Teaching “Experiential” courses at the Nikon School

For the last 2 Fridays I’ve taught my first ever “experiential” courses for the Nikon School. The first was Sports portraits on location, and the second was vintage portraits on location. The sports shoot took place at the ever reliable Peacock Gym in Canning Town, and the vintage course at the superbly decorated Cahoots bar in the West End.

Lisa at the bar
Lisa at the bar in Cahoots

The biggest difference for me between teaching courses like this, and lecturing at a University, or teaching the Army or Navy, is that rather than stand at the front of the room, and yammer on in front of a Powerpoint presentation, I’m working my way through a shoot, and then the students step in and shoot the images themselves. This has all sorts of implications, it’s a much looser structure, and of course, allows for much more interaction. I had several chats with Neil at the Nikon School before teaching the first course, as I couldn’t quite get my head round the concept of how a day like this would work. His advice was to concentrate on the shooting, rather than the teaching, and it was very wise advice indeed!

Alfie Davis
First shot on the Sports Portrait Course

As with any course I teach I’m always keen to get across as much information as I possibly can, as I’m very passionate about what I do and what people to leave the course with their brains bursting at the seams. This meant that the first course didn’t allow for quite as much time for shooting as I’d have hoped. I altered the structure slightly by the second course to allow for this – my apologies for those on the Sports course who thought they didn’t get enough time behind the camera!

Lisa on the tube escalator stairs
Lisa on the “Tube Escalator” stairs


Andrew shooting on the Vintage Course
Andrew at work behind the bar, pic by Neil Freeman @ Nikon School

Even for someone like me, who’s accustomed to working with a big crew, it’s a bit odd to have lots of people around, but more than one photographer. Takes a bit of getting used to, I can tell you. I’m happy to report though, that both groups were superb to work with – no-one needed booting out the way as they’d overstayed their welcome behind the camera, there was lots of advice and helpful interaction between the students, and nobody got snotty about who owned the most expensive camera. The last would be a bit pointless anyway, since Neil always brings “specials” from the Nikon school, including a D5!

Alfie in the ring
Alfie in the ring

Both shoots were deliberately based around using lightweight and affordable equipment – the lighting was Nikon flashguns and all the kit was portable enough to get on the tube with, as I did for both days. I felt there wasn’t much point bringing a dozen cases of kit, and setting up all my Profoto lights only to create situations that others would struggle to mimic with their own kit. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make a fool of myself on a technical level, but I’ve certainly got a few notes of things I need to tighten up and get better at, if I’m to perform them live in front of people who know what they’re talking about!

Lisa on stage
Lisa in her element on stage

After the location shoot, it’s back to the Nikon school for an afternoon of post-processing, Photoshop, and image critique. This was another first for me, as I’ve never taught Photoshop, and by that I mean, not even briefly, or one on one, so to do so in front of a group was slightly daunting! I opted to work through one image in depth, explaining each part of the process as I went along. I felt this was a safe bet, as among the students were people who were totally unfamiliar with Photoshop who would benefit from the explanation of the basics, and since Photoshop offers a dozen different ways to achieve the same effect, even the more experienced users might pick up new ways of working. I then allowed time for people to work on their own images, whilst I gave one on one advice in specific areas. We wrapped the afternoon up with a more high speed retouch of one of the images, and the customary Q+A.

Teaching the Nikon Vintage Course
Me looking very “teacher” whilst students do their thing. Pic by Neil Freeman @ Nikon School

Both days were fantastic fun, and made a great change from teaching in a more formal context. It’s likely these courses will run again, so keep your eyes peeled both here and on the Nikon School site for info. I’m also thinking of other formats to try, and am open to suggestions on that front!

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