Review of Lara Jade VS Joey L, Photographer Shoot Off

I was asked by Lara Jade if I would review her new DVD. Though I have never ‘reviewed’ anything on my blog before, neither have I ever really had something given to me that I want to review. So, thanks Lara. And here goes my impartial take. I hope Lara knows what she got herself in for ;)

I was excited to watch the DVD, as I had seen the trailer. From the marketing it looked delicious and so tempting, I can only imagine the fervour of both young and seasoned ‘togs sticking this on their Xmas wishlists. I looked forward to watching a few hours’ worth of photography-related entertainment. After all, there aren’t many programmes on TV about photography, or at least beyond a simplistic layperson level!

I didn’t want to review it just from my point of view, but thought of questions that the potential buyer would want to ask: can it teach a beginner photographer anything? Can it teach an advanced photographer anything? Is it marketed correctly? Is it worth the money? ($250/$200 launch price).

I was aware most of my enjoyment came from seeing Joey and Lara behind the scenes. Being fairly familiar with their work, it was largely a pleasure of recognition and curiosity about their physical presence as photographers. The DVD is divided into parts, showing Lara and Joey each on a shoot as part of the four ‘challenges’, each with screen capture films showing them at work in RAW workflow and Photoshop.

The photography in this DVD is stunning. I am bored by 90% of photography out there but I was captivated by both Lara and Joey’s images throughout. Of course, you only have to go online to see their images, so it’s the content of the explanational material that is the object to review here.

The first shooting film, showing Joey shooting a rock star on a studio roof, is very comprehensive. Joey is careful to go into detail about every stage he went through (lenses, lighting, filters, techniques, forethought, contingencies… right through to how the lighting affected the clothing of the subject, and even where he bought the ‘cheap ass’ light fixture from). I really feel like I am in a direct conversation with him, having my questions answered. In the editing films, I like how both Lara and Joey show the other shots from a session beside the selected one – the rejected/sidelined shots – i.e. how they get to the ‘before’  and not just the typical ‘before and after’. This is something important that many other workshops/tutorials neglect! In some of the shoots though, there are gaps in the full information about everything that went into the shoot, a bit like seeing a dish being made, but not getting the full recipe. It’s still enjoyable to view.

I like that Lara speaks about other aspects as well as the photography itself; her input on styling for example, in choosing a model.  She is showing that there is more to photography than the f-stop, what you might consider the more ‘feminine’ pulse of photography. And I truly believe that the photography workshop industry lacks that in abundance, so to see a photographer like Lara in action makes me happy. But, this is a workshop DVD and it needs strong workshop material, so I would have liked Lara to address a few more technical topics to give a more complete picture.

To get something clear however, as a photographer myself, I am often not bothered about technical information and I am not saying that the crux of a photograph is the gear and settings used. It’s just that the DVD purports to tell you everything about the process, so I went into watching it believing that I would be shown everything. And with every photo that comes onscreen is a overview of its camera settings, so we are being told that they are integral to understanding the image. Some of the settings however are not explained, such as a mystifyingly high ISO and shutter speed on one of Lara’s images from the Shoot a Stranger challenge. During another of her shoots, she uses a constant/HMI light stating she wants a cool look, but has to obtain this later in Lightroom by changing the white balance drastically, going against her statement that non-destructive editing is important. So I wondered why she had not changed her white balance accordingly in the shooting. It really doesn’t matter – every photographer has quirks, makes mistakes, can fix things later – it is of little consequence! But it would be helpful if these things were mentioned, to avoid confusing the DVD viewer who wants to think and learn.

Lara refers to digital noise from a high ISO as flattering film camera ‘grain’, and that she wants ‘a nostalgic film feel across her images’ (in the way I understood this then, across all her work.) I was surprised to hear that, as noise really isn’t the same as grain, and I see Lara’s work as the opposite anyway: modern, professionally digital, unnoisy and clean-edged images, and there isn’t any visible noise in most her portfolio. I believe that in fact she only uses high ISO for some select shoots, not all, so it’s an example of a topic I did not feel fully enlightened on. Contrary to the description of the DVD, I felt there was a subtle, maybe even oblivious, insulating membrane in parts that prevents the viewer from truly getting the nuts and bolts of everything that goes into the photographers’ process. I don’t necessarily mean that they purposefully hold back tangible ’secrets’; just that they sometimes talk performatively rather than straight from the heart.

I liked the diversity in production value of the shoots: from the Pacific Ocean, to a street in India, to a deadly road in Bolivia, to a London studio. I think for a DVD marketing itself as a fashion/commercial workshop, it would be good to see a more ‘conventional’ fashion shoot somewhere in the series of films: something that shows shooting with a standard key, back and fill light. That is what I would have liked to learn more about. Because the shoots were all a bit quirky in their technique, it was a bit like having the icing without the cake… but a bit better – like a whole cake made out of icing. Perhaps, though, it is a covertly good thing that there are no ‘norms’ in this video, after all, photography is a bag of surprises, random encounters, thinking on your feet, and finding inspiration in unusual places.

For one of Joey’s shoots, he says to the camera that he has decided to shoot in an apartment because NYC studios are too expensive (admittedly ‘shooting last minute’ specifically for the DVD). Whilst the shoot worked just fine in the apartment, and is a great example to other photographers on practical ways to save money, part of me was curious that surely his shoot deserved the cost of studio hire for a DVD that will be sold. But then, he does say he seldom hires studios. Also, when Lara turns up to her London studio for the birthday-themed shoot to find just a ring flash and a HMI light, I wondered upon the somewhat strange situation that as a professional photographer (on a DVD teaching others how to be professional photographers), that she had not checked the studio’s lighting beforehand, or brought her own gear.  However, these are young photographers: fresh, rebellious and with work ten times more interesting than a lot of older, more experienced photographers that do things by-the-book. It is of personal opinion to each viewer as to whether that qualifies them to make and sell a workshop DVD.

I couldn’t help feeling that many illustrative shots could have been edited down (such as Joey’s translator shown speaking Spanish for 20 seconds, or wide views of set-ups shown for longer than we need), as well as the time devoted to Lara’s long anecdotes and also Joey’s non-photography-related jesting in front of the camera, which struck me as a little self-indulgent; it may be enjoyable, but my mind kept going back to the person who pays $200 or $250 to watch what seems more like a documentary than a workshop. I found myself saying ‘ok now let’s see some photography’, or ‘nice, so show me what the shots look like!’ a few times.

I enjoyed Joey’s India shoot; the set-up was described well, and I enjoyed the ambience of the footage (glad no music was put over those shots), I almost felt like I was there. I also liked seeing Lara approach strangers to shoot in the streets of New York, that part made me feel as if I was watching an objective TV programme where the photographer was making a real effort to step outside their comfort zone.

A difference I noticed between Joey and Lara’s footage was the quality of camera work. Lara’s was all shot with a manual focus (most likely a 5DMkII), which meant that the shots kept going blurry and was quite distracting. The editing also left in a lot of unnecessarily long shots on Lara in action, like cutaways trying to become real meat. We see her close-up at work, directing the model but we don’t see their reaction, so we can’t make narrative sense of what’s going on, and the footage becomes merely decorative, to say ‘this is a fashion photographer, and this is the model’.

This all made me reflect on the disadvantages of watching a film not edited by an objective eye, and not ‘professional’ in the strictest sense, but I also reminded myself that today we see so much more than TV would typically sanction, and this DVD is an example of photographers autonomously creating something that would not have had the means to do only a decade ago.

Probably my main critical observation was lack of discussion of inspirations. Photographers don’t exist in a vacuum. Work doesn’t birth itself on another planet free from all external influence. All artists’ work is a collective flow of ideas: like water running its rivulets into the work of each single artist in existence; the water can’t collect in a self-contained pool and say ‘this is it, this is where it begins’. To gain more of a credible glance at their processes, I wanted to hear about what influences went into the outcome of each of Lara and Joey’s shoots, and what inspires them generally. The complete absence of this conflicted with their expectation that their own work on the DVD will inspire others.

So, in answer to my questions:

Can it teach a beginner photographer anything? –Yes, although some beginners might find themselves out of their depth if they expect explanation of the extreme basics: it’s story-led, with a cocktail of all kinds of interesting things coming together at once.

Can it teach an advanced photographer anything? – Though I felt more excited to watch Lara’s videos, I feel I got more directly useful bits of info from Joey. But good photographers’ work can seldom be translated into easy-to-digest nuggets on technique to be swallowed up by the viewer. Whilst Joey can tell us about ND filters and his homemade modifiers, Lara just takes really great pictures, with simple uncomplicated methods: well-composed, well-styled and very well selected in the edit process. There’s nothing much to ‘report on’ about her process, except for her excellent eye. And you can’t teach someone ‘the eye’ as much as you can’t teach a blind person to see. The truthful paradox is: the more experimental, ‘unique’ and interesting any photographer’s work is, the less it can be ‘taught’ to people at all.

It is marketed correctly? –Probably not quite, more documentary style for the LJ and JL fans, demonstrating their own idiosyncrasies. But using the semantics of ‘workshop’ and ‘learning’ in the packaging obviously sells better. A couple of hardcore technical bits (such as channelling the energy spent on the comical boxing ring animation, into dynamic lighting or composition breakdowns instead) may have weighted it more into the marketing’s favour, and so too a technique-based structure rather than a story-based structure (though I enjoy the latter more). I love the artistic DVD cover, the inventive concept of rivalry, and the colourful array of shooting situations – so much more interesting than bog-standard stuff of typical tradeshow ilk.

Is it worth the money? –Depends if, based on the above, you learn from it or not. It may not be as useful to someone who does not know LJ and JL’s work beforehand. It may be expensive for a DVD, but let’s not forget that physical workshops are invariably more expensive than this, and can have less effort or energy put into them.

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Posted in Essays, musings on December 8th, 2011 | 8 Comments |

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Comments for “Review of Lara Jade VS Joey L, Photographer Shoot Off”

    1. Bradford
      11:31 pm on December 15th, 2011

      Very good review here. The critical thinking that went into this text is very thorough and insightful. I like how you don’t play favourites here. It’s an honest assessment of what the experience was like for you; from your disappointments to approvals.

      I can see your point about getting into the “thought processes” of the artist and that ingredient appeared to be missing from the DVD. What a huge “miss” if it was. I liked how you made a point of it being, ” A lack of discussion of inspirations.” That point hits home.

      I must address an important issue here. I think it speaks volumes that Lara asked you to review this work that she probably poured hours upon hours into. She must have completely trusted you to give an honest and open opinion. Here’s the lesson to learn. Before one should submit a motion picture work to the general public, I think it’s imperative and of utmost importance to get feedback. To maybe have another set of eyes viewing the film.

      Personally, I would have shown the DVD to as many people as possible and given them a thorough questionnaire to fill out at the end of the each presentation (these people could have been people in the film industry, perhaps associated with documentary work or just people who love filmmaking). She needed professional advice and your film review here would have been one hell of a place to start.

      Upon getting advice (it could be from an expert or just someone who has a basic level of appreciation, but preferably from someone who understands filmmaking) you can alter your work and make the changes that are necessary. This is so important to do in dealing with the moving image. I can’t stress this enough because there are so many elements that can either “move” people, distract them, entertain them, confuse them, or in many cases, bore them. It sounds like there were elements in this DVD that did all of the above to you and that’s not good.

      I was on the fence with the decision to buy this DVD (which is costly), but now I know what to do. Thank you the great review which is not only mindful, but very, very educating.

    2. Ellen Rogers
      12:38 am on December 16th, 2011

      Excellent review, completely unbiased and well written. I would except nothing less from you. I had been curious to see it and now I am more so.

    3. Niki Aguirre
      11:01 pm on December 26th, 2011

      Incredibly focused review. Thank you so much!

    4. Nikky
      4:24 pm on February 4th, 2012

      I picked this up a while ago after reading a few positive reviews on it. After spending the whole night watching it, I am very disappointed. I can not find any useful information in this set that Joel L has not already mentioned in his previous tutorials. I do appreciate the fact that Joel is able to demonstrate his ability to create something difficult situations. My main issue is what this Lara Jade person. I can not believe she is doing this for a living, based on how bad the photos were, and how she can not even get the subject in focus because she was not holding the camera steady and doing manual focusing in a controlled lighting environment. I mean seriously? There are so many people who can produce much better artistic and technical work than Lara Jade. It makes me wonder if the whole point of this video set is to make Joey L look good.

    5. mathieu
      9:36 pm on February 9th, 2012

      I’m done watching this dvd and agree with your assessment. It was enjoyable to watch but seriously lacked of meat… The worst part for me was putting loud music instead of interaction between the Joey/Lara and their subjects. There wasn’t much going on technically, getting to see them in action would have been nice and worth the admission price. When it comes to photoshop: very basic and sometimes not the best way of doing things (like Lara adding noise directly to the bottom layer and a seconds later in her recap taking pride in the fact that the D&B layer and adjustment layer were “non-destructive”… then why not add the noise to a separate softlight layer? some consistency would have been nice :) ).
      Like this review said, this is more a documentary (with a few Ps techniques) than a workshop.

    6. London Headshots
      9:52 pm on March 9th, 2012

      Echoing general sentiments of your review here.

      For me, I didn’t find Lara’s shoots or workflow very interesting or engaging. I found her camera settings to be inexplicably random, and refuse to believe there is any method to it.

      Everything always seemed to “work out perfect” for her in terms of weather, and I’m inclined to believe that the apocalypse could’ve given way to a snow storm, and both would’ve “worked our perfect” for the “feel” of the shoot.

      If it sounds like my main issue is Lara, it’s true. I found her immensely irritating and disingenuous. The story about the chairs borrowed from two beach goers, and her comment about the female of the two being apparently intimidated because two pretty models wanted to use the chairs just utterly disgusted me. It was a pointless inclusion in a $200 DVD that served absolutely no purpose.

      I got halfway through the video before I started skipping past all of Lara’s stuff.

      Joey was great, but this is definitely not worth $200 for me.

    7. Jean-Claude
      1:02 pm on March 23rd, 2012

      Hi, thanks for your review !
      I really like Joey’s style and could pick up some good technical ideas even though i thought the ” Sessions ” video was more a tutorial in depth than this here.

      I think, as some of my fellow commenters already mentioned Jade is the weak point of the story. Her style is not my taste but that’s just my opinion. But seeing her tweaking the ISO to unbearable high amounts really shows that she has not much technical knowledge. Instead of using fill lights to get a nice overall brightness she rather risks an enormous quality loss. The way she communicates is a little bit irritating too and i think she is not a good match to Joey.

      All in all, i think it is a good video, if it is worth 200,- bugs … i doubt it, maybe with a stronger shooter than Jade the great idea of a shooter-battle would have come across better.

    8. Paul
      11:38 pm on April 17th, 2012

      Finally a decent review of this. I was wondering, have you seen the Sessions DVD by Joey L? Is it any different?

      The thing about these young photographers is that they’re good at photoshop. Like the person above mentioned, it seems like Jade isn’t technically up there like Joey, but the images she produces are stunning – thanks to post.

      Im wondering, does it go in depth in their post processing process, or just a skim through of their general tools?

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