Never Stop Learning

Never stop learning.

September 30, 2015

As a freelancer for the last 25 years, I’ve become accustomed to the cycles of boom and bust. It’s either so busy that you’re turning down work or so slow you are sending yourself test emails to be sure your server hasn’t gone down.  So I try to keep an even keel, taking pleasure in passing along assignments I can’t handle to other photographer friends and using the slow time to work on marketing, SEO and training. Since I’ve started freelancing there hasn’t been a moment when there was nothing to do.

After a very busy summer and a 3-assignment week to start off September, feast turned to famine and the remainder of the month turned assignment-free.  Assignments that were supposed to happen never materialized.  Bids sent out went unanswered and as part of some great cosmic joke, my email server did go down for seven hours yesterday.

It was extremely fortunate that this slow assignment time coincided with some amazing learning opportunities in Atlanta.  I’ve always tried to stay current and learn new things. This has become especially important in the field of visual communications the last few years, as photography has shifted its’ emphasis from the printed page to pixels on a screen and expanded to include not just the still image but motion and audio.  I find it inspiring and energizing to sit through a class taught well by someone who is an expert in their craft.

My 10 days of learning began with a two-day workshop on the Business of Photography taught by Todd Bigelow and sponsored by the Atlanta Southeast chapter of ASMP. (Full disclosure, I serve on the Board of Directors of the chapter). I’ve been a long-time admirer of Todd’s work but we have never met and I had no idea how great Todd’s workshop would be.  It was gratifying to see other veteran photographers that I know and respect sitting in the audience ready to soak up Todd’s wisdom. Todd is based in Southern California and travels around the country with his program. Make time to see it if you can.  ( ) I was blown away by how he has simplified the processes of SEO and copyright protection. I came away from Todd’s workshop with a long list of action items that will keep me busy for weeks.

Two days after Todd’s workshop and with my head still churning with ideas to implement, I sat through a 3-hour Video lighting workshop sponsored by FJ Westcott, Showcase Camera and taught by Jem Schofield of fame. Honestly, I had never heard of Jem (slap head, sorry Jem) and was skeptical of this workshop and dreaded that I would simply be paying for the privilege of sitting through an advertisement for Westcott lighting products.  Not to worry, Jem carefully walked that fine line and taught an expert class on video lighting with patience and good humor.  He demonstrated the revolutionary new line of Westcott flexible LED lighting products, but the class was first and foremost about the technqiue of lighting and not a hard-sell for the gear.  Jem really helped break the logjam of video lighting concepts that I’d been having in my brain. Jem’s Booklight Kit now sits in my Wishlist waiting for assignments to return.

Next up on the learning binge was a drone workshop conducted by DJI on their new line of Phantom drones. The DJI New Pilot Experience is touring worldwide. And while this one-hour workshop was pretty much a sales pitch for DJI drones, which I already own and fly, I did come away with some new ideas on how I might be able to utilize the Phantom 3 series drones in ways in which I had not previosuly considered. Best of all, I was able to walk out of the store where the workshop was held, showing great restraint and self-control, without buying a thing. Score! Phantom 3 Professional, Wishlist, check.

I ended the month of September with a personal video conference on the Mylio software platform (hey, I know a guy who knows a guy, what can I say). Mylio is an amazing new product that allows you to gather and organize your photos across all your devices. Up until learning about this product, I have never found a cataloging system for my photos that worked well with my workflow.  Mylio changes everything. You can try it out for free at

But wait, there’s more. One of the best way’s to learn is to teach! I find that teaching forces me to understand things better as it forces you to truly understand the concepts behind what you are teaching.  Last night I taught the first of five classes I will teach this fall at Emory University’s Continuing Education program. Over the next year I will be teaching Nikon School classes on video and lighting around the country.  I will be teaching a November 4, ASMP program in Atlanta on Audio for DSLR filmmakers and will be leading a Mentor Series workshop with Tom Bol to Oregon.  A full list of my workshops can be found here..!/p/-

One of the best learning opportunities anywhere will take place in Atlanta November 13 & 14, 2015 at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar.  The Seminar is the longest continuously running photojournalism conference in the U.S. and I’m proud to serve on it’s all-volunteer Board of Directors.

-Michael A. Schwarz

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