I don't remember when I first heard about Cliff Mautner, but it was probably about three years ago as I was just getting started with my photography business.
Every time his work was discussed by fellow photographers, it was almost in the reverent tones used when speaking of a spiritual guru...or at least a master artist.
For those who aren't photographers, let me mention that there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of photography coaches, mentors, and workshops to choose from. If you are paying attention, you learn that many of them do not have your best interests at heart...they take your hard-earned money and return a few morsels of information, lots of pep talk, a “You can do it!” mantra, and send you on your way.
Eventually, I learned to be very discriminating with the investments I made in my fledgling business (after spending more money than I care to mention on things I never used or needed). Something I noticed was that Cliff Mautner did not send chatty emails or advertisements for his workshop. The only promotion for his workshop was word of mouth—after I went looking for it.
I read blog reviews from previous attendees. Every one of them said things like, “The best investment you'll ever make!” or “You won't regret it!” Yadda, yadda.
A seed was planted that maybe someday, this photographer from Podunk, Washington (me), could attend one of Cliff's workshops and learn from the “master” himself. Whenever I pondered it, my fears would take over: “You're too old to do that.” “It will cost too much money.” “You've never traveled that far in the U.S.” And on. And on.
Finally, after months of contemplation, I made a huge decision...I would call and inquire about the workshop. Hesitating, I dialed Cliff's studio phone number.
“Hello, this is Cliff Mautner,” a man on the other end said.
“Oh...uh....I didn't expect you to answer the phone!” was all I could muster.
He laughed. Apparently, he gets that a lot.
Why do I tell this story? So you will know that Cliff Mautner is the real deal. In this age of emails and texts and layers and layers of keeping people at arm's length, Cliff maintains the human touch—which, in my opinion, is largely what makes him so successful.
He happily answered my questions, personally invited me to his workshop, and told me to feel free to call again with other questions. Wow, I was impressed.
I didn't register for his upcoming workshop then. It took another nine months before I worked up the courage to listen to my heart's desire and register. It's funny, but once I made the financial commitment to attend the bootcamp, I had absolute clarity. Yeah, I know that sounds “woo woo” and all that, but it took finally believing that I was worth it.
Cliff spent the first 15 years of his professional career as a photojournalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, traveling the world and completing over 6,000 photo assignments. If you take a look at his website, you'll see the photojournalist behind the lens. Yes, he captures moments, but he also is a master of light and, as any photographer worth his salt knows—it's all about the light.
A Cliff Mautner client wrote this review:
“Cliff will crawl on his hands and knees through the dirt if need be to get the perfect shot. No one uses light the way that Cliff does. Look at his website, and compare his photos to those of other photographers. There is no comparison. When things get going, and Aunt Myrna is nowhere to be found, and babies are crying, and rain is falling and you still need those perfect shots, you want Cliff. When the music is jumping and the crowd is jamming and you think that no photographer could possibly capture it all, you want Cliff. When your wedding is over, and all you want is to bask in the glow of the happiest day in your life, you will be glad you had Cliff.”
I share all of this so people who are unfamiliar with Cliff will understand the level of knowledge and expertise he has to share. In 2008, Cliff Mautner was named one of the top ten wedding photographers in the world by American Photo Magazine. In 2009, he won the grand award for photojournalism from Wedding and Portrait Photographers International. He and his work are not to be ignored!
Fast forward to the bootcamp, which was held in Cliff's Haddonfield, New Jersey studio, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from October 13 to 15, 2015.
We started each day at 9:00 a.m. (and ended at 9:00 p.m.), with a delicious catered breakfast at Cliff's studio, with the best bacon I've ever eaten. We made our lunch selections from a menu and Cliff's fantastic studio manager, Heather, delivered them to us each day so that we could eat in the studio and continue working and socializing.
During our two-and-a-half days together, Cliff was happy to answer every question thrown at him, whether it be about technical issues, business, marketing, or more personal aspects such as how to run a business while planning the birth of a baby, how to handle client complaints, and on and on.
Cliff also went through a recent wedding, showing us all of the RAW image files, from beginning to end. It's one thing to view “the best of,” and another to view every image a photographer of his caliber takes. He explained what he was doing in each scenario and why he was doing it...the next best thing to being there!
One aspect of the workshop that I found immensely helpful were the image critiques on the last day. The night before, Cliff asked us to email three or four images from our portfolio for critique in front of the class. Cliff worked his way through each one quickly, giving us a peek into how PPA and WPPI judges evaluate images and how to improve them. Those of us who heard, “I've got nothing...this just works,” were over-the-moon with joy.
Rather than giving a blow by blow account of how we spent our time (you'll find that on many other blog reviews), I would like to share my biggest take-aways from Cliff's bootcamp.
“Excellent customer service is even more important than beautiful images."
Cliff illustrated this point by sharing several anecdotes from his business. When Cliff started his business, he admitted it was all about “his photos.” We benefited from the errors he made and what he's learned in the interim, with the advice: “This may be your hundredth wedding, but this is their first and their photos.”
“It's not about quantity of light, but quality of light.”
Cliff showed us example after example of how he uses light in his images. But it didn't end there. We were given entire afternoons to practice what we had learned with real models in real settings (hotel rooms and outdoor locations), along with personal attention and instruction from Cliff.
“Shadow is the canvas. Light is the paint."
I thought I knew what this meant, but I didn't really understand it until I attended Cliff's bootcamp. Perhaps the most helpful illustration was when we shot at Philadelphia City Hall, where Cliff slowly rotated our model as we followed her movements along an “outer circle.” It was a dramatic illustration of how the light and shadows sculpted the model's face when it originated from different angles.
“If it's not innate, you can't create.”
Cliff drove home the point that we need to “see” three-dimensionally in order to compose images successfully. A photographer must envision with her mind's eye what she wants her image to look like before she presses the shutter. Only after knowing your gear and how to shoot in the best possible light can you produce the image that has already been captured in your mind.
“This is my way, not the way.”
I have always been a firm believer that there is more than one way to skin a cat. In fact, I believe I lost out during a job interview years ago when I advocated this belief, evoking a physical reaction from my interviewer, who apparently wanted me to say that I would only do things her way.
In this respect, Cliff is definitely a guy after my own heart. He reiterated several times that what he was showing us was his way, not necessarily the only way. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's got enough cred that many photographers want to imitate him!)
“Time is your precious commodity. Your time with your kids is precious. Don't miss out spending time with your family. Charge people for it!"
This is the perennial struggle of all entrepreneurs. I'm fortunate enough that I have already raised my child and, maybe because of that--and having undergone cancer treatment--I understand that we only get a certain season of time with our loved ones. If I'm going to spend time away from my family, it darn sure better be made worth my while. It was reassuring to hear someone like Cliff state this truth.
Without further ado, here are some of the images from Cliff's workshop, with my wrap-up below.
Cliff has been described as an open book, holding nothing back—a very apt description of the man. One could say that Cliff is “unfiltered,” freely sharing his opinions on a variety of topics. I was never turned off or offended by that. Quite the contrary, it only made me admire him more because he so freely demonstrated who he is: a gracious host, a passionate photographer, a guy who loves to laugh, and a human being who serves others.
Attending the Cliff Mautner Lighting and Skillset Bootcamp was an empowering experience on many levels, and I suspect I won't know exactly how far-reaching for quite some time. I already feel more confident, not only as a photographer, but in my own skin. My only regret is that I waited so long to make the investment in myself.
Lastly, I can't end this blog post without mentioning one of the most valuable aspects of this bootcamp (as if learning from Cliff Mautner weren't enough!): the icing on the cake was getting to meet the lovely human beings who attended the workshop alongside me.
Spending so much time with other photographers, sharing our stories and resources, eating and laughing, is an incredibly bonding experience. Classmates hailed from England, Australia, Hawaii, Canada, Florida, Ohio, Washington, and several other states. A Facebook group was set up after the workshop so we could keep in touch and keep on sharing. That alone is almost worth the investment!
I could go on and on about Cliff Mautner's bootcamp, but I'm literally still “unpacking” all the things I learned.
My final take?
The best investment you'll ever make! You won't regret it!
And that ain't no joke.
Here is a list of my fellow attendees:
Kevin Graham - DSWfoto - Orlando Wedding Photographer
Lucia Cintra – Lucia Cintra Photography – Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer
Cristian Pop – Cristian Pop Photography – Chicago Wedding & Portrait Photographer
Krista Resnick – Krista Resnick Photography – Wisconsin Photographer
Cala Iverson – Cala Marie Photography – Senior Portrait Photographer from Twin Cities, Minnesota
Kelly O’Keefe – Kelly O’Keefe Photography – Photographer based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jeanne Marie Viggiano – Jeannemarie Photography – Hawaii Wedding Photographer
Becky Koesel – Photographer from Texas.
Melissa VanLeeuwen – Simply Said Photography – Portrait and Wedding Photographer – Tillsonburg, Ontario Canada
Anna Nguyen – Zee Anna Photography – Wedding and Portrait Photographer based in Naples, Florida
Elaine Welbourn – Flashback Photography – Wedding and Portrait Photographer – Peterborough, Ontario Canada
John Pautienis – Photographer from Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Michael Duncan – Photographer from New Jersey
Linda Luczun – Linda Luczun Photography – Wedding and Lifestyle Photographer from Northern Virginia
Alex Porter – Wedding Photographer from Queensberry, Australia
Alena Hagedorn – Both Brides Both Grooms – Ohio Wedding Photographer
Michael Wright – Michael Wright Photography – Boca Raton Portrait & Wedding Photographer
Frank Donnino – Frank Donnino Photography – South Florida Wedding Photographer
Chris Chapman – Chris & Hannah – Surrey England Wedding Photographer
(A group photo on our last day of the workshop. I am kneeling in the front row, fourth from the left, with Cliff Mautner behind me, slightly to the right.)