Workshops, Mentoring & Portfolio Reviews

I’ve done them all, and quite frankly I love them all. As a self-taught photographer it has been extremely helpful for me to have access to all these wonderful resources when trying to build my wedding photography business. Not every other profession has the amount of easily accessible, high-quality education as the photography industry. My short opinion about a few of the courses I’ve done:

Workshops are wonderful for an number of reasons beyond learning. You meet a group of your peers, make friends for life, get inspired, and generally get a LOT to think about. I’ve done one local workshop and one large  international workshop and I value them both for different reasons. The local one was great for meeting local photographers and having resources in my own market. I was just starting out, and I had no other wedding photography friends or even acquaintances. I met awesome people, who I am still friends with and I have a number of local resources that helped me immeasurably.

The international one, well… all I can say is that I’m still reeling from it. I like to think that I jumped into the deep end with that one. The vendors were absolutely world class creatives, and the other participants were super talented. I’m proud to have made some amazing friends from that workshop and I like to call it my “Masters degree in Wedding Photography”. The best way to describe what I got out of that high-level workshop is a new pair of eyes. I scrutinize every photo, every detail, every timeline, email, shoot, and blog post that I put out there to make sure that it is the absolute best quality possible. Often, I will delete or edit these things after posting because … nah, it’s not good enough. The local workshop I did was with Rebekah Murray and is now available in video format and the international workshop I did was the once-in-a-lifetime, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming Jose Villa Mexico Workshop.

Jose Villa Mexico Workshop Review-1(From the Jose Villa Mexico Workshop)

Mentoring: I’ve done too many one-on-one mentoring sessions to name! Whenever I’m feeling stuck, or uninspired or like I need an outside perspective I tend to hop on a call or Skype session with someone awesome. These sessions have always been amazing because of the personalized feedback I get. I usually come prepared with a list of pretty specific questions and objectives, and always with a portfolio for review. These mentoring sessions are usually a great check point for me to make sure I’m going in an intentional direction, and sometimes even just to set this direction. The personalized feedback that I’ve received from mentoring sessions have made a huge impact. There is a lot to cover, and it can’t be done in just 1 hour, so think of these sessions as tweaking. And all those little tweaks add up.

Portfolio Reviews: Often a part of the two above-mentioned sessions, a portfolio review can be terrifying but also incredibly productive. During a portfolio review, be prepared to put your ego aside and listen to the feedback given to you. It’s also important that you have sought out the best person to give you this review. Are you familiar with their work? Is it the style you are going for? What do you like about their work? Don’t ask a fine art photographer for critique on your studio sessions, it’s really just a waste of time. If you like street photography, find the best living street photographer out there and try to get into their mind. You don’t need to copy their work but understand their position. I have reluctantly done portfolio reviews (Wasn’t sure my ego could take it) but almost every time I come out of the session a little closer to finding my own distinct style.


Dogwoods Engagement Shoot


Washington-DC-Engagement-ShootBonnie-Sen-Engagement-Shoot-Photography-PhotosEngagement-Shoot-Bonnie-Sen-Photography-DC-MD-VAEngaged-Photos-Bonnie-Sen-PhotographyEngagement-Photos-Bonnie-Sen-PhotographyEngaged-Washington-DC-Maryland-Virginia-PhotosBonnie-Sen-Photography-Engagement-PhotosEvery once in a while you get a dream client who makes your day. This engagement session was off to a rocky start. It was supposed to be a sunrise shoot, but with traffic and the cloudy and cold weather there really was no sunrise. It was also supposed to be a Cherry blossom shoot, but just a few days before our shoot there was a big storm that knocked all the blossom petals off the trees. Fortunately my assistant photographer Rob knew about this spot in Capitol Hill that had magnificent Dogwoods in bloom. After we warmed up with some coffee we ventured into the trees. This day would have been such a disaster if it wasn’t for my clients’ amazing attitude and flexibility!

It Starts With Art

I was always an artist but only recently became a photographer. All throughout high school and college I sketched, painted, drew and kept travel journals. Then as an architect for about a decade I wasn’t getting the creative satisfaction desired. I was only really interested in photography once I discovered the work of people like Jose Villa and Max Wanger. Their photography was minimal, playful, and colorful. Their work looked like paintings to me, and I was instantly hooked!

After making the switch to photography, desperate to learn everything and do well in business, I loaded up on classes from places like CreativeLive and FStoppers not to mention following every single local DC photographer on social media. I said “yes” to every client. As a result the work got scattered.

My portfolio looked like every other newbie photographer. And while I was happy to be able to do what I love and really enjoyed trying different styles of photography… I wasn’t creating a cohesive artistic voice for myself.

I also wasn’t enjoying my passion.

There are so many photographers, and aspiring photographers that the only way to stand out is to create a distinct artistic voice. Once you have honed that voice, or even as you are in the process of honing it… then you can blast it to the world. Until you feel like you are 100% satisfied with your art and it’s consistent, keep honing.


A few ways to “hone”:

1. When looking at others’ work (on Instagram for example) leave comments about what specifically you love about the photos. Is it the mood? The lighting? The poses? What do you like about them? Go into detail to help understand your own feelings about the photography.

2. When looking at work you don’t like ask yourself what don’t you like about it? What would you do differently? You may be surprised at what you come up with. For me it’s almost always the items that feel unnatural that stand out – colors, poses, clothing and general background distractions.

3. The best way to “hone” your artistic voice is to set up your own personal projects. When you are the creative director of your shoot then you need to pick the model, clothes, hair, makeup, setting, location, etc. Find collaborators to help you achieve this vision, but ultimately it’s entirely up to you to make it fit your vision.

4. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and ask strangers to model for you. I’ve picked up  people at coffee shops before to use for personal work – especially when switching to film. Most people take it as a huge compliment to be asked to model.

5. When you are “slow” and don’t have a ton of paying work take it as a sign and opportunity to do these personal projects. You have to stay consistently busy to keep the momentum of growth building.

6. Finally, curate. You don’t have to share every single project you do. Sometimes they fall flat. Just because you took the photo doesn’t mean it has to be shared. As the art director of your  brand, you have to be bold enough to slash your work from your portfolio.