February 12, 2016 HoffShop 2016 | This changes everything
This is a super long blog post, and for that I apologize, but there’s no way to cut this down and still do it justice. I’ve tried writing about the HoffShop a few times already and keep starting from scratch. Even weeks later, I’m still processing and don’t feel like I’ll do it justice, but I’m afraid the longer I wait, the harder it will be to capture just how life changing this experience was.
A little less than two years ago, one of my photographer friends posted on Facebook that she had just got a spot to the HoffShop in Memphis. I hadn’t heard of it so I looked it up. It sounded intense. I felt creatively stuck and this sounded like just the thing to shake it up and get me excited about my work again. It sounded hard, and that was exactly what I wanted. But I had never heard of the Hoffers, and it was a lot of money to spend on an impulse. So I waited. The next morning I had slept on it and decided this was something I needed to do for myself, so I went back to the website. Little did I know, it sold out in ten minutes and I had long missed my chance. I signed up for their mailing list and knew that I couldn’t let myself miss the opportunity the next time.
Over the next year I followed their work closely. I loved how creative they were with portraits and how they seemed to capture an impossible amount of beautiful and hysterical real moments. Their work made me feel something, without fail, every time. I knew right away that I wanted to not only learn from the Hoffers, but I loved their work so much, I also wanted to be photographed by them as well. Thankfully with them living only 2 hours away, that was a very doable thing! They came to our house to capture our every day lives in our modest little home, and the images mean more to me than I could have ever imagined.
Fast forward to the day of our shoot. Amy and Tony are such sweet, humble, wonderful people, and we felt comfortable with them right away. We’ve been photographed a bunch of times now between our wedding, engagement, and anniversary sessions. I’ve also worked with and for more than a dozen different photographers. I was absolutely fascinated with how different the experience was being photographed by them. It was so much fun to watch them craft a shot and see things the way they do. But the biggest revelation for me was this: They worked slowly and deliberately. They took their time to find the light, get the exact composition that they wanted and then take the image. This was so different from our experience with anyone else. I feel like so many of us photographers feel the need to constantly be talking, snapping away, filling the void so our clients don’t ever see us thinking. As though letting them see us think is a sign of weakness instead of a part of the creative process. Being photographed by the Hoffers gave me permission to take my time, think it through and get a shot just right, and it marked a big change for me. I was really thrilled with the direction my work was going in.
I wanted more of that. When they announced the HoffShop for this winter I knew I had to be there. I wanted to be better, and I knew that this was the way to get me there. The HoffShop sold out in ONE minute, and thankfully I was one of the lucky few to grab a spot.
The typical photography workshop goes something like this: “Famous” photographer talks about how they do what they do. They demonstrate how they do what they do, and then you try to emulate it. It often includes a styled shoot in impossibly perfect conditions, and everyone shoots over their shoulder, leaving with the same portfolio. HoffShop couldn’t have been further from this.
If I had to choose one word to describe the HoffShop, it would be humbling. I went into the Hoffshop comfortable with where I was in my work, but wanting to get better – whatever that meant.
Day one, our work was broken down in tough, but necessary critique. The critique part honestly went better for me than I expected. There were some interesting observations that I didn’t expect going in (but totally agree with). For the most part, I knew where I was and where I wanted to be, and their assessment was in line with that. I just needed the tools to get there. I learned so much from my own critique and listening to the critique of the others. I was already feeling inspired and pumped to get out there and apply what I had learned.
The following days, we watched Tony and Amy shoot a bit, but the majority of it was geared towards getting us working and thinking differently. We had hours to shoot with real couples, working on challenges specifically assigned to each person to break us out of our comfort zone and elevate our work. What I loved most about this is that it’s on you entirely to create the image, to try new things… and to fail, if that’s what’s going to happen. On our first day of shooting I was having fun with it and trying new things. I was watching my thought process changing, and that was exciting. But I was still disappointed that I didn’t have anything I was really proud of. On the drive back to the Hoffice (their office) on the first day, Hermine said it best: “Whenever we leave a shoot, we normally have 2-3 images that we love and can’t wait to post online. Today we had none.” I felt the exact same way. When we got to critiquing our images from the day, I was blown away by the beautiful images that my new friends were creating. It was so awesome to watch them all grow. When I looked at my own work, it was only marginally better than before and there was still a lot of improvement that could be made. Several of the shots, I critiqued on my own, seeing things I could have done to improve them – but it didn’t occur to me in the moment. Looking back on it, I feel like we were all in the same place at that time. We were doing new things, we were applying the new ideas, but we had put impossibly high standards on ourselves. I know now that this is a process, and you aren’t just going to wake up one day and be 100 times better than you were the day before. It’s going to take time and effort to get there. Baby steps.
On day three, I felt stuck. I knew what I needed to work on for my assignments, but I put so much pressure on myself to step it up and try to find that epic amazing shot, that I started to get incredibly frustrated. Pair that frustration with emotional and physical exhaustion, and you get a breakdown. I tried so hard not to be “that person” but the more I held it in, the more stuck I felt, and the more frustrated I got. After part one of day three’s shoot, we reconvened at the venue. My new dear friend Juliana could tell something was wrong, and when she asked me if I was okay, I lost it. Not only was I frustrated with myself and my work, but I was incredibly embarrassed that I cracked under pressure, making it even harder to recompose myself. As awful as it was to have that breakdown, it just proved what I already knew about Amy, Tony, and my fellow attendees: every single one of them was a wonderful, encouraging, REAL human being and no one was judging me.
After I had taken the time to compose myself, I jumped back in for our last shoot of the class – the crap shoot. Where we were given difficult challenges to make the most of “crap” – whether that crap was bad lighting or an ugly location, it was on us to make the most of it and make a great shot. These final images were from the crap shoot and trying some things I probably wouldn’t have done before.
In the days following HoffShop, I was constantly processing everything I learned. I would see light differently while I was out to eat dinner. I would look for interesting composition while a passenger in the car. I can go back through my own work and find images that I love, and see ways that I could have made little tweaks to make it that much better. It’s going to take some time to apply every part of what I learned, but I learned SO much and I’m in this thing for the long haul. I can’t wait to see where I am a year from now and watch the process in the meantime.
It was hard. It was incredibly personal. It was challenging and frustrating, but so encouraging and inspiring. Being at HoffShop was the most emotionally vulnerable thing I’ve ever done personally or professionally. And I honestly believe that I already am and will continue to be so much better for it. Leaving HoffShop I’m a much more humble person. I am leaving inspired creatively and I feel like I have the tools to be fully present emotionally in my clients’ wedding days to capture the little moments that no one else sees and to make beautiful art for them. HoffShop more than changed the way I do and will continue to work, but it changed my life. I hope that some day I can pay it forward.
Tony, Amy, Jim, Farid and Lindsay. Thank you for everything. Thank you for diving in deep to our work and our lives to make this such an intense personalized experience. Your effort and dedication to us as individuals was apparent through every part of the process. It was so obvious how much you guys wanted each of us to come out of this better, and for that reason I worked hard not only for myself, but for you. It’s now weeks later and I still get emotional thinking about the three days of HoffShop. (I’m crying now writing this, shocker.) I’ll never be able to convey how much it meant to me to have someone else care so much about making me a better photographer. This business is such a personal thing. To have someone care so much about my business and my work, is an investment in me as a person. That’s such a huge thing to get from someone else, and I don’t take it lightly that you did this for me.