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|| News Item: Posted 2008-04-01

Workshop-Mania: Surviving 3 Exams, A Snow Storm and Sports Shooter Academy V
By Charles Ludeke, University of Missouri

Photo by
Three exams in one week. I was spending so much time studying in Ellis Library; I might as well have brought a sleeping bag and my pillow. My trip to Orange County for SSAV couldn't come any sooner ---I needed a break from school and the harsh, unpredictable Missouri winter.

On the day of my flight, a snowstorm that hit St. Louis added several extra travel hours to my trip. Normally, the drive to the airport is around an hour-and-a-half. Instead, it took me five hours to get there. My desire to be in 70-degree, sunny weather in Southern California couldn't come any sooner.

On the first shooting day of The Academy during Donald Miralle's Portrait Lighting class on Thursday, two AVP volleyball players, Brad Keenan and April Ross, posed as our subjects. I explained to my new friend, Rod Leland my idea: I wanted someone to lightly throw her the ball, and have her pass it, which would be my shot. He offered some advice to set up the lights and then tossed the ball for me. I was really glad he was so willing to help me get the shot I wanted. I learned quickly then that working together and sharing ideas was going to be a big part of this workshop.

After two days of shooting and a lot of images similar to what I make back at school, the rut I found myself in-focusing too heavily on peak action and less on moments-really frustrated me. Anyone can shoot a volleyball player spiking a ball over the bet or a couple of basketball players battling for a rebounded ball. What separates photojournalists from any other photographers is that we're visual storytellers … it's our job to be the eyes for those who could not otherwise be at the event.

At track and field, getting a shot of a pole vaulter clearing the bar is an average photo, but what about the girl who got her hair caught in a piece of Velcro on the mat? Situations like that show a different insight into an event, one that viewers would not typically be able to see.

I talked with SSA Alum Andrew Villa explaining how I was feeling about my shooting. He told me that he's never really happy with his work during The Academy and his images aren't up to par with how he normally shoots. SSA isn't necessarily just about making good photos during the workshop, he explained, it's more about what we learn during our time in California-from the critiques given by faculty members to looking at and learning from the other photographers' images-and applying it to our jobs back at home. Being able to take everything from this experience and integrate it into our shooting styles really makes this workshop worthwhile.

During the Friday night edits, I also spoke with LA Times staffer Myung Chun about my aggravation, hoping to get an opinion from someone with a lot of experience and probably some similar feelings to what I was having. Peak action isn't a problem for me, he explained, I can shoot it in my sleep. He told me that The Academy is not here for us to shoot for our editors; we're here for ourselves to shoot how we want. If I find myself comfortable on an assignment, he said, I should start pushing myself beyond what I'm used to doing to step up to the next level of photography.

Photo by Charles Ludeke

Photo by Charles Ludeke
Despite this frustration, determination to move beyond how I normally shoot really drove me to work harder. Many of the other participants spent all of Saturday at the Ben Brown Track & Field Invitational, but I didn't arrive there until later in the afternoon after shooting water polo and attending Miralle's underwater photography class at U.C. Irvine. The sun began to set when I made it to the track meet-perfect light to vary up my otherwise typical photographs.

LA Times staffer and workshop faculty member Wally Skalij offered advice to us at the meet. He told me how to use the sunset outlining the bodies of the athletes to accentuate the rim light-that if I set my exposure to the light, it would put emphasis on the details highlighted by the sun, pushing the background to black. The rim light would also give an outline separating the athlete from the dark background, accentuating the interesting body shape created as they moved through the air over the hurdles or over the high jump bar. This use of light would also give an extra element to add to the visual appeal of the image.

Bert gave us free range Saturday evening to do as we pleased-since we had been diligently working for the past few days, he pushed back the edits to Sunday morning. Unfortunately, I needed to do my edits that night since my flight on Sunday was at 10 a.m., and I would be missing all of Sunday's edits and critiques.

I completed my loose edit for water polo and then for track. Robert was one of the few staff members around that evening and I definitely wanted to hear what he thought about my photos. This was my chance to have a one-on-one with The Kahuna. I was a bit intimidated, but at the same time, I was ready for him to rip apart my stuff.

He explained that since most of the action in water polo was hidden underwater, it is a little difficult to get good stuff above the surface. Unique moments and interesting lines from the water make for better images in these situations he said. For instance, I got a shot of a girl passing the ball with water flowing in a circular spiral behind the ball. In my track and field photos, he really appreciated the way I used the light. Wally also looked through my edits and shared similar opinions. Finally, I had good reception over my images, especially from photographers of Robert and Wally's caliber.

Despite what I originally expected, his friendly attitude and helpful hints made me feel better about my images. The two previous days caused me to be a little self-conscious, but this one-on-one with Bert made me smile, helped build my confidence and start to feel better about my photography. I finally felt like my images held up in comparison with those that my fellow students were making.

Photo by Charles Ludeke

Photo by Charles Ludeke
Sunday morning arrived and it was time for me to catch my flight back to Missouri. On the plane, the flight attendant announced that the plane was overweight and needed six people to get off. I exited the plane and received a $300 voucher with American Airlines and a first-class flight back home later that day. Quite the striking contrast to the travel experience I endured before coming to California.

Instead of catching the Super Shuttle to LAX for my 5 p.m. flight, I went back to the Crowne Plaza to watch Saturday's critiques and awards ceremony. My roommate, Daniel Berman, won the Best Single Image for Saturday and also won Best Overall Portfolio - Student. I admired his hard work throughout the workshop, and eye for unique images. The awards for best overall portfolio were announced when Daniel was downstairs in the lobby printing his boarding pass. He came back into the room to a standing ovation only to look very confused, wondering what was going on. It was nice to see him glow after realizing what had happened.

The Academy was a great way for people to make new friends within the photography community. Being from Missouri, I only know a limited amount of photographers, generally students in my area. I liked meeting new people from all over the country. Many of the photographers were very open and welcoming. For example, SSA Alum Andrew Villa always made efforts to include everyone, he offered advice from previous workshops, and was an overall enjoyable person to be around. My other roommate Jared Wickerham, after speaking online for months before the Academy, was always there when I wanted help. We worked well together, giving each other a hand when needed.

Alongside making a bunch of new friends, networking presides as one of the great benefits of attending a workshop, SSA in particular. A few weeks later, Adam Alexander told me that Donald Miralle contacted him about possibly doing a summer internship with Getty Images. Adam and the rest of the SSA Alums stand with a marginal advantage over any other students vying for spots in a prestigious internship. The staff members have already seen the kind of images we can create and how we work while shooting. Hopefully more of us will come across similar career opportunities in our future. Maybe someday we'll see the same friends we made at SSA shooting next to us on the sidelines.

(Charles Ludeke is a student at the University of Missouri. You can view his work at his Sports Shooter member page:

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