Here’s a brief peek behind the curtain. Back in fall 2013, we had a storewide meeting. The purpose was to determine how we would focus our energy in 2014. When asked what our customers wanted most, our sales associates almost unanimously said education.
As someone who learned how to start shooting in manual mode from one of our Beginner DSLR classes, I instantly knew what they meant: the more you learn about photography, the more fun you can have with your camera.
This planted the seed for what would become the MPEX Learning Studio.
I started working at MPEX in July 2012. Back then, I couldn’t tell my aperture from my . . . well, you get the point. I was photographically ignorant in the most extreme sense of the word.
Two years later, I can’t even imagine how boring it would be to have never deviated from auto mode. Point. Shoot. Repeat. Forever and ever. Amen. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the control? Where’s the fun?
I remember the first time I was sitting in one of our Beginner DSLR classes and I learned that I could change the aperture in manual mode on the Canon Rebel I was using by holding down the exposure compensation button (conveniently labeled with an “Av”) and change my shutter speed by letting go of said button.
My enjoyment of photography snowballed from there. The first realization was as simple as: The “Av” next to the exposure compensation button looks similarly like the “Av” for aperture priority mode. Mind = blown.
The next realization was: If I make my f-stop the lowest number, I can get really cool blurry background effects. Mind = exploded.
The third realization was: if my aperture is wide open, I can make my shutter speed faster and make taking pictures handheld a lot easier. Mind = nuked.
This is the philosophy behind the Learning Studio. We want to cause that chemical reaction. We want you to learn and have fun with learning.
We’d been offering classes for a couple of years by then, but it hadn’t been a major focus for us. The decision to offer classes mostly came out of the fact that, if you’re going to spend money on a camera, we want to make sure you at least know how to use it. That’s how our Beginner DSLR class was born.
A major obstacle in building our educational program was real estate. If you’ve ever been to our humble little store in Clintonville, we’ve pretty much packed the place with product, which makes it a gear-head’s heaven but doesn’t necessarily lend itself to having a classroom.
One of the businesses across the street from us happened to be moving to a different location. We immediately recognized this as an opportunity for… something. We weren’t sure what, but we knew we wanted that space, and we had a sense that it could become an important part to our education program.
Of course, it wasn’t much to look at, at first. It was dark in there, mostly due to the midnight blue color of the chipped cement floor and half the bulbs being burned out in the broken overhead lamps. There were no tables, no chairs, no projector screen, nothing. Just a rectangle for us to fill with our good ideas.
The first step was renovating the space. We didn’t want it to just be a classroom with a blackboard and some desks. We’re a camera store, and we love photography. We wanted to make this empty rectangular box into a studio where people could have hands-on experience with top-of-the-line equipment. Lucky for us, we know a few photo equipment companies who were more than happy to be involved with our new educational endeavor. Not only would we have equipment that we could use to demo in our classes, but we also saw this as an opportunity to make our relationships with our vendors even stronger. It’s one thing to tell someone to buy studio lights. It’s another thing to show that person why exactly they should consider studio lights and how they can in fact utilize the lights best. Our vendors are awesome, and many reached out to us, agreeing that education was an integral part to not only our business, but also to our customers’ photographic lives. Making money off the classes was never a top priority for us. What was always (and continues to be) at the forefront of our minds is adding value to our customers’ experiences. We want you to shop and learn with us not just because that’s how we make our living. We want you to shop and learn with us because we want you to love photography as much as we do.
Pretty soon, with our vendors’ support, we replaced the awful floors with brand new hardwood, changed the light fixtures, added a background kit, brought in some tables, and essentially made it into a functioning studio classroom. Hence, the Learning Studio.
Now we host five classes a week on topics ranging from basic camera functions to advanced exposure theory to Photoshop and Lightroom to everything in between. We bring in photographers from all around the country and host awesome interactive workshops.
Having had a major role in building our education program, I feel extremely proud of what we accomplished, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the Learning Studio.