San Francisco Portrait Photographers Workshop

October 02, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Tamara Lackey Portrait Photographers Workshop in San Francisco


Ladies and gentlemen we recommend that you keep your seat belts fastened for your own safety. Although this is most commonly heard onboard your flight shortly after takeoff the same could be easily said about The Tamara Lackey portrait photographers’ workshop that I attended last week in San Francisco. It was three days of hold on to your hats, non-stop instruction and hands-on practice and networking. By far the best workshop I have ever attended.


For those who are not familiar Tamara Lackey is a very well known family and portrait photographer from Durham, North Carolina. Her resume includes a list of outstanding credentials not to mention a long list of philanthropic and humanitarian projects.


The three-day intensive workshop was held in the fantastic offices of Chronicle Books, a specialty publisher of children and young adult literature. It was the perfect location, close to good outdoor locations and the interior design that reflected the imagination from an independent publisher of creative books - a veritable playground for photographers. Looks pretty plain from the outside.


Chronicle Books Head OfficeChronicle Books head office in san Francisco, California.


The workshop schedule included sessions on the technical considerations of photography, lighting and staging of the scenes, posing, post-production and well just about every other aspect of the business.


Our first day started out with breakfast. WOW… WOW… WOW… Now that is the way to start a workshop. Did I mention the food? The catering was from a restaurant called Herbivore, if you are in the San Francisco area I can highly recommend the place, I know I’m going there the next time I’m in town.


After some introductions we got down to business, with such a full schedule there was not a minute to waste. Before our first shoot there was a review of the technical considerations of photography. It is often easy to get caught up with the moment and forget a few critical elements of the setup.


For the first shoot we had the great pleasure of working with Millie who has to be one of the cutest kids you’ll every meet. To make our studio we slid the boardroom tables to the side and rearrange the blinds.  Followed was a progression of lighting scenarios from simple available light to portable strobes and even a little high-speed sync. Tamara convinced the whole family to join into the shoot. Here is the production shot of the high-speed lighting set-up using the Profoto B2 off camera flashes.  


Millie's DanceLighting setup with Profoto B2’s. High-speed sync to capture Millie’s wild hair dance.


Creating fun images with high-speed sync.Tamara Lackey demonstrating High-speed sync.


A break for lunch before getting into post production and digital workflow. I always hear people saying “oh you Photoshop’ed that,” well my answer is yes, it’s been in and out of Photoshop, but what most people don’t understand is that Photoshop is todays digital version of the analog darkroom. In the darkroom the image would come alive, the exposure, toning, color balance, cropping, etc was set when the image was printed. Learning how to be efficient and effective and to improve the look of the image was the session’s goal.


Our models for the afternoon showed up so we grabbed our gear and headed out to a nearby part. Photographing children is always a challenge. Watching Tamara work the shoot is amazing. The photojournalist in me had a hard time deciding on what to shoot. Although we were in the part to photograph the kids it was hard to ignore Tamara, sorry it was impossible to ignore Tamara (and I mean that in a nice way).  Here are a couple of images from the afternoons shooting.


Heather having funA lesson in how to be ready for the action when it happens. Often the moments are short and fleeting.


Using a local park for our studioA local park turned into our studio for the afternoon


HMT3_877417-Edit.jpgTamara being herselfTamara being herself


Comparing imagesThe beauty of digital photography - instant confirmation of your shot.


After the shoot we wrap for the day. It was a very full day, a very engaging and valuable day. Back at the hotel I downloaded the cards from the cameras and ran thorough the images. Exhausted I had to shut off the computer and go to bed. It was one of those days that leave you exhausted and energized.


The next morning started off with another stunning vegan breakfast from Herbivore. When we were finished licking our lips it was down to business with a review of the images from yesterday and some image critiques from the participants along with a talk about marketing. Before we knew it it was time for another delicious lunch (do you see a theme here). The afternoon shoot was all about families and larger groups.  Working with groups pose special problems for composition as well as positioning and expression. Keeping the group focused, smiling and natural looking is a tricky art. The choice was to go to the park and pier just behind the AT&T baseball park. There was a treasure trove of great spots to stop and shoot. One of my favorite from the day is the big world small group styled shot.


Big world, small peopleJust feet from AT&T ball park we wound a great location and within a couple of hundred feet created many unique looks for our family portrait.

On the pier near the Embarcadero in San FranciscoOn the pier near the Embarcadero in San Francisco



Family shoot on the pierFamily shoot on the pier



Tamara directing the sceneTamara directing the scene


The last day of the workshop started off really early for me. Being in the habit of getting up early really paid off in a couple of ways today. I was up early enough to be able to take the cable car to the workshop – how cool is that, taking the iconic San Francisco cable car instead of a bus or taxi. But the real bonus of the morning was realizing I had not set my alarm for the morning. I’m going to split this one 50/50, half for the body clock working right and the other half for being excited and wanting to get back to the workshop.


The first line of business was a headshot party. Photographers are often the worse when it comes to pictures of them; it’s kind of like a plumber always having a leaky faucet. For the head shot party we used Chronicle Books common area which is like a photographers playground – in the span of a few it was possible to capture portraits with a wide variety of looks. Moving from the quiet and conservative approach of the headshot party our next assignment was a shooting clinic complete with a gang of children. It is a big jump to shift gears from calm and composed to the frantic and frenzied and unpredictable approach of young children. There were half a dozen children, each of whom required a different approach. What became very apparent was that some children (probably most) require time to warm up before they were comfortable. I photographed one young lady just after she arrived and quickly discovered that fact, but once she became more comfortable with the gang of snap happy photographers she became the life of the party. Handling the technical side of the shoot is simple compared to the skill required to get the best out of the subject. Here are a few images from the chaos of the morning. 


HMT3_845507-Edit.jpgJust one of the many images from todays shootInside Chronicle Books office it was a photographers playground. So many good scenes, great subjects and so little time to enjoy the moment.


Before I forget I must mention Tamara’s charity. She and her husband Steve operate a charity called Beautiful Together. They work to identify and complete specific and measureable projects to improve the life’s of orphaned children in the United States and Africa. Check out their website at


Thank you Tamara Lackey and your fantastic associate Sarah Coppola for your gift of your knowledge, skills and energy. The workshop was excellent and I can highly recommend it to other portrait photographers wanting to widen their experience and skill base.


San Francisco iconic cable carOne of the iconic cable cars operating daily in San Francisco





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