Photography Workshop in the Windy City with Jasmine Star

Chicago is a city after my own heart, it is a city that is full of beautiful art and architecture, and a place where I am able to dream. I recently drove the 4.5 hours from Michigan to Chicago to attend a professional photography workshop with the fabulous Jasmine Star.

Jasmine invited myself and 20 other photographers from all over the country to this workshop with the goal of helping educate us on different posing strategies, using a natural light technique, and to strengthen our individual brands. The night before the official workshop began, I navigated my way around Chicago to the Robyn Rachel Photography studio where I was greeted with a big hug and smile from Jasmine and her husband JD. Ok - so let's backstory for a minute - I lovelovelove learning all I can about photography, business, decorating, and well everything, so I read blogs constantly because there are so many amazing resources online that can educate you on pretty much any interest you have. With that being said, Jasmine Star's blog is one that I read often and so for her to just walk right up to me and hug me was surreal, a bit like meeting a celebrity in the most nerdy, fangirl kind of way -but for photographers.

So after I recomposed my "I'm totally cool with Jasmine Star hugging me, she's just a human" face, I breathed a deep sigh of anticipation as to what was going to happen next. I got to talk with so many really cool chicks who work in the photography industry and who just like me were a little nervous and excited.

Photo of all us girls and our cameras courteous of the talented   JD  !

Photo of all us girls and our cameras courteous of the talented JD!

After some girl talk and light-hearted business questions, I headed back to my hotel room where I got to swim in the biggest jacuzzi tub I've ever seen (I love vacations, even work vacations) and mentally prepared for the full day of information ahead. Robyn graciously welcomed all of us back to her studio the next morning where we really got into the how's and why's of Jasmine's business and the way she approaches photography. I took serious notes and loved hearing all the amazing questions from the other photographers there. Sometimes being in an environment with a high level of information coming at you, it's hard to remember all the things you are supposed to ask so it was great to be surrounded by like-minded photographers who asked questions.

The day started out overcast but quickly got bright, hot, and sunny as we progressed into the photo shoot segment of the photography workshop. With the help of some amazing vendors and a real couple, Jimmy and Jen, the whole day is something I will never forget.

I learned so much from Jasmine, but I believe that there were 4 key lessons I learned at this Chicago photography workshop.

The 4 Keys:

1. Don't be afraid to talk to the couple when posing them.

A lot of the time I like to look for moments that happen naturally throughout the wedding day without any interference from me, but during the bride and groom portraits I have to give direction and set them up. So I have to keep a human connection to my bride and groom and not get lost adjusting camera settings while the crickets chirp. I've discovered that when it is too quiet, and I'm not talking them through the pose, then the bride and groom start to feel lost or unsure of what they are supposed to be doing. Working alongside Jasmine showed me how she is always trying to connect with her couples and making them feel relaxed.

2. Understand your brand

In today's world we are all surrounded by brands, but when someone asks "What is your brand?", it can be a tough question to answer if you haven't taken the time to develop what the brand for your business is. A brand is a series of expectations and experiences that make you choose a particular business, seems simple enough right? I took this gem of knowledge from Jasmine on branding to heart and always want to empower my couples to identify with my style. I learned that with my brand I need to be consistent and to only focus on things that I want to do more of in the future and not be a jack of all trades when it comes to photography.

3. Have a system for your business

96% of all small businesses fail within the first 10 years because they don't have a consistent client management system set-up. Hearing Jasmine speak about all the different parts of her process when working with a wedding client made me realize that in order to reinforce my brand, I need to have a system to ensure each client experiences my brand in the same way. I learned that I need to have a system of organization for all legal and business related things, a system for connecting and communicating with my clients that is effective, a good technique that I employ while behind the camera, and a consistent post-production process that my images go through that in the end will look like me and my brand.

 Jimmy looked very dapper in his tuxedo and bow tie.

4. The value of critique

I've attended a few workshops and they all have been different and wonderful experiences individually, but at this photography workshop something happened that I hadn't experienced before. Jasmine took the time to personally visit all 20 blogs and websites of the photographers present, including me, and then offered some helpful, and honest critiques of our work.

It was a sweaty palm, heart thumping experience as Jasmine pointed out the flaws in the images we all were showing and my first reaction wasn't to feel deflated but that wow she cares. She cares enough to tell us all what isn't working and by doing that she is encouraging us to grow and learn from our own art. I have enormous respect for Jasmine and the work that she does and really value all her amazing thoughts.

As a photographer, and as an artist, critique is vital to survival. You sometimes need an outside, unbiased but constructive opinion from someone to help you keep pushing beyond your current boundaries and to reevaluate your artistic vision.

(This shot of all us photographers, Natalie of Photography Lane, Jackee of Jackee Austerman Photography, Nikki of Nikki Marie Photography, Michelle of Mentz Photography, Caitlin of Caitlin Alexander Photography, Brittany of Brittany Bekas Photography, Robyn of Robyn Photography, Annie of Annie Steele Photography, Kali of Kali Norton Photography , Whitnei of Whitnei Photographei, Dory of Dory L Tuohey Photography, Brandi of Balee Images, Amy of Amy Long Photography, Melissa of Melissa Friloux Photography, Jennifer of Jennifer Soots Photography, Jennifer and Laura of Sweet Sisters Photography, Kaitlin of Kaitlin Sheran Photography, and Jasmine was captured by the amazing JD!)

 Jen looked so gorgeous in her Valentino gown and jewelry that was reminiscent of the 1930's

You could definitely feel the love these two had for each other even years after their wedding day.

I drove away from this Chicago photography workshop with newly acquired knowledge to navigate the invisible road ahead and with support and encouragement from Jasmine and all the other photographers to ensure my creative tank never reads empty.

Want to say again, thank you to all the vendors that participated in this wonderful workshop!

Hair: Nicci Loiacono

Makeup: Megan Hauser

Accessories: Left Bank Jewelery

Dress: Valentino from Belle Vie Bridal

Tuxedo: Formally Modern Tuxedo

Flowers: A Stem Above

Host: Robyn Rachel Photography

Location: Salvage One

and most importantly . . .

Educator: Jasmine Star

Collaborating with Other Wedding Day Creatives

I pride myself on being a lifelong student. I was always that kid who loved the first day of school and I was always eager to learn new things. Heck, I was even voted "Most Studious," by my senior classmates - you know those fake titles they label people with for the yearbook, yep. But it is a fact that I love to learn. As a wedding photographer, I work with not only other creatives such as florists, cake decorators, and wedding coordinators, but I also often work with other photographers. And it is an awesome learning and growing opportunity for myself as well as them.

Courtney Carolyn Photography

(Hey look! - There's me.)

I approached starting a photography business from a "I'm here to learn and grow" perspective. In college I took many classes on the art of photography and developed my understanding of light, composition, and of the digital editing side of photography. After graduation, and in between submitting resumes, I found myself being pulled towards photography blogs. I would read about how a photographer used off-camera lighting or laugh with one photographer as a hilariously split in her pants during a wedding resulted in a run to Kmart. They say in life that you should do what you love and not just work at a job. I made the choice to pursue photography as a profession because I love it, and what I have found out thus far is that this is one profession that is not for the faint of heart, but with help from those already in the industry you can grow so so much.

Courtney Carolyn Photography

(Here I am working for Fairytale Productions with Angela and Brian. I was a little obsessed with all the leading lines the bridge produced.)

In the whole one and a half years that I have been a working and learning photographer I have learned a LOT but there are some key things that I think are worth noting in this particular post.

1. I recommend attending some photography workshops if you can.

There are a lot of photographers out there who set up discussions for photographers of all skill levels to come and learn from them. I personally have attended one of Bob and Dawn Davis's Real Wedding Workshops in South Carolina last year (read more about that here), I rode the train all the way from Michigan to New York City to hear Fred Marcus and Clay Blackmore speak, and I just recently drove to Chicago to spend two days with Jasmine Star. (More on this particular adventure here!)

I have found this is a great way to hear some really inspiring creatives speak about the art of photography as well as business and an opportunity to practice techniques.

2. Network with photographers in your area, or who shoot how you shoot or how you aspire to shoot. 

I have personally worked with a few different photographers and it was a way for me to really get my feet wet with capturing weddings. It was so overwhelmingly mind boggling to me that some one was entrusting me to take images for them on their wedding day. Images that would be looked at one day by their grand children. I did not want to screw that up, so until I got comfortable with shooting a wedding day I decided that I would work as a second shooter or assistant to an established photographer or two.

Over this past summer I had so much fun and great learning experiences with Brittney of Brittney Ailes Photography. Brittney is hilarious and so motivating to be around. It was such a wonderful learning opportunity as we each pushed each other to shoot better to see things a different way to perfect techniques to a new level.

I also currently freelance as a primary photographer as well as second shoot for Tom of Fairytale Productions. Tom is a really amazing guy who runs his company like a champ, and he saw it upon himself to not only invite me to photograph weddings on a part-time basis for his photography studio but to also to give me a job as a photo editor and retoucher during the week for all the weddings Fairytale shoots.

3. Explore the web - or I as I like to refer to it as, my online university - as there are tons of FREE learning resources.

As I mentioned above, the internet is a mecca of knowledge and you can pretty much as Google any question under the sun, but there are also a ton of blogs, websites, and videos dedicated solely to photography.

A few I frequent are Creative Live, an online live broadcast of photographers preaching their photography gospel and business models, Fstoppers, which has well written (and not overly technical) articles on everything from gear to industry innovators, and Sue Bryce's Blog, because well she is just a really driven, mesmerizing woman and she has the cutest little puppy, Cookie.

So hit the books - just don't hit them too hard as that might hurt,

Love Always,

Courtney Carolyn

Courtney Carolyn Photography

(Beautiful wedding second shooting with Brittney Ailes Photography)

Want to collaborate on something? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please send any questions or collaboration requests to

Run for the Roses - A Soul Searching Trip in Charlestion

Life is about great adventures, whether they be big or small, good or bad. Life can also be compared to a race. You spend years practicing your skills and building yourself up all to what seems to culminate as one big race day where you either survive and are the first to cross the finish line or get lost in the crowd.

I just recently returned from a week long trip where I did some serious soul searching. Now, originally this was not my intention. The main reason I was going away was to continue to build myself and my photography skills up to rise above the level I was currently at. I'm a strong believer in learning new things and this trip, that was really a work trip, was no exception.

I first heard about Bob and Dawn Davis while searching for photography workshops a couple months back when I was planning a spontaneous trip to New York City. Bob is an awesome photographer and Dawn is his wife and photography business partner. They are a husband and wife team that combine their creative and technical photographic skill, personality, smart business savvy, and their kindness for others and education to create what they (and everyone else) call Bob and Dawn Davis Photography, which is based in the Chicagoland area.

I had the pleasure in New York, a couple months back, of taking Bob's "What the Flash" lighting workshop and he opened my mind's eye up to a lot of new possibilities with photography. I wanted to know more about Bob, so I visited his site. That's were I stumbled upon what could be considered my ticket to race day; a photography workshop hosted by Bob and Dawn in Charleston, SC. My adventure bell started ringing and I signed up, not knowing how I'd get there or if I'd be surrounded by a brunch of super-technical speaking photographers that I'd be intimidated by, not knowing anything, but feeling in my heart that it would be something amazing.

So this is where my recent "work trip" and soul search began.

I started pooling my resources and researching how I'd get myself down to the place where The Notebook was filmed, where Spanish Moss clings to the tree limbs, where people say "ya'll" with sweet tea, and where having a historic home was the norm. Enter my parents.

My mom and dad.

My mom and dad.

They agreed to help me on my quest by volunteering themselves as drivers - plus they had never been to that part of the country either and were intrigued by a road trip. It turned into one big family vacation with my older sister, Katie, included too. About 5 days before the workshop, we were all loaded up in my mom's red Saturn Vue (I was literally wedged between a cooler, my laptop, camera bag, and the door) and we began the first leg of our trip stopping first in Louisville, KY.

We visited Church Hill Downs, which is famous for the Kentucky Derby, and got a backside tour (yes, that's their word not mine) of the stables and where the trainers work and live.


There were horses a plenty getting bathed, brushed, or fed (paradise) and we even spotted the 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner, "Mine That Bird", who was slated with a 50 to 1 chance of winning the Derby. My family and I thought that was pretty neat in and of itself, but "Mine That Bird" had more interest in his hay bale and licking the wall then us during our visit.

(R) Mine That Bird, 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner - oblivious to us tourists.

(R) Mine That Bird, 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner - oblivious to us tourists.

Our car dotted across the country from Michigan to Kentucky and then to our next stop 9 hours later in Savannah, GA. There was no shortages of what one might normally expect on a trip where you're trapped in a car with you mother, father, and sister for 9 hours - someone yells angrily at a trivial problem because they're dying of hunger or legs and bodies start to cramp up in the crowded car and tensions rise because we can't escape each other - but the destination and adventure is always worth the trip! 

Savannah. Savannah. Savannah. You are my new favorite city. You are beautiful and quaint and not too busy body. You have a history and art scene that could keep me occupied for years. Savannah... I know Ray Charles was singing about the whole of Georgia hen he sang, "Georgia On My Mind," but it reminds me of you.

[PLAY Ray-Charles - "Georgia on My Mind"]

The Saturn skidded to a halt at our final destination of Charleston, South Carolina, the day following our visit to Savannah and we all burst forth from the car ready to stay in one place for three consecutive nights and I was so ready to begin learning all I could.

I still had a couple free days to explore Charleston with my family before the workshop and we started with some local southern cuisine at Jim n Nicks Bar-Bee-Que, the kind of cuisine that is full of ooy-gooy BBQ and washed down with a brew or two. We sat in a surrey "with a fringe on top" and were pulled through the French Quarter District learning a lot about the history of Charleston. We made an unplanned trip to the ER (because honestly that's our luck, but everyone is okay). Lastly, we visited Boone Hall Plantation, a relic straight out of Gone with the Wind where you'd expect to see Scarlett and Rhett traipsing across the property, and the day ended with us exploring the lush and humid Cypress Gardens together.

Cheers! We made it!

Cheers! We made it!

(L) Me! (R) My big sister, Katie - photo credit to my mom :)

(L) Me! (R) My big sister, Katie - photo credit to my mom :)

Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens

Boone Hall Plantation

Boone Hall Plantation

The rest of our time in Charleston was divided, my parents and sister out seeing the sights and I spent 3 days behind the camera lens and furiously writing down business strategies and better practices for my photography. I connected with so many great photographers from all over the country and can't wait to watch as everyone grows creatively and reshapes their businesses! I also walked away with a ton of real world photography experience and skills that I never learned in college!

Workshop photographers - We pack light (pun intended).

Workshop photographers - We pack light (pun intended).

Workshop photographers flexing their creative muscles.

Workshop photographers flexing their creative muscles.

Workshop photographers - We had fun and are excited about life! :)  Photo by Pam Bell Photography

Workshop photographers - We had fun and are excited about life! :) Photo by Pam Bell Photography

I believe everything about this trip will help to push me farther in my business and to race towards the direction of my dreams. As a very wise lady from our Church Hill Downs tour said, "not many horses get a chance to compete in the Kentucky Derby . . . and those that do, well, they only have one chance, one shot to win that run for the roses. . ."

Love Always,

Courtney Carolyn