Photographers Descend on Downtown Ferndale

Photographers Descend on Downtown Ferndale

(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, April 1, 2012 ed.)

It was one of those rare warm days this March that over 50 professional photographers from around Michigan descended on the alley of the Withington Parking Lot for a very special seminar.  Blair Phillips, a nationally-recognized photographer for seniors and weddings was in town for the day-long lesson in urban photography.

“Our responsibility is to get the job done.  You’re not always given the most picturesque of settings.  This is about taking what you’re given and seeing opportunities there,” said the Landis, North Carolina based photographer.

Phillips is known for his surprising and edgy photography that often incorporates abandoned cars, dilapidated structures, industrial equipment and fixtures, odd architecture, and the imperfect real-world features of cities into the scenes he creates for his clients.  He also travels the country teaching other professionals how to give their work that creative edge.

On March 22, he was hosted by the Detroit Professional Photography Association. The day-long workshop started in Downtown Royal Oak and continued in Downtown Ferndale, two places that the DPPA deemed “cool” enough for Phillips and his work, according to DPPA Executive Director Gregory J. Ockerman of Commerce Township. “This guy is a rock star in the photography business.  We wanted to bring him somewhere with a rock star feel.” 

They met behind Dollar Castle and worked their way down to the large dumpster and construction equipment at the back of the old Via Nove.  The mob of photographers followed Phillips as he positioned models in unusual places and explained the principles of his work.

“You might think that a sunny day like this is good, but for a photographer it can be a disaster.  You’ve got shadows to worry about and people squinting,” he said.  Phillips brings a powerful light with him to shoots that is mounted on a dolly and battery-powered.  “Sometimes you can just add more light to overpower the sun,” when shadows are an issue.  “Having good light means you can focus more on the pose,” he added.  “I did 60 weddings a year and I’d wake up looking out the windows all nervous, hoping it wasn’t too sunny.  But when you know what you’re doing and trust yourself, it isn’t so bad.”

In addition to a lot of tips about lighting, Phillips encouraged people to be thoughtful with their backgrounds and poses.  With a gorgeous model posed next to them, the gas meters on the back of Mother Fletchers immediately took on a new aesthetic, and a long wooden flatbed trailer parked on Planavon was the perfect spot for a sledge-hammer wielding bride.

“Be creative. Be unusual.  And be confident in yourself. Show your unusual work on your website so clients know ahead of time what to expect.  Tell them what you’re doing so they feel comfortable,” he advised.

As he went along he explained how elements in the background had an effect on his work.  “Frame using the stuff in the background,” Phillips said. “look at how the power lines and the poles can have dramatic effects.  I can have them angling right down at the subject or I can keep them going straight across.  They both work, it’s just a matter of how dramatic you want the lines to be.”

In addition to technical aspects of photography, Phillips helped the photographers understand how to build a rapport with the clients.  “Try to figure out how to approach people.  Some senior boys are shy.  Approach them differently than you would an outgoing person.  Try to match their pitch and enthusiasm.  He may think he’s too cool for all this.  If that’s the case, you be standoffish too, eventually he’ll come around.”

After the on-location shoots, Phillips and the crowd of photographers convened at the Birmingham Conference Center for a dinner lecture on photo finishing and marketing yourself as a cool photographer.

Bob Mihalko of Robert Gary Photography came all the way from Median, Ohio (between Cleveland and Akron) to see Phillips talk.  He was impressed with the uniqueness of the communities the workshops visited.  “The street businesses and boutiques where you park and walk, that’s the way it always was.  In so many communities these shopping areas are just dead,” Mihalko said.  “Ferndale was a great choice.”

Wendy Curtis of Wendy Curtis Photography in Grand Rapids says workshops like this are essential for photography professionals.  “My goal is to look different than Uncle George who se at a wedding taking snapshots,” Curtis said.  “I went to North Carolina just to see Blair. It’s absolutely worth it. It’s a different way of approaching photography that keeps it edgy and different.”

Ed Lane of Digital Lane Photography in Ferndale was ecstatic.  “I’m so glad we got to host Blair Phillips here in Ferndale.  But really, what better place is there?”

The DPPA often brings in guest speakers and does interesting workshops and fieldtrips. Find out more about the organization at http://dppa.net/index.html.

Learn more about Blair Phillips at http://www.blairphillipsphotography.com/.

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