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An Interview with Sue Wright in Carmel Valley, CA

TWWTT: Sue, it’s obvious that photography has become a real passion for you. We’ve already told our readers many of your stories – $150 here, an upgraded hotel room there, trips to Vegas, Vancouver, etc. You even said that you’ve already sold enough photos to more than pay for the photography workshop you took with us in Paris and you’ve signed up again for the Bahamas. Is this something that you’ve always dreamed about or is photography a relatively new passion for you?

SUE: I can’t say that before attending this workshop I had any ambitions whatsoever about becoming a freelance photographer. It never occurred to me, although my grandfather was a professional photographer and I grew up seeing him at work in his studio.

TWWTT: Since you weren’t considering becoming a freelance photographer at the time, what attracted you to the Paris photography workshop?

SUE: I was already very familiar with AWAI and its programs. After leaving my job as a middle school English teacher in 1998, I enrolled in the Six-Figure Copywriting course. I was looking for something that would allow me to work from home and spend more time with my then 8-year-old daughter. I started the course, but needing a regular paycheck, I went to work for a publishing company, where I remained until last year when I returned to teaching.

All the while, I dabbled in copywriting. I say “dabbled” because, during that time, I enrolled in several other AWAI courses including your travel writing course. I was learning many facets of the industry, but not really applying myself to establishing a full-time copywriting career. It wasn’t until last year’s 2004 Copywriting Bootcamp that I really got focused. That Bootcamp led to my first “real” copywriting project, a promo letter for an Oxford Club product.

TWWTT: So… you were well on your way to building a career as a freelance copywriter when you heard about the Paris photography workshop. What made you decide to add this to the other AWAI workshops and courses you’d participated in?

SUE: Actually, I didn’t make the decision to attend the Paris workshop until about 3 weeks before it began – and that was after receiving some serious coaxing and encouragement from my daughter and a close friend.

In spite of all the last-minute logistics I had to deal with – finding a substitute teacher for my classes, arranging airfare and hotel reservations on such short notice – everything fell into place and made it possible for me to attend – as though it was just meant to be.

The Paris workshop helped me to discover something I truly love to do. At the risk of sounding corny, I consider that week in Paris as a life-changing experience for me. Not only did I receive validation for my photography, I gained confidence and a fresh enthusiasm for life itself. I don’t know where this will all lead, but the journey is thrilling.

TWWTT: And, considering the photos you sold within just weeks of returning from the workshop, it’s obvious that journey has gotten off to a pretty good start. What parts of the workshop do you feel most contributed to turning your enjoyment of taking pictures into a real passion for professional photography?

SUE: It actually started with the opening night sessions – “Getting to Know Your Camera: How to Get the Best Possible Pictures Every Time” and “The Difference Between an Average Shot and a $5000 Photo.” For example, I’d never understood “digital zoom” versus “optical zoom”… and thanks to Rich Wagner – a professional photographer and one of the workshop presenters – I now know it’s “optical zoom” that I should pay attention to. That, along with the advice on settings and the discussion about composition, set me up for a very successful experience in Paris.

There was actually a moment that first night where I thought to myself, “this is worth the price already!” My decision to come across the globe for this photography workshop was instantly validated. Considering we hadn’t even gotten around to actually taking pictures yet, that’s pretty amazing!

TWWTT: A beginner, however ambitious to learn, may be uncomfortable – even a bit intimidated – attending a workshop with more experienced photographers with more sophisticated equipment. How did the workshop deal with the various skill levels of the participants?

SUE: We all arrived with different experiences and equipment, but the opening night sessions helped level the playing field, so to speak, so we could all move forward.

Based upon the quality of photographs I saw in the critiques, everyone – regardless of experience or equipment – created shots that were good and progressed significantly from the point where they were when the workshop began.

Rich Wagner and B. Howard – both professional photographers – took the time to assist and address the particular needs of each attendee, beginner and advanced alike, and that, I think, contributed to each student’s comfort level.

Most impressively, according to Rich and B. Howard, every single person came away with measurable growth as a photographer and had created publishable photographs. I’ve never seen anything like it – a workshop with a 100% success rate!

TWWTT: Before closing, do you have any advice you’d like to share with students and others just starting out in photography?

SUE: Contact professionals and ask if you can meet and “pick their brain.” Ask them to share their experience with you and give you an opinion on your photos. People have been very generous with me – with their time, advice, and feedback. That’s been really encouraging and helpful, and has helped me to continue moving forward.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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