Monday, June 27, 2011

REVIEW: Bryan Peterson Photo Workshop – Seattle

Seattle at Dusk from Dr. Jose Rizal Park
Sunset Shoot with Bryan Peterson at Dr. Jose Rizal Park
Copyright ® Ron Martinsen – All Rights Reserved

At the beginning of June 2011, I had the luxury of being Bryan Peterson’s assistant / Canon Technical Guy at his workshop here in Seattle, WA. Seattle has been my hometown for nearly 17 years, but Bryan is from the Northwest as well so it was fun to see parts of Seattle that I’ve never known through his creative eyes.

In this article I’ll share my experience in working with Bryan as an assistant and a student. I’ll also share a little bit about the students in the class as well as testimonial from one of the students in her own words.

My Favorite Images from the Workshop

To kick things off, let’s start with some of the fun images I managed to snag when I had free time to shoot. Here’s one of my favorites taken at the Graffiti Wall near the train tracks just south of Safeco Field:

Stop That Graffiti Punk!!!!
Understanding Shutter Speed with Bryan
Copyright ® Ron Martinsen – All Rights Reserved

One of the students from a previous workshop wanted to share what he had learned about shooting reflections, so we experimented together. Here’s one of the shots I got from that experiment:

Reflections at Pioneer Square
Copyright ® Ron Martinsen – All Rights Reserved

Any photographer can capture beauty from beautiful places and people, but the better photographers find beauty where the world normally sees decay. Here’s a shot I took at an old building in the warehouse district that was amazingly colorful for such a place. Thanks to this exercise I looked at the world a little differently and found beauty in the most unexpected places.

No, that’s not from the Palouse, it’s crap growing out of concrete and a fence at a run down building! With Bryan you are always Learning to See Creatively.

Take a piece of concrete, some grass, a yellow flower and some lady bugs and you can end up with an okay photo like the one below. This was one of the early lessons Bryan taught us and it was actually both fun and liberating! Some will call it cheating and others may be outraged, but you are the photographer and your goal should be to have fun making great shots. Now we didn’t destroy a botanical garden to do this, but rather dug some stuff up at a run down dock.

Creative People Can Make Pictures Anywhere

The shot below was processed with HDR Efex Pro using 5 exposures. I used Color Efex to create one of the off the wall HDR shots you see these days as my tribute to making art out of a run down building. Bryan loves going to places like this to stir up creativity and now I see why. 

Turning Decay Into Art using HDR Efex Pro

Our first stop was at the Port of Seattle where we got to enjoy great views of tugboats, fishermen (see below), etc… but what we also ended up shooting were flowers and a other objects that weren’t what you’d expect for a location like this. This was a great case study of being observant about more than the obvious at any given location.

Fishermen at the Port of Seattle

I ended up with a lot of fun shots which you can see at here.  Many are unprocessed and some are just flat out fails, but I learned a lot and had fun shooting outside of my comfort zone. Be sure to read the captions of the shots to learn more.

Learning From Bryan Peterson

Bryan Can Be A Little Enthusiastic At Times

Every since I read Learning To See Creatively I’ve been a huge Bryan Peterson fan. The book changed my life, so it’s no wonder that I ran out and bought Understanding Exposure, Beyond Portraiture, and Understanding Shutter Speed immediately afterwards. Bryan’s style of writing spoke to me and I learned a ton. It’s also why his books have been permanent residents on my Which Books Should I Read? list.

While I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Bryan for a few hours in person and we’ve talked on the phone, this was my first chance to shoot with Bryan. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Of course, his creativity came out big time so I learned to expect the unexpected!

Time Expired
Bryan captures a cool shot of the parking meter
with Joe’s “dead" body in the background

We were going by 8:00 AM (or earlier) each morning and wrapping up after 11:00 PM, so they were action packed days (with an afternoon break). During our various outings he’d record a little video for his PPSOP web site which usually featured a really cool shot. In the one above the subject is a parking meter that says “time expired” and offset in the background is Joe’s body. It was a brilliant shot that I would have never thought of, but I’ve seen done before (probably by Bryan <g>).

Bryan teaches while Amanda records a video for PPSOP. Hover over to see my version of this shot.
Bryan teaches while Amanda records a video for PPSOP.
Hover over the image above to see my version of this shot.

Even though I live in Seattle, Bryan took me to a couple places I’ve never been like the amazing Graffiti Wall (which I’m not sure I could find again even if I tried!). Once again at this location he recorded another PPSOP video this time where his hand was the subject. His shot came out way better than mine, but it was fun seeing how he worked.

Mary Lou and I were the only Canon shooters, everybody else was Nikon

When I managed to break away from teaching and listen to Bryan, I learned some really cool things. Unfortunately I was busy teaching a lot so I found myself missing out on more than I hoped.

I also found Bryan to be a bit more quiet on shoots than I expected. He didn’t teach the the group as a whole as often as I expected, but rather he’d find someone and work with them one on one. Given the nature of this type of teaching some students mentioned to me that they wished they get more time with Bryan than they did.  I tried to help out by giving them as much one-on-one attention as I could, so hopefully that helped.

It should also be noted that if you are observant you can gather around the person Bryan was talking to and learn a lot. If you take one of his courses I highly recommend that you do that!

The Students

Amanda the Superstar Model
Amanda was the youngest attendee so she was the resident fashion model!

I loved the people in this class. Every single one of them was a joy to be around and all were eager and enthusiastic students – an instructors dream!

The youngest student, Amanda (pictured above), found herself as the unexpected group model when a warm body was needed. She’s a pretty girl so it worked out great.  Here’s a tip though - if you are a pretty girl attending a Bryan Peterson workshop you should plan on getting photographed – A LOT! 

Amanda was a trooper throughout the workshop who was always willing to smile and have her photo taken. As a result she earned the nickname “Superstar” from Mary Lou.

Pizza Joe from Connecticut Shows His Dark Side
Clowning Around with the Flash
Joe, a repeat workshop attendee, is a fantastic guy
with a heart of gold was a blast to be with on during the workshop

Joe had been to a Bryan Peterson workshop before and was the typical type of reader that I see on this blog. He had a great passion for photography and excellent equipment so he managed to snag some nice shots. He also had a rental car so he doubled as chauffer and refused to let people help pay for parking or gas. He’s just that kind of guy, and I really enjoyed hanging around and experimenting with some things (as above) while we were out shooting. With Joe there’s never a dull moment! 

Casino Jim Makes Something Out Of Nothing
Making Something Out Of Nothing
See that trash in Jim’s back pocket?
It was the subject of his award winning shot
that earned him a FREE BP Workshop!

Jim is in charge of a huge security staff at a Casino in Florida so he had many great stories to tell, but his real purpose was to learn. He was a sponge eager to master his camera and improve his skills. It was a real joy working with him because you could see the excitement on his face when he learned something new. I’m still in touch with Jim and suspect he’ll be a regular reader on the blog from now on.

Wade Closes In For The Macro Shot
Wade Closes In For The Macro Shot

Wade is a co-worker at my day job at Microsoft and was familiar with my blog. I hadn’t met Wade in real life prior to the class, but again I found another friend that I really enjoyed talking to. He was very quiet when shooting but his work showed his attention to detail, so it was fun to see what he ended up with at the end of the class.

Thoughts from Mary Lou Polvi

Graffiti Face by Mary Lou Polvi
Mary Lou’s Critically Acclaimed Image from the Graffiti Wall

Mary Lou was the only one of the students in attendance at this workshop who had a Canon camera, so I spent a lot of one-on-one time with her. I think she had been given the workshop as a gift from her son as she didn’t even know that Bryan Peterson was a book author! However, she was a quick study who enjoyed using my 100mm macro lens throughout the week.

Mary Lou points her Canon at me and fires
Mary Lou and I had a Canon shootout here

Mary volunteered to share her thoughts about the workshop as well as some of her images (here) that she took during the class. Here’s Mary’s thoughts in her own words:

… If you were in a creative funk, you won't be after the workshop is over. Bryan Peterson is a man of great creativity. I was expecting to do the regular tourist trap photo shoots. We went to places I would never have expected or found. His energy is boundless and his down to earth teaching style helped all of our levels of experience. What I liked the best was shooting in a place where there was absolutely "nothing" to shoot. We had a limited amount of time to come up with something creative. It amazed what wonderful photos were taken. We all turned "nothing" into "something" amazing.

I was fortunate to have Ron Martinsen as my Canon expert.  Because of  his equipment expertise I was able to take full advantage of my camera. I now have a much better understanding of my Rebel T1i and my camera lenses.

I can't wait to take another seminar next year. Between now and then I will put to use what I learned. I do know that my creativity has been taken to a new level.

Mary Lou Polvi

Picked up a camera for the first time in Jan 2010.
Trying to make my tripod be my best friend!

Ron Martinsen by Mary Lou Polvi
Here’s a shot Mary Lou took of me at the Graffiti Wall


The success of any workshop really boils down to three things:

  1. Did you learn some new techniques to improve your skills?
  2. Did you get some great photos?
  3. Did you have a fun time doing it?

The answer to these three questions was a yes for me, and I think it was a yes for all of the students who attended. In that respect, the workshop was a huge success.

Waiting for the Sunrise Golden Hour at Kerry Park that never arrived
As a group we decided we were tired to try any more sunrise shots – woohoo!

Based on my own observations and feedback I had from other students, I would have liked to have seen Bryan more engaged during the workshop.There were times when he was disconnected attending to business on his iPhone that was disappointing to the students who paid $995 to attend this course.

I would also like to have seen more group engagement where he taught to the group about things to improve their skills. If you were observant you could go find where he was talking to someone one-on-one and listen in, but I think it would have been better for him to announce “hey everybody, listen up” and teach some technique that all could benefit from.

With those quibbles aside, I was very happy with the locations chosen and the experiences learned during the session. I got some great shots as did the students who attended, so we were all excited at the end to show the world our new shots.

It was an honor to work along side this photography legend and pick up on his amazing creativity. I grew as a photographer and I got to meet some fantastic new people. I appreciate the opportunity to do this and I hope I’ll get a chance to work with Bryan again in the future.

Click here to learn more about Bryan Peterson’s Workshops. Be sure mention this blog if you sign up for the course as well as cc in your signup mail to Bryan. If you don’t have time or financial resources to take one of his workshops then you should consider his PPSOP online courses like the Art of Seeing.

You can find more photos (be sure to read the captions) online at

Suggested Reading

Here’s other articles about Bryan Peterson featured on this blog:

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Jim said...

This was my 1st workshop and it exceeded my expectations, I was provided great info from Bryan, Ron and my classmates. Our class had only 6 students so I spent a lot of 1/1 with Bryan. I read all of his books before arriving and understood his learning to see creatively philosophy. He took us to locations where the shot was obvious; it was up to us to find the better shot that was present. I made sure that when we traveled I was in Bryan’s vehicle so I could have Q&A with Ron and him. I enjoyed the unexpected opportunities that we had such as doing portraits in a down town coffee shop because of the great light coming through a window or Wade, Bryan and myself spending Friday night shooting cityscapes after the rest of the class had departed. I was eager to learn and took advantage of every chance to sponge off of Bryan and Ron. I cannot wait for the next class. Ron you were and continue to be a great source of info! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You know Bryan Petersons books are by far the best out there, I have all of them and learned so much by reading them he explains everything that is so easy to understand and my photography went to another level, and his flash book WOW never thought I would understand flash;)

Anonymous said...

Was not impressed with his workshops. One of the worst I have attended. Don't waste you time.

Unknown said...

Thanks for taking the time to write about your experience Ron. I too am a big fan of Bryan's excellent collection of books and would recommend any and all of them to somebody looking for inspiration and technical instruction.

I'm very much hoping that I'll get a chance to attend one of his workshops at some point in the future.