Getting through winter is a yearly struggle for me. I cruise through summer’s long days in high spirits but each winter I have to make working out a priority and consciously try to add warmth and color to my life if I want to see the world as a good place to be.
Thus, my trip to San Diego for a dose of Blue Lily.
About a month ago, high on hopes of a new year that began with optimism and good intentions, I signed up for one of Blue Lily’s “enlighten: goPro” photography workshops. Hoping that some of their light and photo skills, not to mention their way of grabbing life by the balls would rub off on me, I decided to take a long weekend and fly to California for my first visit to the state. I headed out on my own to the land of sun, blond, and beaches to see what Blue Lily was all about.
Now, if you already know Blue Lily – and you might – then you know that the husband-wife team of Tyler and Wendy Whitacre makes art out of people’s lives in the form of vibrant and playful photo portraits. One look at their website will show you the color and fun they bring into the world. And the skill with which they do it. One look at their blog will show you the smart sincerity and quirky good humor that defines them. They travel the country and the world with their two children, photographing families and couples, making friends, and chronicling life in their blog. “Wendy and I would do this even if we didn’t have to earn a living. That’s how much we love it,” Tyler claims during the two-day workshop. And we believe him.
Twelve students circle round their teachers in the living room of an Oceanside beach house that is literally on the sand, the Pacific gleaming outside the sliding glass doors. Wendy and Tyler – who even trade off shooting without any discernible difference in style – are difficult to separate when describing them: professional but playful, down-to-earth, witty, and most of all, generous. They seamlessly alternate sharing secrets of their craft as if we were family: Tyler, equipment, Wendy, exposure, Tyler, locations, Wendy, lighting, Tyler, work-flow, Wendy Photoshop. And so it went. All with a laugh and a polite disclaimer of “this is our philosophy; you don’t have to do it this way.”
When we weren’t in the beach-house, we were on location, shooting and observing, learning how to relax stressed-out parents and make children smile (compliments, monkey noises, and “1, 2, 3” games, we found out). We learned about simple studio lighting, and traveled to an abandoned bridge for an outdoor engagement shoot with a real-life bride and groom.
But this was not just a photography workshop, it was a workshop on art, on business, on marketing, on life: Define your style and stick with it. For a while. Present the kind of work you want to do. Attract the kind of people you want to work with by establishing your brand.
For me, though, the simplest lesson was the most profound: First decide what you want from life, what you want to make, and how you want to spend your time. “For us,” Wendy told us, “we knew we wanted time with our kids, we wanted to travel, and we wanted to take lots of pictures.”
Decide the life you want to live and live it. How much simpler could it be?
Yes, take the workshop for the shoots, the sunshine, the trade tips and inside secrets. But really, take the workshop for a lesson in life well-lived: work in beach houses, orchards, and forests, travel with your family, sleep in the mornings and work in the evenings. Make friends with your clients. Laugh, play, love color.
After all, in the words of Blue Lily, “your life is art.”