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Jeremy Cowart Workshop Wrap, Confessions of a Parasitic Photographer & the Future of Kellan.

posted by Kelly

Greetings, salutations, yadda yadda yadda. From the looks of the title I have a lot to share. Oh yes, dear reader, I have a cup of coffee going too, so if you are wise you will join me. This is sure to be a long-winded post. Might I recommend a little Jon Foreman in the background, mood music always helps the mental palette.

So Ryan and I headed a little west a few weeks ago to Nashville, TN to attend the Jeremy Cowart Workshop. Now if you are scratching your head at that name then first of all, shame on you, second of all, slap your hand, third of all, click over to his site before you keep reading.

Jeremy is a master of off camera lighting, Photoshop, and truly a photojournalist (I hate how that term is tossed around in the photography industry). His bodies of work are along two distinctively different veins, the “haves” and the “have nots”. Carrie Underwood one day and Africa the next. He has had two books published documenting his travels overseas including my personal favorite, Hope in the Dark.

I will say it, I came on board with Jeremy only because of Ryan. Ryan has been following Jeremy since his graphic and web design days….long before he was the official tour photographer for Brittany Spears. Ryan is a true blue loyal fan of Jeremy’s work.

I am a fan of Jeremy’s heart (and so is Ry). He loves him some Jesus and he has an extreme soft spot for those in the world that are “the least of these”. He is passionate to tell the stories of those who can not do it for themselves, to bring humanitarian relief, medical care, and love. THIS, my friends, is worth taking a moments pause. THIS is what makes my heart race and my pulse quicken. THIS is using gifts to bless others in eternal ways.

So that is Jeremy. He’s pretty radicalmungo!

Back to the workshop. This was Ryan and my first time attending a photography workshop. We were pretty pumped that it was generic in the sense that it wasn’t wedding-focused. Don’t get me wrong, we can talk shop about weddings all day but we know we won’t be doing that forever, let us just learn more about the scope of photography. We sat in a room with 18 other photographers, some just starting, some seasoned in their field. Jeremy’s theme was simple and yet profound, “What is your passion?”

The first night Jeremy walked us through his journey growing up exploring the creative arts. He also took us through his entire website critiquing his own work and telling stories about certain celebrities or breaking down the way he lights things. Apparently, Jeremy and I were surfing the same wavelength because in a room full of 20 people you could hear my nasally chuckle on and off for two hours. Me and ONLY me was laughing at his commentary. What can I say, I am a sucker for dry, self-deprecating humor!

The next day was full of lighting knowledge as we watched Jeremy work with four models lighting things off-camera and with natural lighting. We watched how his direction, posing, and composition come together. Each of us gleaning little nuggets of wisdom from a master. Then it was our turn to work with the models and for his assistant to come around and let us lock into some off-camera lighting. We had an hour and then we had to pick three photos to be projected on a MASSIVE wall and critiqued.

Cue nervous sweat and poo cramps. OH MAN…I don’t care how many comments we receive, how many fans on FB or Twitter followers….you are your own worst critic. We always chuckle when people sing our praises (although very much appreciated!!) If you think we are big fish then you clearly don’t know how big the pond is! To have a little piece of your soul projected 20 feet by 12 feet on a wall is humbling.

******HONESTY ALERT******

I, Kelly Portnoy, have never shot in manual until the Jeremy Cowart workshop. For those of you non-photographers reading you could care less about that statement. For those of you photographers reading you may have gasped a little.

I mean REALLY…and you call yourself a professional? Yup, darn skippy I do.

I remember clearly listening to a photography GIANT, Cliff Mauntner speak on the showroom floor at WPPI last year bagging on photography snobs that say you HAVE to shoot on manual. He confessed he doesn’t shoot manual all the time and he is known as one of the top ten wedding photographers in THE WORLD! It’s the end product we are going for and there are a gazillion ways to achieve that. So what if I shoot aperture value or shudder priority. I achieve what I am going for.

BUT, I confess…I am a parasitical photographer of Ryan’s skills. We joke that Ryan has technology autism. Me, not so much. He can read a manual folks (gag) and digest and retain all that he reads. I am visual ALLLLL the way. Show me, let me see what you are talking about, practice it, (cue lightbulb) AHA! That is how I learn and that is how I have been learning all along the way. Organically! Truthfully, I have felt insecure though not being able to shoot in manual. I wanted to understand the camera more and be able to troubleshoot lighting situations without my little nerd husband (said lovingly) being there to bail me out if I got stuck. It was important to me. I decided for 2010 I was going manual, not that I won’t have a fling or two on the side with AV and TV….but I was going to show my camera who was boss. Own it baby!

So here we go….I am in a group with four other ladies and given a professional model to work with. Lacey was incredible! Sweet as the day is long. I don’t know who I felt more sorry for, her or me. It was 5:1 ratio and her name was being yelled every two seconds to look here or there, act this way or that. It is very hard to grab a shot or frame up a shot when you are literally on top of another photographer doing the same thing. Five vultures on a fresh piece of meat.

Example: I do not lie…this was the reality


I took my time, talking myself through my settings and just went for it on manual. This is what I came up with during my time with Lacey and the vultures (I LOVED the ladies I was with).

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

This is where I will say my epiphany happened. I really really love photographing women. Figuring out feminine angles and body language. I love pulling the vulnerability and inner beauty out. I love processing with soft, vintage tones, this is ME in photo form. This is where I want to continue to go.

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Transitioning outside.

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

The windows she was just leaning against acted as the most amazing reflector when we brought her further into the courtyard. None of these next photos were shot with a flash.

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

So then we moved into this very cool restaurant with awesome blue glass walls aptly called Sapphire. This is what the room looked like without any lighting whatsoever.

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

CONFESSION #2!!! Here is the moment folks, the first time I locked into off-camera lighting. Besides running a sharpening action, these are right out of camera.
Ryan is the only one who uses off-camera when we shoot receptions or portraits. I stick with my external flash. Ignorance is bliss or is it?

Lacey Young- Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Lacey Young - Jeremy Cowart Workshop

Loved using it! It was great practicing with it. I also enjoyed going back to Jeremy’s studio and watching him use these insane octobanks showing us how to balance off camera lighting. He immediately showed us frame by frame what each shot looked like as more lighting was added and moved around. Visual Kelly grabbed on immediately…AHA!

So then came the critique time. Both Ryan and I were fairly unscathed with just minor criticisms of our post processing and composition. Jeremy was gentle.

There is so much more but this post is enormous and I haven’t even addressed what is ahead for Kellan. We learned a lot while we were there, mostly subtle things about our business future. We had 9 hours in the car to discuss what was on our heart about Kellan and our passions. Where were we going and shy and how does this affect our marriage, our children, Ryan’s full-time job.

Most people do not realize that this is not a full-time gig for us and there are no plans for it going full time. Although we have been blown away by what the Lord has done with Kellan in 3.5 years we also learned the hard way in 2008 that pursuing wedding photography full time is not a fit for us. We have such a young family and plan on adding one more freakishly large child to the crew in the near future. We have only been married for 4.5 years and rather enjoy being together at home. Ryan was blessed with an AMAZING day job as a commercial photographer and web designer for a SAHWEET leather design company, Moore and Giles Inc. He gets to use his camera skills almost daily and loves it!

We drastically backed off on bookings in 2009 to just two weddings/month and for 2010 we backed off even more to one wedding/ month (with the exception of Oct and July). Our priority is our marriage and family and because of that we have had to make the choice to conscientiously step back from the wedding industry, get really darn picky about our clients and travel at a rate that fits our family. If you are one of our 2010 clients then pat yourself on the back, you made the cut! HA! I think we are going to get even more stingy about 2011.

We will never regret putting our marriage and children first and walking away from a lot of success that was handed to us so quickly. This is what is right for US, this is our conviction and what we feel clearly the Lord is showing us to do.

We learned we are passionate about making “pretty” photos. That may sound elementary but you have to understand how fickle this industry is. You can literally sell your first born to keep up with equipment. Editing trends come and go like the tide. Lighting options are endless. Finding your voice in an industry that is SATURATED is very difficult to do. The bottom line is we are paid very well by our clients and they should get our best. What will always be timeless and something we are proud of, especially when working with mostly brides is pretty photos. Photos that make you say “OOOOOHHHHHHH”. We want women, brides and couples to see our photos and say, THAT is how I have always dreamed of being photographed. This is what we want to be known for, that is where we feel we are approaching but want to push ourselves even farther.

I hope you have enjoyed a little voyage into my brain and back again. We hope to continue to encourage and inspire those who are fair-weathered voyeurs of our work and to those budding photographers looking for advice or seasoned vets that sharpen us in the industry. Thanks for 3.5 years of love, support and patience as we continually learn to grow in our craft.

19 Responses

Jenna Rae says:

February 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I am so glad I was able to meet you both at the workshop. Your heart and willingness to help others is amazing! Kelly I loved being in your group too:)

Meridith says:

February 4, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Well spoken!!!!! And no gasping (though I was surprised to learn about your shooting mode preferences!). Thank you for opening up like that. And for the record: you create darling, timeless images, incase you needed a little “Amen” from the crowd. Pretty sure the next to last paragraph is a great mission statement.

Kristin Partin says:

February 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm

That was overwhelming and inspiring all at the same time. Your journey is encouraging to say the least. Thanks for sharing all of this with us :)

OH and you’re phenomenal at capturing women…just like you said.

Kristin Partin says:

February 4, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Oh and I was shocked at the manual mode setting, too! but hey, if you can master on tv or av i’m stunned.

Stancy Higley says:

February 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Well said friend! You guys were so encouraging, and it’s even more encouraging to hear that your true desire is to glorify the Lord with your marriage and family. It was such a blessing to meet you guys!

Julie Nickerson says:

February 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Great post!

You know I loves these photos of Lacey! You did great! But yeah, I would be totally nervous to show the world my photos on that large screen. Scary!

Seth and I have talked numerous times that this year-2010-will be our year to step up off camera lighting. There is so much to learn, but we need to step it up.

We totally respect only taking on a limited number of clients…that is our goal as well. We would rather have clients that truly appreciate our work (and our willing to pay our price). We want to give them the best work that we can possibly produced.

We are learning and growing all the time in this industry.

And by the way, Seth and Ryan are so alike. I always laugh when you talk about Ryan and you b/c it sounds like Seth and I. I always say he makes me look so much better than I am. I am so much more visual too. So Seth reads, studies and practices it and then shows me! :)
Love our nerdy hubbies!

ps-and I totally respect FAMILY FIRST!

AmyPunky Photography says:

February 4, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Hey sometimes I shoot in AV too!! Great post!! :)

Julie Nickerson says:

February 4, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Oh and I meant to say, I love shooting in AV, but I do need to shoot in manual more often.

Aimee Blanks says:

February 4, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Love that you said, “poo cramps” - that’s the Kelly I know and love! Thanks for sharing your heart girl…love it, love you!

Lissa Anglin says:

February 4, 2010 at 9:23 pm

+10 for you guys! It was wonderful to meet you, and I KNOW that the Lord will honor your decisions to keep the most important things first.

Huong says:

February 4, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve actually been struggling with the decision to get saturated in the wedding photo business as a husband and wife photo duo mostly because Jeff and I are only a few months into our marriage. I’ve been hesitant and afraid that if we did this, we’d somehow start seeing each other as business partners before we could really have the chance to invest our time just being a solid married couple, and I don’t want to concentrate on trying to build a business together before building our marriage. Reading about your journey and the way you are selective about how many weddings you shoot a month was definitely insightful—I didn’t even think about the option of saying “no” to more than two weddings a month :) Kudos to you and Ryan for putting your family first! I totally admire you both :)

Natalie says:

February 5, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Love the post Kelly. It has been a while since I have commented, but I still follow your blog and love the photos you take, and love your stories - and how much you and your family LOVE Jesus!

And as a ‘wanna-be’ photographer, yet never shooting in manual, i was shocked you said you never shoot in manual! but your photos look amazing - so just keep on doing what you are doing, and i’m going to stop beating myself up for NOT shooting manual.

Loren says:

February 7, 2010 at 11:46 am

I always love it when you speak the truth and bare your soul, Kelly. I’ll keep stalking the blog. :)

chrissy says:

February 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm

i love this post, kel. this is so raw. i love that you got to go to that workshop. jeremy cowart is ridiculousness. :) but most of all, i’m so glad you got that time with ryan- to talk about your future. it’s so good to always reassess and remember what’s important to you personally. i love how you put your family first. it’s admirable.
love you guys! xoxo

Christine Pobke says:

February 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Love this post! :) And man those pictures rock! Your fave is totally my fave - and it’s brilliant that you worded it as “this is me in photo form” - I’ve only had a handful of those moments! :) You guys rock.

amy says:

February 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm

ok, i love you guys and love that you are happy with where God has you, so little clients and all.

so, here i am, booking you for my future wedding, whenever that may come. can i get on the list?!? ;) i’ll let you know the date as soon as the Lord brings the husband along and the day he proposes!


love you, kel!! (oh, ryan, you’re pretty cool, too)


Kelly says:

February 11, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I think these photos are SO beautiful! I love the lighting in them. I am really excited to be one of your 2010 brides:) Its my favorite thing checked off the to-do list!

Nate says:

February 18, 2010 at 7:08 am

This is an inspirational post, and a great way to start off the day today. Your photography together is amazing, but working together and having a successful marriage is what is really moving. I’m glad to hear that you guys have listened to your hearts and will follow.

BEVERLYMccray28 says:

May 6, 2010 at 9:58 pm

All people deserve very good life and or consolidation loan would make it much better. Because people’s freedom is based on money.

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