Good concept, bad execution

It’s frustrating when a really good idea is let down by bad execution/organisation.

Why am I thinking about this? Creativelive has made me think about it.

First up, let me say I like the concept of Creativelive, and I’ve bought several of their courses, including the one just gone, the Sandy Puc one. Sandy was brilliant, both as an operator and a teacher.

Creativelive is an interesting concept where they hold multiple-day (sometimes single day, but usually three-day) seminars in their Seattle workshop, and broadcast them live (in lowish resolution, obviously), for free. If you like it enough, you can buy them in HD to download, allowing you to watch it all in your own time.

Hey, free education! Great concept. It really is. BUT – only if it’s done well.

When it started, it was pretty good. They good good instructors – Zack Arias was a standout – and it was about the information. One of the great things about Zack was that, not only does he actually know what he’s doing, but he’s not sponsored by anyone, and he’ll tell you that.

But boy, they’ve had some bad ones as well. Some more recent ones have sometimes seemed like three-day long infomercials about the presenter – a recent presentation saw one presenter struggling to get any information out around his mentions of his sponsors. One recent “instructor” (I use the term advisedly) didn’t have much of an idea of how to use lights or camera, and was clearly outshot by a couple of the invited studio audience. What? In a photography teaching seminar? Serious. (She was also happy to throw her team and those involved under the bus, when it was extremely clear that she was the clueless one, not them. Not a good character insight.)

Also, self-promotion often seems to be the main goal, not teaching. I usually think that when you’re holding a “seminar”, you really should do some teaching (ala Zack) not just sit there and (figuratively) yell: “look at me, look at me”.

It’s a really bad thing when your main takeaway from a photography workshop is “Man, she was rubbish, I’m way better. All you need to do to become a well-paid photographer is to know marketing and business.” And while that’s undoubtedly true – business acumen/ability is clearly a more important part of running a photography business than photographic ability – I don’t really want to get that message from workshop that is supposed to be about the photography side of things.

Not helping any of this is the poor production values involved. I’m not saying live TV is easy – I’ve worked in TV for a fair while at various levels in various jobs, along with radio, print, web, etc – but constant audio issues, people walking in front of cameras, terrible backgrounds (including other cameramen) and so on isn’t too hard to sort out, and it should be done.

Also really dragging the whole thing down is the constant interruptions regarding what “the internet” is doing. “The internet is loving you” is easily in the top five of my most-hated phrases thanks to CL. Interrupting a session with comments like “Hey Zack, I just want to say I’ve seen your wedding photography, and you’re an incredible wedding photographer” apropos of nothing, when Zack is talking about steadying the camera for shooting at long shutter speeds. Seriously? Nothing personal here, but nobody cares what you think, and you’re not actually helping by embarrassing the presenter. Just quiet down and do your job, you are not part of the show, despite the self-promotional email addresses taped to the laptop lids. (Ranting about this as it’s even more annoying when you’re watching it later off the HDD having bought the seminar.) It has improved slightly since one of the two women who interface between “the internet” and the presenter has gone (to do a reality TV show on something photographic, believe it or not) but the other main offender is still there, butting in and being as disorganised as ever. Yes, I understand that you want to have questions from the twittersphere to maintain the “interactivity” of the exercise, but butting in with questions, then not knowing what questions you want to ask is just crazy. And if the problem is your trendy little iPads, then get a MB Air (if you have to be a trendy little Seattle hipster) or a real tablet/netbook that will allow you do something really simple like cut-and-paste the questions into a static document so you don’t look like a deer in the spotlight AFTER YOU HAVE BUTTED IN AND THEN HAVE NOTHING TO SAY.  IT’S NOT HARD TO SORT OUT.

I’m writing this now because the current workshop is great, and I’ve just bought it. Sandy Puc is talking about shooting babies, but is also talking about how to be a real photographer and how to run a business. Really excellent stuff. Unfortunately, it makes the poor recent efforts seem even worse.
It’s a good idea, but it could be a whole lot better with a little tidying up of the technical side, and seeing if people can actually teach before signing them up, rather than just checking how many twitter followers people have, or something. Actual teaching ability SHOULD be a prerequisite, not just a happy coincidence.


(Also, and this might seem like a small thing, but I think it’s a good indicator into the way they think – in the leadup to each workshop, they say it will be $99 if you purchase before it starts, $149 after that (almost always those figures). In reality, it’s $99 until it finishes, which means you can get a good look at the material to see if it’s worth it, and given a bunch of the recent workshops, you’d be a fool to pre-purchase. It’s deceptive, and they know it, and they don’t care. I don’t like that attitude towards their (potential) customers.
Also, they don’t take enough care when putting up the files for download – this seminar has the Day3 files labelled as Day 2, and the titles on the website don’t always correspond to the tiles on the files,further contributing to the confusion.

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