Melissa Lyttle is a staff photographer at the Tampa Bay Times and founder of APhotoADay. Lyttle was a student at The Eddie Adams Workshop in 2001. Since then, Lyttle has been a member of the Black Team, a workshop photographer, team producer and team leader. She was recently appointed a member of the NPPA Board of Directors.

VS: When did you first attend the workshop as a student? What did you do to prepare your portfolio before you were accepted? What were you thinking when you first arrived there?

ML: I attended EAW XIV, as a student, in 2001. What I remember most about putting my portfolio together when applying to the workshop was really trying to break free of the mold of a traditional portfolio and submit something I felt like was more in tune with the pictures I wanted to be making, more in touch with a personal vision I was trying to find and hone. It’s still the biggest tip I have for students applying today, show them what you want to show them, not what you think they want to see. You’ve got to be true to yourself, and I think the EAW faculty respects that.

Melissa Lyttle and the Red Team at the Eddie Adams Workshop

VS: When you were a student, what was the biggest lesson you learned about photography? About yourself? Many alumni feel the experience is about more than just pictures – but being a part of a very unique family. Is that true? What has that been like for you?

ML: Barnstorm gave me the freedom to take more risks with my photography. The workshop really pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to make pictures that I wasn’t making, mainly because all of my silly, self-imposed restrictions (editor’s voices in my head, worries that they wouldn’t be published, wondering what kind of grade they’d get me in college, etc.) weren’t there. As young creative types, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and a lot of the time we don’t give ourselves permission to fail.

And the experience is definitely about more than just pictures. It’s not a shooting workshop, per se. Sure, the assignment is a big part of the weekend, but it’s not the only thing. The speakers you’ll see are amazing. The experiences had will stay with you for years to come. The things you learn about yourself are paramount. It’s about history, inspiration, connection with your peers as well as with the faculty. For me, personally, it’s the people who make this workshop. And it is such a uniquely intense experience that it makes for life-long friends, mentors and people I’d consider like family.

Living With Each Other: Kris and Paul, photographed at EAW by Melissa Lyttle.

VS: As a professional, what has your role been at the workshops? What is it like to be one of the teachers now? Do you still learn something from the students? Why do you volunteer your time to make the trip?

ML: I’ve done a lot of different things at the workshop. I’ve never had more fun than being on the Black Team, where I did everything from cut the grass and rake leaves to being the workshop photographer for a couple of
years. The Black Team is Eddie’s team — they bust their asses to make the workshop run. They’re an incredibly talented group of photographers who stay behind the scenes to make sure the faculty and students have the best possible experience. They truly are the heart and soul of the place.

Then in 2006, I was asked to be a team producer, which I’ve done for the last five years, except for that one blissful year I was asked to fill in for a team leader who couldn’t make it. Producing is a fun challenge though. My goal is to find good stories for each of my 10 students, from 1,500 miles away (I live in Florida, the workshop is in the Catskills). I bust my ass to put my students in situations to make the best possible pictures. I don’t take that lightly.

What I really hope each of the students understands is that everyone involved in the workshop, from the awesome white team who cooks some incredibly tasty meals each day to every single team leader, to the black team, to the IT folks to every team’s leader, producer and editor to all of the heavies brought into speak and inspire.And every last person is incredibly talented, and incredibly busy with their own lives, families and projects — and every single one of us who volunteers our time to make the trip to Jeffersonville, NY each year to give back. We do it for the students. That’s what keeps us coming back.

Living With Each Other: Kris and Paul, photographed at EAW by Melissa Lyttle.

VS: Have you been involved with portfolio selections over the years? What do you think the judges are looking for in the work that makes one person stand out over another?

ML: Sadly, I never have. But I think more than anything the judges are looking for good pictures, personal vision and an untapped potential.

Dog eats cracker. EAW photo by Melissa Lyttle.

VS: What makes a portfolio edit really work together – the flow of the images? their visual style? Content? It seems that each year their is a wide variety of photographers with different experiences.

ML: Like with most photo contests, the pictures during judging are on the screen for a very short period of time. You’ve got to make an impression. You aren’t allowed the contribution of words to help your cause — no story summaries, no captions — so your pictures have to speak for themselves.

Light, moment and composition are the obvious baseline of what each photo should have. You should be seeing the light. You should be capturing the moment. You should be paying attention to compositional elements. The key is to start making photos that combine two of those, then three. Whether they’re photos of life in your small Wyoming town, or a portfolio of nothing but fly fishing photos, they need to wow the judges and the best way to do that is to know what you’re trying to say with your work, have the content to back it up and not have any clunkers in there.

My best advice is to edit tight. Eliminate weaknesses. Because at this level, when everyone’s competent, it’s really going to come down to those minute differences that set you apart.

Living With Each Other: Kris and Paul, photographed at EAW by Melissa Lyttle.

VS: Any advice for someone who has been accepted? Things to remember? Do? Avoid?

ML: Yep.

VS: Anything you would like to add?

ML: Sure, I’d love to add my most sincere thanks to Alyssa Adams for opening her home to us each year, to workshop producer Mirjam Evers for making it run so smoothly and to Nikon for their continued support. And to all the students applying, best of luck, I hope to see you at the barn this year.

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The application deadline for Barnstorm XXIV is June 6, 2014, at 11:59pm EST.

The application can be found at http://www.eddieadamsworkshop.com/

“The Eddie Adams Workshop is an intense four-day gathering of the top photography professionals, along with 100 carefully selected students. The photography workshop is tuition-free, and the 100 students are chosen based on the merit of their portfolios.”