I purchased a spot at Yan Fam Way on a whim. I saw her short post about the workshop and purchased based on not much more than a love of her work and a fascination with her public persona. As soon as I received confirmation that the payment had gone through a steady hum of anxiety about the workshop began to buzz in the back of my mind. There are a lot of bad photography workshops out there, and I had no idea if I had just signed up to fly to Utah attend one of the duds.
It was this public persona that had me feeling nervous. Yan is followed and adored by many, and she shares a lot via social media. One of the things I had retained from her admissions is that she is a free spirit with a killer eye but not a lot of organizational skills. I was worried about two distinct possibilities: that I had just paid for the opportunity to hear a conceited photographer talk for 8 hours about how awesome they are while telling attendees that they just need to find the rainbow butterflies that exist within each of us in order to harness the unlimited power of our artistic prowess OR that the day would be awkward and disorganized as we all tried our best to get the most out of our investment by gleaning droplets from a hurricane of information messily flung in our direction.
Keep reading, because I’m writing this review to tell you how needless that anxiety was, and how incredibly wrong I was about the negative possibilities I feared. We didn’t have much communication from her until about a week before the workshop, but a few days before the event I opened up my inbox to see an email titled “portfolio review and assignment.” Inside I found seven paragraphs, very detailed and written with a careful balance that allowed the message to cut right to my weaknesses while maintaining my belief in my own potential. I have read that email a dozen times since I opened it, and each time I come away with a new insight about my business and the revised approach I want to take in the future. At the end of the email she gave me a personalized assignment based on my Jenna Cole portfolio (each attendee talked about their assignment at the workshop and they were all very unique and specific) and I was frankly kind of shocked to see what she wrote. Not only was it the perfect fit for me and where I’m at right now, but it got really got at the reason I was attending in the first place.
i want you to describe your perfect family session to me. from start to finish. i want you to first profile your ideal family client. what are they like? what’s their family dynamic? where do they shop? what do they do on a saturday night? what do they go to bed thinking about? what are their goals. everything. and then write down what you feel like would be the best way to tell their story. in what kind of light?
I’ve been thinking about a very specific kind of family session for a long time, sessions that largely take place in client’s homes and work to highlight the emotions and interactions of groups of people within the environments that mean the most to them. I had never taken the time though, to write down what my ideal session would be. Without fleshing it out, how could I make it happen?
I flew in the day of and arrived an hour late, and was impressed by how Yan was able to maintain the flow of things while helping me feel welcome. I got a chance to introduce myself later, after Yan went through how she got her start and where she is now. Then we went around the room and each person and talked about the assignment they had been given and described/showed their results. Sometimes listening to other people talk and engage with the instructor can be boring, but I really enjoyed hearing the unique assignment for each person because it gave me an opportunity to think about whether I needed to be making similar changes.
After lunch we got to the portion I had been most looking forward to (though, I should note, that what I thought I wanted out of this experience is not what I walked away valuing the most), talking practically about how to approach a family session. The first portion of the day had covered how to attract the clients we want to be working with, and then in the afternoon we talked about how to set expectations for the session, how to manage subjects during the actual shooting, and how to juggle the variety of unique and often difficult situations that present when working with families.
Then a family from the surrounding area came in to pose allowing us to practice the things we had been discussing and to to see Yan in action. Our subjects that day were Travis J (http://www.travisjphotography.com/) and his wife with their four children. Yan talked briefly about how she works with film and then launched right into things with a killer group shot of all the family members looking into the camera (minus the youngest, who was only two months old!). Then we got to see the tickling and the laughing and the snuggling that is so characteristically Yan and how she makes it all look natural while managing four young kids and a set of slightly-nervous parents. Each workshop participant was given a chance to step forward and create their own shot, and I thought Yan did a really great job of offering advice and feedback to each individual in a group setting without embarrassing or shaming anyone.
After the shooting was done we regrouped and came together to talk about our strengths, weaknesses, and the future. It was the heart-to-heart portion of the day. Yan spoke to each person in a way that clearly demonstrated how much time and effort she had put into really getting to know each participant via their portfolio and answers to a questionnaire filled out before the workshop began. I felt like she genuinely cared about each person in the room and really wanted to see them break out and succeed. You’ll see people who have attended that are practically gushing about how much they love Yan and how honored they feel to be part of the experience, and I think that sentiment comes from this portion of the day.
Because of the workshop I’ll be doing some things differently. I’m going to build up a portfolio of images that speak to me and showcase my artistic viewpoint. I think I had previously thought that the important thing was showing everyone how experienced I am, shouting out desperately with my cluttered portfolio that “I’m wanted and other people have hired me in the past and so I think maybe you should hire me too even if I’m not making it clear what you’re going to get in return.” Over the last few years I’ve been focusing on learning to read the light, and not worrying as much about the background. Yan helped me realize that I was ready to advance and really focus on nailing both with each shot. She helped me understand what I was missing when I went into people’s homes and attempted to capture lifestyle sessions with a very natural feel. Most importantly she helped me feel like I have the potential to be really successful if I’m willing to make a few small changes in my approach to my photography business. I feel so alive with potential after Yan Fam Way.
What I didn’t expect, was that my time with her has instilled a desire to make changes not just in my business, but in my life. I want to outsource more of the editing and the cleaning of my house and shoot more, I want to let go of priorities that aren’t really mine, I want to spend less on expenses and stuff so I can have more photography and family experiences, and I want to get up earlier and push away from the computer more often so I can get outside and drink in the light that feeds my soul. What really makes me happy, and why am I not doing it? The money I invested in her workshop feels like a small thing in return for the paradigm shift I had while sitting in a circle with her and 11 other women.
I think Yan is very confident about her work and her brand. Not conceited, but confident, which is an important distinction. This allows her to wholeheartedly encourage and root for her workshop participants, even though an argument could be made that we are vying to become her competitors. I came away feeling like Yan really wants me to succeed, and that each time I make a step forward with my business from here on out that she will be genuinely happy to hear it. I think she really cares about me because she really cares about other people and it is that genuine spirit that made the workshop so transformative for me.
Yan didn’t ask me to write this review. I warned her that it was coming and I know she’s a little nervous about what it might say. Writing it was important to me though, because just like I think she wants to see greatness from me, I think she has a lot of greatness ahead of her and I want to contribute to that in some small way if I can. Thank you Yan, for this beautiful belief in myself that you inspired by speaking and sharing your truth.