To be honest, before I taught at After Dark I didn't quite understand what it really was. Even now its hard to explain unless you have been there. I recommend After Dark for ANY professional or aspiring professional photographer striving to expand their portfolio and push their technical/business knowledge of photography.
I will be going back to mentor at many After Dark events in the future, and I hope you'll give it a chance. There are 4 events each year in different cities, so check updates on the After Dark Facebook page to see which city is nearest you this year! They just announced an After Dark in Cincinnati this May.
Ok, so let me TRY to explain what After Dark is. After Dark is an amazing educational opportunity. When I first walked into After Dark Las Vegas, I walked into a huge conference room with 10 pods and 10 bays.
'Pods' are like educational teaching stations. These teaching stations have big screen TVs, couches and beanbags. In Pods you would learn about everything from retouching, to marketing, to creating unique business products, to social networking strategies. Pods are not really hands on, but are a way for teachers (called "mentors") to share their knowledge on a particular subject in an intimate environment. This is not like classes usually provided at a conference where the teachers talk AT you... instead they talk TO you and invite as many questions and inquiries as you have. For example, when I talk my 'social networking essentials' class, I invited people to share their own social networking goals and see what particular challenges they had encountered (and how I might help). For my creative retouching effects class, people invited to request me to demo certain techniques that they had always wondered how to do. At any given time there could be 10 pods open, and you could wander between the different teaching stations until you found a topic of interest. All topics were posted in the program (called "The Grid") and any extra classes added last minute would be written up on a board out front of the conference room.
The other half of the conference room had 10 "Studio Bays"... there were 10 studio setups all equipped with a variety of light modifiers, reflectors, backgrounds, and props. If you attended a Bay class you could choose from a wide range of topics including newborn photography (yes, there were newborns on site to photograph!), or bridal portraits, or fashion photography, or pretty much anything you can imagine having to do with studio.
Each pod or bay class ran approximately 1.5 hours in length, and could be on any topic that the mentors (teachers) selected. These were not rigid courses, but instead varied with the needs of the students. Many of the 'bays' would actually go out on location to shoot brides on the Las Vegas Strip, or even a boudoir session in one of the hotel's suites.
These semi-structured classes ran from 1:30PM to 10:30PM... and you could jump around to any classes you liked. There were 20 mentors and about 220 attendees, and therefore an amazing teacher-student ratio for learning. Many students would quickly find the teacher whose work or style attracted them, and attend many classes by that same teacher. As a mentor I was pleased because I had some very sweet young men and women that were by my side most of the entire 3-days of teaching!
So... why is "After Dark" called "After Dark"? After more structured classes ended at 10:30PM, mentors were free to set up whatever types of sessions they wanted and work as late into the night as they wanted. These aren't really structured... they are just shooting and teaching sessions that can develop into anything you want them to be. For example, one evening I went over and selected a model (there were many models available on set), directed her hair and makeup (there were many hair/makeup people on set) and then set up a 'high fashion pinup' session. I choose a studio setup and me and about 10 attendees photographed my lovely model until late into the evening (2AM or so). Two of the nights after midnight some of the cirque de soleil performers stopped by for us to photograph... pretty amazing to watch their skills and performing abilities. After dark the creativity really blossomed and anything could happen!
I have no idea if this is helping to paint a picture of the events there... but it was just incredible. So much flexiblity and so much free-styling learning... people had a chance to ask ANY questions they have, focus on their weak points in order to develop, and ample opportunity to build a portfolio. I saw sessions that were fashion shoots with girls looking like leopards. I saw a shoot with two adorable twin toddlers. I saw big cirque de soleil group shots. It was incredible to see how much diversity of styles and shooting were available at any given moment.
While I barely slept for this three-day event, it was worth it. My most popular classes were "Creative Retouching Effects" and "Fashion Lighting: One, Two, Three". I also had a chance to teach studio on location at the Benihannas restaurant in the Las Vegas Hilton (where After Dark was held this time around), and got some great shots.
I will DEFINITELY be doing these again the future. Hope to see you there! Oh yea, and it only cost like $400 to attend... which included 3+ days of teaching with nearly 20 different teachers on everything you can imagine. What you got out of these classes was worth 10X the cost (and I don't get any extra pay to say that!)!!! Below are some of the images that I took while working as a mentor at After Dark. I really didn't shoot very much (actually hardly at all) but here are some images that I produced while demoing for my classes![galleryview id=33]
If you'd like to see some videos of 'behind the scenes at After Dark', you can check this After Dark YouTube Channel.