnara Samoilova and Craig Fritz for pushing me hard and making me understand how can I be a better photographer. Thank you Huy Nguyen for your serene presence, always around.
Huy, Sergio, Tyler, Gulnara, Craig, Candice, Joe, Jan, Kelly, Sherry and Mckenzie Thank you so very much for making this possible and taking such good care of us. What an honor to be part of FFW.
Annie, Bridget, Christine, Jennifer, Kate, Katie, Rhea, Shelly, Tina, Veronica, Mark & Rob: Keep rocking and making ef’ing amazing pictures.
Melissa, I love you so much and I’m so proud of you. Always.