Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: After Dark Education - Las Vegas

Thanks to Stephanie Zettl for sharing this review with us!

Website: After Dark Education

Presenters: 35 Mentors...
Ben Shirk, Bert Behnke, Bry Cox, Carl Caylor, Chuckie Arlund, Cody Clinton, Damon Tucci, Dan & Alex McClanahan, Dan Davis, Don Chick, Eddie Tapp, Heidi & Troy Effert, Jen Hilenga, John Cooper, Jordan Chan, Julia Radlick, Justin Jagare, Ken Sklute, Kevin Jairaj, Lindsay Adler, Lori Nordstrom, Mark Fitzgibbons, Martin Grahame-Dunn, Melanie Anderson, Mike Fulton, Mike Ridinger, Pete Wright, Peter & Kelly Holcombe, Stacy Walker, Steve Ragland, Tim Riley, Travis Gugelman

Date: February 16-18, 2011 (The next one will be May 9-11 in Cincinnati OH)

Location: Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas, NV

Price: $400

Included: 3 days of instruction, mentoring and shooting

What I expected: Good business advice and a chance to try out different light techniques in a studio environment

Expectation Met: Yes. The experience actually exceeded anything I could have expected.

Who This Workshop is For: I believe anyone at any level can learn something at After Dark. I think people who are in their second to fourth year of business will take away the most in terms advice, experience and technique. However, I learned a great deal and I have been shooting for 12 years and have owned my own business for 8 years.

Education is very important to me. I believe that photographers should invest in themselves by investing in their education. I have been fortunate enough to study with some of the best photographers and attend some very good conferences. I like classes that have small student to teacher ratios, hands on experience, offer practical information, and support an open and welcoming environment.

When it comes to return on investment for your educational dollar, in my opinion nothing compares with After Dark Education. However, the big problem with After Dark Education is that it is difficult to explain exactly what it is. It’s not exactly a workshop or a conference. It’s not a class or a convention. It is unlike anything else currently on the market in terms of an educational experience.

I was encouraged to attend AD by some past attendees who raved about the experience. They explained that it was a mixture of classes on everything from business to Photoshop and practical hands-on shooting. Since AD fell right before WPPI in Las Vegas, I decided to attend. I could always use some business tips and I needed to brush up on my studio lighting skills. I walked away with much more.

After Dark gets it’s name from the idea that much of the valuable education at a conference happens after dark, away from the conference rooms of 1000+ people, when you can ask questions, play and experiment. AD runs from about 1:30 pm to 2 am. (As a self-proclaimed night owl, I was happy with this arrangement.)

The set up for AD is a bit different than most conferences. The ballroom in the Hilton hotel was divided up into 10 Pods and 10 Bays.

The Pods are a sitting area of chairs, couches and a plasma television where one of the 35 mentors could give instruction on topics such as Lightroom, Photoshop, business and selling advice, marketing, portfolio review, camera basics, art history, and more.

The Bays were full studio set ups with every type of light modifier possible. The mentors gave instruction on everything from children’s portraits, to pet photography, to high school seniors and high fashion work. After the mentor gave instructions, everyone was encouraged to try shooting the different situations. The mentor was there to make sure they got the shot and understood what they were doing.

The approximately 250 students attending had the opportunity to freely choose the classes that interested them. Because so much was being offered, the student to mentor ratio was pretty low. People could freely ask questions and receive the help and instruction they needed. While there are set classes and topics to be taught, it is loose enough to allow for the organic learning experiences that lead to the all important “ah-ha” moments.

What I appreciated about the mentors that teach at AD is their willingness to answer questions and help. If someone had a question about a topic, many mentors were willing to give personal attention outside of their scheduled “pods” or even have additional mini “pods.” There were no stupid questions. You’re there to learn and that’s taken seriously.

The real magic of AD happens after the “formal” shooting set-ups are over at 11:30pm. This is when students are encouraged to grab one of the models, a group of other students, some lighting gear, and go create something. The creative energy is infectious.

One other thing I appreciated about AD was that there was no pimping of goods or hard sells for action sets and marketing material. You never heard the phrase “And if you want to learn how to do this, buy my DVD.”

This workshop is not for anyone who wants to sit on the sidelines and watch. You are expected to participate. Personally I hope that people do more than participate, but actually challenge themselves. Those that put forth the effort will walk away with a great deal of knowledge. I know I did.

As AD continues to grow and improve there are a few things I would like to see improved. It seems to me to be a bit focused on portrait work. I’d like to see more wedding pods. I’d also like to see more women mentors. I think it would add to the students experience to be introduced to successful women photographers who also know their craft well enough to teach it.

In conclusion I can not say enough good things about my experience at AD. It was well worth the money and the investment of my time. And since learning never stops, I plan to attend another AD in the future. There will always be something new to get out of it.

Stephanie Zettl is a St. Louis Wedding and Portrait Photographer. She enjoys both the scientific and artistic sides of photography and is always looking for ways to keep her creative juices flowing..

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