As I write this, I am co-leading a photo workshop with my pal Arthur Morris. Sometimes the participants don’t seem to get the most out of the experience. The old adage you get out of it what you put into it is very true. But here are some additional suggestions for really getting the most out of these trips.

a. Understand what you’re signing up for. Most companies offer workshops or tours. Artie is a rare breed in that he offers instructional photo tours (IPT). The IPT is a hybrid. In the typical workshop, you are mostly paying for a teacher. You should be able to ask lots of questions and expect answers. On a tour, the leader’s primary job is to get you to the best places to shoot, at the best time of day, offering you the best chance to get the best subjects. Artie offers a mixture of the two.

Make sure you’re traveling with someone who can actually help you achieve YOUR goals. There are now so many workshops and tours that chances are even your grandma teaches one. Look at the trip leader’s work and compare it with other established pros. Find out whether the trip is something that you can benefit from or merely a way for the leader to get his own photography trip funded by others.

b. Before traveling to the workshop/tour, carefully read and re-read all the leader’s materials – website, email, brochure, etc. If you’re traveling with an established leader who knows what they’re doing, the answers to most of your questions about the trip should be available online. Be sure that you’re traveling with someone who is a match for you in skill, experience and personality. Don’t take on more than you can realistically handle. Don’t sign up for an advanced, large-format B&W workshop teaching previsualization and the zone system if you barely know how to operate your 35mm camera and only work in color.

c. Study your camera manual BEFORE the trip. Be familiar with the gear so it doesn’t get in the way of a successful experience. While many leaders will try to help you with any gear questions, please know that with the incredible variety of gear available, it’s impossible for the instructor to know the ins and outs of every camera make and model. It’s up to you to know your gear. Bring your manual to the workshop/tour. In case there is an emergency, it makes it much easier to solve your problem.

d. Decide what you want from the experience BEFORE you leave home. If you just want a vacation and want a restful trip with the opportunity to take a few snapshots. Don’t travel with me or with Artie. We’re putting in 12 and 15 hour days making sure the participants get the chance to make as many great images as possible. Also decide if you’re looking for a teacher or a friend. You won’t necessarily fall in love with every tour leader you meet. Some will be more friendly and approachable than others. Some will let their teaching do the talking while others will give you the personal edification you need to feel good about yourself and your photo skills. Know what you need in that department before you go and find out what people think about the leaders you’re about to travel with.

I’ll be the first to admit that Artie for instance has a reputation of being more difficult than he really is. (It’s truly undeserved.) But that’s because a few vocal people who came on his tours expecting a backrub found a drill sergeant who was only interested in making sure they became better photographers. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to come away from an experience like this having learned as much as possible. I had professors in college who I didn’t care for as human beings, but who I loved as teachers because they helped me become better. Know both what to expect and what you want to make sure there is a better chance for a good outcome. Oh yeah – Artie isn’t all that bad – he’s actually just a big kid having fun and one heck of a nice guy in addition to being one of the world’s foremost avian photographers!

e. If you’re going on a workshop where there will be a teacher instead of or in addition to a tour leader, then bring lots of questions. If you don’t ask questions on the workshop and then later complain that you didn’t learn anything, you have only yourself to blame. Come prepared to learn and you will.

f. Try to get along! In a workshop/tour environment, you’ll be traveling with other people so learn to cooperate with others. Your fellow participants will at least have a similar interest, i.e., photography, but their culture, religion, creed, personality, etc., will probably be different from yours. Don’t be rigid. Go with the flow. Allow for the fact that your needs aren’t the only needs that have to be met in a group dynamic. Allow other people their space, and don’t get angry if everything doesn’t go exactly the way YOU want it to be. If you’re a bitter and unhappy person before going to the workshop, don’t expect that to change at or after the workshop. YOU control your own attitude. Make sure to adjust that attitude before going on your photo tour. Relax, let it flow and be willing to encounter new people and new experiences with a positive mental state. This one tip is probably the single most important factor in helping you get the most out of your trip.

g. Have a personal goal in mind. Whether it’s a workshop or a tour, chances are you’ll be doing at least some shooting. If it’s a tour you’ll be doing lots of shooting. Decide upfront what you hope to achieve. When I co-led the Aperture Nature Photography Workshop at Yosemite last month, I challenged the participants to have a photographic goal in mind before entering the park. I asked them to select a theme rather than just willy-nilly point their cameras at every single Yosemite icon. If you do some research, look at your portfolio and spend some time contemplating your motives, you should be able to come up with a goal. Share that with the trip leader before you book the trip. Ask if this trip will put you in position to better achieve your goal. Then when you’re on the trip, be mindful of that goal and tailor your shooting and your actions to achieve the goal.

h. Remember to take pity on the poor trip leader! (Yes, this paragraph is self-serving but hey – it’s my blog so I am going to take advantage of it!) It is much harder than it looks to lead a photo trip. The leaders (If they’re good ones anyway) have to scout the locations in advance, arrange logistics like lodging, travel routes, bathroom breaks, meals, critiques, instruction, demonstrations, teaching sessions, etc. AND then they have to try to connect with all the various participants, answer questions, help overcome problems, etc.

Remember that it’s not the trip leader’s fault if the weather sucks. It’s not the trip leader’s fault if that eagle’s nest which was there yesterday, was blown down today by a gust of wind. Particularly when you travel on a nature trip, do be mindful that the trip leaders are mortal and cannot force that bear, or eagle or mountain to do just exactly what YOU want it to do for your picture.

i. After the fact, stay in touch. Send images you make on the trip to the leader so they can evaluate how well you did. Stay in touch with the other participants. You all had the same experience and can continue to learn from it with each other’s help. Give the leader constructive feedback on the trip. Let them know how you enjoyed (or didn’t) the overall experience.

j. Here are a couple of final thoughts and random trips. Follow the leader – literally. If you’re in a group making photos and you notice the leader is standing with his tripod 30 yards from you, guess what – you’re in the wrong place. When I first started learning bird photography from Artie, I quickly realized that wherever he was – the best shot was too. So stay close to the leader.

Take your time. When you get to a new place, with new people, new subjects and new opportunities – be sure to take a deep breath. Don’t just press the shutter button every time something moves. Relax, think, plan, contemplate and THEN make the picture. Spray and pray has no place on a workshop or tour.

CONCLUSION

Traveling on photo tours and workshops are probably the single best thing you can to advance your photography to the next level, especially if you’re at the beginner or intermediate level in your photography.

If you want info on Artie’s tours – go to www.birdsasart.com. I no longer teach many workshops. I do still teach with Artie once or twice a year and at the Aperture Nature Workshops. I also do a few private tours, but not many. There are other companies I can recommend such as the Santa Fe Workshops in the west and back east, The Palm Beach Photographic Center.

If you’re looking for a great workshop teacher, try my pal Rick Sammon or if you want to shoot from a boat in the rich waters off Tampa Bay, try James Shadle.

If you have a favorite workshop company or leader (other than your own – sorry no free ads) then let us know. Please only refer companies and leaders which you have personal experience with.

Post is made possible by sponsorship from:
Lensbaby

Join the conversation! 0 Comments

  1. Scott,

    Very good information and really covers the aspects of what is important in attending a workshop. Tours and workshops are very expensive and preparation along with expectations are critical. I have attended several workshops and always come away with some great images and valuable new information and tools to enhance my photography. Effort by participates as well as the leader makes that a reality.

    Gary

    Reply
  2. Scott,

    Very good information and really covers the aspects of what is important in attending a workshop. Tours and workshops are very expensive and preparation along with expectations are critical. I have attended several workshops and always come away with some great images and valuable new information and tools to enhance my photography. Effort by participates as well as the leader makes that a reality.

    Gary

    Reply
  3. Tons of great info in this post Scott! I have always thought that teaching a workshop would be difficult because you end up with a group of people with skill levels all over the place. If you teach to the more advanced participants, the beginners are lost. If you teach to the beginners, the more advanced photographers may not be getting what they need. For this reason your point about asking questions is HUGE.

    Scott Kelby made a really good point about not being a “bad student” at a workshop in his Aug 20th blog post. This really falls in line with your point f. Here is a link to the post. Worth a read for anyone going to a workshop. http://www.scottkelby.com/blog/2008/archives/1833

    The only workshop that I have personally been to was put on by the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. They hosted a weekend long workshop with 3 instructors, and several classes to choose from. I really liked the way it was set up, so you could pick and choose what classes you wanted to go to. If you got there, and it wasn’t what you were expecting, or wanted, you just got up and went to another one.

    My local University also offers a few non-credit photography classes. I have taken a couple of them, and have gotten to know the instructor quite well. We keep in touch regularly and even go out shooting together. The classes were really geared towards beginners, but I still found them worthwhile. The friendships I have made were more than worth the time and cost of the class.

    Reply
  4. Tons of great info in this post Scott! I have always thought that teaching a workshop would be difficult because you end up with a group of people with skill levels all over the place. If you teach to the more advanced participants, the beginners are lost. If you teach to the beginners, the more advanced photographers may not be getting what they need. For this reason your point about asking questions is HUGE.

    Scott Kelby made a really good point about not being a “bad student” at a workshop in his Aug 20th blog post. This really falls in line with your point f. Here is a link to the post. Worth a read for anyone going to a workshop. http://www.scottkelby.com/blog/2008/archives/1833

    The only workshop that I have personally been to was put on by the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. They hosted a weekend long workshop with 3 instructors, and several classes to choose from. I really liked the way it was set up, so you could pick and choose what classes you wanted to go to. If you got there, and it wasn’t what you were expecting, or wanted, you just got up and went to another one.

    My local University also offers a few non-credit photography classes. I have taken a couple of them, and have gotten to know the instructor quite well. We keep in touch regularly and even go out shooting together. The classes were really geared towards beginners, but I still found them worthwhile. The friendships I have made were more than worth the time and cost of the class.

    Reply
  5. Charles Glatzer’s “Shoot the Light” Instructional Photo Workshops are phenomenal — I’ve been to several over the years. Chas is a great instructor and finder of light. That said, ALL of Scott’s rules apply to getting the most out of the workshop.

    http://www.shootthelight.com

    Reply
  6. Charles Glatzer’s “Shoot the Light” Instructional Photo Workshops are phenomenal — I’ve been to several over the years. Chas is a great instructor and finder of light. That said, ALL of Scott’s rules apply to getting the most out of the workshop.

    http://www.shootthelight.com

    Reply
  7. I went on a swimsuit shoot in Cancun with Jerome Hamilton. It was a great workshop. He does it every year so if you want to shoot models in swimsuits here’s the site. http://www.cancunworkshop.com

    I wrote about my experience there on my site http://photo.lvthunder.com/cancun

    Reply
  8. I went on a swimsuit shoot in Cancun with Jerome Hamilton. It was a great workshop. He does it every year so if you want to shoot models in swimsuits here’s the site. http://www.cancunworkshop.com

    I wrote about my experience there on my site http://photo.lvthunder.com/cancun

    Reply
  9. Get trip insurance. I went down to California for Nikonians’ ANPAT last fall; got sick before it began; and lost all of my $1800 fee. It was an expensive learning. (That $1800 would have gone a long way to purchasing a D700!)

    Reply
  10. Get trip insurance. I went down to California for Nikonians’ ANPAT last fall; got sick before it began; and lost all of my $1800 fee. It was an expensive learning. (That $1800 would have gone a long way to purchasing a D700!)

    Reply
  11. Thanks, Scott. Great information and timely as well, since I’m off to a workshop on the island of Kauai in a couple of weeks (DLWS).

    Last year I did a Nikonians workshop with a gentleman named Mike Hagen. We did no shooting — it was strctly about workflow. He did a terrific job and I still consult the notes I took there — which brings me to one point I’d add to your list.

    Take lots of notes and consider compiling them in a word processing document each evening. Then, about every three months or so, pull it out and review what you thought was important enought to write down.

    Reply
  12. Thanks, Scott. Great information and timely as well, since I’m off to a workshop on the island of Kauai in a couple of weeks (DLWS).

    Last year I did a Nikonians workshop with a gentleman named Mike Hagen. We did no shooting — it was strctly about workflow. He did a terrific job and I still consult the notes I took there — which brings me to one point I’d add to your list.

    Take lots of notes and consider compiling them in a word processing document each evening. Then, about every three months or so, pull it out and review what you thought was important enought to write down.

    Reply
  13. WoW!
    Great Suggestions Scott.
    After all these years, I’ve just returned from finally taking my first Outdoor Photo workshop with Tom Bol and George Theodore. Great guys both as peoples and leaders. I have to admit though, I did have selfish reasons for taking this particular workshop. I have been to Yellowstone numerous times during the fall Rut season but had never been during the winter. I had always wanted to see it during the winter.

    A workshop can be a great way to Really see someplace you may have been in the past, especially if you normally did the driving. I was able to focus my concentration on the scenes and wildlife rather than where I was driving, or parking the truck on the roadside where my passengers could safely climb out. All that was in someone elses hands I I could see what I missed.

    I would love to take one of Art’s trips… Met him once on a flight enroute to Alaska. Seems like bird photography with his groups could be fun.

    Reply
  14. WoW!
    Great Suggestions Scott.
    After all these years, I’ve just returned from finally taking my first Outdoor Photo workshop with Tom Bol and George Theodore. Great guys both as peoples and leaders. I have to admit though, I did have selfish reasons for taking this particular workshop. I have been to Yellowstone numerous times during the fall Rut season but had never been during the winter. I had always wanted to see it during the winter.

    A workshop can be a great way to Really see someplace you may have been in the past, especially if you normally did the driving. I was able to focus my concentration on the scenes and wildlife rather than where I was driving, or parking the truck on the roadside where my passengers could safely climb out. All that was in someone elses hands I I could see what I missed.

    I would love to take one of Art’s trips… Met him once on a flight enroute to Alaska. Seems like bird photography with his groups could be fun.

    Reply
  15. Scott,

    All excellent points and having just attended one of Artie’s IPTs, might I also add that you should be prepared for an immersive experience if the leader has that planned. In Artie’s IPTs, for example, you’ll want to plan on doing nothing but photography and sleeping. It can leave you tired but in a good way and you have the opportunity to learn in five days more than you’ll get spending months and months on your own…

    Lee

    Reply
  16. Scott,

    All excellent points and having just attended one of Artie’s IPTs, might I also add that you should be prepared for an immersive experience if the leader has that planned. In Artie’s IPTs, for example, you’ll want to plan on doing nothing but photography and sleeping. It can leave you tired but in a good way and you have the opportunity to learn in five days more than you’ll get spending months and months on your own…

    Lee

    Reply
  17. […] has posts on How to Get the Most Out of a Photo Workshop and Getting Permission to Photograph […]

    Reply
  18. […] has posts on How to Get the Most Out of a Photo Workshop and Getting Permission to Photograph […]

    Reply
  19. Scott,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I went on a photo workshop to Cusco, Peru through Photoexperience.net 3 years ago. Everything you mentioned was so crucial in making sure I got the most out of the trip while still being able to enjoy the personal connections with the other participants.

    A big factor in the workshop’s success was that it was put together by a freelance photographer, Adam Weintraub, whose family owns the bed and breakfast where the workshop took place. There are so many reasons why this was incredible, but the main one being that Adam knew the area and knew how to lead the group on amazing adventures while never constricting us to tight schedules considering it was a daguerreotype workshop taught by Jerry Spagnoli.

    I agree with what you are saying about doing your research and coming prepared with what you want to get out of the trip. I researched the instructor and the process we were going to be using prior to the trip so I knew what questions I was going to ask and the types of images I wanted to capture.

    I wrote a more detailed review of the workshop which can be found here: http://www.phototravelreview.com/?p=808

    Thanks again for providing these pointers, I think anyone who is planning on participating in a travel workshop should definitely take Scott’s advice.

    Reply
  20. Scott,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I went on a photo workshop to Cusco, Peru through Photoexperience.net 3 years ago. Everything you mentioned was so crucial in making sure I got the most out of the trip while still being able to enjoy the personal connections with the other participants.

    A big factor in the workshop’s success was that it was put together by a freelance photographer, Adam Weintraub, whose family owns the bed and breakfast where the workshop took place. There are so many reasons why this was incredible, but the main one being that Adam knew the area and knew how to lead the group on amazing adventures while never constricting us to tight schedules considering it was a daguerreotype workshop taught by Jerry Spagnoli.

    I agree with what you are saying about doing your research and coming prepared with what you want to get out of the trip. I researched the instructor and the process we were going to be using prior to the trip so I knew what questions I was going to ask and the types of images I wanted to capture.

    I wrote a more detailed review of the workshop which can be found here: http://www.phototravelreview.com/?p=808

    Thanks again for providing these pointers, I think anyone who is planning on participating in a travel workshop should definitely take Scott’s advice.

    Reply

Let us know your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

Category

Reviews, Technique & Tutorials

Tags