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It’s mid-afternoon on a sunny late summer day and while many of us have been taught not to shoot under these bright conditions, there’s no running for the open shade in Cliff Mautner’s Lighting and Skill set Bootcamp. In fact, according to Cliff—an award-winning wedding photographer named by American Photo magazine as one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world and the recipient of the WPPI 2009 Grand Award for Photojournalism—there is no such thing as bad light. More to the point, perhaps, is the fact that when shooting a wedding, you can’t choose your light so you must learn to work with it. Cliff not only works with any light but actually seeks out harsh light and creates amazing images under the most challenging conditions.
I had interviewed Cliff in 2007 for a profile piece and was really taken by his images, which were strikingly different than other wedding pictures I had seen, as well as his obvious passion for what he does. I’m not a wedding photographer, and probably never will be, but the way Cliff uses both natural and artificial light was so impressive that I jumped at the chance to participate in his workshop.
Cliff started out as a photojournalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer with more than 6,000 assignments to his credit and an impressive list of commercial clients as well. After he left the newspaper, his freelance work and the experience of shooting a few weddings for another photographer eventually led him to his current career. In 1998, he officially opened Cliff Mautner Photography and has specialized in wedding photography ever since, shooting more than 750 weddings.
The Bootcamp Experience
For the past few years, Cliff has been conducting workshops and seminars, generously sharing his knowledge and techniques. The Lighting and Skillset Bootcamp is offered several times a year at Cliff’s beautiful studio just outside Philadelphia.
The workshop takes place over the course of 2.5 days plus a meet-and-greet the evening before the Bootcamp begins. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the first evening’s event but immediately felt welcome when I arrived the following morning as I was greeted by Cliff and met the other attendees who came from across the U.S. and as far away as the U.K and South America.
Limited to no more than 15 students, the group was surprisingly diverse. There was a mix of professional wedding photographers, advanced amateurs who wanted to pursue wedding photography and others who simply wanted to enhance or develop their photographic skills for portrait or just general photography. Most agreed, though, that they wanted to learn about light and a few came to the workshop specifically to advance their use of off-camera flash. Throughout the 2.5 days, Cliff ensured that everyone, regardless of experience level, understood even the most technical aspects of the subject at hand and addressed all questions—from basic to advanced—with equal attention.
The workshop is intensive—days are 12-plus hours long. You’ll be tired but you’ll never be bored. Cliff is energetic, engaging and clearly loves to teach. And I’ve never attended a workshop, seminar or meeting that was so efficiently yet flexibly run and where the attendees were so well taken care of.
Each day started between 8:30-9am with an amazingly delicious hot catered breakfast of freshly made coffee, pancakes (with warm syrup on the side), eggs, bacon along with bagels, fresh fruit and other healthier alternatives to prepare us for the day. Juices, water, and soda were available from the fridge at all times and beer and wine was stocked for the evenings.
Mornings were spent talking about photography. We were treated to an in-depth presentation by Cliff, talking about his work and how he developed his unique style. The presentation then transitioned into guidance about how to develop our own styles, followed by a “tech talk” section with tons of additional information that addressed both the technical and creative aspects of photography.
With the caveat that “what I talk about is not the right way, it’s [simply] my way,” Cliff addressed important topics such as exposure modes. He tends to shoot aperture-priority when he’s moving around so he can be ready to shoot at a moement’s notice. Shooting manually would take too long to change both aperture and shutter speed. But, he emphasized, it’s important to “choose the best mode for you.” On the other hand, he does shoot in manual exposure mode when the lighting conditions are consistent.
Of those lenses, he makes good use of the 70-200mm at 200mm for great compression. The 35mm and 85mm are his favorites when photographing the bride getting ready. He’s especially fond of the 85mm f/1.4 for its shallow depth-of-field and will manually select the focus point to isolate the bride’s eye, eyelashes or even the veil.