Monday, November 8, 2010

Cliff Mautner's Lighting and Skillset Bootcamp {Cliff Mautner}

Adventures seem to come few and far between for this stay-at-home/work-from home mother/photographer. But, when I do put myself out there, I do it up right! I'm still on a high from last week's adventure to Cliff Mautner's Lighting and Skillset Bootcamp at his studio in Haddonfield, NJ. I know there are a few of you waiting to hear how it went, so here's a little re-cap for you.

I'll start by introducing you to Cliff.

Cliff has 28 years experience as a professional photographer - 17 of those in photojournalism - which has been a strong influence in his wedding photography. American PHOTO magazine lists Cliff as "one of the top ten wedding photographers in the world". He's also a WPPI grand award winner for photojournalism. Refreshingly, though, photography isn't Cliff's Numero Uno in his life. His children are! Now that's someone to look up to.

I came across Cliff's blog a few years ago and have been eyeing (ahem...drooling over) his bootcamp for some time now. I'm so grateful my husband Steve finally agreed to let me go. It was a great investment!

Here's Cliff in action on the prison yards during one of our group photo excursions. (Sorry, Cliff. I just had to sneak in a pic for the blog.)

This is the first time I've attended a workshop by myself, so I was a little nervous. Thankfully, right off the plane I happened to meet Claudia (one of the other boot camp attendees) and her husband on the shuttle ride from the airport to our hotel. They made me feel right at home. Claudia, I can see why your clients love you!

Claudia is a destination wedding photographer from Cancun, Mexico. Her husband owns a videography business, so they work closely with one another. Claudia covers over 100 weddings annually! I mention this just to shed light on a hidden benefit to these types of workshops: networking. Where else can you meet other like-minded professionals with such experience? More than that these people were wonderfully kind individuals. It was awesome to hear where everyone came from and how they got into photography.

Though some of us had more experience than others, we all had one thing in common. We are all huge Cliff Mautner fans! And, I'm here to tell you that his bootcamp was everything we read it would be - and more. It did not disappoint!

Speaking of the bootcamp, let's get to it. Here's a little run-down of what you can expect. If you love details, this blog post is for you. If you're looking for the "Cliff Notes" version (no pun intended), this isn't it.

Monday evening was reserved for the opening reception. Claudia and her husband and I shared a taxi to the studio - which is located in an old church building that Cliff had beautifully transformed into his studio and home. Walking through the doors we were greeted by floor to ceiling images from Cliff's portfolio. Everywhere I turned I bumped into yet another of Cliff's awards or images. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by such beauty throughout the week! His passion for photography (and people) just oozed off the walls. But those awards have not tainted him in any way. He's as humble as they come.

Cliff is incredibly laid back and gracious. At the reception, he gave us a run-down of what to expect during the rest of the week and ended by opening it up to any questions we might have. He was open, honest, and very frank with us answering almost every question we threw his way.

Knowing that most of us just flew in, Cliff had the bar stocked and served catered deli sandwiches and baked goodies from The Bread Board Plus Bistro across the street. He didn't miss anything. You know, it's the little things that say the most about an individual.

I went back to my hotel room that night at the Crown Plaza geared up for the bootcamp to begin. But, before I turned in for the night, I just had to capture the incredible view from my hotel window...and not a toddler in sight to disturb my thoughts!

Early the next morning, Claudia and I hitched a ride with our new friend, April. (April is a talented pet and wedding photographer located about an hour away from Cliff's studio.) Thanks, girl, for being our ride each day. We appreciate you!

After a yummy breakfast, Cliff began the seminar by talking about the importance of developing our own styles. He openly shared with us those things that have helped to shape his own personal style throughout the years. From there he led right into his coverage of the technical basics he feels are needed to be a competent photographer - his Skillset.

Later that afternoon we put those skills to work at a park in downtown Philadelphia. Cliff hired professional models who all wore wedding attire. There were so many models on hand that everyone had more than enough space and time to work through their new skills. Here's just a few of the models from that day. I'll spend more time in the coming weeks blogging some of these beautiful people in individual posts.

This excursion was also a fantastic opportunity to build our wedding portfolios. I think it's safe to say we all left a little more confident in our ability to shoot at any time of the day. I'm fairly certain you won't find many of us running for the shade much anymore. That's for sure!

Who's up for a two o'clock photo session? I'm in! What's that you say? It's a Nooner you want? Perfect! Bring it on!

Before I go any further, something needs to be said right here and now. Cliff Mautner knows how to do a Bootcamp up right! We were treated so well. Each day Cliff provided breakfast and lunch (catered from The Bread Board Plus). There were plenty of drinks and snacks on hand throughout the day. Who needs a free hotel breakfast when Cliff fed us hot-cakes (chocolate chip even), scrambled eggs, sausage, the best bacon I've ever tasted, bagels, and pastries every morning? Seriously, we were quite well fed! Our lunches were even custom ordered to our personal selections. And though we were on our own for evening meals, we all dined together with Cliff at the same restaurant. Tuesday night Cliff made reservations at Mikado - his favorite sushi place - which was fabulous. Wednesday night we enjoyed wings at P.J. Welihans down the street from Cliff's studio. At every opportunity, Cliff was there hanging out with us.

But, enough about food! Let's get back to the workshop! After sushi Tuesday evening we went back to the studio and Cliff began his coverage of flash photography. I've invested in other flash tutorial videos, but Cliff explained it in such a simple way that even I grasped the concepts. For the first time it felt like everything was sinking in. Now I'm not afraid to break out the flash and even understand how to use it to create natural looking results.

Cliff ended that first night by assigning the class homework. We were all asked to select our top 4-5 images from our session in the park and bring those back to class for his critique the next day. This was a fantastic learning tool.

Day two began with a continuation of Cliff's coverage of flash photography. After lunch we returned to the same park with most of the same models (and a few new ones) to practice our new off-camera flash skills. I had recently purchased the latest new Pocket Wizards - which were acting up, so unfortunately I missed out on quite a bit of this session.

However, Cliff wasted no time getting on the phone contacting the right people to get answers for me fast! He went straight to the folks who designed the product. Man, is he well-connected! But more than that is the fact that he cared enough about us as individuals to help us out. He could have said, "Oh, man. That stinks. Next time be sure to bring back-ups." Instead, Cliff personally went to bat on my behalf. I was so impressed!

During all our photo sessions Cliff was great about spending one-on-one time with each of us. He answered our questions, looked at our images, gave us suggestions, and taught us every step of the way. There were close to 15 people at the conference, but I rarely felt the group was too large. Cliff made a point of making sure everyone got time with him.

After our brief time at the park, we headed over to the Eastern State Penitentiary Museum where Cliff had arranged access to otherwise restricted areas for our bridal shoots. A large portion of our seminar fees goes to securing these locations and hiring professional models. We weren't just practicing with someone's sister's cousin who happened to have a bridal gown. Our models were the real deal - real working professionals. What a difference that made!

If I have one complaint it would be that not all the dresses fit the models perfectly. A couple of the dresses had to be pinned to keep them from falling off the models - which made it less than ideal to photograph them from behind. But, if that's the only complaint I can come up with, I'd say things were pretty darn good. I'd do it all over again in a heart beat.

At the Penitentiary Cliff basically let us loose for 90 minutes and rotated us between locations and models. Our group only got to two of the locations, but we were more than satisfied with the experience. This place was like none other I had ever seen. Sure, The McKinney Cotton Mill is cool, but this place was incredible! Imagine taking pictures on the same grounds where Al Capone served time.

During this session I enjoyed the opportunity to work side by side with the other photographers. It was great to see things in new ways and to help each other out.

After our session we stopped at the studio to download files then headed out to dinner. Later that night Cliff staged a mock bridal inquiry meeting. Two of the attendees, Bobbi and Heather, acted the parts of the Mother-of-the-Bride and the Bride perfectly. The three of them covered every single question a bride and her mom could possibly think to ask of a wedding photographer. It was incredible to hear Cliff stand his ground gracefully on those touchy subjects wedding photographers often face.

Cliff then walked us through his wedding/information meeting presentation and showed us some of the promotional materials he gives to each bride. He also showed us a sample wedding album. Having just finished my very first wedding, this part of the night was invaluable. Who can put a price tag on an insider peak like that?

We ended the night with a little wedding reception flash lighting overview and then returned to our hotels.

The last day Cliff finished up his Skillset materials and took time to go through all our homework. One-by-one he critiqued our work. He told us what we needed to hear and gave great insight into how each of us could improve. Graciously, he balanced that by pointing out where we were doing things right. I loved this part of the workshop. It's wonderful to see how diverse everyone is and how different people see the same subject in such vastly different ways. You can't learn this sitting in front of your computer or reading a book on your own. This is something you have to experience in a group setting like this.

Next, Cliff arranged a sit-down with Noelle, his editor and office manager. Noelle walked us through her work flow and answered any questions we might have. I would be the first person to sign up for a workshop should Cliff and Noelle ever decide to do a Workflow Bootcamp. (Hint. Hint.)

After that we had time to sit with Cliff and pick his brain one last time. He made it clear from the beginning that there were no stupid questions and did his best to answer every single question honestly and thoroughly. He did just that.

The conference ended that day with lunch and a sideshow presentation of Cliff's favorite wedding day "Moments". He explained to us how he set up some of the shots and stressed again how important it is to know your camera thoroughly so you can react at a moments notice and not miss these crucial shots.

All-in-all I am thrilled with this boot camp. I've already blogged my first "Post Cliff Mautner Workshop" images and am thrilled to have additional tools in my skill set. I returned more confident than ever.

Would I recommend this to my friends? Without a doubt. This is one workshop you do not want to miss!

A very special THANK YOU goes out to Cliff (and Noelle) for opening up his studio, his "tool-box", and his heart to all of us who came out to this November's boot camp.

If you are interested in attending Cliff's next boot camp, call his studio at 856-428-4268 (or click on the link at the beginning of this post) for more information. I highly recommend it!


  1. WOW!!!! How exciting!!! Gives me goosebumps reading about this...maybe someday...

  2. What a gracious guy Cliff is with his time and knowledge! I'll definitely consider taking one of his workshops in the future since you spoke so highly of your experience! Now convincing my husband is another matter ;-) Thanks for sharing your trip with us -- I'm looking forward to seeing what you do next with your new skills!

  3. Cliff is my idol! His video was my inspiration when I took wedding photography. I may not be what I am today without his teachings.

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