Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Looking for a Photography Workshop? Maybe this will help...

Sometimes the difference between a fantastic photograph and a good photograph comes down to a few small points. It could be as simple as placing the point of interest in another location, an adjustment to composition or some final editing techniques in post editing.

You can watch all the YouTube videos you can, or read all the books you can get your hands on in the effort to become a better photographer. But, you are still left to your own devices. A photography workshop taught by an experienced photographer with an engaging personality can give you the hands on mentoring that will take years off that learning curve.

Here are a few suggestions to help you pick a workshop and help ensure you have a great learning experience.

Go into it as a financial transaction
The first step to choosing a workshop should be to understand that attending a workshop is a financial investment. If you a full-time photographer… Remember that this will eat into your direct profit, so you want to make sure your money is spent wisely. If you are you a part-time photographer or hobbyist… your decision to attend a workshop is an investment in yourself, so invest wisely.

Determine what you’re willing to spend
This ties directly back to the last point, but before selecting a workshop, determine what you willing to spend. This will help to narrow your focus and reduce the urge to “impulse buy” just because the workshop sounds awesome. Again, it’s a financial investment. Workshop fees can range from $100 – $3000. Just make sure you have all the details, there could be workshop fees and travel fees that are not disclosed.

Start Searching
Chances are the internet is one of the first places you will start your search. Try using Google and use the search term, ‘Photography Workshop in “insert the name of your city here”. This will get you started for local options. But not all classes are well indexed by search engines. Don’t forget to check around for local photography clubs who may offer an abundance of learning opportunities. Community colleges and local trade schools will also have options which may not show in internet search results, so it may be necessary to check their individual websites.

Also don’t discount word of mouth; ask around to friends and family and let them know you are looking for a photography mentor. The more feelers out there, the better your chances are in finding the right workshop.

Pick an instructor who has a style that resonates with you.
When you are considering a workshop, look at the prospective instructor’s work. Are they images of subjects you would like to photograph, in locations you would enjoy taking pictures? Are the images well composed, sharp, and exposed properly? When you look at their images do you say "I would like to make images like those"?

Another good way to identify they are a good photographer. See if people are commenting on any of their images or look to see if companies have published their photography. A sure fire way to determine if a photographer is respected is if they have been published by the magazines or websites you visit to learn about photography.

Choose small workshop sizes.
All things being equal you will get better attention in smaller workshops. When you attend a workshop of anything more than 2 or 3 people your face time with the instructor is limited. In my opinion you do not get your money’s worth. Consider attending a smaller workshop or one on one mentoring. It may cost more, but your learning will be exponentially greater.

A teacher who knows more than just photography
Many workshop leaders are exceptional photographers and qualified teachers. And a few, in addition to having the above mention qualities may have special knowledge that you will find useful. Such as an instructor who is native to the area that you are shooting, and can share in the history of the area, or who just knows the best locations. Or perhaps naturalists, one who can help you understand your subject and how to use that knowledge to make better images.

If you want to be more than just a weekend warrior, you should also consider this. I am a firm believer that what separates a well known `pro’sumer photographer to a great photographer that just posts images on photo sharing sites is the ability of the `pro’sumer to market themselves as a brand.

Look for a photographer that also has business savvy. Someone that does not only help you with taking better images, but also can help you learn to network more effectively. We live in a digital age; the internet is the marketing tool of the future. Maybe you should consider looking someone that can help you showcase your work to more people.

Know your equipment before the workshop.
To get the most out of your experience, a workshop is no place to learn the functions of your camera, lenses or flash. You should know the basics of your camera. At the very least, know how the exposure modes, metering modes and exposure compensation functions work on your camera. You can learn camera function from a manual. Why pay someone to teach you something that is your responsibility to know.

Location, Location, Location.
This is a very important. Pick a workshop where it is possible to make the kind of images you want to make, a location where you can comfortably make those images. Some workshops are run in the photographer’s local area because they are too lazy to drive to a better location. Why waste your money if you are not going to come away with the shots you want to take.

Ask the workshop leader where you will go before you hand over any money. Ask for details and make sure you are satisfied before you pay them.

While at the workshop, ask the workshop leader questions.
Don’t be shy; you are paying for their knowledge. If you don’t understand, did not hear, or a subject you are interested in was not covered, ask! This is your time, and the workshop leader cannot read your mind. So do nto be afraid to ask.

Stay close to the instructor.
I have observed nature photography workshops when the students seem to scatter to be on their own. You can learn much just by watching and imitating your instructor. Besides that, if you need personal attention no time is wasted tracking down the instructor.

Bring Images.
Bring some of your images for critique. You can buy binders that can hold a variety of sized prints. Prints some off and do not be shy about asking the instructor for feedback. Many times a more seasoned photographer can find problems or areas that may need a little improvement just by looking at your images.

Have fun and take lots of pictures!
Bring plenty of film/digital media and batteries. Ask questions, stay close to your instructor and fire away! Take as many photos as possible. When you get home, review your images. Decide what you did well and what you need to continue to work on. Post your images for critique on web sites like flickr.com.

Most of all, don’t forget to show off your new found skills and beautiful pictures with your friends and family.

Write a review after the workshop!
Whether you loved it or hated it, please write a workshop review after it’s over. This is so critical. Future workshops attendees will have no idea what to expect without thorough workshop reviews, and qualified workshop instructors should appreciate both positive and negative feedback as a way to grow, get better, and offer the best product possible.

Detail how the workshop fit with the initial description, what you learned, what your expectations were and if they were met, and most of all, was this financial transaction worth the investment.

Good luck with your search!

Happy shooting,


P.S. If you know of, or do find any workshops, please comment below so that people reading this article can benefit from your experiences.