While I'm not sure where to begin on this review, I feel as though that simple statement made by Erika at the end of her talk on the final day of the workshop encompasses everything I'm feeling right now. The tidal wave of information, the gale force of emotion, and the overflowing joy from connecting with fellow creatives...I keep coming back to repeating that small mantra...let it in. I have so many things I want to say, so many ideas I want to put out into the world and into my photography, that it's a struggle to even know where to begin. It's a good struggle, and one I happily accept.
I arrived in Calgary on Monday evening, after having run on about 8 hours of sleep over the previous 4 days. You see, I'd gone to Portland and Washington for a few shoots, as well as Robert J. Hill's workshop with my mentorship (which is another post in itself to come). I'd physically pushed my body to points I haven't since playing college basketball. I'd hiked miles, chased the sun in multiple locations with multiple amazing couples, and had been giving my all to everything for 4 days. Or so I thought. Because while I'd physically been pushing myself for shots for my couples, Lanny & Erika then pushed me mentally and emotionally in ways I didn't know possible in photography. They pushed me to be a better photographer in more demanding ways than scaling mountains and traversing rivers. They pushed me to be uncomfortable, and therefore create better art outside of that comfort zone.
I cried. I fell back into safe zones. I cried again. And then I pushed further, and created things I wouldn't have before their encouragement. I let in their wisdom and insight, and I feel I'm walking away not only a better photographer, but a better person because of it. The Balls Out! Workshop was everything I thought it would be...and everything I didn't know I wanted it to be. Being balls out isn't just about creating crazy photos...it's about creating compelling photos that will stand the test of time...and Lanny & Erika provide plenty of opportunities for both in their workshop!
Being that this is my internal battle every time I have the honor of photographing a couple, hearing this both made me laugh and rang entirely too true. Being able to learn from Lanny & Erika was an opportunity I didn't want to screw up. It's an opportunity many photographers hope for, and the fact that I was lucky enough to get into the workshop due to a cancellation, I felt an additional bit of motivation to soak everything in. You see, I'm a wildly competitive person. Not with others, but within myself. I constantly push myself, constantly want to become a better person, wife, mom, photographer. I simply want to be the best version of myself to give to my couples, and having the opportunity to learn from the two of them gave a challenge to step my game up in a way I wouldn't have otherwise been able to do. Lanny's quote made me laugh, but it was also a kick in the pants to do what I'd come to do: learn, grow, and come away a better photographer. What I didn't know was that I'd come away a better person, and more purposeful photographer.
All that said, I'll try to break down a bit of the workshop, and give my final thoughts.
Day 1 was a day to get to know each other, get to know what makes Two Mann tick, and then start to dissect our own work to find ways to make it better, by implementing some of the wisdom that Lanny & Erika have to offer. This day was our foundation for the rest of the workshop...a way to set our groundwork for all that was to come. It was fantastic to get to see behind the veil of Two Mann, so to speak, and to get to see Lanny & Erika in such a real and raw way. I think many times we believe the people we look up to are above us; and while I'm still convinced that Lanny & Erika are some new superhuman prototype with the way they go 110% at all times, it was wonderful to see that they were right there with us, seeking to still grow, learn, and develop their own selves as well. The highlight of the day for me was the critiques they offered, which was when they went over my latest wedding blog post and dissected my shots, how I could make them better, and how I could take my work to the next level. It was extremely insightful to see what they saw in my own images, and it really opened my eyes on how to commit to a moment and see it through, instead of settling for a shot that could be better. Their advice to diversify the look of the shot by getting different angles was also a huge aha moment, and I'm excited to implement it into my work more. We left that night excited for the meat of the workshop, which would come on Day 2, which was the "Two Mann Toolbox"...and what a toolbox it is!
Day 2 was the meat of the workshop, and exactly why I so desperately wanted to come: it was time for the Two Mann Toolbox to come out to play! I won't go into all the tips and tricks they unloaded for us (and trust me, it was a LOT!), because it's definitely worth it to attend the workshop for this day alone. Lanny and Erika were dedicated to all of us having the opportunity to practice these concepts, and even better, within the entire group, there was a sense of collaboration. Lanny & Erika would put us in groups, and then we would break out to practice with each other. I had the opportunity to work with Danny & Emmerlee on this day, and it was fun to see the way they each saw scenes, and see the wheels turning for them. It was a joy to see them create something amazing, and then when we would come back together, it was fantastic to see everyone coming back with fantastic results. Lanny & Erika were more than happy to model as well, and at one point, the entire workshop group was holding me steady in a planter while I tried to master a technique, as Lanny was the model! It was really a group effort throughout the day, and a wonderful time to get to know one another and push ourselves in a safe environment. I went to bed feeling like I'd been given a whole new arsenal of abilities and ways to enhance the stories I tell for my brides and grooms, and I am excited to implement them in my next wedding.
Day 3 was a bit bittersweet, because I knew the workshop was coming to a close. However, Lanny & Erika had no intentions of going quietly into the night. The beginning of the day we went over their workflow and systems, where they allowed us to ask any questions and gave us their entire "behind the veil" look a their start to finish client experience. It was eye opening, and really helpful. We then went through an entire wedding of theirs (17k images in one wedding. Holy cow...these two don't stop!), and then Lanny went over the Two Mann "Special Sauce," showing us how he edits and what he sees in an image, and how to recognize the potential in a frame. After loads of information, they gave us one last challenge: they broke us into groups of 2 and 3, and had us go out and implement the tools we'd learned to create an image of our group mates. The twist was afterward, as they went through the images, whoever the image was of, then had to share their highest and lowest points of the workshop. It was a real, emotional time for many, and I know I found myself in tears as I assessed my strengths and weaknesses...but not out of sadness, but out of determination to grow and get better through the struggles. Lanny & Erika were inspirations throughout the workshop, and it was a huge driving force for me to see how much they gave to us. It was impossible not to want to do my best work not just for them, but for myself; they simply inspired the drive to that next level. After the challenge, we said our goodbyes and gave our hugs, and the technically the workshop was over....but no one wanted it to end. It's simply an amazing feeling to be surrounded by fellow creatives, and it's something I'll never get tired of when given the opportunity. You just want to push yourself further when you find yourself so inspired!
The quote above is a bit paraphrased, but the statement struck a chord with me. I go into each wedding 110%, ready to give everything I have to my couples...however, I have found myself somewhat afraid to get into personal space. Seeing how Lanny & Erika work, seeing how they build the relationship with their couples so that the trust is there was eye-opening, and encouraging. I *can* get in close, I *can* be in the personal space, so long as the trust, relationship, and expectation has been established. It's something I'm so excited to take into my weddings, and I think will provide my couples with even stronger moments from their wedding days.
Another point that they drove home was to shoot through moments, and be committed to seeing moments through if you feel strongly about them. It was amazing to see the tenacity of the two of them as they committed to seeing moments through, which they dubbed "buying tickets" (as in lottery tickets), and you see it in their work. They are patient, committed, and ready to watch, listen, and photograph moments that many other photographers might miss. It was quite enlightening to see that they really work a scene much longer than I would have imagined, and in turn, they develop more opportunities to capture that decisive moment for their clients. It gave me such an inspiration to take into weddings, and I can't wait to see what I'm able to capture for my couples because of it.
Above all -- and this is something I can't express enough -- Lanny & Erika are truly two of the most down to earth, humble, fun people I've had the honor of meeting. They genuinely care. At the beginning of the workshop, they asked us each what we hoped to learn, and as we told them, Erika was writing it down. Throughout the workshop, I'd see her taking notes, and then throughout our interactions, I realized that they were genuinely honing each of our experiences to ensure we received what we'd hoped to achieve in the workshop. At the end, when discussing our highs and lows, I shared what I'd felt were mine. Over the course of the past few months, I've become friends with one of my fellow workshop mates, Jess, who happens live in Canmore and work with Lanny & Erika. The last evening there, we were heading out to shoot, and Lanny encouraged me, remembering my goals and what I hoped to work on. He called me out as we headed out, and kindly gave me an additional push to go for my goals. It was the little things like that which I appreciated so much, and made me realize how invested both of them are in each of us who attend their workshop. I left the workshop feeling inspired but beyond that, I felt like I had been given 100% of their tool box, and I know I will walk into my weddings with more opportunities to create, regardless of the situation.
Lanny & Erika are the two best wedding photographers in the world, and it's easy to recognize why. They're passionate about their work, invested in their clients, and ready to go balls out each and every wedding. They embody what I hope to achieve in my own business, and if I can someday be half as good as them, I'm going to be extremely happy. Having the opportunity to work under their tutelage was such an honor, and being able to simply chat with Erika over meals, get to know her a bit, and not necessarily talk shop but talk life...that's what really shows how much heart and soul they have. Attending their workshop left me with more than just a toolbox for weddings. It left me inspired to be a better wife, mom, person...along with being a better photographer. If you're debating about going to their workshop, well, one, you're probably going to miss out on it because it's going to sell out (I say that from me simply waiting to warn my husband I was going to do it...and missing out on the first seats! This workshop sells out FAST). But, if you're thinking about it and you still have a chance to be a part, don't walk...RUN to get your seat. You won't regret it. I'm beyond thankful for the opportunity to get to learn from some of the industry's best, as well as build relationships with fellow creatives I wouldn't have otherwise had the chance to meet. The workshop was definitely worth the investment, and I'm walking away with so much more than I could have anticipated. I'm walking away with enthusiasm not only for photography, but for life. Balls Out! isn't just a workshop for technical skills...but a workshop for the soul, and you cannot put a price on that.
And, for those of you who've made it this far, go check out my amazing workshop colleagues, and prepare to be amazed. There is was so much talent in this group, it was fantastic to get to work with such great collaborators.
Lanny & Erika Mann - Canmore, Alberta
Jess Smith - Canmore, Alberta
Danny Dong - San Francisco, California
Elizabeth Golden - Jacksonville, Florida
Mel Rolston - Lethbridge, Alberta
Emmerlee Sherman - Minneapolis, Minnesota
William Lu - San Francisco, California
Martin McMahon - Ottawa, Ontario
Jeannette Gallant - Judique, Nova Scotia
Lee Weston - Toronto, Ontario
Cynthia Bendle - London, Ontario