MJ 2Day Recap

Photo by Jared Platt

Last week I was able to cross off one of my 2012 goals: Attend a photography workshop.  I attended Melissa Jill’s 2 Day Workshop.  Melissa is a local photographer with rockstar status.  No exaggeration.  She commands top dollar for weddings, hosts workshops for photographers, sells album and blog templates and has yet another business venture launching this year.  She is a total business mogul!

As I and 12 fellow photographers gathered in her living room for the initial meet and greet we were all anxious to meet Melissa Jill in PERSON!  It was like we were all 13 and had won backstage passes to meet New Kids on the Block (before they were NKOTB).  We kept the crying and hysteria to a minimum.

The next two days were spent going thru almost every aspect of running a successful photography business.  It was a ton of information to pack into two days and it has taken me several days to fully digest what I learned.  For me the workshop was like fine wine.  Only after you open it and let it breathe can you fully appreciate its greatness.

Now that I have had some time to reflect on the workshop I wanted to provide a review in case other photographers are thinking about going.   I know this is an extremely long recap, so hang in there!

Day 1-Photography

The first day was spent covering photography.  Melissa shared tips on working with natural light, interacting with clients, off-camera lighting and more.  Since I have been a loyal blog follower for several years most of the information covered I had already read on her blog.  At first I was a little bummed about this, but then I realized that this was a total advantage.  Since I had read the information before I wasn’t caught-up in digesting it for the first time.  I was able to have a few “Ah-ha” moments.  One of them being when we discussed back lighting.  When we started to bombard Melissa with questions about back lighting she grabbed her camera and ordered us all outside. It was around 10:30am.  Pretty much the worst time of day to be shooting outside in Arizona.  She quickly pointed out where she would position clients if she were shooting right that instant.  Debra and Kim acted as our mock clients and Melissa gave us a live demonstration on the fly.  Although I had read about back lighting on her (and several others) blog it didn’t click for me until I was able to see it in person.

One thing that I REALLY appreciated during this day was that Melissa assumed that we all had a basic knowledge of ISO, aperture and shutter speed.  Although we had a wide range of photography experience in our workshop she didn’t spend time explaining the relationship between these three components.  I’ve been at workshops before where a lot of time is spent on this topic for the benefit of 1 or 2 people while the other 10-20 are bored.

Tips for getting the most out of your experience:  Know the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed.  Know how to set your camera to back button focus (it’s life changing as Melissa says).  Even if you feel like you have heard or read the material before push yourself to gain a deeper understanding of the topic.  You’ll surprise yourself when you have an “Ah-ha” moment!  One more tip: download and play with Photojunction before you attend the workshop.  This is a FREE album design software that Melissa uses to design her albums.  I also use this software and love it!  For those that have never used it they seemed a little overwhelmed when she demonstrated.

Mock Engagement Session

Melissa set-up a mock “Knocked-up” engagement session with a cute couple expecting their first child in just a few months.  Mock sessions are my LEAST favorite thing about any workshop.  It usually involves 10-20 photographers 2nd shooting the exact same thing.  I tend to shy away from this shutter fest.  Melissa made a great suggestion prior to the session.  She explained that we should be more focused on observing her interactions with the clients than trying to get a portfolio shot.  As she was shooting she talked us thru her thought process of each set-up.  Later she downloaded all of the images and culled thru them with us.  As she put it, we got to see all of her out of focus shots!  For the record, there were very few “bad” shots from her.

Tips for getting the most out of your experience:  Observe, shoot, observe.  We shot the mock session in a “unique” backyard.  One might even call it cluttered.  You would never know if from Melissa’s shots though.  It was great to watch how she ran the session and made the most of our location.  If you do want to get some portfolio shots be sure to bring your long lens!

Day 2-Business

The business side of this workshop is by far the reason that I signed-up.  As I mentioned before, Melissa is a business mogul and she is willing to share her “secrets to success”.  As with day one, a lot of the information that was covered I had already read on her blog.  What you can’t get from just reading her blog is to be able to ask, touch and feel and learn in person from her experience.  We looked thru her sample albums, client welcome kit, pricing info and more.  If you do read Melissa’s blog you know that she is lightening fast at turnaround time and well connected with local planners.  She walked us thru from start to finish how she succeeds at booking clients, shooting-editing-blogging their event, the follow-up with vendors and how this process leads to referrals.

Tips for getting the most out of your experience:  See, touch and feel everything!  You’ve paid for the backstage pass..don’t leave without your autograph right!  I looked thru her welcome kit for new clients and took notes like: cute paper clips, min text on pages.  I’m not looking to copy her welcome kit, but I want to figure out the little details that subtly tell a bride to book and then implement them in my own way into my business.

Bonus tip: Melissa did two website critiques in-front of the group and mine was one of them.  She clicked thru several pages and blog posts and provided her critique on the fly.  This was such valuable information to get from someone other than friends and family.  Since it was during one of the workshop sessions the other attendees chimed in with their thoughts also.  Again, I LOVED it!  So, here is my tip.  About 50% of the group wants to be picked for the website review and she only has time for two.  To get picked you need to be quick on the draw and be enthusiastic!  For the first review I was too slow on the draw, so when she asked for the second volunteer I shot up both hands and looked bright eyed like a kid begging for candy.  You also need to have thick skin.  People are going to give you their first impressions and sometimes unfiltered thoughts.  If you think you might get offended opt to have your website reviewed during your one-on-one with Melissa when the rest of the group is not involved.

Head Shots

On day two Melissa took head shots of each attendee.  While she was shooting someone else we paired up and shot each other.

Tips for getting the most out of your experience:  Wear something CUTE!  Plan ahead, pick something that is flattering, perhaps fits with your branding and something that looks CUTE!  Why is this a tip?  Have you ever gone home at the end of the day and looked at yourself in the mirror and decided that you should immediately BURN your outfit.  I mean BURN it to the ground?  Well, that was the outfit I wore for head shot day.  I could have had lots of cute new pictures to put on my blog, but nooooooooo.  I have pictures that remind me to get the matches out.  I would like to point out that this in no way reflects on the quality of work from Melissa or any of my fellow workshop attendees that so kindly took my picture.  This is 100% rushed out the door, didn’t properly plan and wore the ugliest outfit ever.  So, please…wear something CUTE!

Here is the top portion of the said BURNED outfit (photos by Elizabeth)

These cute ladies got the wear something CUTE memo!

One-on-One with Melissa

Melissa spent fifteen minutes with each of us one-on-one.  It was an opportunity for us to ask any questions and discuss the workshop.  I asked Melissa to review my current pricing information and help me figure out how to effectively bump it up.  As we discussed my pricing I could tell that she was genuinely, whole-heartedly focusing on how to best help me.  She wasn’t giving me some fluff answer.  She really racked her brain and gave me solid useful input.  Again, I would expect nothing less from her, but it really struck me how genuinely giving she is during this session.

Tips for getting the most out of your experience:  Come pre-loaded with “burning” questions written down and add to it during the workshop.  What I mean by “burning” questions is something that ONLY a photography and business mogul like Melissa can answer for you.  Take advantage of the breaks and/or the one-on-one with Melissa to get these questions answered.  An example of my burning questions were: Review of current pricing structure; tips for some up-coming meets I have scheduled with planners.

My final tip is to get to know your fellow workshop attendees!  Is has only been a week since the workshop and already we have been a wealth of knowledge for each other.  Trading info on where to order flash drives, album design, Photoshop actions, thoughts on logos etc.  I personally made connections with new local photographers and we are planning to either second shoot for each other and/or go to lunch.

A HUGE thank you to Melissa and her team who put on a great workshop!  Specifically, Sara for keeping us caffeinated, fed and well taken care of the entire workshop.  Here she is quietly working behind the scenes.

And thank you to Dixie for sharing the couch with us.  Especially since my tail bone is still broken!

Elizabeth Langford I love your recap… and I think you look adorable in your pictures!!

Melissa Jill :) WOW Suzanne! This is THE most comprehensive review of my workshop ever! You had me cracking up through the whole thing too with your colorful tips and descriptions :). You are awesome and I loved reading your thoughts on the workshop. And loved having you there!!!

Jessica I absolutely love your recap and tips for attending Melissa’s workshop! And I think your headshots are adorable! It was so great meeting all of you ladies and am so thankful that we all are staying in touch and helping each other out with questions, where to find things, and opinions on new logos. I think everyone at the workshop is so talented and will go far in their businesses! Thanks for sharing this post!

Sara Nevels You are HILARIOUS!! Such a great post! And you SO very welcome for everything! I was happy to help! You ladies are lovely and I really enjoyed getting to know you! Hope your tush is feeling better! 😉

clippingimages outstanding>very innovative photography…………

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