Every once in a while, something so refreshing comes along it stands to make a big impact in an already saturated avocation. In the field of photography education, it’s increasingly challenging to stand out amongst the crowd. Instructors Elizabeth Stone and Tony Rizzuto have recently embarked on such an endeavor, and we feel it could have substantial influence on anyone’s creativity and photography. If you’ve ever been in a classroom with either Tony or Elizabeth, you’ll know how much passion they each possess for teaching and sharing (not to mention their collective wit). Their latest co-creation, designed to enlighten and inspire photographers with their own photography, is a website called Photographers Breakthrough. Recently, I sat down with Elizabeth and Tony to discuss their team effort and what they hope to add to the “conversation” of photography.
BM: So, how long have you two known and/or worked with each other? How did the chemistry develop between you two?
TR: In 2001, I attended RMSP’s Summer Intensive and Elizabeth was one of my instructors. Since then I embarked on a career as a professional photographer and an instructor. We first taught together on a workshop in 2004 in Victoria, British Columbia and over the last few years we’ve taught numerous workshops together in Tuscany, Italy, Charleston, SC and Napa Valley, CA to name a few.
ES: We instantly knew that we both had a sense of humor and we’ve always played pranks on one another. We like to keep things light which helps facilitate the learning experience and builds group dynamics. Over time, we’ve come to develop high expectations for ourselves and are constantly pushing each other to be better. We’ve definitely helped each other strengthen and trust our individual work ethic.
BM: How did this germ of an idea begin with Photographers Breakthrough? How did the name evolve? When did you launch the site?
ES: Tony and I knew early on that we could work together to bring a unique approach to education. We both believe that a strong focus on the individual is what tends to provide the most impactful learning experiences. We both noticed that once a workshop experience is over, many participants leave on a “high,” with intentions to continue shooting and sharing their work with others We also noticed however, that this motivation slowly waned over time. After a while they may stop shooting entirely because they don’t have access to a community or resources to help keep them motivated with their photography. In response, we launched Photographer’s Breakthrough in April of this year.
TR: We wanted to create a place online that people could visit regularly and would help them stay connected to photography and advance their skills. On any given day, someone can visit Photographers Breakthrough and find information and inspiration on a variety of photographic topics. We want thinking about photography to become a daily ritual. The challenge is to constantly provide information that’s fresh, helpful and inspirational. We did quite a bit of brainstorming on names for the site but knew that our goal was to keep people moving forward, learning new techniques, hearing new information and being inspired. We felt that if we could deliver on that promise, people would have breakthroughs regularly whether it meant advancing technically or creatively. In the end, Photographer’s Breakthrough was the name that summed up the whole experience.
BM: Can you describe what makes PB a unique approach?
TR: Our shared focus is on the individual and their growth. The whole idea is to give people more – regardless of their level of involvement. Participation can be as passive as watching a new critique daily or as active as taking a workshop. Our exclusive Photographer’s Breakthrough workshops start with pre-workshop assignments and post-workshop follow up and feedback. This extends the experience beyond 7 days and helps us guide individuals before, during and after their time with us. In the subscription area of our site, our members can find a wealth of PDF resources, video tutorials and daily critiques delivered by both of us.
BM: On your website it says, “We’ve taken the traditional workshop and enhanced the experience.” What do you mean by that and what type of workshops are you offering?
ES: The enhancement has to do with focusing on each participant and identifying their particular needs. By doing so, we can personalize individual assignments during the experience based on these needs. As Tony stated, we’re also following up with each person after the class to follow up on their growth and offer support and encouragement. In October of this year, we’re going to Victoria, B.C. and the Oregon Coast (which is sold out – but a waiting list is available). Victoria is one of our favorite places to hold a workshop and to photograph. The diversity of the city extends from the architecture of Hatley Castle and the the British Columbia Parliament Building to the extraordinary Butchart Gardens, the surrounding coastline and harbors to downtown and Chinatown. Next year, we’re going to the Big Island of Hawaii, New Orleans and the Oregon Coast again. We strive to find environments diverse in subject matter that include options for photographing people to landscape to macro to architecture. We want to create a unique experience for each student based on their skill level, expectations and how they want to grow.
BM: What can a paying subscriber expect to receive from you?
ES: The subscription fee is $40 per year and entitles the member to two personalized video critiques from both Tony and I, complete access to all educational and inspirational materials, the daily critiques we tape together, entry in an annual drawing to win free tuition to one of our workshops, access to our “out-takes”, entry in an annual drawing to win a free portfolio review, and first notification of any future workshops before non-subscribers.
BM: You also mention “extras” that you offer your subscribers. What are you offering?
TR: For additional fees, we offer bonus critiques, personalized portfolio reviews, personalized website evaluations, and personalized instruction.
ES: Tony has a small bladder. That becomes really inconvenient on road trips and scouting adventures.
TR: Elizabeth’s feet REALLY stink…well, only when she wears Keen sandals without socks. She wonders why I’m always stopping and getting out of the car on road trips.
From the below video, “Why Photograph?” on Photographers Breakthrough: “We know that one day you’ll be watching and have an epiphany. It’s going to change the way you view things forever. You’ll finally have that key that will open up the door to your personal breakthrough.”