I recently attended Out of Chicago 2018 Summer Conference which took place in, you guessed it, Chicago, Illinois. This was a really fun weekend full of learning from some of the world’s best photographers and teachers of photography. I attended this conference two years ago in 2016 and found it to be one of the best weekends of learning since I got in to photography. It’s amazing how many things you can learn in a weekend. There are classes, photowalks, and workshops on photography topics ranging from landscapes, portraits, flowers, macro, infrared, and so much more.
This year, I decided I would focus my learning primarily on portrait and lighting. There’s no much more about landscape photography and need and want to learn, but I think it’s good to focus in on a subject once and a while and this weekend was all going to be about portraiture for me.
Here’s what I did and learned over the course of the three days I was in Chicago.
Thursday: Arrival Day
I arrived on Thursday night before the Out of Chicago conference began on Friday. I was pretty tired from the drive down to the city. It’s only about 4 hours normally but I hit traffic and that added a good 1.5 hours to the trip. Once I was in town and checked in to the hotel, and immediately went to Devil Dawgs, I decided I needed to take a couple pictures to get the creativity flowing.
I took a walk to Buckingham Fountain to get some blue hour shots.
Modern and Edgy Portraiture with Will Cadena
I spent Friday before the conference at a workshop led by photographer Will Cadena. Will’s work is nothing short of amazing! The images he shoots for clients have really crisp lighting and when I saw this workshop open up I knew I wanted to see what he had to day. I wasn’t disappointed! He taught us about lighting starting with a constant ice light and moving on to a flash. He was assisted by model Ashley who was great as she posed for all of us while we tried out what Will had just shown us. Will was a super cool dude and I really learned a lot from him. Most notably, how to use existing light in a scene as a main light source. The class size of 4 really helped with our learning too! If anyone ever has a chance to learn from him at a workshop or even a speaking event I would definitely take advantage of that opportunity.
Opening Talk by Scott Kelby
I got to admit, it was pretty cool to see Scott Kelby talk. I am one of the millions whose first foray in to Photoshop was with the help of his book. His talk was really interesting too! He spoke about the topic “things they won’t tell you.” It was a lot of really necessary things all photographers need to know but usually just figure it out for ourselves. Like how only photographers notice ISO noise and the rest of the world doesn’t care, prints matter because they have real value, how “we see all our bad shots, but we only see everyone else’s best shots” (Scott Kelby), how to get sharp photos, and it’s OK to crop because only “purists” (ie “old farts”) care about things like that. Even though the photography icons the purists worship all did things like post crop, dodge, burn, and even clone stamp (Yes that was all possible in the darkroom before Photoshop). I wish I could remember more of his bullet points because it was all really useful and helpful information!
Oh yea, he also demonstrated very clearly how terrible the iPhone X is when using Keynote! (You had to be there)
Friday night photocrawl with Nick Sinnott to the Riverwalk
I walked out to the Riverwalk in downtown Chicago with a group led by Nick Sonnet. Nick was great as he pointed out compositions and photo ideas available in this city. We didn’t have time to stop at them all but we all have some ideas for new photos and the best times to go get them. We arrived at the Riverwalk and grabbed some shots of the Wrigley Building with the bridge in the background. Then he showed us a place near the mouth of the river where we could get some pretty cool long exposure shots of the city. I would have never knew to go there if not for Nick!
Fashion Portraiture with Simple Lighting Joe Edelman
On Saturday morning, my first class was Fashion Portraiture with Simple Lighting taught by Joe Edelman. In this class he showed up his lighting style for his really cool portraits. The examples of his work he had in his presentation were of models with really cool makeup and accessories. It was really cool to see him set up the room in to a studio and see how he goes from one main light, to adding a side light, to adding a backlight. He didn’t have all the lighting and studio gear he hoped for because the company forgot to send it, so he had to problem solve. It was really helpful to see how a awesome photographer like Joe goes about troubleshooting to make his situation work out and get great images.
Images with Impact with Nick Page
I was very excited to take this class from Nick Page. I have been a fan of Nick’s since pretty much I started taking landscape photos. He is really one of the best out there. And he is very active on YouTube and hosts the Landscape Photography Podcast. In this class he spoke at length about how he creates images with impact. He told a few stories about how he created some of his stunning images. It was interesting to hear him talk about his seascape images.
The Perfect Light with Sherry Hagerman
In this class, Sherry Hagerman talked about how she goes about lighting subjects when she is working weddings. She gave us tips for where to place our flashes and how to get perfect lighting in the first shot 70% of the time. Spoiler, the trick is to use TTL and let the camera and flash figure out exposure so you don’t have to. Admittedly, I never really trusted TTL in the past but hearing Sherry talk about how she uses is got me to think about giving it another try.
Photowalk photoshoot with Joe Edelman and Manny Ortiz
Saturday afternoon I attended a photowalk led by both Joe Edelman and Manny Ortiz. This was a great walk to take because it was led by two awesome photographers for the price of one! I have been watching Manny’s videos on YouTube for a while and he gives some great insights on portrait photography and photography in general. So it was cool to learn a few things from him directly. And I took Joe’s class earlier in the day so it was cool to get even for great info from him. We spent our time walking around the city and finding cool spots to take some photos. All the shots we took used natural light and we were taught how to use the surrounding environment for the best lighting possible. In this photowalk we were also joined by Deborah (@iamdeborahlynn_) who did an absolutely fantastic job modeling for us all.
Photowalk with PhotoJoseph
Saturday night I went on a photo walk led by PhotoJoseph. He took us up Michigan Avenue to the Crown Fountain, Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”), and we ended up at the Riverwalk and the Wrigley Building. Even through the sky didn’t really cooperate with us at sunset, it was a fun walk. My favorite image I took on this walk was at The Bean. I set up my gear to take 100 long exposures of the area with the ultimate goal of blurring out everyone and having an empty scene. However, when I got back to my hotel room and was reviewing the images I noticed one of my frames had a couple taking a selfie. They were standing nearly perfectly still for the whole 5 second exposure. This left them sharp while everyone else blurred around them. PhotoJoseph said that the image would be a better story if I included the human element and he was absolutely right!
Advanced Off-Camera Flash with Steve Neilson
Sunday morning I attended a class from Steve Neilson about off-camera flash and how to easily achieve good results. He first told us to put our cameras in full auto to get a starting point. Then we underexposed the next frame. The third frame was taken with a single light. A third light was added as a side light and finally a gelled fourth light was added to make the background more colorful. Assisting Steve was Maggie who modeled for us.
Photowalk photoshoot with Steve Neilson in Chicago Alleyways
Immediately after the flash class I attended a photowalk also led my Steve Neilson. This was a natual continuation of the off camera flash course. We took what Steve talked about in the class and went out to use that information. We walked around some nearby alleys and Steve set up some lights and showed us how to get great lighting when we are on location. It was a really fun photo walk and we had a lot of opportunities to shoot. Steve’s an awesome teacher and makes lighting a lot easier to understand and much less intimidating than it needs to be. Maggie also modeled for this class and did a great job!
Photowalk with Sherry Hagerman: One Light Set-Up In Grant Park
Sunday afternoon I attended a photo walk led by Sherry Hagerman. This walk took what she talked about in the previous class I attended and we put those ideas in to practice. She showed us her lighting style and we were able to use our own equipment to try it our for ourselves. What kind of stunned me what when we wen’t out in super bright sunlight and were able to overpower the sun to get great shots. We stopped down to f/22 to get a sunstar above the two models who helped us out. I was pretty amazed at the results. Before this class I would have never though stopping down to f/22 in harsh midday light with only a single speed light would have been possible. I definitely wouldn’t have tried it! But now I will be learning more about this technique and incorporating it in to my own repertoire.
Creative Shooting Techniques with Deb Sandidge Sponsored by Platypod
The final class I attended was taught by Nikon ambassador Deb Sandridge. She gave a really good presentation about how we can get more creative with our photography. Using techniques such as getting super low, long exposures at blue hour, using crystal balls, and more, we can get shots that stand out from things we’ve previously done.
More Highlights From The Weekend
Olympus Micro Four Thirds
As you may know if you’ve read my blog in the past, I am a Nikon shooter. I love, love, love my Nikon gear. My D850 is a great camera. But I began thinking about how I would like to have a more compact system for travelling. So I purchased a Fuji camera and lens collection. I’m not leaving Nikon but I love how compact my Fuji kit is. I can fit a focal range from 14mm all the way to 200mm in a small Lowepro sling bag. That would take a large and heavy backpack with my full frame kit.
Then I began thinking even more about the possibility of an even smaller travel kit. Micro Four Thirds is the logical next step from my crop sensor Fuji kit. However, I was never quite sure about how the image quality would be from such a small sensor. A few of the speakers at this conference shoot Olympus and I saw quite a few Olympus cameras around the necks of fellow attendees. So that got me thinking even more about Micro Four Thirds.
Lucky for me, Olympus was attending the conference and lending gear out. This was a perfect opportunity to try it out for myself. I borrowed a OM-D E-M5 and a 12-40 f/2.8 lens for my Saturday photo walk with Manny and Joe. There was a bit of a learning curve for me, as is expected when using a new system, but an Olympus rep happened to be attending the photo walk as well. She was very helpful in helping me answer my questions.
I am very impressed with the images I got from the photo walk and will definitely think more about adding a third system to my camera collection! 🙂
Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 lens
Fujifilm was also at the conference and lending out gear. And a lens that I have been wanting to add to my kit is a 85mm for portraits. I have heard great things about Fuji’s 56mm lens, which is their 85mm equivalent lens. Well 84mm to be exact but close enough. 🙂
I used this lens for Steve’s off camera flash class and the following photo walk. I loved shooting with this lens! The images were so great from this lens and the sharpness and depth of field at f/1.2 made up my mind. I immediately went over to the Hunt’s table and talked to Gary about getting one ordered. As I type this, it is on it’s way to me.
Out of Chicago Summer Conference
Out of Chicago does an excellent job with their events. They are able to get the top photographers in the world to come to Chicago where we can learn directly from them. Admittedly, I get a bit star struck when meeting some of these photographers that I follow on Instagram, YouTube, or podcasts. But they are all super friendly and and helpful. It’s really cool to be able to learn from them all in one spot over the course of a single weekend.