Before I had reviewed the list of Palm Springs Photo Festival’s workshops, I am not sure if I’d ever been overly familiar with the name Frank Ockenfels the Third. Then I looked at his work- Rolling Stone, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, countless movie posters, music videos, and so on- and I realized this was a guy I’d seen dozens to hundreds of times. Someone on the level of Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Annie Leibowitz, and Dan Winters, equal parts commercial and creative. Photography is like that, though; we are more familiar with the creators for their subjects than anything else.
About 16 of us photographers of varying backgrounds were in attendance in Frank’s workshop. He focused on unusual lighting to portraiture, forbidding us from using strobes and instead working on shaping natural light or using department store sources. Frank definitely leans towards creative distortion in his artsier work – in camera vibrations caused by 1/8 second exposures, using deliberately dirty or “fucked up” filters and lenses, shooting through massive diffusion rolls and bouncing with filthy bounce cards. He gave tutorials on light painting and challenged us to do things that we’d never done before, meaning, if I did do light painting, I shouldn’t be using it.
The basic structure was, shoot before lunch, have lunch and listen to Frank spinning yarns about particular shoots or swearing about the Kardashians, then a bit more shooting before group review on a projector. Day 1 we were in a resort villa, Day 2 in a huge studio space with interesting nooks and crannies and a bunch of grip gear, Day 3 had rented out hotel rooms and 8 models. Each time we traded off assisting duties and borrowed each others’ hardware store lighting tools to get truly unique lighting.
This being my first workshop, I had a grand time. Circumstances cut short the 3 hours of final day critiques which Frank vowed to make up with one-on-one phone calls which was fine with me. I challenged myself to shoot in weirder ways than I normally do, the results of which will be posted over the next few weeks, and heard the perspective of a portrait legend in 3 days of constant shooting. More than anything though, he taught me how a satisfying workshop should be run, something I plan on incorporating in my own photography and art classes.
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