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Terrifying. Wonderful. Life-Changing : Venice Symposium 2015 Photography Workshop

This past month, one of my best friends, my sweet sister-in-law (she’s a bestie too!) and my adorable nephew got a chance to share an amazing busy but full of fun girl’s week in Europe.

To finish it off we packed way too much luggage (that may or may not have been loaded with heavy Bavarian Crystal souveniers), and embarked on a day of trains headed to Italy. So we left toward Munich….during the current immigration debacle…and on the opening Saturday of Octoberfest. 😑 We should have been there by supper time, but a day of delays left us singing (and rapping!) acapella Disney songs and dancing for hours as we tried to keep my 1.5 yr. old nephew from showing us how it feels to miss both naps and be up til almost midnight.

By myself it would have been an exhausting tearfest rather than beer fest (you like what I did there don’t you 😉) but with these girls we made it with laughs and smiles and memories despite our exhaustion from carrying way too much and our paranoia of underground alleys with very seemingly helpful men in Italian cities at night. It turned out to be the perfect distraction that I needed for what was to come that week.

You see, back when Bryan and I planned our move to Germany, I happened upon the jackpot of all photography workshop opportunities. Yervant – one of the absolute best wedding photographers in the world (IN THE WORLD! 🙊) was hosting a 10th year anniversary workshop Symposium in Venice…and he was arranging to have about a dozen other WORLD leaders mentor and instruct us for the whole week. I excitedly signed up…and then months went by.

I never expected to have my focus so thrown off with all that went into relocating and adjusting to Europe and traveling like crazy. Honestly by the time this workshop came around, I was exhausted and felt so rusty from not being in my photo business routine of shooting people and having an active business-centered frame of mind. So I had all kinds of nerves showing up for a week with the best leaders in the industry. I am serious…I even broke out terribly as if my face was trying to write “I’m terrified to be here,” in brail. As the quote goes, I basically had that mentality “Don’t look at me I’m hideous!” Lolol.

And then I arrived at our beautiful hotel. I was waiting to meet my roommate who was coming in from Scotland when I realized our room situation was a bit “cozier” than we’d thought. 😧

 

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Luckily she is awesome! 😎 Meet Susan (pictured below).

I tried not to, but my nervousness seemed to ooze out of every comment in our conversation that first few days. I was glad at least to have her there and know I wasn’t the only one a little nervous at first.

 

 

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The walk from our hotel was so charmingly “Venice”.

 

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Walking into the Palazzo Zenobio, where we would be attending seminars, I found myself gawking at the ceiling. What an honor to be here and to attend something so so extraordinary. It became obvious that we were in for a surprise and an absolute treat in this experience.

 

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My goal was to lay low and observe while not drawing attention to myself so I did not sound stupid. However, as you may have seen on Facebook, my efforts failed when I had ordered Pizza (terrible food choice for a mess-making girl!) and one of my photography hero instructors – Jerry Gihonis (guys to put how I felt in perspective, this would be like a swimming student/athlete meeting Michael Phelps) sat down to meet people at our table and, apparently after a few minutes, didn’t like how I was eating pizza (Photo credit for this moment to my roomie Susan). As embarrassed as I was to be coerced to stuff my face with sloppy pizza in front of someone I have long followed, learned from and admired as a photographer, it was a good moment to encourage me to try and really chill out, be myself, and try not to be so nervous. Then there was that time I was still so shell-shocked I declined an invite to stand up and help Yervant – another main superhero of mine – demonstrate something in front of the whole group of students and instructors. I truly regretted that and afterwards I made a choice to try not to let my insecurities hold me back from partaking in the learning. As the time progressed, I began to realize that these people – as talented and accomplished as they are – are some of the nicest and most friendly down to earth people I could have imagined…and they were just real. nice. people.

 

My group’s very first class was from the man himself – Yervant. Yervant’s passion is contagious and his heart for not only photography but for instructing and spreading inspiration were absolutely incredible.

 

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Kelly Brown really opened our eyes to techniques for taking baby portraits, explaining the opportunity we have to continue services from a client’s wedding to the beginning of starting a family, and the vital importance of ensuring safety throughout it all.

(first photo below Credit to David Medina)

 

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The first half of the week it was like information overload; we learned so many things and were able to appreciate the unique approaches and styles of each Instructor’s Photography and business philosophy and incorporate their expertise into how we think about our own style and where we might want to go from here as we grow in our craft. I would walk home each day staring at Venice and people watching with thoughts and ideas whirling around in my mind.

 

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After some other truly mind-blowing seminars from Rocco Ancora, Jeff Ascough, Keda Z., Nik Pekridis, David Brenot, Salvatore Dimino, and Jerry Gihonis covering everything from technique to customer service to marketing to editing…we had an opportunity to watch and shoot under their guidance with some amazingly elegant models wearing Anie Z.’s beautifully designed gowns. Anie’s gowns were each unique and exquisite as you will see a few! This experience was invaluable – especially the part where we could watch the instructors and learn under them in action. Unfortunately it was raining, so we had to begin in the gorgeous halls and rooms of the amazing building. Bummer. 😉😉 It was such a cool experience!

 

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(Rocco Ancora guiding us for our first model below.) 

 

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(Keda Z. showing us what he looks for in composition and setting exposure and then also showing how he does off camera lighting.)

 

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(Yervant working with Valentina and Valentino.)

 

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Then when the rain lightened up we headed out. However the models were cold. ⛄️

 

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And the photographers were cold lol!💂 But we had a blast and learned from the best!

 

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(Salvatore Dimino working with our model in the awesome red gown.)

 

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(Yervant worked with us again outside and it was so so so cool to watch this couple light up and feed off of his joyful spirit and excitement. )

 

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(I adore this next photo below. Yervant was showing us how to show the model groom what he wanted him to do and this expression on Yervant’s face says it all about the contagious passion and excitement he has in photographing people.I love-love-LOVED seeing Yervant do what he does best. Seriously you can see how clients must totally brighten up when working with him!)

 

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(Yervant also used one of my new friends and fellow workshop participant Oriana to show that what he does is the same whether working with a model or a girl who is not used to being in front of the camera as much.)

 

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The shoot was a great learning experience, and that night I was so relieved to have the self-designated nerves about live shoot worked out. I’d met some great new friends by this time and my roommate Susan and I were dying to head back to this little place for their amazing risotto so we all met there.

 

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(Selfie credit Alyona Ulanovskaya)

 

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The risotto with Shrimp and Zucchini was out of this world!!

 

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That evening some of the group and I headed to St. Mark’s square since it would be our last night in Venice and it had flooded making some nice reflections!

 

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Oh we had a lot of laughs and fun. (next 2 photos below credited to Chris Yeo)

 

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I soon realized my phone only had 10% battery left to get me back to my hotel and farewelled this fun group to try and make my way home. Venice after midnight was eerily quiet and peaceful.

 

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In the morning a small group of us (including the fabulous Kelly Brown!) from the same hotel shared a water taxi to the airport where a bus would take us to our next destination.

 

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We headed toward the mountains to the home base of Graphi Studio, where we ate a fabulous lunch, heard from their amazing team, toured the facility and previewed the endless types of Wedding Book products they make available for their clients. They were the first in the digital Wedding Book business and are always on the cutting edge of technology continually making improvements and new products to offer photographers.

 

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On our final day of the Symposium, we took a bus that would wind deeper into the mountains eventually dropping us off at Castello Ceconi – Graphi Studio’s designated home for all photographers. It’s safe to say we were all impressed. 🙈🙊

 

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We watched and participated as the talented and hilarious Michele Celentano  showed us how to pose any number of people for group photos…(photo credit below Patty Nash)

 

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I took a few shots of another model in another gorgeous Anie Z. gown in between seminars…

 

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And heard from the also hilarious and absolutely inspiring  David Bastianoni...got to hang out one last day with the fantastic instructors….

 

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and finally we got to meet the mystery speaker who was…..Vicky! I have never seen something quite like what Vicky creates, and this particular evening she demonstrated how she comes up with outstandingly gorgeous fashion photoshoot ideas from nature walks and literally pieces of trash she recreates to make look stunning.

She used things like random pieces of fabric, gold spray paint, papier-mâché tecchniques…

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Even this was once a handbag she bought at a thrift shop. Of course…who wouldn’t turn it into a killer bodice to shoot a model in! She was absolutely inspiring, admirable and wonderful to watch in action.

 

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The rest of the evening we laughed and danced and sang the night away.

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Though it was bittersweet to go, I found myself staring at the castle and soaking it all in. My mind had been blown for 6 full days. My heart was more lit ablaze for photography than ever before. And I knew that I was leaving this place better as a person and photographer because the people and the experience – the way everything came together for this Symposium – was a once in a lifetime.

When people ask me what I learned at my workshop…(uhh you must mean my life impacting experience), my face looks like maybe I tried to get a drink of water from a fire hose. It was so SO much. Technical and intangible. And I hope that little by little I can take what I have learned and improve what I do, how I do it, and reaffirm to myself why I do it. A friend asked me near the end of this week “If you could do anything else other than photography what would it be?”. And my own immediate answer almost surprised me. As tired as I’d felt coming into this week…. and as overwhelmed as if let myself become with my current circumstances and challenges and all, I told her I couldn’t imagine and wouldn’t want to do anything else in the world more as a career than photography. I just want to capture in some small way life’s most important or impressive or impactful things that are worth remembering.

So in short – this experience forced me to get out of my head and change the way I think and shoot and change the way I look at challenges and life too. It is where I needed to lose my insecurities in order to grow…a place where I needed to lose myself only to find myself once again. 🙂

I cannot fully express what this week did for me…only that I believe I was meant to be there and I am humbled to have met so many wonderful people. I feel blessed to have met the friends I did and truly hope to stay connected always even if only through our hours online on the job (lol) and mutual love for photography. Friends: I really do hope our paths meet again and can only hope we will be eating together and talking photo stuff again one day…like next year…or something lol!

I also feel blessed to be working in an industry led by some of the kindest and most wonderful individuals I could have ever imagined. Instructors: you choose to teach us, and you bless us not only with your knowledge but your passion for your craft, but also your authentic care for the people learning it along the way. Please know what you may forget in a week or so I will remember forever. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Leah Desborough - October 13, 2015 - 8:58 pm

Incredible blog Brittney!!! Well done and good for you!!!

Patty Nash - October 13, 2015 - 10:15 pm

Fabulous post Brittany Weiss!!!!! It was great to meet you, if just for a short time here and there and I trust that our paths will cross again. Until then… 😉
XXOO

Anna Zaharakis - October 13, 2015 - 11:12 pm

Well documented – loved your photography. Could not have put it better myself. Until next time.

Yervant Zanazanian - October 13, 2015 - 11:33 pm

Thank you, Brittany for a great review of our Symposium. This made my day.

David Medina - October 14, 2015 - 6:57 am

Awesome review!! Great job!!

Elena Hernandez - October 14, 2015 - 7:32 am

I enjoyed reading about your adventure and loved all of it…I look forward to seeing what magical images you will be creating from here on out!

Igor Kontuš - October 14, 2015 - 8:09 am

Big like!

Fabrizia Costa - October 14, 2015 - 4:04 pm

Great story! It’s like being there all over again, this is terrific! 😀

Vicky Papas-Vergara - October 15, 2015 - 7:26 am

Beautiful Brittany, what an amazing Symposium that we will all remember for a very long time! Love your review and thank you for your amazing words! Super privileged! All the speakers are my idols! Yervant and Anie, know how to put on a spectacular show! graphi studio team are amazing! xxxxxx

Mary Daniels - October 18, 2015 - 5:32 pm

What an extraordinary opportunity for you! So grateful you made the most of it all and learned so much! Your photography is so expressive and it is wonderful to see you using and sharing your gift.

OLYMPIA, GREECE : 14 NIGHT ADRIATIC CRUISE FINAL PORT OF CALL » B. Weiss Photography - December 13, 2015 - 1:03 pm

[…] that one of our amazing Photography Instructors (the only one who was Greek in fact) at the Venice Symposium was named Nik.  So amusing to me! […]