Cliff Mautner Lighting & Skillset Bootcamp: A Review


Shadow is my canvas; light is my paint.
— Cliff Mautner

It's no secret that from the beginning of my career in wedding photography, I have studied and watched a handful of photographers whose work resonates with me. One of the top photographers I have studied is Cliff Mautner. Cliff's ability to paint with light has always amazed me, and when I saw that he was holding a Lighting and Skill Set Bootcamp at his studio in Philadelphia, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. The thought of learning from one of the best wedding photographers in the world (American Photo Magazine regards him as one of the top ten, to be exact) gave me both a thrill of excitement, as well as a minor panic attack, to be quite honest. What would he be like? Will I look like an utter fool? I would be lying if I didn't say that as I pulled up to his studio, my hands were shaking a bit. However, the feeling of nervousness was quickly washed away, as Cliff is quite honestly one of the kindest, most humble, and welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

From the beginning of the workshop, Cliff welcomed all of us with open arms, and told us up front that he would be an open book, no matter the question. The first night was a welcoming evening, where we had the opportunity to meet each other, chat, get to know what we could expect from the upcoming days, and just enjoy one another. Cliff opened it up for us to ask questions from the start, and I enjoyed Monday evening settling in, and getting to know my fellow photographers. One of my "classmates," Mary Beth, was staying in Philadelphia as well, outside of the hotel, so I gave her a ride home and we became good friends over the course of the workshop. It was amazing how quickly we all were cracking jokes, enjoying each other, and rallying to help one another. So many times in the photography world I have seen fellow photographers hold their cards close to their chests, opting to keep their secrets to themselves. Such was not the case here. Everyone was kind, willing to collaborate, and just plain fun. It was a joy to get to know photographers from 9 states and 6 countries -- yes, you heard that right -- 6 countries. It was a wonderful experience to get to know so many fantastic people I would otherwise never known.

With that being said, I'll break down the days of the workshop for anyone thinking of going, and then wrap it up. I apologize in advance for the length; it truly was a jam-packed week of education, but SO very worth it! So without further ado, here's my experience with Cliff's Lighting and Skill Set Bootcamp!

There is no un-suck preset.
— Cliff Mautner

Tuesday morning we started bright and early at 8:45, and Cliff delivered a wonderful breakfast. Seriously, all of you going to Cliff's future workshops...come hungry! The food was phenomenal, and there was never any shortage. We grabbed our plates, took our seats, and at 9 am Cliff began to go over the day's agenda, what we would learn, and began dissecting what we would be doing. After the morning of going over how to shoot in harsh light, Noelle, Cliff's studio manager, made sure we had lunch -- another fantastic meal from the café across the street. During lunch we asked more questions, prepped our gear, and welcomed the models as they arrived. After lunch we quickly loaded up, and had the opportunity to practice our skills in Washington Square Park in Philadelphia, a location I have loved seeing in Cliff's images. It's just as beautiful as he has depicted, and it was fantastic to get to work there.

But here's the part you as potential workshop goers will love to hear: there is NO SHORTAGE of models. There was never a battle to shoot, never a fight to lead posing. We split into groups of 4-5 photographers, and each of us had a couple or a single model to work with. We worked collaboratively, then took turns posing the models, who were fantastic and very professional. As we worked, Cliff came around to all of the groups and assessed how we were doing. He genuinely wanted us to achieve superb results, and gave us insight as to how to make it happen. It was impressive to see how much he cared that we got things right. And also, for me, he helped me make sure that I was taking care of my gear properly, which I greatly appreciated. One of the things he told us multiple times was that there was "no un-suck preset" in post, so to be sure to get it right in the camera. I won't speak for the whole group, but I loved Cliff's candid nature, and the fact that he didn't sugar coat his thoughts, but also delivered it in a way that was insightful and palpable.

After a couple hours at Washington Square Park, we loaded back into our chartered van (Notice how Cliff makes sure we're always taken care of? Because he really, really does!) and headed to Philadelphia City Hall to work on directional light, as well as how to make light in different situations. Again, we broke into groups and got straight to work after Cliff showed us how to "find the light" and create beautiful images out of a place that I wouldn't have necessarily thought images could be possible. After seeing the images that *I* was creating in a situation where I probably would have overlooked the location based on what I'd initially assessed as a poor lighting situation, it made me excited to find the light more often, and create more dynamic images for my couples in the future.

Once we finished at Philadelphia City Hall, we headed back to Cliff's studio where we downloaded our images, took a minute to decompress, and then headed out for dinner with Cliff at a local sushi restaurant. And man, was it great! It was wonderful to have the opportunity to discuss with classmates what we'd done that day, enjoy one another, and just soak up everything we'd been taught. After dinner we headed back to the studio, and we were back at it with discussion and questions. 

The day ended around 10, and let me tell you, by the end of the day, you are mentally fried, physically tired, and ready for bed...but I have never, EVER felt more excited to create images with what Cliff had shown me. It was beyond worth the investment, just in that one day of learning.

How do we expose? Properly.
— Cliff Mautner
Cliff Mautner Workshop

On Wednesday morning we started at 8:45 again, having a similar morning to Tuesday, as Cliff explained what we'd be doing, how to achieve it, and discussing questions with us. After lunch, we hopped on the bus with our models once more, but this time we went to the Crowne Plaza Hotel to work on our getting ready photos, as well as implementing off camera flash into our repertoire. Cliff was amazing to watch as he showed us his technique to achieve his trademark style of images, and honestly, to me, it almost felt unfair how simple it was after having Cliff teach us. The way he finds light, then executes some of the most amazing, dynamic images with it is really amazing. Some of my favorite moments of the day were just watching him instruct the models himself as he demonstrated how he worked. Having the opportunity to watch him work was wonderful, and also gave so much insight as to how to achieve the same results. When he set us loose with the models, we were broken up into groups again, this time two groups in two separate suites, each group getting multiple models to work with and ample time to do so.

Once we'd finished there, we worked on off-camera flash in the Crowne Plaza Hotel Ballroom, and once again Cliff explained things so well that it was a lightbulb moment on just how beautiful images can be when done right. He joked with us throughout the workshop, "How do we expose? Properly." And while it was funny, it really was something he made so very simple to do. With his expertise and tutelage, it was a blast sharpening my skills with both natural light and flash.

That evening progressed in a similar fashion as the night before once we were done at the Crowne Plaza; we headed back to the studio, downloaded cards, decompressed for a moment, then headed to dinner. We met one of Cliff's daughters for dinner, and I enjoyed chatting with her and getting to know her a bit. I also got to chat with Roland more, who came all the way from Austria. It was great to hear more from him, as well as from Gladis, who was hilarious and a lot of fun to talk to. Truly, everyone at the workshop was phenomenal and a blast to talk with. I wish we could have had more time just to get to know each other more! You truly do become fast friends when you work with a group so much in such a short amount of time.

After dinner we went back to the studio, and that evening we had a live inquiry meeting, and Cliff answered all their questions about potentially being their wedding photographer. It was amazing to see him in that light, and hear how he would answer the tough questions that every wedding photographer grapples with as we work to meet our clients' needs. I enjoyed seeing how he worked with his couples, and definitely learned more than a few things from that session.

That evening before we left, Cliff told us to email him 3 images we'd taken from the workshop, as well as 3 images from work prior, and he would critique them in the morning. That was both slightly terrifying and exciting to hear, and I looked forward to hearing what he had to say about my work.

It’s about the quality of the light, not the quantity.
— Cliff Mautner

Thursday morning came early, and we were back at it at 8:45 as usual. Cliff took the time to go over everyone's images, showing us what we did right, where we could improve, and telling us what he liked most about the images. It was a really insightful time, and I enjoyed listening to his thoughts on everyone's images, as well as watching him show how some of the changes could drastically improve the image. It's amazing to see how much you can improve when you hand your image over to someone who isn't invested in it the way you are, and Cliff gave me a lot of wonderful advice to push my images to the next level. Afterward we went over more questions, had more amazing dialogue, and had the opportunity to pick Noelle's brain on post-processing, workflow, and how she works through all of the weddings that Cliff shoots. It was a wonderful opportunity to see "behind the veil," if you will, and Noelle was just as knowledgeable, kind, and open as Cliff. After our time with her, we wound things up with lunch. Afterward, we were giving our hugs and saying our goodbyes, and we were on our way. 

If it’s not innate, you can’t create.
— Cliff Mautner

So, after breaking down the progression of the workshop, I would like to wrap it all up. The problem is, there aren't enough superlatives to adequately convey how I feel about my time in Philadelphia with not only Cliff, but with the 19 other fantastic photographers I had the honor of meeting. But, some of the things that really hit home with me weren't all about the skills we learned while there. The things that stuck a chord were Cliff's openness, and the fact that from the start he stated that there were no stupid questions. I'm still very, very new to the industry, so I have a lot of questions that are still fairly basic. One evening I went to Cliff with one of those, slightly embarrassed to even ask, and Cliff was so gracious to explain and show me the answer. While that may sound simple, for me, that was huge. I'm not one to admit if I don't understand something, so 1.) for me to even feel comfortable enough to ask was something and 2.) for Cliff to take the time, and not be put off by my simple questions, that really meant a lot to me. His willingness to open his space up to us, to show us his entire business from the first inquiry to the final processing of images was fantastic, and I felt that he truly cared and WANTED us to succeed. His desire to ensure that we were learning and taking away the skills he was teaching was amazing, and the fact that he went around every day during the shooting and checked on us multiple times was wonderful. I felt that he was as invested in my success as I was, and because of that, I can't express enough how much I've taken away from his workshop.

Bottom line, if you are on the fence about attending Cliff's workshop, stop debating and go. There's a reason his workshops sell out so quickly, and it's because it's simply the best investment you can make for yourself and your business. There's no way that if you go, you'll walk away without feeling that you've grown from your time there.  I know that personally, I've already created stronger images after attending his workshop, and I can't wait to really jump into this wedding season armed with what Cliff taught me. Not only have I gained a stronger skill set and become more comfortable with my gear, but I've also gained a wonderful group of friends, as well as the confidence to create more dynamic images for my brides and grooms. And that, my friends, is worth every penny and more that I could have possibly spent on attending the workshop. Make the leap, invest in yourself, and attend Cliff's Lighting & Skill Set Bootcamp. You won't regret it.

CHECK OUT CLIFF'S WORKSHOP HERE

If you'd like to check out some of the fantastic photographers I had the honor of spending the week with, please see the links below! And, if you'd like to see some of my work from my time at Cliff's bootcamp, keep on scrolling, and enjoy! :)

Jamye Chrisman - Victor, Idaho
Christie Green - West Chester, Pennsylvania
Grif Kolberg - Houston, Texas
Dawn Gardner - Manassass, Virginia
Arnel Gonce - Charlottesville, Virginia
Liza Horwath - Pennsylvania
Annette Whelan - Newfoundland, Canada
Darren Bedding - Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Karolina Marek-Paraschidis - Switzerland
Dean Denis - Maine
Mary Beth Mahaney - Farmington, New York